Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Xenoblade Chronicles.
Xenoblade Chronicles is a disappointment. Petitions were signed, letters were written and the community preordered the game in mass –until Nintendo finally released the game in North America. IGN called it the best Japanese RPG of this generation. Other reviewers agreed; out of 58 reviews on Metacritic, not a single negative one.
But I can’t agree with those reviews. I came in expecting a lot out of this game. I had been promised a lot. But there are flaws, and many of them.
Story is the driving force in an RPG. Without story, there is no point in continuing. Xenoblade Chronicles has the pieces to build a great story, but the pieces don’t fit. It attempts to tell a story driven by revenge and heartbreak. Early in the game, players suffer a tragedy. Shulk’s childhood friend, Fiora, is killed in front of him by the Mechon.
This scenario is old news for RPG fans and is repeated in game after game. The most infamous scenario is represented in Final Fantasy 7 when Aeris is killed by Sephiroth. This scene hits hard for gamers. I’ve literally known grown men who cried at this point in the game. And that’s because they’re emotionally invested. They had time to get to know her. When she was murdered, they didn’t feel like a kid holding a controller, they felt like Cloud – they saw someone they loved killed before their eyes.
Aeris' death is largely considered one of the saddest scene in any video game.
Xenoblade Chronicles fails to do any of that for me. The game tells me Fiora is my friend, but it doesn’t show me – it doesn’t make me believe it. You barely spend any time with her before she is snatched away. She was just the girl who brought you soup once. Her death is tragic, but isn’t motivating. Her death drives Shulk and Reyn on a quest of vengeance, but falls short to drive me to continue playing.
The JRPG genre has its flaws, most notably how long and complex the games are. The first 10-20 hours of a JRPG can be called a tutorial for the rest of the game. Some love it, some find it begrudgingly necessary, and others outright hate it. Xenoblade takes this to the extreme, however, and the only word for it is boring.
What do you get accomplished in the first 10 hours or so of Xenoblade? You fight against the invading Mechon to defend your colony, your friend is killed, and you set out to avenge her death. Essentially, you leave the first location in the game, and finally set out for the next. This takes an inexcusable amount of time, even for a JRPG. And isn’t so much steps backwards for the genre, as it is leaps.
Even compared to other games in the genre, it is slow. Kingdom Hearts 2 has a rough beginning that often tarnishes an overall great game. But within 10 hours you are miles past the beginning or tutorial phase, you have probably traveled to a few different worlds, and you are hooked. Even a slower paced game like Final Fantasy 9 has a more engaging start. You enter the Kingdom of Alexandria as a theater troupe, kidnap the princess, lose your best friend, and defeat three psychotic robot mages. All that in just a few hours, not the 10+ that Xenoblade will steal from you.
FF9 has evil robots too, it just gets to the point much quicker.
Why should we accept the praise that Xenoblade is the future of JRPG’s when it worsens the genre’s existing problems to the extreme?
It’s possible to nitpick other parts of the game that deviate from JRPG mainstays. The game doesn’t tell you how much experience you need to level up and the menu’s overall are clunky, devoid of organization, and lacking detail. But these are small problems and don’t really affect the overall experience as much as cause annoyance and confusion.
Graphics are not the most important quality of a game, especially an RPG, but they can make or break a game. Xenoblade Chronicles takes place in an original, beautiful world. But the way it’s presented makes it seem bland and unappealing. Some critics have given compliments to the game’s visuals and blame the lack of quality on the Wii’s underpowered specs. This excuse doesn’t fly with me.
Monster Hunter Tri and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword both proves this false. Those games are stunning and vibrant, especially when you consider what platform they’re on. They outclass Xenoblade in terms of artistic style and detail. In comparison, I can’t help but stare at the blank world of Xenoblade and feel disappointment.
Monster Hutner Tri does an amazing job of showcasing the Wii's graphical abilities.
The dialogue doesn’t match with lip movements (and there is a lot of dialogue); finer details such as hair and hands don’t recall memories of last generation, but the generation before that; and the world seems empty. A location often looks devoid of life from a distance, but in actuality, is swarming with monsters that just weren’t rendered yet.
It makes me sad to play through the game and see the potential for great art. It doesn’t help that preorders of the game were bundled with a gorgeous art book either. That just makes it easier to see what you’re really missing.
I don’t think I’m being harsh, or overly critical, or bitter. Xenoblade Chronicles has just proven to be an underwhelming experience in too many ways.