Yesterday I had a conversation with my co-worker and fellow Nintendo-everything fanatic, and he explained to me that he wasn’t interested in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 because he had never played previous installments in the series before. I explained to him that none of the Xenoblade games are connected, and spoke more about my experiences playing the first Xenoblade Chronicles on the 3DS. Fast forward a few minutes and a YouTube gameplay video later, and he said something along the lines of “this sounds sick. I’m totally getting this game on Friday.” And here we are!
I learned that my enthusiasm is contagious, and what better way to demonstrate that then to tell you about one of my favorite gaming experiences of all time? Let me tell you about my journey of Xenoblade Chronicles!
When it comes to Xenoblade Chronicles, I must admit that I totally missed the boat on this title when it first came out on the Wii, nor have I ever played Xenoblade Chronicles X as I don’t have a WiiU.
Actually, I’m already getting a little ahead of myself here. See, Xenoblade Chronicles originally only released overseas, and it wasn’t until fan-initiated campaign Operation Rainfall finally convinced the developers to localize three Japanese Wii titles. Those titles were Pandora’s Tower, The Last Story, and of course, what we’re here to talk about today, Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s not often that a fan campaign to localize games has its goal come to fruition, but all three games were eventually ported to the Wii console.
At this time, I was in the midst of a long hiatus from Nintendo after the Wii disappointed me and I learned that I absolutely despised motion controls. I also wasn’t particularly a fan of JRPGs, and to be honest I wouldn’t become an avid RPG player for several years at this point. Then it happened – I purchased a 3DS and my life changed forever. Suddenly a plethora of games were available at my fingertips, and with a long commute spent on a bus four days out of the week, I suddenly had all of this time to get lost in longer games.
At the time I purchased an original Nintendo 3DS, August of 2015, a portable remake Xenoblade Chronicles 3D had been released on the console several months prior, but was exclusive to the New 3DS hardware. “No big deal,” I thought, “there are too many long games to play anyway, I don’t have time for an epic like that!”
Fast forward 8 months and I had toppled almost two-dozen 3DS games, quickly building a collection of games and beating them as fast as I could. I had also traded in my old school teal OG 3DS for a New Hyrule Edition 3DS XL. Finally, I had opened up a solid chunk of gaming time, so I pulled the trigger and took a gamble. I bought myself a used copy of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D.
Nine months later, I had finally finished Xenoblade Chronicles.
Now if you’ve never played a Xenoblade game, I know what you’re thinking – “nine months?! I don’t have time for that!” Keep in mind there was a long break that I took about 50 hours in. Then I got back into it and logged 30 more hours before finishing the last boss fight. Yes, this is a long game. But trust me when I say the time flies when you’re playing it. What about the game is so great, though? That’s what I’m here to tell you about today.
Pure Epic Adventure
When describing the world of Xenoblade Chronicles to anyone, the first concept I try to convey is scale. The whole game takes place on top of two battling titans, frozen in place. You are literally walking on the body parts of these giants for the entire game, and it’s not until you wander freely for the first time a couple of hours into the game can you truly comprehend how vast the world is.
Of course, if this sounds exhausting, keep in mind that there is a terrific (and quick loading) fast travel system to landmarks you have discovered throughout each world. It makes the whole world of Xenoblade Chronicles very accessible and not as overwhelming as it might initially seem.
The Battle System
I’ve argued many times that the battle system is the most important part of any RPG. After you, you are constantly reading text, running around, or fighting, correct? If the battle system isn’t fun, then you won’t want to play. Unfortunately, poor battle systems have killed many games for me, even if I liked every other part about them.
Now Xenoblade Chronicles – this game has an interesting system. If you’ve played any MMORPG such as World of Warcraft before and are familiar to cooldown-based battle, that is very similar to what you will find with Xenoblade Chronicles.
Your character auto-attacks, but throughout these auto-attacks you must be aware of your positioning around the enemy, as well as controlling “aggro”, or, whom in your party is currently being targeted by the enemy you are fighting. If you’ve played an MMORPG, you’re no-doubt familiar with terms like “tank,” “healer,” and “DPS.” Xenoblade employs similar fighting styles. You choose a party of 3 characters, interchangeable anywhere outside of a battle, and pick which character you’d like to control, leaving the other two to fend for themselves with good ol’ AI.
