Sometimes it takes a while for me to write a review if you compare my column’s publish date to the game’s actual release date.
Sometimes that’s because I have a lot of games on the go. Other times it’s because I’m trying to time my column with an event or the release of a similar title. And sometimes it’s because a game requires more attention than others.
In the case of Xenoblade Chronicles, from Nintendo for the Wii, it’s that last one.
Xenoblade hit stores way back in April. This Japanese role-playing game has captivated and confounded me at times. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I’d get into it for a bit and then get frustrated and put it down. But invariably I’d go back for more. That’s the sign of a compelling, but flawed game. And that’s exactly what Nintendo has offered up here.
The story centres on a sword that offers its owner the ability to see into the future. This is a useful tool in that it helps you change events and remake the world in a more just fashion.
Japanese RPGs have taken a hard rap, especially from North American fans in recent years. And I’ll admit, I’m not always the biggest fan of them. I tend to prefer North American RPGs, like Mass Effect, or Elder Scrolls. The North American games tend to offer gamers huge worlds to explore, extra side quests to explore if you wish, and a story that unfolds as you venture wherever you choose to go.
JRPGs, by comparison, have become extremely linear, often feeling like you’re playing the role-playing equivalent of a shooter on rails.
But not this one. Xenoblade Chronicles is downright North American in its number of options. It offers an impressive world to explore at your own pace. You won’t be guided through the story by the hand. You truly can go where you want whenever you want to. And there are optional side quests to tackle. Plus loads of customization when it comes to the characters.
And that’s commendable. Japanese developers have been fighting for relevance in recent years, as western gamers and their tastes have become the driving force of the industry.
This title proves that, in this case at least, the land of the rising sun still has something to offer the larger world of video gamers.
That said, there are still issues that will frustrate (and occasionally infuriate) gamers. The gameplay choices give you at least 80 hours of story to explore – more if you want to truly try to tackle everything that’s offered up. But some are unbearably tedious. I’m not a big fan of having to collect or kill a certain number of objects or beasts in order to get essential help from a non-player controlled character (NPC). And when these types of ‘missions’ keep cropping up deep into the main plot, the lack of pacing gets more than a little frustrating. The main quest certainly could have used a little more streamlining.
The AI is also questionable at times. Your NPC teammates behave erratically at times during a fight. And this can get really, really annoying.
Thankfully, you have the option of saving at any point, which is a plus for RPGs, especially one with the scope of Xenoblade: Chronicles.
Overall, this is an impressive effort. It represents a good step forward for the Japanese development system and a solid mesh of eastern and western philosophies. But there are some bumps to smooth out.
Rating: 3.5 stars. Rated T.