Xenoblade Chronicles, a Favorite of Mine
One of my favorite experiences I've played in a long time is Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition.
The game starts by telling us the lore of two titans- the Bionis and the Mechonis- and how they battled for a long time until they drew to a stalemate. Then right after, it cuts to a battle scene at Sword Valley between the humans (or Homs, as they're called) and these automatons called Mechon. It's a radically one-sided fight, as none of the Homs' weapons are able to damage the machines. However, thanks to Dunban, a suave gentleman wielding the mystical Monado, they are able to pierce their hulls and fight back. You get a short moment of gameplay to feel the difference in power between the Monado and the other weapons. Then, you see Dunban challenge the Mechon in a final stand to push them back, struggling to handle the Monado as its power causes damage to his body. The camera pulls back, until you notice that the valley is actually a raised platform. No, more than that- it pulls back into all the major areas of the game, all the places you will visit on your adventure. And as the camera pans further and further into the world, you eventually pull back enough to see where you were- the corpse of the Bionis itself. The light of the Monado shines from the center of the Mechonis' blade, slammed into the side of the Bionis, before it swells and fills the screen. The title appears. The game begins.
That was the first ten minutes of the game.
Xenoblade is a game about free will, understanding others, war, hope, and much more. You play as Shulk, inheritor of the Monado, as you head on a quest to destroy the Mechon and end this conflict which threatens to drive all life on Bionis to extinction. As you journey with your friends, you are forced to overcome many tough battles, figure out your place in the world, and learn some things that Shulk may not be ready to hear. It manages to achieve great themes and lovable characters while balancing an ongoing war, as well as an existential conspiracy. This is on top of the myriad of smaller side quests designed to bring life and humanity to the world you're protecting. I won't go too into the plot because the fanbase is very careful to not spoil the game (moreso than Nintendo, for sure), but it's fantastic stuff. It takes many twists and turns, and is really effective at setting up its surprising plot points. The themes are fantastic, and deeply inspiring to me.
The first thing you'll notice is that everyone is British. From my understanding, the reason was that Xenoblade 1 released in 2010 on the Nintendo Wii to Japan and PAL regions only. It wouldn't be until "Operation Rainfall" took to petitioning Nintendo to release it and two other titles in North America that it was sold there. By that point, though, the Wii was on the way out, and I guess Nintendo of America didn't see fit to redub it. So they just left the British voices in and shipped the game as it was.
Now, if you ask me, this is one of my favorite things about the game! Not a lot of games go this far in emulating a certain aesthetic for their voice direction. Most of them just use pretty typical American accents. Not even especially unique ones, like a southern or Minnesota accent, just the most typical one. So you get a game where [i]every[/i] character is British- not only that, but they aren't even doing annoying British jokes- and it's just so iconic. I understand some people think they're goofy, but while British accents can make jokes funnier, context definitely helps here. Most scenes are played seriously, with more comedic scenes not using the accent as the butt of the joke. I'd chalk it up to the game being developed for PAL regions- they're not gonna find their own accents funny, obviously.
It helps that they got good voice work here. Adam Howden as Shulk is so fantastic- have you listened to this guy's screams? This guy's screams are downright bone-chilling, they're so good! He's great in most situations, be they serious, somber, comedic, calm, whatever. But the rest of the main voice cast is real good, too! As for the rest, the less believable ones are mediocre at worst, fantastic at best, so the game comes out very positive. I tend to voice characters in games as accurate to their characters as I can, which meant I got a [i]lot[/i] of practice on my British accents. Not only was I stuck using one for a good couple weeks after beating Xenoblade 1, but I still occasionally use Shulk's voice in my day-to-day nonsense.
There are a fair few differences between the original and the remaster that I could touch on, but I'm gonna save that for another post; I'm not one for long blog entries. I could talk about the art direction, which is phenomenal, or the OST and its myriad of bangers and gorgeous ambiant tunes. However, if you were to ask me what I loved about this game, it's the attention to details and all the cool little things you can do.
Xenoblade plays like a singleplayer MMO in multiple aspects. The most obvious aspect is in combat and questing aspects.
Combat is real-time, with you controlling one party member and the others acting as AIs. You auto-attack the enemy while in range, and have a bunch of arts (skills) that have cool-off timers when you use them. The combat is set up around having an attacker, tank, and healer, with different party members fulfilling different roles. A fair bit of the game is in preparation, creating different builds and experimenting to find stuff that works. This does mean you'll be in the menus a fair bit, but it's worth it when you find a setup that clicks.
As for questing, the game handles it really well. Xenoblade is a 100 hour RPG that I can get behind, and doesn't feel too grindy at all. You go into town, and there are like a bazillion quests all at once. Pick them all up, and while you go about the main story, go on a detour and tackle one of the side quests along the way. Some side quests are simple "kill 'X' monster" quests, and you can pick all of them up from the quest giver before completing any of them. Others are dedicated storylines, which can be small or surprisingly large in scale. Whatever the case, the game hands them out so as to encourage you to explore the massive world that Monolith Soft designed for players. You go about the story as normal, doing them on the way.
When I play some RPGs, I like to approach it with the "kill every enemy on the way" mentality to avoid grinding later. But in Xenoblade? Doing all the quests will consistently put you over-level for future areas. When I started getting tired of questing all the time, I would literally skip the quests for a whole area and do them after the fact. The monsters in the next area would be near equal level to me, making it a fun challenge again. Then I'd go back and do the quests all at once, whenever I was really feeling it, and be overleveled again. Definitive Edition improves this by introducing "Expert Mode", which lets you cap your level to anything lower than the max you've earned through XP. I did that for the final boss so it wasn't a complete push-over, and it was much appreciated. The fact that I can get so powerful without going out of my way to bully the local wildlife really impressed me.
