Saturday, October 8, 2011

Xenoblade: BUY IT!!!

I've just finished playing Xenoblade, and here's what I thought about it.

The word epic does not even begin to describe Xenoblade. Those familiar with Tetsuya Takahashi’s work (Final Fantasy 6, Final Fantasy 7, Crisis Core, Xenogears, Xenosaga) will probably know that he’s one for epicness on a ridiculous scale. However, if you were to take all of the epic from every other game he has made and pour it all together, it would not even be half as epic as Xenoblade.

Xenoblade is a classic tale of boy meets girl. Girl meets killer robots. Boy steals magic lightsaber and runs away from home to seek vengeance. Girl is resurrected as a killer cyborg with her memory erased and sent to hunt him. Boy gathers the forces opposed to the machines to kill them all. Love conquers all, and there’s some vague threat from the mastermind behind the machines to eliminate all organic life in the world, which may also come to an end when the land itself gets bored of sleeping and wakes back up to resume its eternal fight against the other half of the land. And only the one chosen by the magic lightsaber as its master can calm the two titans that make up the land again.

Yes, it sounds cheesy, but here’s the thing. Rather than focusing on the events, and the flashy explosions—of which there are not a few, I will admit—or the excellent graphics, this game, first and foremost, focuses on the characters. I have never seen a video game put so much care and effort into developing its characters. It’s like watching a master novelist weaving his story around you. The character development is so good, in fact, that you forgive any ridiculousness in the plot. You really get to know the people that this game is about, what drives them, what they hope for and fear, and why they keep going even when the odds are completely impossible. You can feel the emotion of the main character Shulk as he pleads with the girl he loves, Fiora, to break the control over her mind that the villain has implanted in her, and the triumph when she finally does. You completely understand how deeply they love each other when he dives off of a floating city to save her, because he can’t bear to lose her again, and when they kiss while falling to what they believe is their death in each other’s arms, it actually means something to you. The effort put into foreshadowing is both excellent and subtle at the same time, giving you enough of an idea of what is to happen that it enhances the story rather than ruining it, and it makes you truly want to continue.

The characters are extremely well developed. The villains are suitably mysterious and inventively evil. The story tying them together is good enough on its own merits that I would have played the game to the end even if the character development had sucked. This game really is a masterpiece of storytelling the likes of which is rarely seen, especially in a video game. The way that it blends science fiction and fantasy together is excellent as well. The world feels real. The people in it feel real. The mythology has a lot of thought and effort put into it. It is no wonder that this game took seven years to make. To pull off a story this epic and well told with such a rich world and deep characters had to have taken a massive amount of work.

The biggest gripe that most people had about Takahashi’s previous works, mainly Final Fantasy 7, and the other games in the Xeno series, was that there were long, long, looooooooong stretches of story sequences, sometimes lasting hours, and not enough actual gameplay between. I’m happy to say that though there are story sequences in this game, and quite a few of them, they are blended very well with the game play, and you feel a lot more like you’re playing a game rather than watching a movie with this one. I’d go so far as to call the integration perfect. You still have the depth of a well-told story, but at the same time you still feel like you’re playing a game. The controls are excellent, the battle system is both extremely fun and very simple to pick up and use. It’s also very addictive. Fighting off the endless hoards of enemies is not a chore in this game. The world is HUGE and very fun to explore, and you are actually given a chance to do so.

The biggest problem I’ve seen with RPG video games over the last decade or so has been the degradation of storytelling in favor of employing more and more stunning graphics. This game gives a story told so well that you’d swear it came from the era of gaming when the stories stood out as the best thing in the game because they had to in order to overcome the constraints of the graphic technology of the times. At the same time it also has the absolute best graphics I have ever seen on the Nintendo Wii. Rather than distracting both player and game maker alike from the story, the graphics in this game enhance the story to such a degree that you can see the world and the people come alive in a way that would have been impossible even ten years ago. Every single setting in the game is simply amazing to look at, and the action sequences are both very well paced, and thrilling to watch. Imagine a sky that, at night, is full of an unbelievable amount of stars, or covered with an aurora that rains down sparkling bits of magic. Imagine an icy wasteland where the ice crystals bathe everything in a warm yellow glow and shine upward like ten thousand spotlights into the sky, or a swamp with a multicolored haze of latent magical energy hovering over everything. Imagine one of the characters having one of the most epic duels I've ever seen as an avalanche crashes down all around them, and enemy fighters circle around the sky firing their weapons down at the the two, or a floating city exploding all around the characters as they desperately try to make it to safety before everything comes crashing down. The large scale ariel and ground battles in this game are breathtaking, but so are the quiet moments of characters looking to the horizon as they try to deal with their inner turmoil. Rather than being a special effects and highly choreographed snorefest like the star wars prequels, the duels are meaningful because you know why the characters are fighting and what the fight means. The flashy effects like a city exploding all around them, or an avalanche crashing down only enhance what is happening because you're so invested in the characters themselves that even if it was done with sixteen bit graphics you'd still be on the edge of your seat. The flashy graphics and effects enhance the story spectacularly rather than trying to replace it as so many games and movies are trying to do lately.

It is no secret that the voice acting in video games is hardly award-winning. In fact, most times it’s downright awful. However, the British cast of this game is excellent. I don’t know if it’s just that it’s harder for me to spot bad acting because of the accents, but in my opinion the acting was some of the best ever featured in a video game. Every single voice fit the characters, and the translation of the script was done very well, so none of the dialog sounded fake, forced, or strange. The music was so great that after playing the prologue of the game I immediately bought the soundtrack off of Amazon. It enhances the mood of the scenes and the world to make it feel so much more real than the already realistic graphics and story make it. The only gripe that I can give is that the words do not match up very well with the movements of the characters mouths, but, then again, they’re not supposed to. The game has the option to use the original Japanese audio track, and that doesn’t match up very well either.

I absolutely HATE motion sensitive gaming. It is, in my opinion, the most retarded thing that anyone has ever thought of. It is the reason that I took me so very long to get a Wii, and I do not buy any games that require the use of motion control, because I think it is stupid, and should never have been implemented. Xenoblade is one of the few games on the Wii that completely ignores the fact that the motion control even exists. You cannot even play the game with the normal Wii controller. You need either a gamecube controller or a Wii classic controller to play this game. I count that as an EXTREMELY big plus and I hope the idiot that first came up with the idea of motion controls is currently addicted to heroine and blowing a guy for his next fix.

This game was excellent. It is probably the best RPG I have ever played, and I have played a LOT of RPGs. I lost two weeks to this game because I literally could do nothing else until I finished it. Lately I've had trouble rousing the interest and patience to play a game this long, even old favorites, but this one sucked me in and wouldn't let me go. Every single element of it was perfectly done, and blended together so well that it’s flaws are barely noticed, and few and far between. The English version of the game is translated and acted extremely well. The story is beyond epic, and if there is a word for how good the character development is, I don’t know it. For fans of Tetsuya Takahashi’s games, and of RPG video games in general, this one is a must. Unfortunately, Nintendo of America has refused to release this game in the Americas, and the only way that you will be able to play it is by importing it. If you have the means of obtaining a PAL version Wii, or a region modded one, or have a good PC emulator to run the disc on, and have the time to sit down and play this game, you will not regret it. Even my brother who absolutely hates video games was drawn in by this one. The storytelling is just so good that even someone who considers games to be a complete waste of time can't stop playing it.

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