The Wii doesn’t get a lot of love, especially amongst self-described “core gamers.” What is a core gamer? A core gamer is someone who owns an XBOX 360 and/or PS3 and only plays games that are First-Person Shooters or have the words “Call”, “Duty”, “Medal”, “Honor”, “Counter”, “Strike”, “Halo”, or “Battlefield” in the title. Core gamers do not play adventure, puzzle, RPG, party, stealth, fighting, or rhythm games. Another important part of being a core gamer is constantly posting on the Internet about how terrible Nintendo is and how each system is a giant piece of crap, without actually owning one of their systems or playing any of their games.
Core gamers have derided Xenoblade Chronicles as a piece of trash because: 1) It’s on the Wii, 2) It doesn’t have high-definition graphics, 3) umm, 4) …
It’s a strange argument to make as core gamers don’t play RPGs in the first place, but let’s not get too technical. Half the fun of being a core gamer is shouting grammatically incorrect obscenities on the Internet about games they’ve never played.
Western-made RPGs and Japanese-made RPGs are different in a lot of ways. With the rising popularity of Western RPGs (Fallout 3) and the waning popularity of Japanese RPGs (Final Fantasy X), this game, which was made in Japan, was meant to serve as a bridge between the two different styles.
Western RPGs tend to have a single playable character, greater customization of said character, non-linear ways to progress through the game, fast-travel, no need to “grind” (i.e. fight enemies repeatedly and tediously) to level up the character, darker/more realistic graphics, enemies populate the traversable world, and real-time fighting.
Meanwhile, JRPGs tend to use the traditional party system (anywhere from 3-5 characters all controlled at once), lesser customization, very linear storytelling, no fast-travel, constantly grinding to level up, anime-style graphics, enemies are fought via annoying random encounters, and the fighting is usually turn-based.
Of course, back in 1994 with Final Fantasy VI (i.e. the greatest RPG of all time) on Super Nintendo, none of these things were annoying. Non-Japanese gamers had never seen most of this stuff. The tropes of the game seemed cool enough. It was an emerging genre, and before this most people had only played side-scrolling action games.
But nearly two-decades later, the same formula has worn thin. Every goddamn JRPG is exactly the same. They are completely fucking interchangeable. Anime Character #4 from Final Fantasy XIII can be swapped for Anime Character #6 from Persona 4 and nobody would know the difference. Plus, all the grinding, all the random battles, the laborious turn-based battles, and being forced to trudge everywhere can wear on a person. You can only take so much tedium before you fucking snap and launch a controller into your TV screen.
So, it’s no surprise that Western RPGs have become popular in recent years with JRPGs fading into the generic garbage heap background. Xenoblade Chronicles was an attempt to bridge the gap between both styles of RPGs. It was originally released in Japan in 2010, but didn’t hit the U.S. until 2012.
This game still uses the traditional party-based mechanics from most JRPGs. However, you can only control one character at a time. The others are controlled by the AI. If the AI was shitty, this would kill the game. Fortunately, the AI is pretty good. It provides healing when you want it to, “topple” attacks after you do a “break”, and particularly devastating attacks when you need them.
Overall, the combat system really works. It has a surprising amount of depth, and it cannot be mastered until you’re a good 20 hours into the game. At times, when facing multiple enemies, it can seem like a confusing clusterfuck, but I later learned it was me not fully understanding everything the system is capable of. Once you have it down, you should be able to handle multiple enemies without much of a problem, unless you aren’t leveled up enough.
Random encounters are now gone. The world is populated with enemies that you can see and choose to engage them or not. Battles are semi-real time. Characters in the party will auto-attack at timed intervals. However, they can also use “arts” whenever you choose. The arts cannot be spammed like a 14 year old with a bazooka playing Call of Duty. You use them once and then must wait for them to “cool down” before they can be used again. Using them at strategic moments is a key to victory in this game. Lastly, you can move around freely in the battle areas, like in Tales of Symphonia. Certain attacks work better if you move to the side or the rear of the opponent. You are not locked into place like in every Final Fantasy game ever made.
There is some tedious grinding, after all this wouldn’t be a JRPG without it. But it isn’t too bad. If you play the game straight through, you will most likely be able to beat it without much grinding. I only had to do a little at the very end in order to beat the final two bosses. The rest of the game I never needed to.
