[Xenoblade title screen]

[A gorgeous sunset]

System: Nintendo Wii
Publisher: Nintendo
Designer: Monolith Soft
Release Date: April 2012
Genre: RPG
Players: 1
Save Feature? I should hope so!

For the fifth time in as many tries, Monolith Soft has yet again delivered an extraordinary video game experience courtesy of their vastly underrated "Xeno" franchise. Xenoblade Chronicles, with its breathtaking visuals, atmospheric and moving soundtrack, memorable characters, legendary story, and surprisingly original gameplay, was like a breath of fresh air for the somewhat stagnant RPG genre. This is a truly massive, meaty epic that rivals Skyrim in terms of sheer content and feels more like a movie than a simple video game. If you happen to be a hardcore RPG fan who wants to experience something fresh and new, then dive with reckless abandon into the world of Xenoblade and prepare to be wowed!

Overview: If you have had the chance to read any of my Xenosaga reviews, then you know how much I appreciate Monolith Soft's work. Going all the way back to Xenogears for the PlayStation One, virtually every game in the "Xeno" series has been gaming gold. And naturally, when rumors of a new Xeno game began to surface, I was enthralled. However, there was a caveat amidst the excitement. Due to the mediocre sales figures of previous Xeno games in the states, there was the distinct possibility that this game might never reach American shores. This was devastating news to say the least.

At the same time, the Nintendo Wii console, despite its revolutionary motion control technology and impressive array of platforming, fighting, and party-based games, had one glaring weakness: There was not one single memorable Japanese RPG to be found! Seriously, compared to the NES, SNES, and Nintendo GameCube (which all had a wealth of epic, groundbreaking RPGs), the Wii was a disgrace.

Enter Xenoblade Chronicles. Although this game is actually known as "The Monado Chronicles" in Japan, Monolith Soft probably felt that throwing in the Xeno name couldn't hurt. After all, there is a small but fiercely loyal Xenogears/Xenosaga fanbase in the U.S. (of which I am a proud member). Whatever the rationale, I was just so grateful that Xenoblade received a U.S. release! The hardcore fans and even Nintendo themselves really pushed Monolith Soft to release this game stateside. Heck, I even wrote Nintendo Power Magazine (R.I.P. Nintendo Power...sniff...sniff...) begging them to support Xenoblade (please see my picture of the actual letter below). In the end, Monolith Soft heard the cries and decided to release Xenoblade Chronicles as a GameStop exclusive. This limited the amount of copies that were made (undoubtedly to protect Nintendo/Monolith Soft in case sales weren't quite up to snuff) and it also explains why Xenoblade is quite the rare commodity today.

[Tigmo's in Nintendo Power Magazine!!]

This game was worth the wait too because it is quite possibly the finest RPG of the modern era (2010+)! Xenoblade revitalized a plodding and predictable genre with its originality and it is an incredibly meaty, lengthy video game experience (I have clocked in 200+ hours if that means anything.) You honestly feel like you have been thrown into a vast, untamed world with the developers saying "Here you go! Have fun!" Unlike the Xenogears/Xenosaga classics that were generally linear in nature, Xenoblade feels more like an MMORPG with its astoundingly open-ended world and library of side quests.

As far as the actual gameplay is concerned, the best comparison I can think of is probably Final Fantasy XII for the PS2. Both games feature wide open worlds, somewhat similar battle engines, and the aforementioned "MMORPG" feel. That is where the comparisons end, however, because Xenoblade, by my estimation, is infinitesimally better than FF12. That is not meant to slam FF12 either...it simply emphasizes how special Xenoblade really is!

In all honesty, I do not even know where to begin with this game. The amount of content is truly overwhelming! The simple concept of adventure/exploration permeates Xenoblade to its core so perhaps that is a good place to start. Whether you are walking through town and conversing with a seemingly limitless amount of NPC characters or trekking through the field/overworld and discovering new areas, enemies, and hidden treasures, you will quickly learn that this is one meaty, hardcore video game! I cannot emphasize this enough because I thought I knew what massive was (Dragon Quest VIII is the perfect example) before playing Xenoblade. Well...this game defines it!

For one thing, Xenoblade features an almost inexhaustible supply of sidequests/bonus content. In addition to the main story (which took me approximately 80-100 hours to complete), I'll bet that I have spent over 100 hours engaged in sidequests alone. These fun little diversions can involve anything from defeating a rare monster or collecting a certain number of items to completing a task during rainstorms or a specific time of day (Xenoblade employs the popular day/night cycle found in many RPGs.) You can earn some pretty exquisite rewards too so there is some incentive for going off the beaten path at times. Just remember that there is a main story to complete. Otherwise, these sidequests might take over your gaming life and you'll never make any "real" progress!

