Xenoblade Chronicles preview

Posted: October 19, 2011 by ryanlecocq in Features

Talk about a picture that’s worth a thousand words.  All this one has to say is:  “This is the JRPG.  I’m back bitches.”

So now that I’ve finished ranting about my disappointment in Nintendo for not bringing half a dozen good games to the U.S. and neglecting us loyal fans, it’s time to get proactive and do something about it.  No, I don’t mean add my voice to the epic whining over at Project Rainfall.  I mean region hacking a Wii so I can play the European versions of these games.  Well, I actually already did and already acquired and started the biggest of these: Xenoblade Chronicles.  Look for info on The Last Story, Pandora’s Tower and more in the near future.  For now, here’s my initial impressions on the first 5 hours of Xenoblade.

Damn.  I booted this game up and the very first thing I experienced was gorgeous art and stirring music that inspired feelings I haven’t felt when playing a game since the late 90’s.  Anyone remember the title screen to Skies of Arcadia?  Just like that but better.  So far the game has not failed that initial impression in any way.  Xenoblade Chronicles just has that unidentifiable JRPG magic through and through.  Another compliment I can drop that will mean a lot to many, is that it feels like Xenogears.  While the actual games in the Xeno series after ‘gears carried on the actual themes of the series, there hasn’t been a true successor to Xenogears until now.  Don’t get me wrong, ‘blade is in no way a plot sequel to the Xeno series.  It’s that quirky/serious/spiritual vibe that ‘gears had and the ‘sagas completely lacked.

Even the graphics design has the same feeling.  The game’s visuals have the exact same effect of a brilliantly designed engine that makes compelling art on aging, underpowered hardware.  A large part of it is the stellar visual design.  I’ve always hated the old saying “it looks good for a Wii game,” but I honestly can’t think of anything better to say.  If Xenoblade Chronicles had higher resolution textures and ran in HD, it would be one of the best looking RPGs I’ve ever seen.

The soundtrack is so far flawless.  I used to complain when the star composer split the tracks with others, but I’ve grown to see the logic in it.  If you have Uematsu or Mitsuda do every track, then every track is a masterpiece.  That sounds like a good thing, except that when you’re running around killing birds for several hours, a huge stirring piece of soundtrack is actually distracting.  I really like how the normal running around themes are catchy but unobtrusive, but when something epic is happening Yasunori Mitsuda will contribute a track that is truly showstopping.  Not that the other composers are chumps by any means.  When the “other musicians” are Yoko Shimomura (another well known Square composer and Black Mages contributor), Manami Kiyota and ACE+ (also intermittent members of the Black Mages), I would never call them the B team.

The gameplay isn’t breaking new ground, but it’s the first JRPG in years that could even be compared to the modern systems of recent Western RPGs.  Just the fact that you can save anywhere and fast travel is a small step/giant leap that the Japanese have been previously unable to take.  Sure, as an American it’s a little insulting at times to have the basic gameplay concepts that have existed since World of Warcraft and Knights of the Old Republic explained in a tutorial, but I’ll take it gladly.  It’s almost mind blowing to play a Japanese game and say to myself “can I do this thing that makes perfect sense?” and have the game respond with “of course you can.”  By the same token most of the things that have never worked in JPPGs are nowhere to be seen.  So far I have not done a single arbitrary and frustrating mini-game and poorly designed menus are nowhere to be seen.

The plot is so far just the right level of drama without being like a children’s film that deals only in the most surface melodrama.  In large part due to the remarkable charm of the voice actors, the delivery is perfect.  That’s actually a word I want to plant in your mind when imagining this game: charm.  The feeling I get when my characters shout out encouragement or endearments to each other during combat is something that is entirely unique to this game.  It’s kind of like the Renegade/Paragon moments in Mass Effect, except instead of putting the main character on a moral/immoral pedestal it makes the whole group feel like ‘my people.’  When a character falls in combat, I’m not like “aww c’mon Reyn, why do you have to suck?”  It’s more like “I just let my best friend down, I will now defend his unconscious form with every fiber of my being.”  That is an experience even my favorite WRPGs have yet to deliver.  Bravo Japan, *deep bow.*

In conclusion I have some words I feared I would never type.  The JRPG is back.  Here’s hoping this gem of a game someday makes it to U.S. shores.  If not, I suggest you take any and all means to import it.

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