While your character of choice auto-attacks, you manually trigger special moves, which, used in specific orders or against the enemy from varying positions (behind or to the side), can activate special actions, such as toppling the enemy, breaking its focus, or knocking it over and dazing it so that you get damage bonuses. This need to be “constantly aware” during battles gets your heart racing and makes you want to fight, literally, every damn thing you come across.
The blend of turn-based and action keeps you on your toes, and you get to learn how to play as each character at your own pace, as the fighting options start off light with barely anything to do except wait for auto-attacks to fire off, and in a couple of hours you are practically spamming commands. It’s extremely fun.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of storytelling, nor am I a big fan of long games. So when I say that Xenoblade Chronicles, a story-heavy RPG which can easily reach 80+ hours of gameplay time is one of my favorite games of all time, that makes it a pretty big ringing endorsement! What I love about the story-telling of Xenoblade Chronicles is that you can basically move the story forward whenever you want, but you can do anything for any amount of time between the story-telling.
Think of it like a guided tour, but with infinite breaks between each conversation with your tour guide, where you can wander around to your heart’s content.
The story itself is very emotional and filled with downright fantastic plot twists, all of which are typical tropes of JRPG story-telling. But it’s done so at such a great pace. The game takes it’s time, and it’s not the type of game that you’ll want to rush through. What it will do, however, is surprise you with how many hours you spend in it. Time moves fast in these games.
Nothing rounds off perfection in a video game like an incredible, immersive soundtrack, right? Well guess what – Xenoblade Chronicles has you covered. With music and ambient sounds that control the mood and make you feel like you’re wandering around the Bionis’ Leg yourself, the soundtrack speaks (or plays?) for itself. It’s gripping and truly beautiful. The first time I wandered on to the Gaur Plains and this music came on, it sent shivers down my spine. I hope the soundtrack Xenoblade Chronicles 2 can live up to its predecessor!
The Characters and Relationships
By far the strongest part of Xenoblade Chronicles is the character development. You feel so attached to your characters throughout the game that you become emotionally invested in all of them. This is done via battle dialogue.
Often-quoted in topical conversations about the game, each character has a huge set of quirky, emotional, meaningful, or downright silly one-liners that they throw at each other before, throughout, and after battles. It ties the whole excellent battle system package together and makes the player feel less like they’re not controlling characters and more like they’re hanging out with old friends.
Throughout your gameplay, your characters will also development relationships with each other, allowing them to boost each others stats and gain abilities. Character relationship development is also an area of gameplay I never thought I’d find myself interested in, but mixing different character styles within your party will afford you different advantages throughout the game.
Xenoblade Chronicles succeeds in incentivizing experimentation – that is, stepping outside your comfort zone and playing as a different class. If you’re normally a fighting-type, why not try healing? Or if you traditionally like dealing damage with weapons, why not try a damage dealer who employs magic? Seeing your other characters actually take notice in being paired with different players is rewarded in those characters creating deep relationships, and eventually you’ll find ways to use bonuses received to your advantage.
The Boss Fights
Perhaps the most notorious part of Xenoblade Chronicles are the boss battles. These are some pretty intense fights. We’re talking a lot of multi-phase battles, having-to-study-your-enemy-while-wiping-your-party-30-times type of battles. But they are oh-so rewarding when you finally figure out how to take down each one.
Not to mention, due to the incredible storytelling and cutscenes, you actually feel something towards each boss, which makes tearing them down feel even greater.
One of the hardest bosses for me in Xenoblade Chronicles was Disciple Lorithia. I don’t want to spoil any story, assuming you also want to go back and play the first game, so skip a few minutes into the actual battle itself to see the complete chaos. Also take solace in the fact that the user interface is a lot more cleaned up on the 3DS version, and is far better in Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
“Geddy, This All Sounds Great, I’m Buying Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on Friday and Also I Love You for Telling Me All of This”
I’m sure at this point you’re already reaching for your credit card, attempting to pre-order the game. Let me tell you – you’re making the right choice here. A game like Xenoblade Chronicles doesn’t come along very often, and the sequel coming out this Friday is practically guaranteed to be the next JRPG smash hit. The thought of the scale that played so well on my tiny, low-resolution 3DS screen having a sequel that can be played in HD on a 55″ TV is almost too much for me to handle.
Like I said – I’ve been told that my enthusiasm is contagious. Hopefully you’ve caught the Xenoblade-bug!