Silver Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been playing Xenoblade Chronicles as a favor to the guy who so graciously gave me his old Wii and 3DSXL. It’s not solely for that reason, though; I’ve been interested to see what I think of the game that the general public won’t seem to shut up about when JRPGs are brought up.

…Let’s just say that I’m sad that I don’t like it more. I wish I could find this trite game worth the literal hundred hours I ended up putting into it.

There are spoilers for the game below the cut.

Xenoblade does a lot of things. I mean, really, there’s a lot. It’s a big game. Which, perhaps, is the most pressing problem I have with it. It’s a voluminous game without anything particularly interesting to fill that volume.

The game begins with an explanation of the world, which is abnormal and probably the game’s strongest point. There stand two dormant titans, the Bionis and the Mechonis, who, long ago, were locked in combat. After the Mechonis suffered a lost arm, and the Bionis took the Mechonis’ sword to the gut, they fell into a deep sleep, and the peoples on Bionis and Mechonis were free to return to their lives.

I didn’t guess that the protagonist, Shulk, would turn from minor techie philanthropist to a kid bent on revenge with the first twist of the game. I wasn’t expecting his love interest, Fiora, to get killed before I was two hours into the game. I did, however, guess that she would be back, and that a property of the legendary anti-robot weapon, not being able to harm humans, would play into the fact that the new robots weren’t affected by it.

These two things were connected, and when they resolved, forty hours in, I felt like maybe the story could finally move on to something vastly more interesting.

Dickson, the man who raised the orphaned protagonist, showing up with anti-robot weaponry struck me as kinda suspicious, even more so when he then revealed knowledge of the world and his relationship with the mechanical people well after it would’ve been prudent to mention it to the group.

I was wary when the trial in which the elven High Entia princess earned her right to succession was capped off by a confirmation that her bloodline was adequately diluted with human Homs genes.

Further hints came in the scene after the death of Zanza, a being possessing the form of a Giant, who unlocked Shulk’s Monado (the legendary sword that lets Shulk hit robots and see the future), in which Alvis, a man who taught Shulk to use yet-unseen powers of the blade, talks to thin air as if Zanza were still present.

I was waiting for the payoff of the realization that the Monado, the legendary sword, let the wielder read the very flow and state of ether, the supposed substance of which the universe was comprised, and the deterministic rules of causality this implies.

This pent-up tension waiting for literally anything worth my attention to happen with all of these little details finally coalesced when I struck down Egil, self-proclaimed leader of the Mechonis’ robot forces, as he tried to control this colossus of steel and destroy Bionis for a millennium-old grudge. A shot rang out, fired by the suspicious Hulk Hogan doppelganger, hitting Shulk in the back after he refused to kill Egil.

And that’s when I started to care about the events of the game past an idle activity for my fingers and brain, as the never-ending sidequests had provided.

That’s when the game started doing something interesting.

Within 15 minutes of cutscenes, the circumstances of the world had turned upside down.

Shulk didn’t ever have parents, he was just a vessel for the god of Bionis. The High Entia were just genetically-bound sleeper agents waiting to turn into Telethia, the monstrous dinosaur-like beasts that invaded Mechonis and threatened Shulk and company earlier in their journey.

Dickson, the Homs traitor, and Lorithia, a High Entia woman who tried to assassinate the princess during her succession ritual, were disciples of this god, Zanza. His mechanical counterpart, Meyneth, manifested through Fiora, Shulk’s childhood friend and love interest, to get close to Shulk to keep him from succumbing to Zanza’s influence.

Everything had gone according to his plan, and his plan is total destruction and reconstruction of the world.

…Which, of course, the party can’t abide by, but Shulk’s down for the count for about an hour of game time, during which he has a reawakening and then he uses a new replica Monado to rejoin the fray.

After gathering their wits and their courage, they strike out for the interior of the Bionis, defeat Lorithia, then go to Prison Island, where Zanza was held before, and fight Dickson before they warp off to face Zanza himself.

But not before stepping through an area that means absolutely nothing (past the spectacle factor) to the party, but a whole lot to the player.

Landmark – Saturn

When those words appeared on my screen, I died laughing. I could not stop the gross, guttural cackling that bellowed forth from my gut.

Because, you see, as you face spirit versions of four major bosses that encapsulate your progress, you move from planet to planet in the Solar system. Y’know, that particular planetary system that you and I are part of.

