First Impressions – Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

I know some of you have had a copy of Xenoblade for a long time now. Hell, I’ve even seen the Euro version being played on my buddies soft-modded Wii (shhhhh) in November last year. I, however, am unlucky enough to have one of the newer black Wii’s that either cannot be soft-modded or are a complete pain in the ass to do so.. so like a good Nintendo fanboy who cried like a girl when they decided not to port over 3 of the most sought after JRPGs for the system, I paid for a legit copy yesterday.

Now I had heard a lot of great things about Xenoblade just like I heard a lot of great things about Skyward Sword (which lost me in the first few hours.. but I haven’t given up hope), so I went in with a little pessimism. How good can SD graphics really be? Is it going to be the same cliche JRPG tropes? Are the controls going to suck with the Wiimote since the display says “improve your game by using the Wii Classic Controller!”? That last statement didn’t really make any sense to me. You chose to make a game on the Wii, which I would assume that choice was made based on the use of motion controls, yet advertise the game as being played better with a standard classic controller instead? Why not just make the game on the PS3 or the 360?

Even in SD, Xenoblade's environments are jaw dropping.

Honestly, all of those questions went out the window within the first hour or so of playing Xenoblade because it’s completely fucking amazing so far. Xenoblade, while being criticized for its gritty SD presentation by a few of the bigger gaming sites (since the Wii cannot handle anything above 480p), is proof positive that you can still make beautiful games in standard definition. I honestly feel that Xenoblade feels right at home on the Wii because of not having the ability to cram in top of the line 1080p. Maybe the developers knew that since they didn’t have to focus on the game looking crisp and realistic that they had to focus more on presenting a pretty stellar original story (that, albeit, does have a few JRPG cliches), a massive world to explore and one of the best combat systems in an RPG this generation? That could all be complete bullshit, I know, but seriously.. It’s awesome.

Combat in Xenoblade Chronicles relies heavily on position and the use of Artes. You can see the Artes menu at the bottom of the screen, navigated with the D-pad.

I don’t actually own a Classic Controller so I have no idea if it’s easier to control, but the Wiimote + Nunchuck combo did take a little getting used to. The Nunchuck is used to move around, lock on to targets and work the camera while the Wiimote is used for traditional RPG fare – the D-pad goes through your Artes menu (abilities that you use during combat like backstabs and heals), the A button enters your commands, – pulls up your character menus, etc. After about 4 or 5 battles it became second nature, but the camera controls can be a little hectic around corners or in tight spaces. That’s really my only complaint about Xenoblade thus far – the camera.

Combat in Xenoblade is action oriented rather than turn-based, but it’s a bit more in-depth than, say, the Tales series or some of the Star Ocean games. Position and aggro is everything and certain Artes are only effective (or even more effective) depending on where you are in regards to your target. For example, one of your party members focuses on keeping aggro on an enemy (just like a tank does in MMOs) while your character has various Artes that you can use by attacking the enemy from behind, the side or directly in front. You can attack with an Arte that deals additional damage from the side and also drops their physical defense, then slide around to the back to use Backstab which deals a ton of damage as long as it’s used from behind. Each Arte has their own cooldown, so picking and choosing when to use which one is always in the back of your mind. It’s definitely a lot more engaging than running up to something and mashing a button over and over.

Another amazing zone to explore in Xenoblade.

The voice acting wasn’t localized for North America, but not in a sense where it’s still in Japanese. It was voiced by European actors because originally it wasn’t supposed to come out here for us sewer dwellers. Since it was already in English, albeit the Queen’s English, why spend the money to make them sound more.. American? I’m totally fine with the Euro voice actors and think they did a really good job with the dialogue, but I know some players will be a bit turned off by their accents. If you can stomach the ear-bleeding hate crime that was Star Ocean: Til the End of Time or The Last Hope, then you should be able to tolerate the European voice acting in Xenoblade with no problems.

If anyone is considering picking up Xenoblade and hasn’t had a chance to pick up the Euro import, especially if you’re a fan of RPGs, do yourself a favor and buy it. Some reviews have called it the defining RPG of this generation, but I’m going to wait until I beat it AND play The Last Story (since Mistwalker is godlike in my eyes) before making any of those claims.

Every environment in Xenoblade Chronicles has that "massive scale" feeling that really makes the world pop.

If you’re curious as to how it’s been received so far, both Gamespot and IGN gave it a 9 out of 10, but Destructoid (who can be pretty brutal with reviews) gave it the highest honor of an A++ rating. I believe the hype and I’m glad that I can FINALLY play Xenoblade Chronicles on North American soil.

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