I picked up Xenoblade Chronicles earlier. I have the feeling that despite its surprisingly strong showing in the charts this week that it will become very difficult to find in a few weeks, so I didn’t want to miss out on the game that everyone’s been raving about.
I’ll confess I knew absolutely nothing about it save for the fact that it was the first Wii game in a very long time that people had been excited about, and that it was a JRPG fashioned somewhat after the Final Fantasy XII vein. I enjoyed Final Fantasy XII very much, so more of the same (including low-rez graphics) would be very welcome.
I’ve spent the last couple of hours playing it and dear lord it’s good. Like really, really good. Rather than taking the usual JRPG approach of being completely linear for 40 hours then opening up in the last 10 or so, Xenoblade Chronicles begins as it (presumably) means to go on: by providing you with a ridiculous number of non-linear tasks to go off and complete at your own pace. Story quests and locations are clearly marked, so you know where to go when you’re ready to advance the plot, and any quests which might “expire” as a result of story events are clearly marked, too — a very nice touch.
The combat system is similar to Final Fantasy XII in that it all takes place in the field via an auto-attack system with triggered abilities, here called “arts”. Unlike FFXII, though, they don’t use MP, instead operating on a cooldown system. This means you can use them a lot more, rather than the habitual RPG problem of “saving” your MP for boss fights. I haven’t got far enough to know if there’s an equivalent to the Gambit system as yet, but I assume there’ll be some way of fiddling about with your other party members. We’ll see.
The most striking thing so far is the astonishingly brilliant music, featuring all but seamless transitions when moving between areas, and subtly different mixes of the same theme for day and night time. While a lot of it is synthesised, the sounds used are considerably better than some of the dodgy sounds used in some of the earlier Final Fantasy games — and indeed, the soundtrack is considerably better than FFXII‘s unmemorable score. It has battle music, too — something which FFXII was (arguably) sorely lacking. I’m a big fan of over the top JRPG battle music and Xenoblade Chronicles delivers in spades, even going a bit crazy with the cock-rock guitar when fighting the game’s equivalent of “elite” monsters.
The dub is pretty good, too — though I’m fairly tolerant of poor voice acting — and all the more striking for being English. Not American; English. These people have English accents and talk like English people. This is a refreshing surprise. Purists would probably sniff at me and say that I should be playing the game with the original Japanese dub, but what can I say? I like English voices. Perhaps if I ever replay the game in the future I’ll play it with Japanese voices.
There’s tons of cool little game mechanics hidden away too, most of which I get the impression are optional. Meeting named characters in regions, for example, adds them to your “affinity chart”, which displays relationships, links and little facts about each character. And there are a lot of characters. Alongside this, an Achievement system pops up little challenges on a regular basis, meaning there’s always something to do or discover.
I’ve established all this in the last 2 hours. I shudder to think 1) how long this game is and 2) what other things it’s going to throw at me along the way. One thing is already clear, though; this is an excellent game and one that I’m going to very much enjoy working my way through. If you’re a North American gamer and considering importing a copy to play on a modified Wii, don’t hesitate; do it. It builds on the things Final Fantasy XII learned to produce a game which, even at this early stage in the story, looks like being something very special indeed. And if you’re planning on giving the game a miss because “ugh, 480p”, then know that you’ll be missing out. So there.