Another noteworthy aspect of Xenoblade Chronicles is its impressive array of customization options. You can literally set up your Action Grid (which contains your attacks/abilities) exactly to your liking as well as leveling up said attacks/abilities. This is quite intuitive as it gives you a much greater degree of flexibility than your typical RPG. It also prevents Xenoblade from becoming too repetitive as you can always shake things up and throw some new abilities on your grid at any given time.

The process of gem crafting also gives you a great deal of freedom as you can create gems with unique properties. Remember the materia system in Final Fantasy VII? Well, the gems you create in Xenoblade function a lot like materia in that they enhance your weapons/armor and increase everything from strength and agility to damage inflicted during your initial attack. There are a ton of options here and the difference between winning and losing could very well rest on having the right gem(s) equipped so don't take this element of Xenoblade lightly.

Moving right along, it is finally time for us to discuss Xenoblade's battle system! This is without a doubt one of the more intriguing (and best!) aspects of the entire game. While it does share a few similarities with FF12's Gambit system, Xenoblade takes that concept, fine-tunes it, throws in several nuances of its own, and winds up creating something very, very special.

For one thing, Xenoblade's battle engine deviates from the more traditional turn-based format and instead emphasizes real-time, action-oriented battles. You can move freely in battle, auto-attack targeted enemies, and pummel them with special abilities at your discretion. Just know that once you use an ability, you will have to wait until it "recharges" before you can use it again. Tacticians should appreciate the strategic angle of certain attacks (e.g. using Shulk's "Back Slash" on the backside of an enemy inflicts massive damage) and how certain characters are best suited for fighting a particular type of enemy (e.g. Sharla can lay waste to anything that flies).

It is worth noting that, since you can only control the party leader during a typical battle, you are at the mercy of your comrades' actions...at least to a certain degree. During Chain Attacks, you are given complete control over everyone's Action Grid which is definitely a plus and, since you can equip each character's Action Grid precisely, you can at least have a say over which abilities they can or cannot use. Despite the appearance of limited control, I feel that Xenoblade managed to find a happy medium here.

In general, your party can inflict damage by using auto-attacks combined with Action Grid abilities. Auto-attacks may not be all that flashy but their importance cannot be understated. These seemingly simple attacks gradually increase each character's Talent Arts Gauge and when that gauge becomes activated, watch out! Shulk's Monado (powerful weapon/artifact that can inflict uber-damage on Mechon, Reyn's Aggro Burst (draws enemies to him which allows other party members to attack with little to no resistance), and Dunban's Blossom Dance (a fun combo attack that is executed by pressing the B button during certain intervals) can turn the tide in battle.

As I touched on above, each character possesses an Action Grid which contains unique skills and abilities. These can range from powerful attacks to healing waves with magical properties (Melia's ether abilities come to mind). Many of them rely on hitting enemies in a specific area too. Experimentation is key as there are literally hundreds of special abilities to choose from so try them all and be sure to read the ability descriptions as well! Information is power in Xenoblade. Remember that and you will go far!

The Break/Topple/Daze strategy is one of the most important ones in the game. In order to truly maximize damage and increase your chances of success, you will want to put your enemies in "Break" status (look to the pink abilities...I'm serious here!), follow that up with a green "Topple" ability (Reyn learns one early in the game.), and finally "Daze" the enemy with a yellow ability. If you can discover how to inflict this lethal trifecta on a consistent basis, you will thrive since dazed enemies are essentially sitting ducks with poor defense and the inability to counterattack. Especially during some of the more difficult boss fights, being able to at least topple your foe(s) will, at the very least, give you valuable seconds to heal and regroup a bit.

Yet another important nuance of Xenoblade's battle system is the ability to unleash Chain Attacks in quick succession. Chain Attacks can greatly alleviate the pressure of fighting in real time since everything essentially freezes allowing you to carefully choose which attacks/abilities you want to use. The party leader (you) begins the Chain Attack by using any Action Gauge ability (or Talent Arts if that gauge is also filled). Once you make your selection, the screen will shift to your second character and then your third character. If you meet certain requirements (e.g. choosing three arts of the some color) you might even have the opportunity to extend the chain for several additional turns! Another nugget of information to consider is that, if you are having a difficult time inflicting Break status on an enemy (usually a boss), use Break abilities during a Chain Attack. You just might get the result you want!

