At the beginning of time, two Gods fought – one biological, the other machine. They buried their blades deep into each other and both died that same instant, locked in immortal combat. Centuries later, the machines from the mechagod attacked the humans. The battle was fought long and hard. The victories all went to the machines, until a warrior wielding the Monado stepped into the fray. The machines were driven back, but there was a price to pay for the one who used the Monado. Fast forward several years; the main character of the game has been working with a scientist to unlock the secrets of the Monado but to no avail. There's no need to rush, of course...
Xenoblade – to be titled "Xenoblade Chronicles" upon Western release – had a lot of potential. RPGs on the Wii are certainly not filling the shelves in shops, not like the likes of "Minigame collection VIII" or "WaggleMii XI". Monolithsoft certainly needed to make this a game to stand out if they were going to get it localised for Europe and North America (which there were no official plans for as far as Nintendo let on). It was definitely a good effort but sadly falls a little short of where it should be.
The areas to explore in the game are huge and though the fields are fairly empty, the towns are much more detailed. Some redesign of where stronger enemies are placed and their reaction to the player's presence would have been a good idea and would make the game less frustrating due to the constant restarting, alongside the distance between restart points. Characters and enemies are well designed and certainly look the part, despite the Wii being restricted to outputting 480p.
Looking pretty is all well and good, but how does it play?
Players like to win. Everyone knows this. A game which presents a decent challenge also gives a player a reasonable sense of satisfaction when beating it. As do 95% of the battles in Xenoblade. The problem is the other 5%. Run around an area and 19 battles will present an almost certain victory to a player who knows what they are doing. One battle will be with an enemy so far advance that defeat is the only possible outcome. And so the player restarts, complete with all the items and experience points that they had up until their demise, despite not saving before biting the bullet.
Fine. One death. Just avoid that enemy if they appear again. Except it's not a case of "if" but "when". They will appear again and they will go straight for the player's party, leaving no option but to run like a bat out of hell and hope it's not too light on its feet. Eight minutes and five deaths at the hands of the same nasty later and some may be reaching for the power button.
The battles are all fought in real time, with the player-character automatically attacking when they are in range of the targeted enemy. Stronger attacks are also available, but take time to charge. Predictably, the stronger the attack, the longer it takes to charge up. This is also true of what the Monado is capable of doing. Moves include a giant beam sword and a shield that protects the player and all their teammates. The lack of a dodge button is one fairly large oversight, the emphasis being placed on offence rather than defensive manoeuvres. The Monado will give the player a brief flash into the future if one of their teammates is going to be killed so that the player can step in and alter the course of the future by either distracting the enemy (and becoming the target themselves) or warning the other character, who can then somehow dodge the attack. Causality, temporal paradoxes and "Final Destination" references aside, this does add an interesting change to the gameplay, while at the same time stabbing a Monado-sized blade into the flow of the game. If the player is not healing their comrades often enough these premonitions begin to happen every 10-15 seconds.
As with most RPGs, equipment makes a huge difference. Defeated enemies drop crystals which have certain attributes. By fusing these raw crystals together, it is possible to create upgrade gems which can then be added to the slots on weapons and armour to bolster defence, etc. Choosing the right equipment and gems does play an important part of the game, not to mention making the gems is oddly addictive.
There was promise, an array of good ideas, and some terribly out of place difficulty spikes. Playing Xenoblade is not as rewarding as one would like even though it could have been with a little tweaking.
+ Different battle system
+ Expansive areas
+ Earnt XP kept after death
- Horrendous difficulty spikes
- No dodging ability
Buy Xenoblade at Play-Asia
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