In September 2011, after spending a week in hospital following a diagnosis of diabetes, my first stop on the way home was my local GAME store. Actually, it was my second stop after KFC but my point is that I was anxious to get my hands on Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii. I admittedly didn’t know much about the game but was willing to take the chance considering its limited print run and stellar pre-release reviews. I wasn’t disappointed…
I loved it so much that it practically forced me to buy a Wii U. I never regretted purchasing Nintendo’s newest system but if it weren’t for developer Monolith Soft’s promise of an exclusive sequel then I probably would’ve passed. So now, after four years, Xenoblade Chronicles X is ready to hit western store shelves in a matter of weeks. Personally, the word excited doesn’t come close.
It’s been out in Japan since April, but there hasn’t been much coverage on it by English language publications. Understandable, considering a fair and realistic conclusion of the game will be easier reached once we get it over here on December 4th. For now though, fans of the original can only sweat it out and read on to learn what to expect come launch.
Rather than a direct sequel, the new Xenoblade is more of a spiritual successor to the original. The gameplay mechanics have stayed the same (with minor tweaks which we’ll get to later) but the story and universe are totally different. You assume the role of a human refugee who, with the rest of the human race, flee Earth when a war between two alien races threatens to engulf the entire planet. However, the journey from Earth goes tits-up when you and your buddies crash-land on a beautiful, yet hostile, alien planet called Mira. There, the humans establish a base called New Los Angeles and it’s up to you to unravel the mysteries of Mira and further your races prosperity.
The world of Mira is absolutely massive, and it’s looking like most of the games appeal will come from exploring the lush environments. Screenshots and footage from Nintendo are absolutely stunning. Seriously, on a console not nearly as powerful as the competition from Sony and Microsoft, Monolith have done a great job to provide a stellar visual treat. Players can look forward to exploring the world through the story missions and side quests, the structure of which differs slightly from its predecessor. The story missions are more segregated than seamless, which worries me somewhat, because I loved the story of the first game and the way it was conveyed didn’t really need tweaking. Yet there’s been an effort on Monolith’s side to appeal more to western players as they’ve been quoted to be influenced by Bethesda’s legendary RPGs.
Despite the campaign to engage a new demographic, Monolith have kept the combat mostly the same. Wherein players can instigate combat, MMO style, with beasts and enemies that freely roam the landscape. In the battle system, players and party members will auto attack enemies with the choice to employ the various arts and buffs at your disposal. These abilities improve and evolve as you level up, but are also subject to cooldown periods. There’s also the addition of being able to choose between ranged and melee weapons, effectively changing your players class with the touch of a button. The main currency in Xenoblade Chronicles X are materials looted from enemies that can be used separately or combined to improve current weapons and armour. This again sounds quite similar to the original, where HP/MP buffs or other positive status effects can be achieved through a seemingly unlimited potential of material combinations.
If none of this has you interested, you may want to consider the Mechs (or Skells, as they’re referred to in the game). Personally, while enjoying the first game, I hardly considered the lack of playable giant bipedal robots as an issue. Still, I’m just one person, and apparently it was an issue for others. If you’re one of them then fear not, for Monolith noted your plight and have acted accordingly regarding the sequel. If you get tired traversing the sprawling open world on foot, you can always hop in your robot and get wherever you want to go just that bit quicker and safer. I’m not entirely convinced with what they add to the gameplay other than that, but hey, what can robots do to anything except improve it?
If what we’ve seen so far is anything to go by, this sequel won’t do much to draw newcomers to the series. So if you found the emphasis on exploration, long-winded and oft-times overdrawn battles, then this probably won’t be your cup of tea. I’ve got my copy preordered though, and I can’t wait to dive into it in earnest. With tons of hours of gameplay and a wonderfully realised world ready to be turned upside down, this Christmas is looking less and less sociable with every passing day.
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