Recommendation — Xenoblade(s)

First off, let’s all take a moment to admire my restraint in not making the caption for this post “Monado Mo’ problems”.

Concept art of the two ancient gods of Xenoblade Chronicles, the Mechonis and the Bionis.
Xenoblade Chronciles: Monolith Soft and Nintendo. Via Xenoblade Wiki.

I got the Switch remaster of Xenoblade Chronicles my birthday in 2020.

By my calculations, this means that I have now owned all four versions of Xenoblade that have thus far been released.

And the Switch remake is a godsend.

Xenoblade has always had fantastic art direction, but the original Wii version was an ugly game. Two console generations’ worth of graphical and technical improvements mean that the quality of the graphics finally lives up to the quality of the art direction.

Unless you’re significantly younger than me, you probably remember that there was a whole big thing about trying to convince Nintendo to release the original Xenoblade in North America.

Strictly speaking, I think the campaign technically failed, since Xenoblade didn’t actually get a North American localisation — it was localised by Nintendo of Europe and the European English version was what got released in North America.

That’s not necessarily a meaningful distinction, though, given that the overall was “Let me play Xenoblade“, which is ultimately what happened. Plus, because the English dub was done in Europe, everyone is British which adds a touch of character to the game that might not exist otherwise.

So, all in all, everything worked out.

Overall, the series has a sort of Final Fantasy thing going on, in that the games aren’t direct sequels or even immediately connected to each other, but still share certain recurring character archetypes, game mechanics, and elements of world-building.

For example, Final Fatnasy has these guys, and Xenoblade has these guys showing up in each game.

Even Xenoblade as a whole is sort of the same connected-but-not-quite thing with Monolith’s earlier series Xenogears and Xenosaga. I haven’t played either of these, but as I understand it, they’re all united by the same philosophical and thematic underpinnings.

Basically (wow, I really do say ‘basically’ a lot), Xenoblade plays like an MMO like World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, or Old Republic. Your characters automatically attack during battle, you’ve got a set of special abilities for your characters to use on command. Each Xenoblade game has a big open world, that (with the possible exception of Xenoblade X) despite its bigness never feels so big as to be unmanageable.

Luckily, Xenoblade lacks the worst part of MMOS: other people.

The three Xenoblade Games (Chronicles, X, and 2) all have the same basic gameplay style, but each game has specific unique gimmicks.

The heroes of the three Xenoblade games: Shulk, Elma, and Rex.
Xenoblade: Monolith Soft and Nintendo. Images via Xenoblade Wiki.

As the first game, Chronicles probably has the least-developed gameplay gimmicks. The big thing is that the main character Shulk is really feeling it has a magic technology-sword that can see the future and allow him to prevent your enemies your from using their most damaging attacks before they happen.

Every other character has a less interesting and less plot-relevant special ability, but one that fits their overall gameplay role pretty well.

X has more emphasis on exploration and the open world, to fit with the game’s plot revolving around colonising a planet, gives you a Gundam that can turn into a car, and has a special super-powered mode in combat called Overdrive that I don’t think I ever really quite got the hang of.

One of the things I really like about X is that your character isn’t the hero. It’s established from the very beginning that Elma is the biggest badass in the galaxy. She’s the hero, you’re the sidekick and you’re just along for the ride.

And, uh, hey, Sakurai-san, if you happen to be out there reading this: Elma for Smash, please?

2 is based (both in terms of gameplay and in terms of story) primarily around Blades, who are sort of like your characters’ guardian angels that give them their powers.

You have a team of five playable characters and each of those can assemble a team of Blades that have different abilities, fighting styles, and elemental powers both in combat and in exploring the world.

That explanation is woefully inadequate, but to explain it in enough detail could be a blog post in itself.

Some Blades from Xenoblade 2: Pyra (the main heroine),
Dromarch (one of the major party members), and Adenine (a completely optional Blade, and the first unique optional Blade I ever unlocked).
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Monolith Soft and Nintendo. Images via Xenoblade Wiki.

Despite being numbered entries (unlike X, which was never presented as anything other than a spin-off), the original Xenoblade and 2 don’t really have a direct connection beyond a fairly brief thing that I can’t really talk about without getting into some pretty huge spoilers.

You don’t need to play the first game to know anything about the second, but knowledge of the first game will allow for a better understanding of the exact significance of the, uh … things I can’t talk about without getting into huge spoilers.

And the music — man, the music is so good!

Each of the games has some awe-inspiring set-piece scenes which really come alive thanks to the combination of solid voice work, good storytelling and phenomenal music.

Climbing the World Tree in Xenoblade 2 for the first time (trust me, you’ll know it when you see it) is one of my favourite sequences I have ever experienced in my entire video gaming career: your journey is almost done, you’re climbing the stairway to meet your world’s god (that’s not a spoiler, that’s your stated goal pretty much as soon as the game begins), the environment is unprecedented in the rest of the game, and the music is swelling to its high point.

Honestly, I was almost in tears from how awesome the moment was.

So, yeah, Xenoblades are good. Play them. And perhaps, you, too, can be really feeling it.

Copyright 2021 J.B. Norman

Monado Mo’ problems there. Mo’ recommendations here.

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