Xenoblade is a brilliant RPG that is very well developed.
.........Wait, what? An A rank Wii RPG!? Seriously!? What nonsense is this?
Now if you know anything about Xenoblade, then you're probably aware of the campaign "Operation Rainfall", to convince Nintendo to localise three Japanese exclusive RPGs, with petitions and whatnot. The three RPGs are The Last Story, Pandora's Tower, and Xenoblade. Well, seeing as Xenoblade has now been released across both European and Australasian shores now, this campaign has been more-or-less a success. But to all you Americans (or Canadians, etc.) reading this review, I am not trying to rub in the fact that we have Xenoblade and you do not. This is more-so a review to explain (to Nintendo of America, sure) why this deserves the worldwide release.
I can see why this campaign exists. Because Xenoblade's just that good! I hear The Last Story and Pandora's Tower are too. And we need to be able to play these! But enough of the straight up praising for Xenoblade. Onto the review!
Long ago, before the world as we know it came to exist, the world was nothing but an endless ocean. That was until two giant titans came into existence. The Bionis and the Mechonis fought a timeless battle, until one day only their lifeless bodies remained, forever locked in battle. Eons passed and life came to be on the corpse of Bionis. Civilizations were founded and life flourished. The game starts you off bang on in the middle of a war between the Hon (portrayed as humans) and the Mechon (and as machines), the opposing two forces of the respective titans. It centers two key characters (Hons) at this point; Dunban and Dickson. Dunban wields a very special sword called the Monado, which allows him to pierce through Mechon armour. He manages to save the hon colonies temporarily with the help of this Monado. But as the Monado's power is far too great, it damages a part of Dunban's body. The game then fast-forwards a year, where you are introduced to the main character, Shulk, who becomes the new wielder of the Monado, after another Mechon invasion. With assistance from his best friend, Reyn, Shulk then starts his quest to defeat the Mechon once and for all, and find out the secrets of the Monado.
Possibly the most fascinating feature of the combination of Shulk and the Monado is that it randomly brings up visions from the future. This includes very vague visions of future locations, future significant characters, and even his allies getting killed in certain incidents, which allows him to change this for the better.
The story I find has its ups and downs. For the most part, it's pretty darn good, and is definitely a deep and epic tale, with some interesting surprises throughout. The Monado moments definitely get you at the edge of your seat wondering if they will change the future at this point or not. However, that doesn't go without saying that there are a few disappointments involved as well, including maybe a few too many plot twists. Nonetheless, still a pretty good plot. Definitely something you'd expect from a Xeno game. It's deep. I'll say that much.
At first, the gameplay seems rather complicated. However, this becomes quite the contrary once you figure it out (trust me, it doesn't take very long). The battle system is the result of what would happen if you put a hack n' slash (say, like Final Fantasy XII, White Knight Chronicles or Dragon Age Origins to give more recent examples) and a Kingdom Hearts game into a blender. Again, this sounds complex, but it really isn't. The reasoning behind me saying such a fuse, is mainly because it plays like a hack n' slash, but at the same time, it's a bit more fast-paced, and you get to interact with your allies a bit more. Plus, there's a command list, like there is in KH. You will gain abilities to enhance battle, and you will also be able to upgrade said abilities with AP that you earn from every enemy defeated, as well as EXP, which, as usual, gets you that extra step close to another level increase. You can have up to three allies fighting at once, who all have their individual significances, in terms of skills and abilities. You also have a chain gauge at the top left of the screen. It has three bars in total. When all three bars have been filled up, you can execute a chain attack amongst all your allies, which may end up helping you in a certain way, as you get to choose all the abilities used in the chain attack. There are no healing items whatsoever! Healing is usually done with the healing spells that you can equip. Status ailments (such as poison and paralysis) can be cured, simply with the support of allies approaching you and removing the ailment. When a character's HP reaches 0, they can be revived at the cost of a third of the chain gauge If you don't quite have a third of the chain gauge, then the character can't be revived until you get the bar. If your health reaches 0, and you don't have a third of the chain gauge, your party is defeated, and you reappear at the last checkpoint, which I will explain in a moment. For the most part, it's a very interesting and addictive battle system.
Now, I did say there weren't any healing items. However, there are still items out there. They consist of weapons, armour, random objects you might find after enemies (possibly quest related), and crystals which can be used for synthesizing. The equipment system is quite good, as every piece of weapon/armour changes the looks of the character. Personally, I think the item system could've been handled a little bit better, as you do end up picking up a bunch of random items. When you fill up the inventory, you don't know what to throw out, as you may not know if some of these items may be needed for quests or not. However, this isn't too big of an issue until much later on.
Now if you remember a few paragraphs above, the Monado can see into the future. This cleverly ties in with the battling, rather than just in story-based cutscenes. At certain points in battle, if someone's HP is low, then the Monado can give you a snippet of the enemy killing the certain character. This can allow you to think about how you can prevent this from happening. Healing works. You can also warn your allies that this may happen, letting you choose a command for them. This costs a third of the chain gauge, though, so be careful when you warn your allies.
