Five years. Many have passed since the last J-RPG that Monolith Software had developed for a home console, or Baten Kaitos Origins. After that, only Nintendo DS titles and the curious, but ultimately unsuccessful, divertissement of Disaster: Day of Crisis for Nintendo Wii. A long silence that began to suggest that Nintendo had made a bad deal to become the majority shareholder of the developer of Xenosaga, in fact tearing it from the hands of mother Namco; a silence aggravated by the chronic shortage of J-RPG on the flagship platform of the great N. Yet, just as Wii is heading towards the sunset boulevard with its successor already in sight, here is Monolith amaze us with a new project, perhaps its greatest and always ambitious, and suddenly we understand what those 5 years of silence were for: Xenoblade Chronicles it is a pearl of design and execution, where nothing is left to chance and everything is packaged with the care of a skilled craftsman.
Past and future, mythologies and divinations
Like many Monolith creations, history plays a fundamental role in Xenoblade starting with its captivating opening. At the origin of the times there was only the primordial sea and a thick fog spread over it. From it emerged 2 colossal giants, one of mechanical origin, Mechanis, and one of organic origin, Bionis. The 2 titans, the size of entire continents, engaged in a no holds barred battle for ages, until they hit each other, killing each other. Millions of years passed and on the lifeless bodies of the giants life was born first, and then civilization. As if to continue the epic struggle of the giants, the Mechan, robotic beings from Mechanis have always been at war with the peoples of Bionis, mainly Homs, common men, and Haientia, winged men of high lineage. The game kicks off from a terrible battle between Mechan and Homs: the former seem to advance unstoppable, protected by armor that the weapons of the latter cannot scratch, when Dunban, hero of the Homs in possession of a mysterious sword of light, takes the field called Monad, able to penetrate the Mechan defenses. The battle is soon won, but at a severe price: using the Monad has drained the life force of Dunban's arm, and now the hero is no longer able to wield it. It will be Shulk, a young inhabitant of Cologne 9, who will unwillingly use the sword during a subsequent Mechan attack and discover that he is not affected by the side effects that led Dunban to lose the use of his arm. Not only that: the Monad will give the boy the power of premonition that will allow him several times in the game to glimpse glimpses of the future and to behave accordingly. But what is the Monad really? Why is Shulk able to use it without being affected, and indeed derives from it powers unknown to previous users? What do the Mechan really want? Why are they fighting? From these and other questions will start an epic adventure that will not fail to amaze the player with various twists (the first already during the first hours of the game) and with captivating filmed sequences made with the game engine.
The J-RPG, reimagined.
From a gameplay standpoint, the game takes a lesson or two from Western RPGs regarding exploration and non-linearity. One of the criticisms that are often addressed to J-RPGs is their extreme linearity and placing too much emphasis on the story, with excessive footage and little freedom of action. Without sacrificing the plot, Xenoblade sweeps away all this by offering us a huge world to explore and full of things to see, to do, but above all to distract us from the main quest. The size of the game world is impressive and literally unprecedented for a J-RPG. For example, it takes several hours to explore Bionis' entire leg, only one of the many available areas of the game. Unlike many titles, even noble ones (think for example of The Legend of Zelda), these are not huge empty spaces. Homs and Mechan are not the only beings we will meet, but the plains, lakes, mountains of Bionis are populated by a varied ecosystem of animals, dinosaurs, monsters, with their habits and territories. Some will be peaceful, some will be aggressive. Some will come out only at night, others during the day, still others with particular weather conditions. The territory itself will reserve us considerable surprises, with caves, caverns, hidden paths, secret places. Exploration is actively encouraged by the game which rewards the player with many experience points every time he discovers a new point of interest on the map, be it a waterfall, or a ruin of a vanished civilization. We will also be rewarded with experience points for performing particular actions, such as diving into the sea from the highest point of the map, for solving side quests and tasks that will entrust us with other humans and also for hunting and defeating rare monsters. and optional bosses (in these last phases the influence of Monster Hunter is strong, albeit here in a JRPG key). As we do tasks for other people, this will improve their feelings towards the player's party and towards other humans. A huge relationship diagram in the pause menu will keep track of this and if the player can improve it a lot they can get special weapons and equipment.
The combat system takes its cue from Final Fantay XII and presents us with fights in fake real-time. There are no random encounters or even transitions from the map to the battle screen, simply by encountering enemies we can immediately attack them by drawing the weapon. During the fight we will be free to move around the enemies, while the character will use the basic attack automatically, whenever he is in range. Unlike the automatic basic attack, we will choose how and when to use the special techniques, taking into account their effectiveness based on our position and that of the enemy, and the bonuses and penalties that affect us or it. The other party members will be controlled entirely by the AI, which fortunately turned out to be sufficiently well done. In fact, it is often necessary to coordinate with companions to perform devastating combinations. For example, one of the simplest is the one that involves an attack that inflicts the weakened status, followed by an attack by a companion who knocks down the weakened enemy, and finally an attack from the third member that stuns the downed enemy.
