Cal’s Review of Xenoblade Chronicles

 Yes, I’ve already played this game. What of it?

Xenoblade Chronicles is called a modern classic by a lot of people, and is widely regarded as one of the best JRPGs to come out in the last few years. It famously had a fan push to get it published in North America, and earned two not amazing sequels for its trouble. It was only a matter of time until Nintendo decided to figure out a way to sell it to us again but for ninety dollars this time.

This review is going to have some minor spoilers for Xenoblade Chronicles in it—not for the remake, which I haven’t finished playing, but for the original game content.

The game’s setting is on this giant, dead titan called the Bionis, which is frozen in combat with its eternal enemy the Mechonis. On the corpses of these two titans, cultures have flourished—several biological life forms on the Bionis and robotic/mechanical life forms on the Mechonis. The game is set against a backdrop of a conflict between “homs,” (humans—for some reason), and the Mechon, seemingly mindless machines that just want to destroy and eat everything. Regular weapons can’t hurt the Mechon, but humans are in possession of a sword called the Monado, which can—but is dangerous to use. Until the protagonist, Shulk, starts to use it to avenge his dead friend and goes off on a quest to destroy the Mechon.

The plot of Xenoblade Chronicles is quite lengthy and kind of complicated, so I’m not going to go through it in detail. But Shulk and his friends end up travelling around the Bionis and the Mechonis, discovering a bunch of secrets and meeting tons of cool characters in a variety of cultures. Of course it’s not as simple as just destroying the Mechon, and it will eventually turn out that underneath the Bionis/Mechonis conflict is a deeper battle between two deities, one of whom has a connection to Shulk, which of course leads to the classic JRPG “kill God for the greater good” plotline. 

If you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles, you don’t need me to sell the remake to you. If you haven’t, let me tell you that the strength of it is not in its originality—there is a good amount of that, but the overall plot is the same overall plot that these games always have, and the characters are, for the most part, archetypes that you always see in these gams. The strength is in how well those things are written. The characters are archetypes, yes, but they feel real. They have understandable motivations, and realistic relationships with each other. The NPCs are so well written that I still remember most of them years after I played the first game—and by “remember them,” I mean I remember their quest lines and their development, but also I remember where in the huge areas they are at what times of day and what kinds of items I can trade from them, because I paid that much attention to them the first time. There are a few NPCs who die later in the game, and I remember that I had to stop playing for a few hours because I was so upset when I realized they were killed. And that’s just the guys who stand next to some flowers and give you collection quests. They’re so well done they could all be main characters—that adage that you should treat side characters like they have their own stories going on in the background is in full effect here and it works so well. 

And because the characters are so good, they make the plot of the game so good as well. The betrayal that Shulk is on the receiving end of three quarters of the way through the game is powerful, because you care about him and you’ve grown to like the character who betrays him—even if it was kind of obvious he was evil. The pain that Sharla feels when she finds out what happens to Gadolt is real, because she’s so well written that you feel it too. Riki’s anxiety about being taken seriously is extremely relatable to those of us who also look like middle schoolers on a good day. Shulk’s…situation is also weirdly relatable for reasons I’ve never been able to put my finger on. I can’t explain enough why the writing of this game is so compelling. 

Outside of the characters, the battle system is based on your character auto-attacking enemies on a world map and waiting for your “arts,” special attacks, to be ready to use, and then using them strategically. You can’t just spam some of the harder battles here, you really need to think about them. The arts and skill trees and equipment customization is a lot, but it’s not overwhelming—I think because really, you can optionally ignore most of it unless you’re going for 100% completion, so you only have to worry about it if you have the patience to learn it. The collectable system is fun, and the music is really good. It’s just all around so good.

And, just to add to that, for the remaster they went ahead and changed a few small things that were annoying about the old game. The affinity chart now lists what items people will trade with you. Quest markers will appear over collectibles in the field when they’re the ones you’re looking for, which is super useful when you’re looking for the really rare ones. This is just a guess because I haven’t gotten to all the areas yet, but I think they’ve tinkered with the spawn rate of a few of them too (God I hope so, because part of me is already having chills thinking about Ice Cabbages). They’ve given you the option of differentiating your characters’ equipment from their appearance; you can equip aesthetic gear depending on what you want them to look like and not having to worry about how 85% of the female armour is slutty and objectifying (thus far that does not seem to have gotten better. You should have seen me trying to find pants for Sharla). I’m not going to say the game is perfect, because there’s for sure stuff that could be improved, but they’ve taken something that was already good and made it better.

Minor complaint—they’ve updated the graphics to be fancier, which is fine, though I know some people who aren’t into the new, more modern JRPG anime-esque style. My issue is that they only really updated the surface graphics, and so the characters still tend to move in this really blocky, awkward way in cutscenes that didn’t used to be obvious but now is because the graphics look like they should be better than that. 

It’s going to take me months to play this and I wanted to write this when it was relevant, so I haven’t played the new content yet. But from what I hear it’s really good as well—I’ll write an addendum when I have more to say on that. 

So yeah. If you like Xenoblade Chronicles already, you’ll like it. If you haven’t played it before, give it a shot. Is it worth buying again if you already own it? Probably not; it is the same game. But I do think it’s very much worth the price tag.

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