Played it: Xenoblade Chronicles

It's taken me almost a year to get through Xenoblade Chronicles, completing the better part of its over 400 side quests and fully rebuilding a ruined city. There are still a few quests, hidden skill branches, optional bosses and rare items I've yet to tick off, but I feel that I've fully enjoyed the game without needing to scrape the sweet-but-crusty residue out of the bottom. Or not for a while yet, anyway.

Over 160 hours of gameplay later, I stand by my original opinion that this is the Japanese Role Playing Game we've been waiting for: the one that keeps everything that makes a JRPG a JRPG - the imaginative fantasy setting that mixes magic and technology, the beautiful heroes in outrageous fashions, the pacifistic and humanistic themes that nevertheless result in epic battles - but while clearly having learned the lessons of more open, less heavy-handed Western RPGs.

Xenoblade Chronicles is a progressive JRPG, and an enormous open-world adventure. Its only significant flaw is that its size and openness extend beyond what its otherwise laudable improvements are readily able to cope with. Exploring the huge, memorable, beautifully designed landscapes and discovering new things is one of the chief appeals of the game, but encountering numerous side quests that require finding a particular minor character in one sprawling level, who you've probably already met (but you can't remember exactly where or when) gets pretty tedious, and tracking down the items needed to rebuild that aforementioned city will be impossible without a detailed guide for all but the most dedicated players.

Where this game really triumphs is in its world building, an aspect of fiction that video games are uniquely qualified for. Here we get the opportunity to explore an imaginative, colourful and heartfelt world, infused with its own consistent mythology and replete with interacting cultures and conflicting characters. We get a sense for its inhabitants, and their relationships (positive or otherwise) are linked explicitly with the gameplay. The chemistry between the main party of heroes is also made central to the story - not uncommon in JRPGs, but here developed with particular care, good humour and humanity.

For me, this is the best JRPG I've played since Chrono Trigger, and probably a game that I'll remember as one of my all-time favourites. But, as with its otherwise awesome interface, its incredible size works against it. If you find that you love it, Xenoblade Chronicles will consume your time and leave you with a sense of having spent it somewhere wonderful (in the literal sense of the word). Anything less than that, though, and it's probably just too big to swallow.

1 comment:

mark drago said...

i got hit by a low-hanging skill branch once...was in the wilderness for weeks