However, the game is like an MMO in one other aspect: the world design. The world of Xenoblade takes place on the Bionis, and it is huge! Absolutely massive, which works to the game's benefit thanks to ample warp points placed around it. Not only that, but you're living on a titan- a humanoid continent. So you've got absolutely jaw-dropping visuals like the image above, which is of the Bionis' Leg, that are designed around how the body itself is constructed. The entire world is insanely immersive from the small scale to the large scale. You start at the Bionis' kneecap at Colony 9, Shulk's home, and gradually make your way up its leg and towards its hip. Then you go inside it to climb its chest, and make your way to its head, down its arm, and across the blade of the Mechonis- where Dunban stood against the Mechon in the beginning. You really get to explore this thing, from head to toe, and it's wonderful. That's not even getting into the world itself, which is drop dead gorgeous!
One of my favorite details involves an area called Valak Mountain, which is on the Bionis' right arm. See, Valak Mountain is really snowy, but there's another location on the Bionis' head that's higher up in elevation, but not snowy. Seems like a contradiction, no? Well, in Xenoblade, the sun works differently. It doesn't rise and set like our sun does- rather, it hangs in place all day. When night falls, the sun just disappears, and there is no moon to be seen. Come daybreak, the sun fades back into existence once more. Elevation, in this world, doesn't lead to colder temperatures. So why is Valak Mountain snowy? The right arm of the Bionis is grabbed onto the Mechonis Blade, which is lodged into its side. That happens to be away from the direction the sun is facing. Since the sun never moves, and the Bionis doesn't either, Valak Mountain is in constant shadow. Thus, it doesn't get warmth and it is always snowy.
Xenoblade is full of fun details like that, but they also extend to the gameplay in ways that are super endearing. For instance, this game features alternate looks for each character, like MMOs. Different articles of clothing and different weapons have different looks. They also rendered in the cutscenes, which is yet [i]another[/i] tick for immersion. Hell, the game even shows what specific outfit you were wearing at the time in the slideshow credits! Now, in the original, you just had to stick with the aesthetic of the outfit you wore. So if you wanted to look good, you might've had to sacrifice some stat gains. However... Definitive Edition added a cosmetics feature. Now you can have any appearance you want, regardless of what you're wearing, and you can change it on a dime. What's more, even if an article of clothing isn't your style stat-wise, if you like cosmetics, you're incentivized to buy it for the possibility of a new option in your wardrobe.
Of course, you can just use the defaults without effort. But I took it a step further; I had so much fun with this feature, it made the game in many ways for me. I loved playing around with the different outfits characters had, mixing and matching different sets to give them very distinct aesthetics by how they looked. Remember that I said I like to voice characters? Well, in this game, sometimes I liked to just roleplay as them whenever I had a silly idea in my head. It often was isolated to imagining responses to, say, me jumping off a cliff. However, there was one moment I remember quite fondly. The characters have "Ecru type" outfits that put in their bathing suits. And of all times, I thought it was a great idea to use those when I arrived at Sword Valley.
"Alright everyone. We're going on vacation to the Mechonis! Does everyone have what they need?" - Shulk
The ensuing roleplay was a satisfying and fun moment of improv. Even better, the following cutscene was the funniest thing I experienced in a long, long time. In fact, it was too funny, so I cut the vacation short and made them wear actual clothes. But man! what a fantastic moment.
The game also makes a great point to integrate gameplay with story where it can. Bosses you don't beat immediately often have a cutscene when you get them to half-health, and sometimes are designed so you can barely even damage them. You don't win the battle and lose in the cutscene- either you're losing the battle, or you're doing fine in the battle when the enemy makes a move to turn the tables. Regarding quests, the game actually keeps track of interpersonal relationships between the many citizens of the world. When you finish a side quest, you change the dynamic between two or more people- and sometimes you have a choice in how it develops. When you start, the characters are all isolated from what another. But talk to everyone, and do their quests, and you'll find an interconnected web of side characters. Not only does this illustrate all the hard work you've put in to helping the people of this world, but it also puts a lot of faces on this world that you're fighting to protect. It acts as such an amazing marker of progress in so many ways that it's flabbergasting.
The most obvious instance is Shulk's visions. The key ability Shulk gains that gives him a leg up on the Mechon is that it lets him see into the future, usually a short way off but the first vision he gets flashes the whole plot before his eyes. You'd figure this is just a story beat, right? Just something they do for a plot, but it's not gonna be part of the gameplay. But see, that's where you're wrong. Shulk's visions come into play after he and his best friend Reyn get in a sticky situation with a giant spider. Afterward, he will get a vision whenever an enemy is about to use a very powerful attack, giving you an opportunity to use an art to mitigate or prevent its effect, or to kill it before it's too late. It's a little shoehorned in, but it's very useful if you want to pick a fight with enemies that are stronger than your party. It's also just cool that they created a whole mechanic around the very thing the story's based around to connect the plot with the game.
All of these details are why I love the game. Despite how big the scope is, the developers at Monolith Soft never skimped on anything, and the game came out so much better for it. Everything is pulling together to create a cohesive story on a visual, audial, and mechanical level. It hit me the other day just how much they managed to pull off with this game, only for it to almost never release in North America. It really is a standout in storytelling amongst video games as a medium. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who has a fair bit of time on their hands, and who would like to play an engaging RPG.
- Eldridge Jameson
2022 June 17
CREDIT - IMAGES USED
- Nintendo, Monolith Soft
- The Mako Reactor
- Nintendo Insider
- Xenoblade Chronicles Wiki
- Need Nintendo
- WCCF TECH