“This can’t be for real!” I hear myself say. Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the most awe-inspiring places to be in this medium. You look at the humble and underpowered Wii, humming vaguely under the television, suspiciously. And then you see the unmistakably epic world that it’s bellowing out; Xenoblade is doing things with the Wii that has never been seen – or possibly even imagined before – on its meagre hardware. But, most importantly – the Japanese RPG is back!
After a few refreshingly brief cut-scenes and tutorials, you’re quickly let off the reigns and let loose with central character Shulk, an orphaned citizen of a colony, residing on the dizzying corpse of a deceased god; a dead god teeming with life, verdant countryside, lush jungles and forests. It’s a concept that never gets any less spectacular, as you proceed from its feet to the head in this mammoth 60 hour plus adventure.
Here we have a JRPG that understands why the genre has fallen so far from grace in this last decade. Monolith Soft have cherry picked astutely from the MMO; demonstrating how to make questing addictive and inventory management painless with aplomb, while exhibiting an MMO inspired combat system, that sits proudly amongst the very best the genre has to offer.
But in no way has Monolith forgotten why people so feverishly love the genre in the first place; so much so that they’re happily willing to wander around conventions with massive spiky hair and a cardboard Buster Sword.
While linear, the central plot is engaging from the off. And it’s a story that pulls no emotional punches either, with a script and characterisation that exudes personality, in a way where it’s hard not to grow attached. The all-British voice cast do a wonderful and heartfelt job in making the mature and unconventional characters believable.
Hearing choice lines such as “Yeah Shulk, get stuck in!” and “What are you on about!?” take some getting used to, in the face of all the droning anime voice-overs more commonly used in JRPGS. But there’s always the Japanese voices on disc, if that’s what you’re more comfortable with.
Even more intoxicating than the story is the vast freedom this game affords you; the ability to get lost in your surroundings. Every square inch of land in the gaping distance is yours to explore, whether by running there, swimming there, climbing there, or even leaping down there.
The hundreds of quests and experience bonus’s for finding these landmarks and secret areas tucked away are quite the incentive. But often I found myself simply running around for no particular reason, just to see what’s round the corner. Xenoblade sparks an inquisitive nature.
There’s an irresistible amount to see. One area, the god Bionis’ leg, stretches to a size roughly twenty times the size of Gran Pulse in Final Fantasy XIII. The almost endlessly rolling plains make you appear so tiny and insignificant; the titans from Shadow of the Colossus are like Umpa Lumpas in comparison to this thing.
And to think that you’re traversing such a grand expanse on the body of a once living thing. Ever since Okami on the PS2, I’ve rarely felt so compelled to just stop and stare at the breathtaking artistry on display – a vast sea of windswept trees and vegetation, sheer cliffs, picturesque towns, architecture and creatures the size of three-storey buildings. Here is a game never lacking for wide-eyed postcard moments.
While this is more of an adventure about fantastical discovery over everything else. There is a cornucopia of things to do, especially outside of the main narrative. The rich amount of sidequests keep you coming back for more – single NPCs holding three or more quests at any one time. And the fast travel system is an absolute godsend for some of the more inconvenient ones.
Character development is another strong suite. Every piece of armour, clothing and weaponry are all satisfyingly represented on your character. There’s a sprawling number of development arcs to pursue, that are considerately drip-fed to you through the first five hours. There’s never a right or wrong piece of equipment or ability to upgrade, and development can be well catered for your play style and strategy.
There are a great share of ‘hooks’ to the combat too. Your companions can be ordered in simple terms, but are controlled by some solid, unobtrusive AI. You wouldn’t want to control all of them anyway, there are so many things on your plate just with just the one character.
Using the right attacks for a given situation, buffs, debuffs, unleashing chain attacks, healing and reviving, warning your party members against foreseen attacks, becomes manageable and entertaining mental juggling; battles quickly become frantic and exciting as you progress.
Timing and positioning are taken into account, and serves to steer this game away from the autonomy of most MMOs, and gives it a dash of the action RPG in this fine concoction. There are ingenious and fresh ideas everywhere you look.
Graphics 4/5 – Breathtaking. With jaw-dropping imagination comes even more impressive execution – on the spluttery Wii no less! Forget about the PS2-grade polygon counts and textures, very little on the HD consoles rival this for scope and wonder.
Sound 5/5 – A suitably all-encompassing soundtrack, that matches the atmosphere and emotion of every scenario beautifully. The (bleedin’) British voice acting is also an unexpected treat, and provides some convincing performances. The Japanese acting is also strong, for all you anime fans.
Gameplay 5/5 – Fantastically realised exploration and combat meld effortlessly with the storytelling. This isn’t the JRPG you remember, it’s better.
Longevity 5/5 – Sixty hours of gameplay for the main quest. And if you want to do everything, we’re talking well over a hundred hours here. Games brimming with content like this don’t come by often.
Overall 5 out of 5
Xenoblade still feels like a JRPG, but it’s a contemporary one, that brings every respect up to speed with the current generation, and then some. Tetsuya Takahashi’s opus is a milestone, and gives a flagging genre and the tiring Wii a lift that could only be achieved by a giant.