It may never get released in North America, but we're playing Wii's missing RPG anyway.
June 29, 2011
It's a shame Xenoblade Chronicles might not make it to North America. With all the attention being focused on the game lately, I imported it, despite not knowing a bit of Japanese. I played through the opening sequence to bring you some early impressions, and already one thing has become very apparent - this game has a lot of potential.
Xenoblade Chronicles starts with a bang. After showcasing two giant gods battling, the game's story focuses on a gripping battle between three mercenaries and an army of high-tech soldiers. To say things don't go well for the outnumbered warriors would be a bit of an understatement, but more important is how quickly the game establishes the high stakes.
I was sucked into the game's world so quickly I couldn't help but be impressed. I didn't know anything about the story and couldn't understand what the characters were saying, but the weight of the situation quickly became apparent. The action, the cinematic nature of the scene and the music all combined into something very thrilling. Afterward, the game settled into a more typical, calmer sequence featuring Shulk, the lead hero, but that prologue stuck with me. I'm eager for the game to escalate the tension to that degree again.
Thankfully Xenoblade avoids dipping too far into the stereotypical JRPG genre. Battles are not turn-based, though basic attacks do automatically execute unless you interrupt your hero with more complex actions. A couple quick clicks of the d-pad will allow characters to pull off special attacks or moves, including healing allies. You'll be able to move your lead character around the battlefield, though it wasn't immediately apparent if there were significant effects due to character location.
Allies will execute attacks of their own automatically, though you're able to issue a few limited commands to them during combat. As early as I was in the game, it was tough to tell how useful my allies would be.
Xenoblade opens with two monstrous gods killing each other during a confrontation. Later in that same sequence, an epic battle between mercenaries and soldiers is revealed to actually be taking place on the bodies of those same gods.
Colony 9, the first town I entered, has a scale that would make many Wii games blush. Despite the fact that I was simply running through to see the sights, many villagers were attempting to speak to me. The colony felt alive, and the design of the entire location was quite surprising for a setting so early in the larger experience.
I'm sure some of you will want voices in English, but having heard what Nintendo of Europe is producing, let me suggest you opt for Japanese audio and English sub-titles. Besides, the talent hired in Japan is actually pretty good. Despite not understanding the characters, the voices fit mannerisms very well, and I got a good sense of personality regardless. Impressive.
Speaking of personalities, Xenoblade Chronicles managed to make me more interested in a handful of lead characters than Final Fantasy XIII did in almost 10 hours. If I'm going to commit to an epic RPG experience, I need strong personalities to grab my attention. I would hope the storyline starts to work with these characters in complex ways, but right away I found myself wanting to know more about the group in front of me. That's no easy task.
Admittedly I'm not that far into Xenoblade Chronicles. The prologue and opening sequence involving the lead character only amount to maybe 30 minutes of in-game action. And let's be clear about something - this game isn't perfect. Though the graphics have a great sense of scale, they feel a bit dated, particularly with some elements of character design. I've also noticed some objects fading in and out of the environment, and sometimes the camera and controls feel a bit off.
That said, Xenoblade is still impressive. That's saying quite a bit considering the flaws were easy to notice while much was lost due to the language barrier. I suspect I would have appreciated the experience more with a localized copy of the game.
Xenoblade is currently out in Japan with a release later this year in Europe. Nintendo has not announced a release date for North America.