Published on May 1st, 2012 | by Louis Garcia, Contributor
Xenoblade Chronicles Review
Developer: Monolith Soft
Release Date: April 6, 2012
Shulk, the main character, has just seen the future; it’s one of many visions that shows another ally devoured by one of the evil Mechon. He ponders why these mechanical monsters attack their settlements while rushing through (beautiful) plains, hills, over a bridge and into caves to find his foes.
When he reaches his destination it’s time to save the day with the powerful Monado, an energy blade that can save the world, and experience another piece of what is a wonderfully woven tale… but then you see the characters, and struggle with an asinine menu to equip another new weapon.
Xenoblade Chronicles is full of what makes Japanese role-playing games both good and bad: from an engrossing overworld–to horribly designed characters; to an intriguingly woven tale blighted by too much melodrama; and modernized gameplay mechanics held back by confusing implementations of them.
These elements of both good and bad design are constantly at each other’s throats, and it makes the whole experience one that is simply average. Where the game is simply a collection of story sequences–something developer Tetsuya Takahashi is known for, though not positively–then it would be a triumph in creativity.
As it is, the story is squeezed between average gameplay that is reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII. The massively multiplayer online-like fare is actually quite amusing when fighting normal enemies. The number of skills, moves and deceptive complexity makes it so that you simply don’t hit a button over and over again.
Where it fails is in boss battles, or battles where you need your computer controlled partners to actually have a bit of a brain. Getting crushed by a boss or enemy because your healer would rather attack as you beg for some extra hit points is not fun the first time… or the several other times it will happen.
Surprisingly, the thing that sets Xenoblade’s battles apart is also one of its major sources of anguish. The main character can see into the future, allowing him to use abilities accordingly to protect himself, and to also warn teammates of impending doom. What breaks it is the fact that it pulls you completely out of the battle, and often, to show you how these sequences play out.
Most critics and gamers may have gotten too caught up in the excitement of Xenoblade coming over to America, and have thus been a little too quick to overrate the title.
And before you get angry, please understand that Xenogears and Xenosaga, Takahashi’s most popular titles, are among my favorite role-playing games (Xenogears is in my top three). While I love those titles, they too were very flawed.
That’s where I’m at with Xenoblade.
The story about a magical sword and a chosen boy that can use it to save his people from the mechanized monstrosities that feed on his people is full of clichés–as is the Harry Potter book series in its simplest sense of good versus evil approach–but it’s the intricacy and intrigue of why they exist, and the fact that you both have homes on top of two dead gods that make it interesting. The who, what and why is something to keep pushing toward–something you need to know.
It’s just too bad that the game as a whole can’t be as inexorable in its approach to total greatness.
This isn’t the title to define, change or save Japanese role-playing games; Xenoblade is merely a game exhibiting both good and bad qualities. For every great piece to the adventure there is one waiting to rot it. Those who never abandoned eastern role-playing games will love it. Others who may have graduated on to the flash and pizazz of western role-playing games may find it a tad slow, a bit goofy, and full of more than enough annoying design choices that should have been fleshed out.
But hey, it’s another game from Takahashi, and it features a good story. For the first time in a long time I can say this: I’m going to finish a Japanese role-playing game.
+ Story is excellent
+ World is large and engaging
– Gameplay is OK
– Some design choices are barbaric
– Characters are downright ugly