The final thing I want to touch on before moving on is Xenoblade's Affinity system. Affinity represents the compatibility of your party members to each other as well as to the outside world. As the affinity in each main area of the game increases, you will find yourself receiving additional sidequests and relationships with the locals will improve as well. In battle, affinity affects things like hit percentage, the ability to dodge/defend attacks, and how quickly the Chain Attack gauge fills. However, the reverse is also true. During long battles in particular, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy level of Affinity. That is why, at times, you might need to encourage a fellow party member or help them in someway. It is important to monitor the situation and watch for any button commands that might pop up on the screen. Also, try to get in the habit of nailing the affinity circle that appears at the start of any given battle.

Sigh...despite my dissertation above, I have only scratched the surface of Xenoblade. There is so much meat to be found that I could discuss this game all night long! I do hope that I have at least piqued your interest in regards to the general gameplay found in Xenoblade. Let's discuss the graphics next!

[Near Eryth Sea]

Graphics: Despite the well-documented limitations of the Nintendo Wii console (Nintendo platforms tend to be about a generation behind in terms of graphics/visuals.), Monolith Soft somehow found a way to push the Wii for all it was worth. Granted, I would have loved to have seen this game sizzle in glorious HD but I'll take what I can get! The lush world of Xenoblade with its gorgeous backdrops and remarkable diversity is truly a sight to behold and the attention to detail is simply breathtaking for a Wii game. There were countless times during my initial playthrough when I would simply stop, take a look around, and enjoy the view. The forests, mountains, plains, rivers, and sky create such a wondrous atmosphere and the day/night cycle was executed seamlessly (the title screen exemplifies this perfectly). Without a doubt, the open-ended world of Xenoblade reminds me a lot of Dragon Quest VIII for the PS2. Both games give you such a sense of freedom and adventure!

The battle/cut-scene graphics look fantastic as well! You go from moving around in the overworld to fighting enemies seamlessly and some of the battle animation/effects look superb. The cut-scenes are honestly where this game really shines, however. These special clips tell an epic, timeless story in grand fashion and they look absolutely dazzling. Now to be fair, the close up character graphics during gameplay (not the cut-scenes) are a bit of an eyesore and some of the camera angles can get a little messy but still...I do feel that this game soars aesthetically.

Music: As you know, there are a combination of elements that go into creating a truly great video game. I have noticed, however, that the Xeno series has been legendary in two particular areas going all the way back to Xenogears: Music...and Story. And Xenoblade Chronicles, once again, delivers in both areas. For now, let's focus on the music. Yoko Shimomura, famous for her outstanding Kingdom Hearts compositions, was given the arduous task of creating Xenoblade's soundtrack. She wasn't alone, however, because the legendary Yasunori Mitsuda would make an invaluable contribution (the heavenly ending theme "Beyond the Sky") which is fitting since Mitsuda has a penchant for writing some of the best ending songs ever. To say that Xenoblade was in good hands from a musical standpoint was quite the understatement indeed.

Right from the start, I could tell that Shimomura was the right choice. On the title screen, you have the Monado surrounded by an open field and a gorgeous background. And while the scene itself is a thing of beauty, it is the music that etches this moment into your memory forever. It starts out as a soft piano piece that gradually builds until it hits a powerful crescendo. Simply put, it is one of the finest opening pieces I have ever heard in a video game...and that is saying something!

That is only the beginning too because this game is full of wondorous music. Shulk's hometown of Colony 9 features a relaxing, down-to-earth tune while the open world just outside of town has the perfect theme that says "Let's go on an adventure!" The music just feels right and I love how it changes at night as well! Generally speaking, the nighttime tunes tend to be softer and more laid back than their daytime counterparts which, in addition to creating the perfect evening atmosphere, gives you a lot of extra music to enjoy. Little things like this differentiate Xenoblade from your average, run-of-the-mill RPG.

Additional favorites of mine include Gaur Plain (I love the violin and upbeat nature of this track!), Frontier Village (just a happy, carefree tune), Mechonis Field (one of the finest factory-themed tracks...ever), and Agniratha (sentimental and somewhat sad describes this music perfectly) among others. And not to be forgotten is the aforementioned "Beyond the Sky" ending track which, with its beautiful vocals, is one of the greatest ending themes I have ever heard.

The various battle/boss themes in Xenoblade are also well done. Granted, the previous game in this franchise (Xenosaga: Episode Three in particular) set an almost impossible standard and I admittedly am not a big fan of the rock/metal genre but still...I have to admit that Xenoblade's battle music was impressive. Everything is very fast-paced and adrenaline-pumping which is what you want...particularly during some of the more epic boss battles in the game.

