|Resplendent red sword, giant mech, long grass...good to go|
By the way; if the following seems a bit 'fan-boy', then I apologise. It has though, been a long time since any game enchanted me in such a way as this.
Onwards we go...
Coming up are ten attempts at me trying to explain my thinking.
1. It's on the Wii...
2. A mind blowing story
|The expansive Gaur Plains...pretty ain't she?!|
3. The streamlined battle system
When an enemy is encountered, the transition from field to battle is seamless and there is no noticeable change to the game's pacing. Each fight skips along at rate not knots and although there are times when things seem to happen beyond your control, it all fits together and delivers a satisfying experience. The player is able to fully participate as the computer AI does a fairly decent job of looking after your comrades so you can concentrate on strategy and knocking seven bells out your adversaries.
The battle system seems to take as much inspiration from the ARPG genre as it does from the traditional ATB and turn based models and Monolith look to have recognised a negative shift in the tolerance of most new gamers toward slow-paced battles. The genuinely refreshing thing is that even though the system is designed for speed and ease of use, there is a ton of depth to it and more than enough strategy and customisation to keep hardcore pointy hat fans satisfied and engrossed.
4. Dazzling cutscenes
5. The sheer size of the thing...
...is bordering on ridiculous! The vastness of the world of Xenoblade is one of it's (many) trump cards, and one which it plays with continual and devastating effect. It's worth pointing out though that constant care is taken to not expose the player to too much too soon. However, once the game gets into it's stride, it seems very much like everywhere you can glimpse is reachable...very little is out of bounds.
I guess that the potential problem with a world of this size is the danger feeling it is almost too easy to get lost and sidetracked from the quest and story (this is probably more among novice players). This can lead to a game feeling like a dumbed down MMORPG (think FFXII again...sorry Squenix fans), happily though this is never the case with Xenoblade. The vistas can sometimes seem slightly intimidating with their scale, but it just seems to make the whole thing epic and make you feel like an explorer. In addition, there is always a handy pointer showing you the direction in which you need to head. Exploration is very much encouraged and is used as a clever way of gaining experience for your party...negating the need to build up as much as you would expect.
|You can see why I'm besotted, no?|
6. Sublime visuals
There are few (if any) games on the Wii that even come close to the grandeur of this game. The impressive landscapes can be seen from miles away and the whole world is presented with a sheen that belies the game's humble underpinnings. I would go as far as to say that even Nintendo themselves would struggle to match this level of attractiveness.
7. An immaculate soundtrack
From the moment that you hear the stirring piano keys of Yoko Shimomura's opening score, you are left under no illusion that this game will be something special and your ears in particular are in for a treat. The main theme perfectly sums up the game's emotional nature, with it's gentle beginning giving way to an epic orchestral climax.
The background music will change (sometimes drastically) depending on whether you are wandering round during the day or at night...and some of this after dark music is nothing short of divine, Satorl Mash and Agni Ratha being prime examples.
|None of that motion control malarkey here!|
8. The ridiculously talented development team (Monolith Soft)
9. It "rescues the JRPG" as a genre
The game seems to have the ability to satisfy the modern gamer's desire for a more fluid and less arduous adventure. It allows the player to 'warp' to most landmarks in an instant (personally I think this is lazy, but I do see it's advantages), and it goes a long way to removing the need to level up your character to by fighting enemies over and over again. All this, helps the game to flow in a way that I've never really experienced in a traditional RPG. It's certainly no action RPG, but it does take a lot from it's sibling genre. Worry not though stats fans! At the same time, Xenoblade manages not to alienate the more hardened RPG fans by stuffing itself full of lovely customisation, neat skill exchanges and some truly magnificent side quests.
When Nintendo of America announced that Xenoblade Chronicles, the Last Story and Pandora's Tower; three of the Wii's most promising titles, would not be receiving a release in North America, there was, as you would expect a good deal of disappointment and anger from fans. This feeling was exacerbated further because all three games had been given the green light for translation and release in the PAL territories...I for one actually felt this went some way toward making up for Chrono Trigger and Earthbound (sorry American friends!).
The feeling of the fans became so strong that Operation Rainfall was formed. The following months saw legions of dedicated fans lobbying Nintendo of America via email, letter and even phone call, in the hopes of persuading them to release this trio of games. In what must be regarded as a victory for all fan-kind(!), Nintendo finally announced plans to release Xenoblade and The Last Story in North America.
I find it incredible and quite moving that the desire of ordinary people to experience 'mere' video games, could lead to such a movement and in turn, convince one of the world's premier entertainment companies to change it's mind. Everyone involved deserves massive thanks, and has my unwavering admiration.
I am well aware that my fevered ramblings do not really do justice to this jewel of a game. So I implore and even beg of you, if you have any interest at all in the RPG genre or even just in video games that are designed and built to be as good as they possibly can, then get this game.
I think it speaks volumes for me to say that Xenoblade Chronicles is worth the price of a Wii all on it's own...it is just that good. With any luck, it's commercial success and critical acclaim will help to ensure the continued translation and release of more Japanese RPGs.The Last Story sure has a lot to live up to...