I remember it like it was yesterday. A rainy day, I had just finished working at a grocery store for the day and decided to stop by the nearest game store to ‘see what they have’. I didn’t plan to buy anything (heck I could barely afford to considering I worked at a grocery store) but maybe faith intervened that day because I spent what little cash I had and took home one of the best game’s I have ever played and the best RPG to come out since Chrono Trigger. The game? Xenoblade Chronicles.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some RPG-noob whose only played a few key titles. Back in 1996 I was introduced to the genre thanks to the late-SNES gem Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. From that point on I could always be found playing a game where I had to manage my characters’ stats, levels, inventory and head off on a grand adventure to save the world. Over the years I’ve developed a love for the genre and can count games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV, Knights of the Old Republic, Bravely Default and Golden Sun as some of my favorites. But Xenoblade Chronicles stands above them all.
So what makes Xenoblade Chronicles so great? Well let’s start with the story. On the surface it may seem like a typical tale of boy with no parents who sets off to save the world from evil but as the plot unfolds you’ll find yourself wrapped up in a world where right and wrong aren’t so black and white, where what you believe is constantly brought into question and where your goal constantly changes to reflect this. Whereas an RPG usually has one major twist (near the end) Xenoblade is constantly reinventing itself which helps keep the player invested throughout it’s 100 hour campaign and helps you form a stronger bond with the cast (more on that later). Oh and did I mention the whole game takes place on the backs of dead gods? Now that’s cool!
Then their’s the game’s rather ingenious take on an RPG staple – the combat. Most JRPGs tend to rely on the tried and true turn-based battle system (I have no idea what Final Fantasy is up to these days) but Xenoblade ditches this with a combat system that actually takes a lot of inspiration from MMORPGs. Once combat is initiated your party and the enemy will attack automatically; where you come in is in managing your arts. These special abilities and attacks work on a cool-down system similar to game’s like World of Warcraft which helps every encounter feel fast paced and intense, even if you’re fighting a LV.2 rabbit.
But of course no conversation about Xenoblade would be complete without touching on the game’s stellar presentation. The soundtrack fits the setting perfectly, ranging from quiet and peaceful when exploring the Gaur Plains at night, to fun and adventurous when running through Colony 9 and finally to brooding and intense when scaling the Mechonis. This is a game that knows exactly what the player should be hearing and at what time.
It’s art style is also top notch. The world in which the Bionis and Mechonis originate is extremely well crafted and acts as a character in and of itself. The large open expanses are filled to brim with secret areas to explore, wildlife to tame and quests to take on and it all comes together perfectly to give Xenoblade Chronicles a world you want to explore fully. And remember, this game is built for the Wii, definitely not a graphical powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, yet the developers still managed to deliver a game of this scale which is a very impressive feat.
Lastly, we have the game’s main hero and protagonist – Shulk. A quiet scientist from Colony 9, he soon finds himself on a quest to save his home from impending doom and to avenge the death of his (totally not) girlfriend Fiora. During my first playthrough of the game I didn’t think much of Shulk at first, mostly because his sole motivation was revenge and he would put the rest of his friends in danger just to achieve this goal. But as the story developed, so did Shulk. He learned to care, he learned to trust, he learned to hope and most importantly he learned to believe in himself. His story ark is one of the most developed of any game I’ve played (let alone a Nintendo game) and is the perfect exclamation point on Xenoblade Chronicles‘ amazing story.
What more can be said about this amazing RPG? The story is full of twists and turns, the combat deep and engaging, the presentation pushes the system it’s on to it’s limits and the main character is a deep and complicated fellow. Xenoblade Chronicles is a game that any fan of RPGs should play at least once in their lives as it truly holds a special place in a genre with lot’s of special games and for me, is the best RPG to have released in almost 20 years.