What I really liked about this game was the giant open world. It has the biggest world I’ve seen in any RPG. Thankfully, they included a fast-travel system like in Western RPGs. Because the world is so huge, it would take forever to go from one area to the next, so the fast-travel is a godsend. The setting takes place on two behemoth gods who died eons ago in a desperate battle. There are many huge areas to explore, and the exploration aspect can be quite fun.
This also tends to be a very non-linear game. You can go ahead on the main quest as much as you like, and any time you want you can branch off and carry out side quests. There must be hundreds of side quests. I did a shitload of them, and there were always more to be done. Unfortunately, most of the side quests are repetitive. They have you “collect 3 of these items” or “kill 5 of these monsters.” Fortunately, when you accomplish your task, you do not always have to go back to get your reward from the quest-giver. Usually, the quest is automatically completed and you get your experience points.
The story was mostly good. It was a sort-of generic “Let’s team up and save the world” thing, but most video games can be accused of that. Primarily, the good guys go after the bad guys. There were a couple of twists near the end that helped make the story more intriguing, but they definitely came too late.
The characters aren’t completely interchangeable genre turds. Sure, they do follow pretty specific tropes like with Shulk, the main character, as the reluctant hero. There is a big brutish guy, Reyn, who is Shulk’s best friend. And of course there is the mentor, the cute character, the healer, and the female wizard. Overall, though, they have distinct enough personalities that keep them from being complete retreads of characters from other games.
Another cool aspect, which I saw advertised/published absolutely nowhere was the option to change languages. You can listen to the dialog in English or Japanese. I think that’s a really nice touch for people who want to have a different experience. The English acting is funny. The lines are delivered pretty well, but almost everyone has a ridiculous cockney accent that make the epic setting seem more like a parody. “OI YOU JUST ATTACKED ME ‘OUSE GUHVNAH I’M GOWNNA GIVE YOU ONE ROIGHT GOOD I AM!” I spot checked the Japanese and it seemed fine. But I was too busy laughing at, and loving, the English track to switch it.
In the battle scenes the characters chant the same lines over and over again. “We can definitely do this!”, “It’s Reyn time!”, “My rifle’s getting hotter!” Over and over again. Over and over again. It becomes a mantra. Or a suicide-inducing annoyance. Either way, you are going to hear this shit a lot. Mostly, you have to learn to ignore it.
My biggest problem with this game was its overall length. The main quest clocks in at around 80 hours. I was really into this game, and played it non-stop until I hit the 60 hour mark. After that it seemed to be dragged out unnecessarily. The final 20 hours were more of a slog. I had forgotten the things I loved about the game, and was just focused on finishing it. The last 20 hours had the cool story revelations, and the gameplay remained top-notch, but I was fatigued at that point. I’ve read if you do all the side quests the total game will take over 100 hours. So, you definitely get your money’s worth out of this.
And what about those graphics? The shit the core gamers think is the most important part of any video game? They are just fine. Sure, it’s not high-definition. But that doesn’t make the actual gameplay worse. And yes, some of the textures can be blocky or fuzzy. But that doesn’t detract from the enjoyability of the game. Graphics are important, but they are not the number one thing. Playability, game mechanics, a lack of bugs, and enjoyability should all come before graphics. Xenoblade Chronicles hits a home run with all of those things. And when it comes to graphics, this is without a doubt one of the better looking games on the Wii.
Core gamers eschew gameplay for graphics. That’s a mistake. I’d much rather play something fun that doesn’t look great, than the opposite. High-definition graphics should never make or break a decision to play a game. Who gives a fuck? A few years ago, HD graphics on games didn’t even exist. And nobody was complaining about those games being too fuzzy or pixellated.
The fact is, Xenoblade Chronicles is an amazing game. It is one of the best RPGs I have played in a very long time. And it certainly helps that they broke away from so many JRPG conventions that had been weighing the genre down. If you like RPGs, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this game.
If you don’t, then please go back to playing Call of Honor: Duty Ops Battlefield on your HD TV, and whine on the internet about how Nintendo is terrible. Whatever you do, don’t play any Nintendo games. You might find you like them. And liking a game without HD graphics, well, your head would explode.