Xenoblade has some big shoes to fill, and it does a fair enough job keeping pace with its popular predecessors. While some elements seemed a little too one-dimensional for me, overall it has some really interesting gameplay concepts and a fairly solid battle flow. The ways in which it attempts to incorporate MMO gameplay, however, are what left me feeling a little disenchanted with the title.
+ Great combat use of "Arts"
+ For Wii-level, has great visuals
+ Has a pretty great storyline
+ MMO-style fetch quests not tedious at all
- Characters are very flat and cliché
- Map is a little hard to navigate sometimes around expansive areas
Xenoblade , as a successor to the venerable series for the Playstation 1 and 2, is a game that does not give the impression at all of trying to live up to its predecessors. Monolith did a commendable job at building an RPG that incorporates the series' popular themes while letting it stand on its own as a new title. I will have to admit that going into writing this review took a lot of reflection and a sizeable attempt to remain objective, and in the end the conclusion was reached that this really is a pretty great game.
Xenoblade follows the journey of Shulk, a young man who wields the Monado, a legendary sword that is said to be the only weapon that can cut through the Mechon, the game's robotic antagonists. Following him are Reyn, a man who suitably fills the role of Tank, and a cadre of others who join throughout the game for various vague reasons. You embark on your adventure after a group of Mechon attack your home colony, and during the battle it becomes clear that you are the true wielder of the legendary Monado. You take up arms to seek your revenge against the big evil robots, learning a little bit about life and love on the way.
If that last statement seemed a bit flippant, it's because it's not the story but the characters that seem to water down the experience; my one really notable complaint about the game is that the story and the experience feel like they could have been expanded past what they were if the characters had been able to reach any sort of depth. Shulk is the typical let's-help-everybody, kind justice hero; Reyn serves as flat moral support for Shulk and no one else is much better in terms of character development. I personally find it difficult to get into an RPG when they make it so difficult to emotionally invest in the characters, and that was a big hurdle in getting into the story. Much of the game was a lot of going through the motions to simply get to the next leg of the story without much care as to what happened to anybody.
The gameplay is really where the game shone through, though; the game abandons random encounters in favour of throwing all the beasties and enemies right out on the map. Encounters happen in different varieties; some creatures will only attack upon being engaged in battle, some will attack you if they notice you, and others still will attack if you are too loud or use Ether (magic) too close to them. I was a fan of the variety, since it meant that for the most part lower-level monsters will leave you alone and you won't waste too much time killing them off for little to no experience.
In battle, your team utilizes Arts abilities that have a number of different effects, such as healing and extra damage (that part is pretty typical), and some that are meant to be used in combination with your teammates' Arts to hammer an enemy. This method is used in success with a Chain Attack, which slows down the battle to let you plot your teammates' moves in succession. This gives battles a great feeling of both real-time action and dash of tactical battle as well. The different characters obviously have different battle styles, and the battle system as a whole is very well rounded out and fun to explore. Levelling up expands beyond simply the stats of your character by giving you AP to level up your specific abilities; as well, you can select different different skill trees that lets your character focus on varying aspects of battle, such as healing over damage, etc. I didn't spend a whole lot of time fooling around with the settings on these, because the stock allocations seemed pretty well suited to how I wanted each character to behave in battle, but the option itself at least has the ability to mix it up a little bit.
It was made a focal point as well that the world itself is quite expansive; and boy, is it ever. It's been mentioned that they tried to scale the world to about the same size of Japan, so you get a whole lot of exploration going for you as well. In fact, no section of the world is unlocked at any point. Right out of the gate you can run forward into future areas to have a look around. Of course, it might not be a great idea, since you will have problems trying to fight off level 14 enemies when you're about level 3. One of the downsides I saw to this was in a very wide-open area, I had a bit of a hard time trying to find my way to the next checkpoint even with the help of a compass; you can really only see which direction you're supposed to go in, and sometimes I found myself falling into caves full of legendary monsters just trying to get to a town. All the same, the game itself is also quite easy on the eyes. Even considering the graphical capabilities for the Wii, it's not going to stand up against, say, Final Fanatasy for the PS3, but they did an excellent job nonetheless of making it comparable to modern graphics in RPG's.
One point I found amusing was that along with the other MMO-RPG aspects pasted in, there are tons of side quests and, more specifically, lots and lots of fetch quests. When I first was assaulted with about ten of these before I even left the starting area, it felt a little daunting that I had to run around, collect materials and then keep running back to the quest givers, but I really have to commend Monolith on making this unnecessary. Completing a side quests means you complete it on the spot; no need to run those insect antennae back to the person that needed them, they have been magically transported and you can keep going about your own business. This makes fetch quests all the more rewarding even for the small amount of money you're offered, since you can really complete a lot of them on your way to getting where you need to arrive next.
Overall, when you play through Xenoblade, don't play it for amazing character development or an amazing story that'll blow your mind, because you might be disappointed looking for either. Play it because it gives you engaging gameplay, fun side projects and, if you're the type, a lot of exploration in a really beautiful environment.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.