The Wii itself has not seen much growth, aside from a few staple titles, it has really only had Skyward Sword recently. Luckily for Wii owners in the United States, we were able to finally get our hands on Xenoblade Chronicles, which, until last month, was strictly available to Asian and European markets. It had received hugely positive reviews that only made U.S. consumers even more eager to get our hands on the title. This will hopefully open up the floodgates for more exclusives to hit our shores. Unfortunately, many RPGs lack the same sense of enthusiasm titles like Final Fantasy VII had and ultimately end up being a disappointment. Xenoblade Chronicles, luckily, steers well clear of a majority of the many stereotypes surrounding JRPGs. With its energetic, live action battle system, good voice acting and beautiful, lush environments filled with odd creatures and a sweeping orchestral score, it’s a definite improvement and a huge step for the stagnating Wii. I might even go so far as to call it a masterpiece.
Set in the world of Bionis, we have a civilization called Homs. Bionis is unique because of what it actually is: it’s actually a titan that has since died and becoming a nesting ground for Homs and other entities. The Bionis was caught in a battle with another titan called Mechonis, that has also since died in the battle. On Mechonis, we have a race of machines called the Mechon bent on destroying the Hom society. Our hero is named Shulk, who has a strange connection to an ancient sword capable of killing the Mechon, called the Monado. This sword has brought on several new abilities, such as being able to see into the future and prevent disastrous events from occurring. This pays off in a big way in regard to the battle system. With the live action battle system, you are able to stop potentially harmful attacks from happening to each character. An event shows up on the screen allowing the user to set up a counter-attack, dodge it or warn the other team member.
Monolith Soft has been developing the Xenosaga for quite some time now. For those of you who were as big fan of Xenogears as I was, Chronicles offers up a refreshing new entry and world into that saga. In the game, many new features are presented to further engage the player into that world: the “Heart-to-Heart” system, which improves the relationships between each character, their “Affinity” stat. It also has numerous quests that can be accomplished, gaining EXP and special items. Special items can also be found all over Bionis in the form of glowing blue orbs. It’s been awhile since a character in a game’s appearance changes depending on what he/or she’s wearing, but each piece of equipment can be seen visually on the character; for instance, Reyn, Shulk’s longtime friend and cohort, wore what looked to be an Indian headdress. It could be seen in the cinematic sequences as well as in the regular, free roaming world. It may seem like a small detail, but one that I found to be refreshing.
Xenoblade Chronicles definitely serves up some new and innovative features, but it also manages to have a compelling story that never slows down. Shulk, the once timid, reclusive scientist, is now on a hunt for Metal Face (a Mechonis), who murdered his friend and possible love interest, Fiora. This sets him off on a quest for vengeance, where, of course, he meets several new characters. All throughout the game, Shulk is constantly burdened by his ability to foresee future events. Dunban, the original owner and hero of Sword Valley (the first war waged against the Mechonis) is even shocked to see the compatibility between Shulk and the Monado. Tetsuya Takahashi, the developer and founder of Monolith Soft, takes them far down the road and all throughout the Bionis. He even makes a very daring choice in the climactic end. It’s a huge statement to have the ending the way he did, and it took a lot of guts to do it. He manages to make the story as engaging as the battle sequences, which is a tough feat in itself.
Takahashi has cemented himself as a truly great developer and creator of fantastic JRPGs. After having had a hand in several masterpieces of the genre, such as Final Fantasy VII, it’s hard to deny him that title. Xenoblade Chronicles is a must play for those who are burnt out on the average JRPG and are looking for something different. Most importantly, however, is how much fun you’ll have while playing it. In the span of only one week, it’s difficult to put it down. I can also see myself playing through it once more in order to accomplish the many side quests. The beautiful world feels both magical and engaging, and some of the environments (one of my favorites being a long bridge surrounded by waterfalls) even made me stop and scan around. It is, undeniably, one of the finest RPGs in a long time and certainly one of the top tier games for the Wii, right alongside Skyward Sword. That’s saying something.