Xenoblade Chronicles is the latest title from Monolith Soft, the Japanese studio behind various entries in the Xenosaga series. If you’ve never heard of them, while a shame, that’s OK too; you don’t need to know who they are.
What you do need to know, however, is that Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the best games available on the Nintendo Wii - period.
Before we get too gushy, though, some background. Xenoblade Chronicles follows the journey of a chap called Shulk, who’s in posession of the amazingly capable but dangerously corrupting Xenoblade called the Monado.
An action-rpg at it’s core, you must travel the (massive) world in an attempt to unravel the mysteries that it conceals - learning, as in all good narrative journeys, a little about yourself in the process.
That journey takes place on the decaying corpses of massive mechanoids that were once, millenia ago, engaged in mortal combat. Long since resigned to the annals of history, entire races of beings have evolved on the backs of both beings - races which promptly set about resuming the combat that ended the lives of their respective continents.
The premise all plays out in a pre-game cinematic that both sets the scene and ingrains in you a sense of injustice that will fuel your gaming fire throughout the experience. Even the intially trite people you mean soon reveal themselves to have genuine characters underneath the surface, revealing a depth of writing skill and understanding of the human condition that transcends the translation from the Japanese source material. And what a translation! It’s extremely well done, complete with excellent voice acting.
The world in which you find yourself is enormous; you’d never suspect that you were on the back of some sort of entity - gargantuan or otherwise. Despite the size, there’s no cookie-cutter copy & paste at work in the art department, either, with areas feeling both distinct from one another and embellished with genuine style, as well as detail that belies the underlying (underpowered) hardware that’s driving it all.
Battle takes place using a unique real-time system, that has almost turn-based elements; you will automatically perform basic attacks and can move whenever you like, however the most powerful attacks have cool downs and pre-requisites that are more commonly found in turn-based systems.
It’s easy to grasp how the combat works, thanks in part to the gradual way in which it’s explained to you, but an even bigger part is just how much it all makes sense. Clever, overlaid UI elements clue you in as to who in your party the monsters are focusing on, and the level of control afforded by the system puts success (or failure) in your hands alone.
There is a lot of complexity - especially in the late game - with juggling team members, their relationships, and abilities key to success when the going gets tough. It’s not easy, either, however there’s rarely a situation you can’t find a way to either beat or avoid.
No RPG is complete without a competent narrative to keep you interested and Xenoblade doesn’t disappoint here either. The world created for the adventure is surreal, interesting and involved; it exists, basically, and you feel like there’s a lot more to it than even what you can discover while playing - which is plentiful to say the least (this is no 8 hour morsel; there’s enough gaming here to keep you going for weeks).
It feels like an MMO in a lot of ways, with vast exploration opportunities and an epic nature to the whole thing that just leaves you wanting more of it. If you’ve been looking for a game to play in tandem with a friend (on their own copy - it’s a singleplayer experience), this is that game. You’ll have countless “what about that bit” and “did you see the xyz?!” moments to talk about over the water cooler (or the cafeteria - keep in mind the game is rated M, though) and you’ll end up turning into an evangelist, trying to sell it to your friends.
It is, in a word, a masterpiece. If you’ve been hoping to find a JRPG to rekindle (or perhaps, kindle) your interest in the genre, this is it.