Xenoblade Chronicles was a Japanese role playing game released in Japan in 2010. It seemed fated to never arrive on North American shores. Even with a European release in 2011, Nintendo of America (NoA) was still not interested in releasing the game. Only a groundswell of online fan interest inspired NoA to finally bring the game over, and then only as a limited release through GameStop. The game remained a collectible for years, fetching obscenely high prices, and spawning accusations of price fixing on GameStop’s part, before it was released again for the new Nintendo 3DS in early 2015.
So what was all the excitement about? I’ve played through the Wii version and have begun the 3DS version. This game is massive on a scale unlike any Wii games before it. It requires 60-150 hours to complete, depending on how determined you are to complete the side-quests. The closest you can come to it on the Wii or 3DS is with Capcom’s Monster Hunter series. Xenoblade Chronicles rewards the player with vast landscapes to explore, picturesque sunsets, two worlds filled with mysteries, and a storyline that spans time and space. It is as beautiful as it is complex.
The story begins with a great battle between the Homs (humans) and the Mechons (sentient robots). The gods Bionis and Mechonis have been fighting for dominance for eons, and the mysterious blade, Monado, gives its wielder advantages over the Mechons, but what is its secret? Where did it come from?
Soon we are introduced to Shulk, the main character, and his friends. Simple tutorials pop up to teach the player about the complicated but powerful controls, while entertaining cut scenes with excellent voice actors (one of whom is a young Jenna-Louise Coleman) move the story along. After the plot setup, the player is left to explore the world, swimming and climbing over almost everything that is on screen.
Gameplay is designed to emulate online role playing experiences. The battles are live, so be prepared to think fast. Spells and special abilities require cool off periods, while the player moves Shulk (or whichever character they choose) around the enemy. The computer automates shooting and slashing, which makes managing spells and special abilities easier. This is not a button masher. While the player directs the main character, the teammates shout out battle cries and information while the computer handles their actions. This is a blessing, because the menus and submenus can be very confusing for the novice. Xenoblade Chronicles is a game where the player will want to take time to do the tutorials as they occur.
Unlike classic RPGs, monsters don’t ambush the player randomly. The monsters are already there on screen, some harmlessly grazing, while others are on sentry, protecting their herd. High level monsters are mixed in with the low level ones, so running into the fray may attract the attention of a higher level beast that will slay you. Escaping a battle with these nightmares requires literally running away. Watch out! Many monsters will give chase. Fortunately, there is no penalty for dying. The slain player respawns with his or her party, and healing merely requires walking around outside of a battle.
Xenoblade Chronicles’ Wii graphics may be poor compared to modern RPGs, and certainly the low res bitmaps contributed to some complaints from fans, but the low res graphics allowed mammoth game levels without the need for loading off disk. The player will be amazed how large the playing areas are. I found the experience immersive, especially on the new 3DS version, which had upgraded graphics. Despite being newer than the Wii, the new 3DS required the graphics to be down sampled to allow for a smooth frame rate. However, the added 3D effect and brighter and more saturated colors makes the game more impressive than the Wii original.
The biggest downside to the game is it may be too complex—too large. This is not a JRPG for casual players. The copious side-quests can be tedious, as well. The player will find that certain side-quests trigger important events and unlock character abilities, but they are frustrating to complete, either because they require rare collectibles or because the non-player characters (NPC) needed to complete the quest are hard to find. The dozens upon dozens of NPCs keep their own schedules. They move about the town as the day moves along. You will need to turn to the web for help. No guidebook was ever published in the States.
If you are looking for a game on par with the Final Fantasy series, Xenoblade Chronicles is an excellent choice. When you’re not precariously walking over icy mountain paths, or grinding gems for maximum power, you’ll find the story engaging, including a surprising twist at the end. Xenoblade Chronicles may have a Teen rating, but adults will find the science fantasy storyline better than the average fare.
Release Date: June 10, 2010 (Japan)
ESRB Rating: T
Language: 1 (mild oaths)
Sexuality: 1 (some skimpy outfits for both sexes)
Violence: 4 (cartoon violence, death, slaughter, hunting, war)