Lastly, true to Xeno form, the voice acting was very well done. Everyone sounds down-to-earth and "normal" if you will (most games get in trouble by simply trying too hard) and I love the English accent that is prevalent throughout the game. I really enjoy the simple conversations that take place before, during, and after battles as well. Some quotes like Sharla's "Let's get this done and dusted!" and Dunban's "Consider it done!" really stuck with me long after playing the game. This element truly enhances the camaraderie of your party and makes the game that much more enjoyable to boot!

Play Control: If you had told me before playing Xenoblade that a Wiimote/Nunchuk combination would work for an RPG, I would have probably laughed it off as a very bad idea. Apparently, the last laugh is on me because this setup was not only used in Xenoblade; It was executed to near-perfection. Naturally, the learning curve is a bit steep due to the intuitive nature of the controls along with there being so much content but the time spent learning and discovering how things work is well worth the effort.

The battle controls and general interactive nature give you a much greater sense of freedom than your typical turn-based RPG and honestly, the RPG genre needed this. Moving around and targeting/fighting enemies feels very natural in Xenoblade and having the ability to give commands to your party members (e.g. focusing everyone's attacks on a particular enemy or calling your comrades to your side) is immensely helpful. Also, there are many instances when you might need to press a button to help/encourage a fellow party member, use Shulk's abilities after one of his visions, keep a Chain Attack going, or simply increase Affinity at the start of battle. Once again, I was very impressed with not only how fun the controls are, but how innovative they are as well.

[Shulk vs. Xord]

Challenge: Goodness me! If you want to experience a modern RPG with a classic "old-school kick in the pants Nintendo Hard difficulty," then look no further than Xenoblade Chronicles. Mark my words...this game will take you to the cleaners at times...no matter how much experience you have playing RPGs. While the main game/story is probably moderate in overall difficulty, hardcore completionists will have their work cut out for them because "insanely difficult" is just around the corner and he's hungry. For one thing, the world of Xenoblade is home to a ton of high-level enemies. This might not seem all that threatening until you realize that many of these ultra-powerful foes roam the overworld and can be found close to areas you will explore at very low levels. Since enemies will generally become aggressive if they see or hear you, extreme caution will be necessary at times. Otherwise, you could be on the receiving end of a single hit KO!

Another gameplay nuance that adds to the challenge is that falling from a great height can literally kill you in this game. To be fair, this does add a realistic element but it is still mighty frustrating...particularly in situations when you simply can't get a good view of the area by your feet (stupid camera) and you accidentally fall to your doom. The good news is that, whenever you get a dreaded "Game Over" (i.e. the lead character is KO'ed), you are whisked back to the last checkpoint. Since you will literally find yourself tripping over checkpoints (if such a thing is possible), losing is not as crucial as in a more typical RPG where you might lose an hour or two of hard work. Still, these little quirks did cause me a bit of frustration at times. I suppose you could chalk it up to me simply hating to lose at anything. It does feel a mite cheap though.

Minor gripes aside, Xenoblade is still a very satisfying game from a challenge standpoint. The battle system in this game can really get the blood boiling and some of the boss battles are so intense! And like with any great RPG, you can make this game as easy or as difficult as you desire based on your decisions. Obviously, you might want to wait to tackle a Level 80 enemy when you are stronger and wiser...or perhaps not if you are the knuckle-headed type.

As far as replay value goes, Xenoblade Chronicles receives a shiny gold star! I have played this game for 200+ hours and I still have countless sidequests in my queue. The motto for this game should be "If you think you have seen it all, you haven't."

[Clash of the Titans!]

Storyline: Like its predecessors, Xenoblade Chronicles delivers yet another completely original, thought-provoking, in-depth story! It never ceases to amaze me how Monolith Soft continues to come up with these compelling, imaginative ideas time after time. Their stories stick with you long after completing the game(s) and they sure make for some intriguing discussions as well. Xenoblade is no exception either!

In Xenoblade, you play the role of a young scientist named Shulk who has his best friend Reyn and sweetheart Fiora by his side. The upstart heroes hail from the town of Colony 9 and live a quiet, simple life at the foot of the Bionis. And no, the Bionis is not a planet or star or anything of that nature. It is actually an ancient being (or "god" as it were) that is colossal in size and is essentially the "world" that all biological beings (humans, animals, etc.) call home. Conversely, the Mechonis (a second being that faces the Bionis) is mechanical in nature and is thought of as a lifeless world full of machines and factories.

