First Impressions: Xenoblade Chronicles

J-RPG’s have a bit of a reputation among gamers, mainly involving angsty teenagers wielding oversized weapons.  But the genre is also known for dramatic (perhaps even melodramatic) plots & turn-based combat.  While I personally have nothing against J-RPG’s, I tend to lean more towards the western style of games.  I think it’s because after a certain age, it becomes hard to relate to teenage protagonists.  Also, I’m not a fan of grinding, which is something common to the J-RPG as well.

However, when a game spawns its own movement, even I tend to take notice.

Xenoblade Chronicles is the first of a trio of games released in Japan & Europe but was not originally intended to be released in the States.  However, a fan movement calling itself “Operation Rainfall” sent petitions to Nintendo of America for an American release… & succeeded.  Just last month Xenoblade Chronicles was released in the States, with the second of the three games, The Last Story, scheduled for July.

I’ve played a little over ten hours of the game, & so far I’ve been impressed.  I’ve only scratched the surface of the plot, really only just completing the set-up for it.  The game takes place in a world where what’s left of humanity lives on the corpses of two titans who died locked in combat.  Recently they’ve been under attack from a race of mechanical beasts known as the Mechon.  The game proper begins one year after a massive battle that was supposed to have ended the war.  The main protagonist is a young man (eighteen, so at least he’s technically an adult) named Shulk who has been researching the blade that ended the war, a powerful blade called the Monado.  But of course the Mechon attack, leading Shulk on a quest for revenge & to unlock the true power of the xenoblade.

Surprisingly, Xenoblade Chronicles does not have turn-based combat.  The combat is very fast-paced & is getting surprisingly complex.  Although I think you can have three party members in your group at a time, you only directly control the party leader.  You can move around however you want.  Some attacks do better when you attack from specific angles.  I won’t go into a long schpeal about the system right now, but some of the various aspects include chain attacks, breaking & toppling enemies, & actually being able to see future attacks & prevent them.  It can be a little hectic trying to move around while cycling through your attacks, but overall I’ve been enjoying it.  Allies are capable & intelligently use their own abilities, making them an asset even though you can’t control them.

An interesting aspect of the game is the Affinity meter, which tracks the various relationships between party members & the people they meet.  Improving party member relationships grants benefits during combat & allows them the share skills they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

So far I only have minor complaints.  The main one I blame on the Wii itself rather than the game.  When using the nunchuck, you have to hold down the C button to control the camera.  This is incredibly frustrating & rather painful after a while.  Just imagine for a moment holding the Wii-mote nunchuck in your left hand, holding C down with your index finger, using your thumb to rotate the analogue stick, & moving the camera using the arrows on the actual Wii-mote.  This is what you have to do if you want to see where you’re going.  I think I’m starting to get claw hands.  The game is compatible with the classic controller, however, so this problem can be fixed.  I may end up getting one if I plan to actually finish this behemoth.

The only other real complaint I have is that the sidequests are mostly scavenger hunts for loot dropped by enemies, & getting the quests can be tedious since it requires you to talk to people at a specific time of day.  Fortunately the game lets you change the in-game time whenever you want.  Quest markers also don’t show on the map until you get close to them.  I’ve definitely been spoiled by games like Kingdoms of Amalur.

The game also seems content to let you wander into areas you’re not prepared for.  My first death came not from a boss, but because a level 70 fish thought it would be fun to attack my pitiful level 14 self.  One hit & dead.  I wasn’t even trying to fight the stupid thing!  Death doesn’t seem to have too big a penalty, however, other than transporting you back to the last landmark you were at.

It’ll probably be a while before I can give this game a proper review.  Although it calls itself an “open-world” game, it has a definite end point.  I’m not going to review it until I’ve completely finished it.

– GamerDame

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