For RPG Fans, Nintendo Is Going To Make It Rain
Xenoblade Chronicles has been a long time coming. After a no-show at least year’s E3 and Nintendo outright saying that it wasn’t coming to America, all hope seemed to be lost. Well, not all hope; whatever fragment of hope remained took the form of Operation Rainfall, a campaign that seems to have led, at least in part, to Nintendo’s announcement of a U.S. release for Xenoblade Chronicles. So what’s all the fuss about? With so many top-tier RPGs on the horizon, why has such a passionate following developed behind Xenoblade Chronicles.
The anticipation is in no small part due to the developers attached to the game. Director Tetsuya Takahashi’s credits include classics like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and Final Fantasies VI and VII before he joined up with Monolith Soft to create Xenogears and the Xenosaga series. That isn’t a pedigree that can be ignored by any RPG fan. However, despite the titling similarity, Xenoblade Chronicles bears no connection to Monolith Soft’s past games. It’s a brand-new story, scaled back to a reasonable level from the convoluted web of Xenogears and the unfinished seven-part story that was supposed to be Xenosaga.
The world of Xenoblade Chronicles rests, quite literally, on the backs of giants. Two titans stand frozen in combat, and have remained that way for so long that life sprouted from them. One giant, Bionis, gave birth to humans and organic life while the other, Mechonis, spawns the robotic Mechon race. Players assume the role of Shulk, a boy who lives in his village on Bionis’ foot until it is attacked by the Mechon. Sure, it isn’t the most original start to an RPG, but the story promises twists and turns of originality that have already enthralled European critics.
However, Xenoblade Chronicles’ biggest draw isn’t its story, but the combat. Enemies are clearly visible wandering across the game’s vast landscapes, reacting to the player according to their own behaviors and moods. Engaging them in combat is real-time, and plays out quite similarly to Final Fantasy XII as players control Shulk’s movement and characters auto-attack the enemy. The player also has direct control over special ability usage, which is governed by cooldown times for each ability. The battle system adds other refinements too. An “aggro” ring appears on the character targeted by an enemy to provide flanking opportunities. Shulk’s sword can also reveal brief flashes of the future, showing powerful enemy attacks and giving players a few seconds to either evade or interrupt the assault.
Teamwork between party members will also come into play. Characters can gain stat bonuses and joint attacks by fighting together. Furthermore, throughout combat a three-segment party gauge fills. Using only one segment can revive a fallen party member, but using all three can unleash a powerful attack with all three of your characters. Of course, the team attack leaves your party quite vulnerable afterward, making the party gauge an interesting new tactical element.
Xenoblade Chronicles also seems poised to address many issues and annoyances that have been expressed over the RPG genre over the years. Quest rewards will be automatically provided without the need to return to the quest giver, numerous fast-travel landmarks cut down on backtracking time, and save points have been done away with in favor of allowing players to save their game anywhere. Even the in-game clock that determines the day/night cycle can be manually changed at will in order to facilitate finding the right NPC for a quest without waiting for virtual time to pass. Streamlining in RPGs often leads to an oversimplification of the genre, but Xenoblade Chronicles aims to smartly use it for cutting out tedious elements while leaving deep gameplay and a rich story intact.
Xenoblade Chronicles may be one of the last major releases for the Wii before Wii U takes the stage later this year. Heck, there isn’t a whole lot scheduled to release for the Wii before Xenoblade Chronicles either. But for fans of RPGs, Xenoblade Chronicles looks to be worth the wait until its release April 2 in North America.