Xenoblade Chronicles: More Impressions
My unexplained, unexpected, and certainly unforgivable hiatus from posting last week was unequivocally due to an unexpected head cold that left me unable to properly let my thoughts undulate, resulting in an uninspiring lack of topics to discuss.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I have elected to continue my coverage of Xenoblade Chronicles. In my defense, I should probably say that my utter lack of other topics is only a portion of my reason for posting this. It’s rare that I have the chance to cover a new release, and the game is far too large to squeeze into a single link of the great sausage chain that is my blog. Tori’s already put well over 30 hours into it, and her ragtag group of impossibly pretty adventurers has yet to make it to the enemy country (located on the other god’s corpse for those who aren’t familiar). I assume the second half of the game takes place within the steely loins and supple curves of the Mechonis, so it seems the marketing guys weren’t lying when they said 60+ hours for the main story alone.
As far as that main story is concerned, I’m pretty impressed with it thus far. Although slow in getting started, it’s seeded with enough mystery and quality worldbuilding to make me honestly interested in seeing how everything fits together. Everything from (what appears to be) soul-swapping main characters with villains to one-line mentions of genetic designs implemented centuries before is designed to make an invested player cock their head and say, “Huh?”
These moments are all the more important because this game can go from amazing magical land of wonderment to curse-inducing vortex of frustration in a matter of seconds. This is due to the self-same combat system that I praised so highly in my last post. While the combat itself is still fun, Xenoblade‘s designers also decided to import another, less entertaining aspect of MMO combat: the add swarm. In certain areas of the game, mobs can become fairly concentrated due to the landscape. Floating coral reefs, for example, force the monsters to group up, which can devastate even a same-level party if you’re not cautious. Complicating matters further is the rare spawn feature, which is far more common than the name implies. These mobs are elite, wielding status ailments and bone-shattering melee attacks from within the safety of their own HP fortresses. They also love to hang out in groups of regular mobs, presumably pushing them around and stealing their girlfriends. Pulling one such group can wipe your party off the face of Bionis, and not even the game’s “pull” feature can eliminate this difficulty altogether. Thus, one can quickly find oneself cockblocked from proceeding further in the story not by a boss, but by the unfortunate placement of a rare mob.
The other main difficulty I have with this game isn’t one of gameplay or design. It’s a simple matter, really, and one to which I can give a partial pass because of cultural differences. Still, it crops up in the most unfortunate of places, screaming its presence, distracting me from what was surely meant to be a powerful moment. It bounces through cutscenes, always present, rarely silent, reminding you that you are indeed playing a game designed by people whose native tongue includes the word kawaii.
This fanged horror with the X-Box logo on its abdomen is Riki, the only non-humanoid member of the party. He joins up as a means of clearing his debt to his tribe of…things (said in the voice of Detention Block AA23′s overseer) and acts like a 15-year-old girl on Facebook from then on. Speaking of Star Wars, the Japanese apparently never got the memo that everybody fucking hates Jar-Jar Binks because they decided to shrink him to hobbit size, trade his ears for floppy wing-scarves, and stick him in this game. Yes, Riki is overzealously cute, but much like your seventh-grade crush, the adorability stops when he opens his mouth. The crude pidgin English that pours forth from his lungs (again, think seventh-grade crush) completely ruins any serious tone the game may be setting during a cutscene. Some of the banter between Riki and Reyn can be entertaining, but watching a crown princess weigh the decision to go to war with an animate beach ball shouting “HOM HOM FRIENDS HELP MELLIE!” behind her sort of kills the mood.