One of my favourite things about this RPG is the exploration. Golly, it's brilliant. At first, it seems a tad linear (though not quite "Curvy lines and always going forward like FFXIII" linear) and it does get fairly linear at times, sure. When you progress, however, you find that the maps open up a fair bit, and you sometimes can't help but to go around discovering areas and completing the map (think about it in the way of a Japanese Elder Scrolls). It's not easy to get lost though, as there's usually a cursor at the top of the screen pointing you in the right plot direction with a number that goes down when you get closer to your destination (which I guess is measured in metres). For the most part, it does show it's linearity, as a JRPG does, but you still feel like your in an open world when you're out there.
There are particular points that you can reach whilst exploring, and these points are more-or-less checkpoints. Upon reach, you will be introduced to the area with a jingle, as well as some EXP and AP to reward you. You can also fast-travel to these points once you've reached them. So in case you want to return to that point to find some treasure, or level grind, then fast-travel is always your friend. There are also some secret areas to discover as well, which reward you with even more bonuses, as well as an exclusive jingle to show that you've found this secret. So be on the lookout. Keep your eyes peeled for some hidden passages. The towns in Xenoblade are nicely crafted as well. There's a very wide variety of them, containing even more exploration, as well as some NPCs who can set you up with quests.
Of course, it is most certainly mandatory to place side-quests in an RPG. Xenoblade is packed with quests. Yet another Japanese Elder Scrolls suggestion. Most of which are optional, and can get you even more EXP/AP upon completion. It's actually a pretty good grinding method if you want to take a break from regular combat grinding. The side-quests usually consist of killing a certain number of an enemy type, finding a certain number of an item type, finding a particular treasure, or looking for a certain NPC.
It's a very lengthy game. I went just over 65 hours beating the main plot, including several completed side-quests, which after that adds even more time to your file. It's a very addictive game, and easily eats away at your free time. The difficulty starts out fair, but I find gets a fair bit harder later on in the game, and a little bit more cheap and frustrating. It's kinda annoying! While it isn't entirely a bad thing, it can get rather tedious, and the bosses can drag on a little bit. Grinding is definitely something you'll be doing a lot of nearing the end.
There are a couple of ways to play Xenoblade, controller-wise. Of course, you can use the Wiimote and Nunchuk, and there's also the Classic Controller option (It's what I use). There were Limited Bundles in Europe containing the game and a red coloured Classic Controller Pro, for those interested in using the latter method. Unfortunately, you cannot use a GameCube controller. As for the quality of the controls, at least for the Classic method, they're pretty good. There can be the times when the camera control's a little awkward and tedious, but that aside, controls are good.
Xenoblade is a Wii exclusive, so of course you shouldn't be diving into it expecting Final Fantasy XIII, graphically. However, for a Wii title, the graphics are very well done. Definitely among the best that i've seen on the system, and definitely pushes the console's power to the limits. The visuals especially are simply fantastic, especially as you progress further into the adventure. The colours are just right. The ledges and platforms are all crafted nicely. And the character/creature models are also quite good. There aren't any big, fancy cinematics in this one, but it only shows that sometimes you just don't need them for superb visuals. Overall, Xenoblade is simply beautiful, graphically.
The soundtrack is very beautifully composed by a number of people. Yoko Shimomura (Super Mario RPG, Kingdom Hearts), ACE+, Manami Kiyota, and Yasunori Mitsuda (The Chrono games, Xenogears, Shadow Hearts and Xenosaga I). Considering there were four composers, the variety of tunes is very vast, and they give all the locations that beautiful tone to them. Of course I've already mentioned the well crafted visuals, and the music gives it that finishing touch rather nicely. You'll find that most of the earlier tracks are done by Shimomura, and you may recognise the Kingdom Hearts feel to a lot of the them. Likewise with the Mitsuda tracks and Xenosaga. The tracks used in the cutscenes are incredibly intense, and can very easily add to the emotion and depth of the game's plot in a heartbeat. The battle themes are also quite good. Of course, as you do, you get sick of them eventually, but the variety of these themes prevents that from happening for a while. There's the regular theme, the ambushed theme, the special enemy theme, and the boss theme. All of these, again, add to the intensity of the game, and are also very catchy. To add it all up, Xenoblade's soundtrack is very well composed, and it's always good to see a huge compilation of tracks from a few artists. Good stuff!!
The voice acting isn't too bad. You have the choice to hear the English, or Japanese voices, as many games do these days. The English voice acting contains a bunch of British actors, which instantly reminds me of the Dragon Quest VIII voices. This is interesting, as the game's plot seems very anime-like, so it feels different hearing British voices in an anime-esque game. Unless that's just me. In any case, decent voice acting, so long as you don't get sick of Reyn cracking silly jokes with that accent. It's good for a change.
Who would've thought that we'd ever see a mind-blowing JRPG on the Wii? Monolith Soft have proved me that it doesn't matter what system a game is on. It can still be a good one if you try. Xenoblade is a brilliant RPG which does everything right for the most part. It's very well developed, and the team deserve some epic sales for this pride. Unfortunately, it could've had a better ending, gameplay (and plot) wise. However, these minor issues only slightly downgrade the qualities of this masterpiece. I've found my fourth epic seventh-gen JRPG, at last! All you Wii owners would be hardpressed to find a better RPG on the system, let alone a better game. Here's hoping you Americans/Canadians etc. get this one, because it's just that good! And also, here's hoping we get The Last Story and Pandora's Tower localised sometime, because more of these mind-blowing Wii JRPGs are certainly in order! Because, while Xenoblade is the first RPG on the system that has blown me away, i'd prefer it not to be my last!