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The Nintendo Wii is dead in North America. Like the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube before it, Nintendo of America has essentially abandoned the platform at least a year before their next console will be on sale. For any of those fans holding on to the idea that the Wii was still a targeted gaming platform for quality new releases, all their hopes were destroyed when NoA confirmed they would not be bringing Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, or Pandora’s Tower across the Pacific.
As three highly touted RPG and action titles from Japanese studios, gamers were excited at the prospect of English releases, especially late in the Wii’s lifespan with only a new Zelda on the horizon. And in reverse of what was so common in the ‘90s, Nintendo of Europe decided to localize all three titles while North America sat out.
So here we are with an actual English version of Xenoblade Chronicles, developed by Monolith Software. Monolith is known for the Xenosaga series on the PS2 and the two Baten Kaitos games on the Gamecube, but most of the team is also made up of former developers of Xenogears and Chrono Cross at Squaresoft. Nintendo has owned a majority share of Monolith since 2007 so they are considered a first party developer.
Unless Xenoblade receives an official North American release, importing or piracy are your only real options, unfortunately. While some gamers are still optimistic, I saw how Nintendo ignored fans getting behind the EarthBound sequel Mother 3 a few years ago, and have little doubt in Nintendo of America ever touching it. But for what it’s worth, here’s my first hour review of Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii.
00 - I select New Game and the first hour of Xenoblade Chronicles begins. Loading... looks like a gunblade from Final Fantasy VIII in the corner. "Long ago, the world was nothing more than an endless sea." We dive through some fog revealing two huge titans battling it out with swords.
01 - Geez, this is like if two Shadow of the Colossusi met, pretty awesome, though excessive slo-mo. The white titan cuts off the black one's left arm and it falls into the sea. "The titans were locked in a timeless battle, until at last, only their lifeless corpses remained.”
02 - Eons later, the world is at war. Something about the Mechon being the bad guys against the Bionis? Looks like a combination of Starship Troopers and Jet Force Gemini. The human people are retreating from the buggers, pretty good looking battle scene for the Wii.
03 - The humans are getting whomped by the Mechons, this isn't even close. But one human with a light sword dashes in among the horde of Mechons and tears them to pieces. He kind of looks like Samanosuke from Onimusha.
04 - A blond hippie with a headband tells Samanosuke they've been ordered to retreat. He's having none of it, putting his faith in his super sword, called the Monado. The hippie says his body can't take any more of the Monado.
05 - The hippie, Dickson, carries his own big sword, the third guy in the group has claws like Wolverine. "We'll give them a warm Homs welcome." The hippie and hero dash ahead alone into the battle, the third guy hangs back.
06 - The third guy seems kind of evil, he laughs maniacly saying Dickson and Dunbar will act as decoys for his escape. Okay, I'm heading into battle now, a bunch of pop-ups show me what to do: target with the Z button, once I have a target, start a fight, the character will auto-fight for me as I approach the Mechon.
07 - I'm doing over 600 damage, get hit for about 1, and have over 2000 hit points. Yeah, I don't think this game will be a problem right now.
08 - The D-pad selects special moves, which do even MORE damage.
09 - The battles are real-time but create a sort of circular zone around the fightable area that we can't leave. I should also note that the wussy guy who I thought was going to bug out is fighting with us too. And everyone is shouting the spells they're using, pretty hilarious. As the bad guys go down I get Enchantments, someone tell Sandal.
11 - A level 28 Mechon with Deadly Chainsaw has landed on the battlefield, if anything, Xenoblade has the epic scope of battles down pat. And yeah, I just did 4000 damage.
12 - Battle over, and we're panting from cutting through butter. Time for more battles!
13 - Never mind, another cutscene of the three of us destroying the main force. It looks great, but I wouldn't mind fighting more for real. My character is exhausted and standing on a pile of corpses, the hippie runs in to protect me but I think he got stabbed pretty bad in the process.
15 - Mumkhar the suspicious dude has finally turned on us and ran off. "Don't worry, I'll organize your funerals." Just the hippie and me remaining, but a huge Mechon has wandered in. Before the fight, they show Mumkhar getting sniped in the head by a dozen baddies, got what he deserved.
17 - This game has more yelling than Dragon Ball Z. The camera just pulled way back as Dunban and Dickson ran into the fray, we're zooming around the world now, and get another look at the titans in battle. Xenoblade Chronicles. Loading...
18 - One year later... Looks like some guy scrounging around the battlefield for tech. We don't know what happened, but I'm guessing Dunbar survived, and I'm absolutely sure the sword is around here somewhere. This blonde headed guy is pretty familiar with all the mechs laying around.
19 - One piece of equipment is still active and some other guy runs in to knock it on its butt. It's actually not a mech, but an animal called a Krabble.
20 - Fighting the Krabble, we actually have to worry about our health now since it's only in the triple digits. I have to heal myself mid-battle with my healing spell.
22 - Couple more tutorial pop-ups teaching me about aggro during battle and that backslash is more effective from behind.
23 - After we fight again, I thank Reyn and he scolds me for wandering off by myself. The voice acting is really not that bad, at least someone bothered to translate and localize into English.
