#MaybeInMarch is the second part to a two part collaboration hosted by Kim from Later Levels and Solarayo from Ace Asunder. Participants were asked to share their love for their backlog last month, and now this month to finish one of the oldest titles in your backlog. While I highlighted a different game in my first post, I choose a different game that has been in my backlog for quite some time.
If there was a game that I loved playing, but was terrible at the core mechanics of, it would be Xenoblade Chronicles. Xenoblade Chronicles was one of those games that I was excited to get back in the day that kept me hooked for months. The main draw that kept me playing, like others, was the massive open world that was fun to explore and discover every part of this giant world. For Wii standards, this was impressive at the time, and some might say that it still holds up to this day. But, if you read my title, this is my first time finishing the game since buying and playing it back in 2012. Why did it take me this long to finish such a great game if I was enjoying it so much?
For those who have not played, heard, or know what a Xenoblade is, allow me to explain. The world of Xenoblade Chronicles takes place on the bodies of two colossal giants; known as the Bionis and the Mechonis. The Bionis is home to different races; Homs (that represent normal humans), Nopons (cute ball-shaped creatures), and the High Entia (humans with angelic hair), while the Mechonis is home to machines, the Mechons. The people of the Bionis and Mechonis have been at war with each other with the people of the Bionis on the losing side of things. That’s before the hero Dunban started to take control of the battlefield wielding the mythical blade, the Monado. The Monado has the ability to destroy the Mechons unlike normal weapons which do little to them. With this OP weapon, the people of Bionis should start turning the tides right? Well it seems that the Monado is very picky about its wielder and leaves Dunban with a destroyed arm after he failed to control it’s power. A year later, a boy named Shulk spends his days researching the Monado in hopes of understanding it better so the next wielder can control it. After an Mechon attack on his home, Shulk learns that he can use the Monado without any negative side effects. Even better, he can now see glimpses into the future to avoid his and other’s deaths. This isn’t perfect since there are somethings out of his control (as he quickly finds out). Without spoiling much, Shulk and his best friend Reyn go on an adventure to defeat the Mechons with the Monado at hand. The plot doesn’t sound like much without going into spoiler territory, but once the adventure starts you understand the weight of the journey that they carry.
And that is about as much of the story I can tell you since most of the journey is a blur to me. There are a lot of things that I forgot happened since it has been so long since I played those parts. Just know that the destination is worth it since the story goes places that I wasn’t expecting and ended on a scope that I was not prepared for. The story, environment, and visuals (for Wii era) were so impressive that it really carried the game for me. If you like to explore and have enough quest to find items, defeat monsters, and deepen bonds with characters, then Xenoblade has it all for you.
There was something though that prevented me from enjoying this game from beginning to end in one setting that ultimately prevented me from finishing this game until now; the gameplay. Your game can look pretty and impressive all you want, but if the gameplay is not great, then the whole game falls apart. This is not me saying that the gameplay in Xenoblade is bad. It has one of my new favorite battle mechanics that is customizable to bring out the full potential of each character. The problem is understanding it.
So let’s go back in time to the year 2012. Roblox had been hacked, Windows 8 was terrorizing the nation, and a youngish nineteen year old Danames had just started playing Xenoblade Chronicles in his freezing apartment. The tutorial battle starts and…the characters are attacking on their own? Ok, auto attack is the primary way of fighting in this game, and if you want to use a fancy move (arte), you select them at the bottom. Ok, no problem at this point! Now the game is throwing terms at me like aggro, break, topple, positioning, ether, gems, and a cluster of different effects. This…didn’t feel like any JRPG that I was used to playing. It turns out, Xenoblade plays more akin to an MMO. You have to understand each character’s role and make the most of what they specialize in to make the most of them on the battlefield. Guess who had zero knowledge of MMOs back in 2012?
If you are familiar with MMO mechanics, or can perform the basic concept of reading the tutorial, then the battle system and character customization will not be an issue for you. I have come to learn that I used (and sometimes still) to get overwhelmed with so many mechanics to learn, memorize, and apply to in order to make the most of a character’s growth and specialties. It doesn’t help that the menus and details in Xenoblade is a lot to learn and wrap your head around in order to equip the right equipment to each person, the types of gems that will be beneficial to them, what artes you want to equip them with, and what team compositions would be the best for boss. I greatly underestimated the importance of ether until the last few dungeons, and I was beating myself up that I wasted a lot of potential for certain characters since I did a poor job of outfitting them properly.
