As with so many great stories, it all starts with a battle.
Actually, it starts with two battles, very nearly three. Admittedly, the first battle is played out through a cut-scene and serves only to explain to the player why the world in which they are about to adventure is actually the body of a giant robot creature. Known as The Bionis, this god-like mech being has been dormant for aeons, during which life has flourished and this corpse has become home to a humanoid race known as the Homs and a robot race known as the Mechon.
Which leads comfortably into the second battle of the game, which also serves to introduce the player to various mechanics. It all begins with the Mechon attacking a Hom settlement and the player taking control of a hero armed with a powerful sword called the Monado. The hero, with all of his confidence, rushes forward to face the Mechon, complete with sidekicks, and it is here that the player learns the basics of combat.
The player takes direct control of their hero and, once a target is chosen, is responsible for moving them in to attack. Attacks are automatic and dependent on the placement of the player’s character, allowing for such strategic moves as flanking and attacking from behind. The player also has access to “Arts” which are special moves that are subject to a cool down period after use. These special moves offer the required variety to the combat mechanic and ensure that a certain level of tactical thinking is involved. Further complexities are revealed later in the game that add to this fluid, yet surprisingly complex, combat system, such as aggro, whereby the opponent focuses their attacks on the character causing them the most damage, and the chain-link attack that combines the attacks of all the characters in combat and deals massive damage. Finally, there is the power of the Monado, which will make itself useful both in combat and during exploration. In combat, this weapon will allow players a glimpse of upcoming attacks so that they may prepare a counter. Outside of combat, the weapon is frequently used to build on the story and provide moments of high tension.
Anyway, the Mechon battle soon fades and the player is thrust into the future where they meet the real hero of the game, Shulk. It is here that the game starts proper and the player can begin to bask in what is truly an epic undertaking. Shulk lives in Colony 9 and leads a relatively tranquil life amongst his fellow Homs, until the colony is attacked by the Mechons. It is at this point that Shulk, along with a few friends, sets off on what is an epic quest to finally bring peace to this world.
The player now has the chance to explore a massive open world without limitation, and I mean without limitation as there is nothing to stop you throwing yourself off a cliff. The range and variety of this world is something quite unknown for a Wii game. Teeming with native wildlife, during their journey the player will come across both passive creatures and those that will attack the player on sight or sound. Being able to identify these creatures as they wander the long grass or the dark caves will allow the player a chance to avoid combat if they wish, cutting down on unnecessary random encounters.
Whilst the visuals of the game are not exactly cutting edge, it can safely be said that the ambition of the developers is easy to see. It really is not too much of a leap of imagination to see this game as belonging on Xbox360 or PS3, but the fact that it is a Wii title is very impressive. The game is obviously pushing the console to it’s limits and is undeniably one of the best looking games on the Wii. Similar praise can be cast upon the audio track, for the most part. The soundtrack is epic and, at the right times, does a great job of building the tension. The voice work is perhaps where things falter slightly, mostly due to English voice over artists that just don’t quite seem to fit in. The original Japanese voices are also included, although not everything gets English subtitles which may cause some confusion.
The Japanese RPG genre seems to have fallen into a bit of a slump in recent years, slowly declining since the head popularity of Final Fantasy VII. I don’t know if players have come to expect more from their games now, or if the genre on the whole just ran out of momentum. But, with very few exceptions, JRPGs just don’t seem exciting any more. Until now, that is. Xenoblade Chronicles is like a breath of fresh air and has reignited my love for the epic Japanese Role-Playing Game.
The fact that Xenoblade Chronicles is a new game and not the 27th sequel, set in a world that we have already come to know and love, will give some gamers reason to doubt this games merits. The fact that it is on the Wii will also cause the core gamers think twice before buying. But let me tell you right now, if you have ever enjoyed a JRPG before, then you will enjoy this. The quality of this game is outstanding and single-handedly revitalises the JRPG genre. Buy it.