You step from Saturn, to Jupiter, to Mars, and to Luna, facing a new challenge at each.

When you reach Earth, or rather, when you reach Sentient Genesis, you face Zanza.

In the final string of cutscenes, it is revealed that the Xenoblade universe was originally ours, before a scientist named Klaus destroyed the universe.

…yes, really.

In doing so, he brought another scientist lady along, and they became the titans Bionis and Mechonis, and thus, the gods Zanza and Meyneth, respectively. They fashioned life in their own image, as gods tend to, and this is the world’s origin story.

In the process of defeating Zanza, Shulk reclaims the right to the future and returns it to the hands of all the people of the universe by destroying all the Monados, of which he had created a third one. In the process, he relinquishes the right to godhood that he earned by defeating Zanza, according to Alvis, who, turns out, was an administrative computer program on the satellite that Klaus worked on.

This would be so much more interesting if this wasn’t revealed after the final boss was defeated.

I wanted to like this game! But it saved all the interesting plot points until the eleventh-hour plot dump, and when that happened, I was too burnt out on trying to care about all the incredibly lackluster plot development up until that point to take any of it seriously. I spent most or all of the cutscenes depicting all of these escalating absurdities laughing because they were just that, absurd, and only growing more absurd all while running out of space to cope with the repercussions.

The mechanics are alright, but it just reminds me of playing an MMO without the enjoyment of having other people around. You have to manage your aggro, your positioning, and party composition to accommodate for both of those alongside dealing either physical or magical damage with skills laid out on your hotbar. If I were to compare it to anything, it’d be .hack, or FF12, but a bit better-designed.

The same couldn’t be said for the inventory nonsense, though, good grief. Juggling seven characters’ weapons and five-piece armor arrangements while also managing what gems are equipped to each of them is draining on both my patience and my reserves of time. And while I could compare this problem to Mass Effect (a game three years XB’s elder), at least that let me transfer weapon upgrades when I swapped weapons, and the necessary upkeep was much smaller due to each party member’s limited weapon proficiency and single armor slot.

In fact, I got a general Mass Effect/Bioware vibe from a lot of minor parts of this game. The fact that you build affection with your party, but can only have two of them accompany your player character at a time, for example. (Though this is mainly exacerbated in my experience by none of the characters aside from Shulk being interesting or fun to play as, despite my attempts to play as most of them for a bit each.)

The immense environments that are really a pain to traverse and loaded with sidequests also come to mind, after Dragon Age: Inquisition having a PSA put out by Kotaku telling players to leave the starting area instead of doing all the sidequests. The Bionis is enormous and you get to traverse all of its areas on foot! You never get a mount or a vehicle, and it’s so incredibly annoying that the game teases you at the start with a kid driving a buggy, like that could come up as a means of transportation. Exploration is cool, but it’s so exhausting to travel on foot to anywhere and everywhere that must be reached manually.

The ending, too, of the Mass Effect trilogy, is sparked in my memory, though that was well after this game. A computer program telling the main character, who has earned the right to decide the path of the universe, the paths they may take as the arbitrary decision-maker and the circumstances behind the cycle of destruction and rebirth the protagonist has come to stop.

An alliance among species (both biological and of sapient machines) lead by a generic charismatic human who was given visions sans context by an ancient artifact and who was moved to act, finally confronting the menace that feeds on all of the life forms they allowed to prosper?

But a JRPG.

That’s what Xenoblade is. So, to me, what people praising this game for “being innovative for the JRPG genre” says is that they haven’t actually played the genre in any serious capacity, but really like WRPG design decisions being applied to a genre with better writing than they’re used to.

It’s solid. It’s not bad, but I think it’s not worth its Metacritic score of 92; if I had to rate it I’d put it between 75-80. It’s a dry romp that retreads old ground for JRPGs for 80% of the game, which is kind of a shame, given just how ungodly long it is. It’s also obnoxiously beloved on this side of the Pacific, to the point where I wish I’d gotten to play it sooner than now, so maybe the obnoxious love for it wouldn’t have had time to congeal and get in the way of me enjoying it.

With that, I have only one thing left to say.

More like Xenoblasé Chronicles. Moooore like Xenobored Chronicles. Xenosnore Chronicles.


….I should go.