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Xenoblade a must for 3DS XL owners
June 5, 2015
By Alexander Cattani - G4 Canada
Initially released in Japan in 2010, Xenoblade Chronicles quickly garnered praise for revitalizing the JRPG genre through its modernized approach to gameplay. Even with its warm acceptance from fans and critics alike, Nintendo remained radio silent on whether or not its hot new JRPG would ever see a North American release. Xenoblade Chronicles finally was released across the pond hitting shelves in North American on April 6th, 2012.
Fast forward to 2015 and Xenoblade Chronicles is being hailed by some as one of the best JRPGS of the previous generation. From the game's main character, Shulk, being made into an Amiibo, to appearances in one of Nintendo's most admired flagship series, Super Smash Bros, Xenoblade took the gaming world by storm and established its dominance amongst the ranks of the some of the most storied JRPGs in recent memory.
Now, owners of Nintendo's 3DS XL can finally bask in the greatness that is Xenoblade, albeit a marginally scaled down version. Narratively, Xenoblade does little to set itself apart from role playing games before it. A weapon of great power must be utilized to stop an impending threat of evil forces. You, and a rag tag group of misfits with characteristically flamboyant anime hairstyles, must venture forth to save your land from being vanquished. Weathered, and even casual JRPG fans will immediately notice familiar themes and tropes teeming within narrative but upon delving deeper and getting lost in the game's mechanics, Xenoblade reveals itself as one of the most refined and overall top tier entries in the JRPG genre in quite some time.
The gameplay takes cues from both Western and Japanese role-playing battle systems and elegantly blends them together to create a unique mix that employs the best of both styles.
During confrontations, the player is given total control over his party member's movement. When closing in on an enemy, the character being controlled automatically starts attacking. At this time, the player can select from a slew of different offensive or defensive options to further enhance battle performance. These specific combat options or "Arts", as the game calls them, range from healing party members to dazing enemies and performing special offensive moves that inflict high amounts of damage. When appropriately timed, party members can also chain together attacks, further amplifying the damage doled out against enemies or bosses. Each art has a cool down meter attached to it, so repeatedly spamming them isn't a viable option in battle. To succeed in Xenoblade, dexterity on the battle field is a must. It's not a terribly hard game, but getting a firm grip on the battle system is likely to take a couple hours of playtime. When you're not pummelling enemies and looting their remains, you'll be traversing the game's expansive open areas.
The sheer scope of Xenoblade's world is nothing short of massive, especially considering how condensed this particular version of the game had to be made to fit on the 3DS XL. Gargantuan structures and humble settlements populate a mountainous vista that will, over time become familiar as you and your party members meander its terrain. Despite it's great scope, the majority of the space felt empty and unoccupied, similarly to the vastly barren world of 2010's Red Dead Redemption. It's always odd when a game provides a huge space to roam around in, but relegates a majority of its quest giving NPCs to townships and settlements strewn about the world. Something that makes playing an open world RPG even more gratifying, is when random events take place without the player's input or command. Whether it be a fight between two rivalling factions erupting out of nowhere, or stumbling across a civilian down on his luck and in need of some help, random events like these greatly enhance the idea that the game world you're playing in continues existing even when you're not there. Xenoblade forfeits any sense of this, and thus results in a rather static world overall. Its scope is appreciable but it ultimately feels unnecessary due to the lack of interactivity.
Characters in JRPGS usually follow a predictable template. Zany hair, angsty attitudes and armour as unpractical as the humongous swords they holster, are all commonplace when it comes to the average JRPG hero. However, Xenoblade chooses to mix it up a bit by adding a cast of mostly British voice actors. While they still look like they're straight out of Final Fantasy X, this seemingly small change really made the cast of Xenoblade memorable. Hearing a feverish cry of victory, after a battle in a rough cockney accent, is novel and believe it or not, doesn't grate on the ears, even after several hours of playtime.
For the most part, the 3DS version of Xenoblade is adequate. Some of the already low textures are unfortunately even worse and in comparison to the Wii version, the graphical downgrade is especially apparent. I've always been a strong proponent for gameplay over graphics, as I feel that the latter isn't essential for a memorable experience. But Xenoblade's washed out condensed looking appearance nearly tested my aforementioned stance. Though, it's not an entire downgrade, the second screen on the 3DS allows for neater and cleaner HUD interface during gameplay.
Xenoblade breathed much needed life into the stagnant JRPG genre. From an exquisite and unique combat system, to surprisingly enjoyable voice acting, Xenoblade is a required play through for fans of the role-playing game genre. Now made all the more convenient on Nintendo's newest handheld. Though, the Wii version remains the superior way to experience this JRPG jewel.
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