Here’s the reaction many Nintendo Wii owning JRPG fans had when Nintendo of America announced it was bringing Xenoblade Chronicles to North America:
I mean, can you blame them? Here’s a system, and arguably an entire console generation, that was dying for a breakout JRPG in the states. Here you have Monolith Soft, makers of Xenosaga and the incredibly niche Baten Kaitos, creating one of the highest reviews JRPGs this entire generation and Nintendo of America wasn’t bringing it stateside until the fan movement known as Operation Rainfall. Sure, we’ve had our fair share of Western RPGs (Elder Scrolls series, Mass Effect series), but quite frankly they’re not the same, any RPG enthusiast will tell you this. So what is it about Xenoblade Chronicles that makes it so remarkable?
We begin with the setting: on the back of a titan.
No, I’m not kidding.
The game’s lore says that in the beginning, amidst a vast endless ocean, there were two titans engaged in battle: Bionis and Michonis. Their battle went on for so long that eventually their lifeless bodies became still and after eons had passed, life began to grow on both titans: humanoid civilizations on Bionis and the Mechons, you guessed it, Michonis, and as we all know, peace never lasts forever, so the Mechons invaded and attempted to take over the world and the fate of humanity is in the hands of an orphan boy with a special sword. Okay, we can’t escape the cliche stories of a JRPG, but doesn’t that make the genre more fun?
My point is this: the game’s world is huge. Developers have gone on record saying that the land mass of Bionis rivals that of an MMORPG, comparing it to the size of the entire Japan. Based off of what we’ve seen so far from the game, we can whole-heartedly agree; there’s a lot to explore in Xenoblade Chronicles and the world offers some gorgeous visuals and fantastic art direction, the latter is needed to make up for the lack of horsepower the Wii has to offer. Even better is that the obvious creativity and imagination that went into the art design and environment didn’t stop there; despite the typical JRPG cliche’s that the genre will never escape, Monolith Soft has decided to make the game a bit more…modern. Xenoblade Chronicles is non-linear, has no save points, no silly returning to quest givers once you’re done with their tasks, and no typical gameplay issues that plague the genre. Even the standard “magical weapon has powers” cliche is refreshing. Our hero, Shulk, wields a weapon known as the Monado, which allows him to see the future. This has two uses: first, it promises to help frame the plot to deal with Shulk’s struggles to change the future and how he copes with what’s about to happen, and second, it sets forth a precedent for the game’s battles.
Like most JRPGs, the battle system isn’t 100% real time. Players can move characters close enough to enemies to do auto attacks, but they’ll need to use careful positioning, tactics, and timing as you queue up your special attacks. On paper it sounds similar to combat in an MMORPG, but then we get to add in the Monado’s ability to see the future: you’re warned about a devastating and possible party-wiping attack. While it runs the risk of getting old, it’ll no doubt require some quick thinking to change your strategy on the fly and is something I can’t wait to try out.
It seems like Monolith Soft is going out of their way to ensure a traditional JRPG can be enhanced with more modern game mechanics, encouraging exploration of its massive world and offering tactical battles. The American voice cast hasn’t really been heard from much and we remember how awful some of the voice talent was in the last big game released stateside from Monolith Soft (Baten Kaitos), so there is still plenty of concern there. Regardless, there’s a lot to look forward to for JRPG fans come April 6th.