The concept of the world resting on a couple of gigantic, dormant beings is quite the original idea and it only adds to the epic feel of this game. The opening movie shows the Bionis and Mechonis locked in an epic struggle for survival with their swords clashing with a thunderous boom. You discover that, once this timeless battle reached its conclusion, both beings sort of became stagnant and wouldn't move again for eons. However, life would eventually sprout on each world which only adds to the intrigue.

And so it begins. Right from the start, you are thrust into a conflict that rages between beings on the Bionis and machines from the Mechonis. Early in the game, malicious robot-like creatures called Mechon (led by the fearsome Metal Face) attack Colony 9 without mercy. This problem is compounded by the fact that no ordinary weapons can even touch these sinister beings. However, that is where the Monado enters the picture. Only Dunban, a hero of old who has fought the Mechon on many occasions, and the aforementioned Shulk seem capable of wielding such a weapon. What makes the Monado special is not only its ability to inflict damage on Mechon, but that it can tell the future as well! It is certainly no guarantee but by possessing such an ability, Shulk can prevent horrific events from happening to his friends as well as himself. The Monado does have a cost, however. It literally wears down the user to a great degree which is why no one can use it for extended periods of time. Dunban had used the Monado in the past but had paid a great price in the process.

Without giving anything else away, let me just say that the story in Xenoblade expands and becomes better and better the further you get. You will learn about the true history of the Bionis and Mechonis and how things are not always as they seem. Like with other games in the series, you don't always know who is good or who is evil and nothing is as black and white as it might seem initially. I can say that you will have to explore the entire Bionis and Mechonis in order to reach the awe-inspiring finale. The world within the game, the different cultures you will encounter, the sights and sounds you will experience; You are in for a rare treat my friends...a rare treat!

[Okay...now THAT is a view!]

Funfactor: Despite Xenoblade Chronicles having a much different feel than its predecessors, it is a "Xeno" game all the way! The gameplay is engrossing and fun, the visuals are wonderful, the music is simply heavenly, and the story once again carries an aura of depth not found in many video games. Part of the fun is discovering little nuances in the game and finding out how to become a true ace in battle. Only through experience can you master a game like Xenoblade. Granted, the sheer scope of this game can be somewhat overwhelming at times (especially if you are a perfectionist...like me!) but then again, some gamers probably felt that the Xenosaga trilogy was a bit too linear in nature. Personally, I loved exploring the world within Xenoblade. This game is truly all about the journey and not necessarily the destination (although the destination is an awe-inspiring one to be sure).

From an overall standpoint, Xenoblade Chronicles is without a doubt one of the finest RPGs to grace the modern era and it gave the Nintendo Wii a desperately-needed shot in the arm since it is a Wii exclusive (with a 3DS version having just been released). Like with all video games, just how great this game really is will likely be discovered only through the arduous test of time. In any case, this is one memorable video game! It has been well over a year since I beat Xenoblade (my 500th video game beaten too!) and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Monolith Soft...for the fifth time in five tries, you delivered another Xeno masterpiece!

Negatives: Despite Xenoblade's greatness, I will be the first to tell you that it isn't for everyone. If you have a short attention span, I seriously doubt that you will have the patience to enjoy this game for more than a few hours (if that). A shorter, more compact RPG like Chrono Trigger would probably be more ideal.

Additionally, while Xenoblade is a very satisfying experience from a challenge standpoint, there are a few rather cheap elements (getting ambushed by high-level enemies, falling accidentally, etc.) that I found somewhat frustrating. Realistic? Perhaps. But still, when you hate to lose like I do, quirks like this will probably rub you the wrong way.

Lastly, this might be the first and only time that I will ever say this but, despite my love for sidequests and extra/additional content in video games, Xenoblade might actually have too much extra content! Perhaps that is the "OCD" in me talking but I felt it warranted mentioning. The main story is quite captivating but if you spend endless hours engaged in optional fluff, you can easily lose that continuity found in great movies and video games. It is like watching the extended version of your favorite movie (Lord of the Rings in my case). It is awesome to watch and you love seeing new scenes and all but the continuity is admittedly slightly off. Just some food for thought.

[Friends forever...]

Ratings: Graphics: 4.5 Music: 4.8 Play Control: 4.7 Challenge: 4.3 (a few cheap elements...awesome replay value though!) Storyline: 5.0* Funfactor: 4.7 Overall Score: 28.0 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Golden Classic!!

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Last Updated: September 3, 2015
WebMaster: Matt Hull tigmo55@yahoo.com
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