Xenoblade Chronicles Review
Posted May 20, 2012 by Joel L. (438)
The world in Xenoblade Chronicles is set on the shoulders of colossal giants. However, the same cannot always be said about the game itself. For better and worse, Xenoblade is firmly contained in the Japanese roleplaying genre with but few deviations. Developer Monolith Soft has drawn from both the old and the new. Players can expect the vast environments of classic 2D JRPG’s coupled with the ever growing layers of systems one would expect in a contemporary game. However, players can also expect the type of heavy handed narrative rooted in teenage melodrama that has also seemed to become a standard.
The plot revolves around an ancient war between a group of humans living like fleas on the body of a massive titan and another race of machine-like people on a separate titan. There’s the anchor of the story, a teenager named Shulk, who is initially more interested in tinkering with gadgets in a lab (something of a ghastly hobby, given the local history) than doing field work. Two seemingly compulsive events shortly follow his introduction: the machines attack his village and he discovers the extremely rare ability to wield a super weapon against said machines, the Monado blade.
Along the way of the journey that ensues, plenty of others join Shulk’s cause. Some of these characters are at least good in their initial sketch. There’s Dunban, a man who had the strength of his sword arm sapped from repeated use of the Monado, a trait that is something of an ode to the samurai archetype. There is also Sharla, who has the incongruous battle role of healing allies by shooting them with her rifle. However, there are also characters who are repulsive right from the beginning. Perhaps the most nauseating is the egg-shaped Riki. He speaks to everybody in a saccharine broken English (it reminds me of how people speak to their pets) that can neither be taken as comedic relief or an honest attempt at dialogue.
No matter their first impressions, none of them really end up amounting to anything. The narrative just isn’t worth the time Monolith Soft spends telling it. The only system to feature dialogue (a meager one at that) is stuck in the periphery so exposition is thrown at the player in huge chunks of ham-fisted lines. In an even clumsier juxtaposition, the melodramatic climaxes revolve around exchanges of one word sentences shouted for drama. Nobody knows when to shut up or speak out.
The cutscenes that spoon out heaping doses of the plot have the same problem visually. Rather than letting the player get back to the game, they insist on lingering for the sake of spectacle (which exists in abundance outside these speed bumps). They even have their own awkward moments such as in the recurring visions of future plot points that Shulk gets from his ability to wield the Monado. They couldn’t be any clearer (they’re really just edited cutscenes from later in the game), but the user is somehow expected to believe that Shulk cannot interpret them. By the time the game gets around to any lofty ideals like self-determination, it’s just hard to care.
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