I first started playing Xenoblade 3D when it came out back in April, but for some reason I didn’t get much further than the opening segments. Now that its sort-of-but-not-exactly sequel Xenoblade Chronicles X is edging towards release, though, I’ve picked it up again in a bid to rush through its epic saga before the Wii U follow-up arrives. Having invested a few more hours into it, I’m not entirely sure how I wasn’t hooked the first time round.
For those who don’t know, Xenoblade Chronicles is an action-RPG originally released on the Wii to critical acclaim. It follows the tale of Shulk, a young man whose home town is attacked by the robotic Mechon. Handily, he’s in possession of the Monado, a sword which is the only reliable way of harming the Mechon and which grants him visions of the future, so naturally he sets off on a quest for revenge which gradually spirals into a much grander saga.
"The main draw of Xenoblade, though is its combat, which blends together action and real-time mechanics
“Grand” is actually a pretty apt description for most things in Xenoblade. Everything from its sweeping soundtrack, the huge, majestic creatures you encounter and the world’s setting on the corpse of a long-dead, titanic god seems built to show off the game’s sheer size and spectacle. The smaller screen of the 3DS both helps and hinders this compared to the Wii original - whilst the cramped screen doesn’t give quite the same sense of scale in places, others areas look even more impressive with the 3D turned all the way up; Gaur Plains’ huge rocky outcrops stretching out from the distance or the hovering islands of Eryth Sea, for instance.
The main draw of Xenoblade, though, is its combat, which blends together action and real-time RPG mechanics extremely cleverly. You control a single member of the party, with two others lending automated assistance, and must use a combination of auto-attacks, “Arts” (your special moves) and a special “Talent Art” whose gauge is filled up by auto-attacking to dispose of your enemies. Arts can have a number of effects on enemies and often require co-ordination with your teammates to maximise their effects, meaning it’s important to keep an eye on what your allies are doing. Movement is also essential; some Arts deal more damage or additional effects when used from a certain angle, so it’s important to manoeuvre into the most effective position.
Shulk’s aforementioned visions also feed into the combat system. Occasionally, he may receive one mid-battle that tells you an enemy is about to pull off a particularly devastating attack. You’re then given about ten seconds to try and change the future by drawing the enemy’s attention to a more defensive character, incapacitating it or protecting your ally with an Art. It’s an ingenious system that really ups the intensity of the already fast-paced battles as you rush to avert a sticky end.
On top of all this, there are a myriad of other systems at play which heap more and more intricacy into proceedings, so much so that 500 words isn’t anywhere near enough to cover them properly. Suffice it to say, though, Xenoblade Chronicles really lives up to its reputation as one of the best RPGs of recent times - go out and get it today As Shulk would say, I’m really feeling it!