24 - My character's name is Shulk, what kind of name is that? She-Hulk? An arrow at the top of the screen points me to my next destination. Don't tell Crazy Taxi!
26 - I save my game on the field, now to take a look at my equipment. You can change your weapon, hat, shirt, cuffs, pants, and shoes.
28 - After a bit of running around I kill a Little Bunnet, poor guy.
29 - Battles feel smooth, definitely have MMO influence, and similar to Final Fantasy XII in some ways.
31 - I haven't heard this much battle yelling since Star Ocean 2. "Nothings going to touch you as long as I'm around."
32 - Level up! Refilling the backslash action takes a long time, usually only have an opportunity to use them once per battle. I learned the move Slit Edge which lowers defense when I hit level 3.
34 - It seems kind of ridiculous running around killing bunny rabbits.
35 - Made it to my destination which is some kind of fort called Colony 9. The presence of humans here seems to indicate that they won the war, and not the Mechon, wouldn't you think? Reyn and I part ways, I'm off to the Weapons Development Lab.
38 - Running through town, avoiding shops for now to keep the main story moving. There's people with exclamation points on their head, I assume they're quest givers.
39 - Made it to the fortress, this as a pretty good sized area, not sure what I'm expected to do, though.
40 - The Colonel here is going berserk on some poor soldiers for crashing a vehicle into some building. He's waving his hands around like a madman. He wants a million press-ups from both soldiers (think they can do it girly style?).
42 - The crash messed up the artillery, the soldiers carefully explained what went wrong, so that probably means it'll be up to me to fix it, even though I'm just watching this madness from afar. Okay, the Colonel just punched one of the soldiers out. "Same old Colonel."
43 - I run to my new destination and another cutscene kicks off. Well, there's the Monado sword, and the hippie Dickson! Sounds like Shulk has been doing Monado research.
44 - Anyone can activate the Monado, but so far only Dunbar has been able to control it. Shulk also thinks the Monado has some hidden features.
46 - A flashback to the end of the battle from the beginning of the game. Dunbar is on a stretcher, he whispers something into Shulk's ear and Shulk stops, stunned at whatever he heard: "It was the Monado, it was controlling me. Even so, it saved us, saved our future. Next, it will be up to you."
47 - So how long until Shulk can control the Monado?
48 - The scene switches over to Dunbar, who is still alive. He's in some countryside cottage, resting on a bed, shirtless. A skimpily dressed woman asks if she can feed him. Sounds like Dunbar has been recovering for the last year.
49 - "Now I'm almost well enough to handle the Monado again." The woman doesn't like the sound of that, but since the Mechon are gone, the humans shouldn't need its power.
51 - Dunbar is still super weak, he just dropped his spoon in agony.
52 - I gain control of the woman, what's her name? Fuhrer? Oh, Fiora. Hey, she can jump with the B button! Her quest is to take food to Shulk. I walk about 10 feet and another cutscene with Dickson kicks off.
53 - Pretty much just talk about Fiora going to meet Shulk, seemed unnecessary.
55 - Running through town again looking for Outlook Park.
57 - There's a few monsters here but they're just ignoring me. Fiora and Shulk cutscene kicks off, Shulk is talking to the air about the Modano. Maybe he knew Fiora arrived?
59 - Shulk says Dunbar lost the use of his right arm. Yeah, he had no idea Fiora was there, weirdo.
60 - The two just sort of talk about nothing, and then some debris starts to fall from the sky and two big guns shoots it down. Wow, that was... odd. But that's the end of the first hour! A bit of a mystery!
Minutes to Action: 7
Well, that was a lot of fun. From the opening scene with the godly titans battling it out on an endless ocean, to the odd finale where some debris fell from the sky and large artillery blew it up, Xenoblade Chronicles kept me hooked. While plenty of titles have tried to capture the feel of a massively multiplayer game locally, I think Monolith has pulled it off. This is a great achievement, especially when it comes in the form of a JRPG. Final Fantasy XII had a working battle system, but had little in terms of quests or quest management besides the rare monsters. Xenoblade has both and almost feels like a Western RPG similar to Dragon Age: Origins. At this point, the differences are definitely blurring.
Graphically, this is the best I’ve seen on the Wii with large 3D environments and tons of action and animation blowing up in the battles. The battles sound great, too, and all the shouting during the fights sounds crazy, but is kind of cool to hear. Voice acting in English seemed pretty good, at least it didn’t annoy me during the semi-longish cutscenes.
Speaking of the cutscenes, coming from the Xenosaga team I was honestly a bit worried. Those games features Metal Gear Solid length movies with just as nonsensical of situations. Xenoblade had a few seemingly unnecessary conversations, but most of them kept me interested. Could have used a little less of Dunbar saying over and over how he’s going to use the Monado again.
I’m not in love with the characters yet, well, I don’t even like any of them that much, so I’m hoping we get to learn a bit more about Shulk’s backstory or find out why Dunbar and Dickson bothered hanging out with that jerk Mumkhar. JRPGs live and die on their characters, so Xenoblade had better bring it.
Would I Keep Playing? Yes, I had a lot of fun with Xenoblade Chronicle’s first hour. And while I’m not sure if it’s totally worth the import at this point, it’s worth playing at least beyond its first hour. Your loss, Nintendo of America.