UK REVIEW--It begins with an epic battle, a clash of titans in a world without time or form. The scale, the scope, and the vast expanse of the gameworld are established in this moment. The two giants collide, swords clashing in the misty gulf of the universe, and developer Monolith Soft makes it very clear that you're about to embark on something special. Much like the thundering behemoths that mark the game's opening, Xenoblade Chronicles is groundbreaking. It's a true evolution of the Japanese role-playing game, shedding the restraints that have caused the genre to stagnate, while retaining the tropes that made it popular in the first place. It's fast-paced yet in-depth, challenging without being punishing, and features a combat system that draws on the best parts of the RPG world, both Eastern and Western. It's remarkable to think that this understated release--which sadly hasn't even been confirmed for North American territories--might justifiably be hailed by many as one of the most important JRPGs in years.
6330164Xenoblade Chronicles takes place on the corpse of a giant called Bionis.
In the millennia since the titans--Bionis and Mechonis--faced off against one another, their corpses have become entire worlds, populated by a variety of races and species. The game proper opens onto conflict. Colony 9, home to the main protagonist, Shulk, sits at the base of the Bionis' leg. The soldiers of Colony 9 are facing off against spindly mechanical foes--Mechons--in the crumbling, ruinous battlegrounds situated on one of the giant's thighs. The opening battle serves as a brief tutorial featuring party member Dunban, and then you're catapulted one year into the future where peace has settled once more. Shulk and his friends Reyn and Fiora have managed to rebuild their lives in the wake of the Mechon attack. Naturally, the peace is soon shattered, and the Mechons return. Xenoblade does a fantastic job of easing you into the story, encouraging you to explore the expansive Colony 9 and come to the aid of its residents before launching into the tale proper. It's an example of the superb pacing which is prevalent throughout the game.
While Xenoblade Chronicles has numerous areas in which it shines, its combat is paramount to the overall experience. Action takes place in real time, with enemies immediately visible in the field. Some enemies are aggressive, others passive, enabling you to pick your fights wisely. In the beginning, fighting involves choosing one of a series of attacks. Rather than simply requiring you to choose a command then sit back and watch, each attack has certain criteria that can be met to power it up or achieve a status effect. Attacking from behind with certain abilities causes extra damage, while attacking from the side with another can lower physical defence. This system adds a hands-on, real-time element to the combat that--while menu-based--is immediately accessible.
Each chunky, colourful command button features a text description. Then there are the character-specific moves, the chain attacks in which you can link moves between all three active characters, and the enemies that require specific means of defeat, and that's just to begin with. It's a complex and rewarding system that makes getting into fights a joy. And though the battle system is deep, it's remarkable just how well developer Monolith Soft has tailored it for accessibility. New combat abilities and tactical approaches are gradually introduced throughout the course of the game. Not once is the gameplay overwhelming; the pacing is sublime, and the tutorials are brief but descriptive. It functions on the ethos of "learning by doing," and in this area alone Xenoblade Chronicles outshines the majority of its genre stablemates.
Combat is a deep, enjoyable affair.
The focus on accessibility extends to more than just the battle mechanics. The world of Xenoblade Chronicles, the land that's sprouted up on the corpse of a giant, is vast and beautiful. Expansive plains stretch across ancient thigh muscle; waterfalls tumble from naturally formed cliffs. Swamps are moodily drenched in shimmering purple mist, and colourful forests populate the Bionis' chest. The sheer scale of each area is a sight to behold. Traveling around the Bionis could have been a pain, particularly as you frequently want to return to older areas or head to the other side of a huge map. Thankfully there's a fantastic fast travel function that lets you return to any previously visited landmark. There are often up to five or six landmarks within a given area, so when it comes to backtracking you're never required to spend time walking around pointlessly to get where you're going. And with so many interesting things to discover and so much going on, revisiting areas is an appealing concept.
Xenoblade Chronicles' vast array of side quests range from the simple--killing X number of enemies--to the complicated, such as performing a series of tasks to rebuild an entire colony. These side quests are varied and provide insights into the lives of the other characters, with entire subplots strung out over seemingly minor questlines. Unlike in the majority of RPGs, most of Xenoblade's side quests don't require you to return to the quest giver upon completion. For the most part you can stack up on fetch/kill quests, and then as soon as you complete them in the field, you reap the rewards. It's an elegant system which negates the need to traipse around looking for the correct non-player character. On top of this, the day/night cycle that affects which NPCs are present can be manually changed, with an in-game clock allowing you to set the time of day.