So the much hyped up and whined over RPG of all time finally breaks onto American shores, but was the wait worth it? Actually, yes. And no, I’m not just saying that because it’s a solid RPG for the Wii, I’m saying that because it’s actually a pretty damn good RPG with all kinds of fun concepts that are borrowed from many other great RPGs while still staying its own.
Available For: Wii
Developer(s): Monolith Soft
Release Date: 2012
Archetype(s): Action RPG
When I first heard about Xenoblade, I quickly whipped my head in its general direction because I, like any good console RPG veteran, immediately recognize xeno with either Xenogears or Xenosaga, which are both excellent titles. While this has absolutely nothing to do with the actual game itself, it’s almost like calling a game Final Phantasm, Soldier of Duty, Dragoon Quest, or Legend of Zelba.
Then I saw all the hype for it and eventually the outrage that Monolith Soft would DARE not bring it to the U.S. I kind of yawned and went about my business, not really caring whether it would be a good game or not. See, I’ve grown used to developers pulling bullshit like this since the 80s. Sure, it’s not the 80s, 90s, or even the…the…well, I guess 2000s…anymore, but that’s hardly the point.
I don’t think Monolith Soft did it to stir up fanboy outrage either. They may simply have not initially had the funds, ability, or whatever to do so in the first place and could have potentially taken a major risk bringing it to America. Still, for that reason and also because a protest from gamers actually WORKED, I felt obligated to pick up the title, not really knowing anything about it.
I’m glad I did, though, as it really is a marvelous game. The very first thing you’ll notice about this game is every last voice actor is British. At first I felt this might make the game a little…off. However, it’s actually worked out quite well. In fact, I daresay it makes it better. The game is unabashedly foreign, which we’ll get into why in a second, and not only do the British voice actors do a damn fine job (with the exception of some of the children voice actors), but it just feels “right.”
As far as why the game feels foreign, well, nearly everything from the game design to the gameplay to the scenery to even the artwork and character design feels…different. Not bad or strange, just different. Firstly, the game starts with this backstory about two titanically huge giants fighting each other, one biological and one mechanical. Then they kinda kill each other.
Over aeons, their bodies grow over with vegetation and eventually inhabitants with humans on the Bionis (the biological one) and machines on the Mechonis (the mechanical one). So as you journey all over the “world,” you’ll note that while the areas are vast, huge, and expansive, the world map is set up to look as though you’re climbing up the legs to the chest and so on.
Secondly, and this is the primary focus of the game itself, the monado and its incredible powers. At first it just appears that it’s a special sword that let you fight the machines. Over time, however, it allows you to see peoples’ fates and attempt to change them. It can also do this in combat, often allowing you to avert someone’s death mid-combat by warning them or destroying the enemy before it can happen.
And of course, I’ve yet to get too far into the game, so I really don’t know if there are any other powers to the monado itself, but that aspect alone makes the game pretty damn awesome. The combat itself can be compared to that of Dragon Age, but less difficult, with only three characters in combat, with more emphasis on establishing group affinity, with more abilities to call forth, with more complexity, and yet, much, much simpler.
Even reading that sentence back to myself makes it sound ridiculously complex, but trust me, combat is quick, fun, and simple. And about group affinity, well, this is where it takes a cue from the Star Ocean series. See, you can have what the game refers to as a “heart to heart” in select locations if you have certain party members in the party that have high enough affinity with each other.
It allows you to glance into their pasts or just plain what they feel for each other. Some of them are funny, sad, romantic, and even strange, but never feel forced or out of character. Much like Star Ocean, you can completely muck it up, but doing it right increases your affinity that much more, which allows for skill linking, better encouragement in battle (which allows for better buffs and debuffs), and all kinds of cool stuff.
In fact, you can even enhance affinity just by congratulating people on various critical strikes or well timed hits. This means that even though the combat system is semi-automatic, you must pay attention not only to dole out skills properly and from proper angles, but also to place well timed encouragements, which sounds silly but actually works out fairly well from a technical angle.
Now I’m not going to go too deeply into the story for two reasons. One, I really don’t like to give away spoilers. Two, initially, I was ready to write off this game as being good, but only just that. The story basically picks up and puts down when you want to, allowing for all kinds of side questing, exploration, character customization, grinding, and whatever the fuck you’d like.
As a result, I was mostly side questing at first and was starting to get a little bored, so I figured I’d just follow the map marker and progress the plot. And when I did, WHAM. Not only did the story pick up, but it picked up in a big way like only a well made JRPG can. In essence, think about it like this. Imagine if any of the Fable games actually had a good story. Now sure, they have a fun story and a great idea to work with, but they never feel like they reach full fruition and as a result, you really do get more out of the game just by side questing, exploring, and finding other stuff to do rather than just moving forward in the game.
When the story picked up, I could not put the game down. I decided “fuck the side questing” and proceeding to keep moving in the story. I was having fun. LOTS of fun. When the story started to slow a bit, then I starting side questing again…and now I have about 100 quests I can go pursue…or I can hop right back into the story where things are already picking back up again.
In other words, I accidentally slowed the pacing down because I wanted to do more since I’ve been taught over the past generation of games that I probably SHOULD go explore and do side questing because either I’ll need it or there won’t be much game otherwise. It’s almost like slapping the best of Final Fantasy together with an Elder Scrolls title…and it’s absolutely brilliant for it.
This may not make RPG of the year as both Mass Effect 3 and Last Story are out this year, but if it doesn’t it will definitely be in the top 5. If you like RPGs even by a tiny fragment, you owe it to yourself to pick up this game. Let’s just hope you still have a Wii!