The gameplay will vary greatly depending on which party member you use as your character. Using Shulk we will have to be on the front line to inflict most of the damage, if instead we use Reyn, the "tank" from the group, our task will be more to attract the attention of the enemies on us, while Shulk will unleash his attacks, or with Sharla, the "healer" on duty, we will have to stay in the rear, taking care of the other characters when necessary. In addition to the 3 mentioned, in the game there will also be other characters with their peculiarities, all to be discovered and each of them with different gameplay from the others. By controlling Shulk, however, we will have another peculiarity during the fights, which perhaps makes it more interesting to play: we will be able to exploit some of the powers of the Monad, such as foresight. Sometimes, a few seconds before a boss or an enemy strikes a blow that can kill a party member, we will have a vision and we can use those few seconds to use defensive or healing skills, or approach our partner and warn him of the danger. pressing a key, allowing him to dodge.
A "vertical" game
The graphics of the game, from a purely technical point of view, are conditioned by the desire of the developers to have such vast worlds. While on the one hand the size of the world, the total absence of uploads, the very distant horizon and the fact that everything you see on the screen can be reached by the player is impressive, on the other hand the price to pay for everything on a console like Wii is super high. Especially when the camera approaches it is impossible not to notice in fact textures and polygonal models worthy of the Dreamcast or the first generation PS2 titles. Fortunately, it is easy to overlook these defects when it comes to the sacrifices necessary for the splendor and vastness of the settings and a frame rate that remains fixed at 30 FPS even with dozens of enemies on the screen. From an artistic point of view, the design used for characters and Mechan is flawless and that of the environments is also worthy of merit. In every moment of the game the idea of being on the body of a dead giant in an upright position is clear. The design itself is vertical, with rooms on various levels and structural elements pointing upwards. Very nice also as from the beginning of the game, where the environments are more normal, almost "common" you gradually move to increasingly alien areas, with increasingly anomalous colors and characteristics. From the point of view of the sound Xenoblade boasts a soundtrack signed by a unit of composers led by Yoko Shimomura, famous for having composed the music of Kingdom Hearts and an ending theme edited by the master Yasunori Mitsuda, the author of the music of Chrono Trigger. The soundtrack proposed by this all-star team of composers is rich and varied and includes more adventurous pieces, with a Celtic flavor, epic and majestic pieces up to music that well underlines the most intimate and emotional moments and energetic metal-like battle themes. . The game is fully voiced both in English and, for purists, in Japanese. There are obviously subtitles for the 5 main European languages. The option to set the dubbing in Japanese is particularly welcome also because the English dubbing is not the most successful. We are a long way from some horrid voiceovers that we heard in the 90s and early 2000s, but some of the actors chosen lack expressiveness and fail to involve the player as well as the Japanese ones.
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Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Verdict 9.5 / 10 The best JRPG of the seventh generation, no ifs and buts. Comment Since the Japanese release, more voices have been raised to proclaim Xenoblade Chronicles as the best J-RPG of this generation. After finally playing it, I can understand the reason for those claims: Monolith Soft. has succeeded where Square Enix and many other noble houses have failed miserably in recent years: renew the J-RPG genre without distorting it, killing it, making it lose its meaning. With an eye to Western RPGs, but also to the success of Monster Hunter and certain ideas from Final Fantasy XII, Xenoblade is a product that blends Western taste for exploration, quests, customization, with the Japanese one of history and " drama ". We are faced with a product studied in detail, where nothing is left to chance. The different game mechanics are introduced gradually during the first hours of the game, one at a time, so that after the introductory phase of the story the player has full mastery of the game without even realizing that he has faced a tutorial. And the immensity of the title somehow manages not to be disorienting for the player, but to immerse him more and more in the world of the game. And the same attention to detail that we find in the gameplay is found in the design of the environments, in the architecture, in the style, in the spectacular soundtrack, in the always compelling storyline, in the inclusion of the original audio track. It is difficult to find any downsides to the Monolith masterpiece. If we really want it is possible to indicate the poor graphic level that becomes evident when the camera gets closer, or the English dubbing just passable. But these are trifles in the face of a majestic game, which offers the player at least 70 hours of fun, and many more for those who will undertake to explore every millimeter. A must have game. A game to love. Pros and cons ✓ It renews the genre without distorting it
✓ Focus on exploration
✓ Vast environments
✓ Excellent soundtrack
✓ More than 70 hours of gameplay x Graphic gaps in some situations
x English dubbing not well cared for