An Hour with Xenoblade Chronicles

I had the privilege to attend my first MCM Expo over the weekend. Never being much of a manga, anime or comic fan, I made my way straight towards the Games Expo where Nintendo were in attendance amongst others.

Only being confirmed for Europe two months ago, I was genuinely surprised to see what looked like a fully localised version of Monolith’s Xenoblade Chronicles taking centre stage at Nintendo’s booth. In fact, I’m sure I played a near-complete build of the same game we’ll be seeing this September in Europe.

The game opens with two gods (Kyoshin and Kishin) locked in a timeless battle, until all that remained was their lifeless corpses. Set on the graves of these ancient Gods is where Xenoblade begins. Warfare has broken out between humans and machines and our race, looking worse for wear against the mechs, begins to retreat. Enter Dunban. Wielding the Monado blade, he forces back the Kishin army and restores faith to the Kyoshin soldiers fighting alongside him.

At this point you’re thrown into the fray with your party (Dickson and Mumca) and introduced to the game’s battle system. Similar to combat in Final Fantasy XII, battles unfold in real time, and everything, including movement, is done manually. Before I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that the booths were set up with Classic Controllers, which seems to be Nintendo’s preferred method of control whilst playing the game. To initiate battle you must target enemies using the L/R shoulder buttons. Doing so brings up the battle palette at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to initiate an attack on the selected enemy, while cycling through L/R switches between targets mid-battle.

Once in combat, your character will auto-attack when an enemy’s in range. Movement is vital and dodging incoming attacks and countering is often the key to success. Making your way behind an enemy allows the player to perform special attacks called “arts” that are triggered via the battle palette. Healing your party or dealing out powerful attacks were just two of the types of magic available, but I’m guessing this would vary between characters.

During the course of battle, Dunban is overwhelmed by the Kishin army and Mumca’s cowardice leads to his painful demise. An injured Dunban and Dickson are last seen charging into tons of incoming Kishin forces as the screen fades.

A year later and the dark war torn skies are no more. We’re introduced to the game’s main protagonist, Shulk, and his close friend Rein. While searching for lumps of scrap metal on an open field you’re attacked and the battle system is brought back into play. Diving deeper into Xenoblade’s combat system, the tutorial-like battle walks you through the game’s cool-down system and other battle mechanics.

Once defeated, enemies drop chests that can be looted for items and other useful things. Other features are touched upon; for instance a time winding feature let’s you jump to a specific time between the game’s day and night cycles (think Fallout), while a “save anywhere” feature eradicates awkward save points the genre’s so well known for.

In open fields such as this one, you’re able to engage monsters and creatures to level up and obtain items. However, different to the game’s main battles, it is up to the player to initiate combat in these areas. You’re not forced to battle when you come in contact with these enemies – à la Final Fantasy. While I only played a small part of the game, it’s worth noting that the world is huge, so huge that a waypoint marker is put there for good measure, keeping you in the right direction of the main quest.

After some time we reached Colony 9, which is Shulk and Rein’s hometown. In addition to the main path, there are plenty of side quests and other activities that deviate from the main storyline entirely, which will surely keep a player busy for hours on end if they ever want to take a break from the main plot. Built on top these side quests is the “bond system”, which plays a huge role and can often alter the perception of your character whilst in towns. For example, empty promises, like not helping a father find his daughter a gift after agreeing to do so would affect your image in that particular town. While we’re used to similar systems in games such as Fable, such a feature is rare to find in many JRPG’s, so I’m interested to see how this feature will grow throughout the course of game.

Visually, the game looks outstanding. The roaming creatures and monsters really have a way of bringing the land to life. The art direction really unearths the full power of the Wii, and while the character models aren’t up to the same standard, they don’t by any means dent the overall experience. The soundtrack is beautifully arranged and reminds me fondly of Dark Chronicle/Dark Cloud 2 (see the trailer below), which is not surprising seeing as Yoko Shimomura and Yasunori Mitsuda are on board.

NOE have done a fantastic job with the localisation, of which I heard had been finished just as of last week. The English voice acting is superb, and I, for one, am appreciative of some of the characters’ cockney tones. Despite having previous reservations, they really blend well with the game.

I left the Nintendo booth thoroughly impressed and wanting more. We haven’t been spoiled with great JRPG’s as we have in generations past. Luckily, Xenoblade Chronicles looks to change that. Let’s hope The Last Story makes its way across the ocean before Project Café makes the Wii obsolete.