The best example I have is Melia. I never used Melia when I first got her, because she was ether based and her abilities sounded really confusing to me at first, I just avoided using her. I never bothered to understand her utility since I was getting by just fine with Shulk, Sharla, and Reyn. It wasn’t until the fight against *Spoiler* at the Bionis Heart. This boss would spawn multiple enemies to buff it and it was hard to take them all out in a fast manner. This is when I learned that Melia has AOE attacks that could destroy them in one or two hits. The problem was, I never developed Melia to be that effective. I found a guide that helped me build her up and that’s when most things finally started to click. By the time I was done developing Melia for that fight, she became one of my most powerful characters since she would just buff everyone and then release powerful attacks that destroyed anything in her path. I felt bad that I never took the time in the past to really get to know how to use her since she would have been very useful in other battles.
This issue wasn’t exclusive to just Melia. For a long time I thought I had to keep Sharla in my party because she was the designated healer. The only problem with Sharla is that she sucks at everything else outside of healing. What’s worse is that after every arte she uses, her rifle will start to overheat, and you would have to cool it off before she could use her artes again. Its good to have her if you want a strong healer on your team, but Xenoblade does not make that a requirement if that is not how you want to format your team. Almost every character has a healing ability that they can use to keep them in the fight, or an ability that helps them stay alive. So, if you don’t want to have terrible Sharla on your team, you don’t need to depending on how good your team is. It took me until the final dungeon of the game to finally realize who the best character in the game it, Rikki. Memes aside, Rikki is stupid versatile with what you want him to do. He has the highest health stat in the game and that sets him up for the best support character in the game. The health stat would be tempting to make him a tank, but he needs all that health to slowly murder and help the people around him. Give him gems to increase his physical and ether defense and make him a priority ether user to use the strongest healing arte in the game as well as nasty ether attacks that have status aliments to them. My final team consisted of Shulk, Dunban, and Rikki since they would end battles so fast for me.
Sigh. As I’m writing this, I’m really upset that I ruined some of the experience of the game for myself. If I wasn’t so stubborn in the past to use guides and take the time to learn the game, I might have this one of my favorites games of all time. That is not saying that I found the entire journey free from some annoying issues. I am not one of the people who doesn’t dismisses a game entirely if the framerate isn’t consistent all the way through, but the framerate issues I had with the Wii version of Xenoblade made me rage so many times. The only time where the game would slow down because it couldn’t handle everything on screen was during battles. In the boss fight that I mentioned in the Bionis’ heart, the adds that would spawn in would make that battle miserable since things would happen, but you can’t react since different things are processing at different times and then you find yourself dead. The amount of times the framerate would screw me over in a game where your positioning is important drew me up the wall towards the endgame. I was waiting for my Wii to melt at any point either from trying to handle everything or the heat from my frustration would vaporize it. Ugh.
Also there are too many side quest in the game. I know the developers wanted you to explore this expansive world, but there are too many useless fetch or slaying quest that just gives you money as a reward. The Colony 6 side quest are fine since those actually build up to something, but when everyone has something for you to do, then you don’t really have anything that you want to do. Some of these quest can be fun, but a majority of them just feel like padding.
So that is pretty much my thoughts on Xenoblade Chronicles. I appreciate this game more now that I have finished it and learned how to play it effectively. I wasn’t planning on it, but I immediately started playing the definitive edition on Switch, which improves so many things for me. My eyes feel like they are no longer burning since the Wii visuals didn’t age well for me and the text felt small to read. The user interface feels so much better to navigate and read, and the updated graphics are fine to me. There are also small quality of life changes that improve the game from the base game. I’m only on Chapter 3, so if there is something stupid that the definitive edition did, I won’t know until I get there.
But that about wraps up my thoughts and time with Xenoblade Chronicles. I’m happy that I was able to finally cross this game off my backlog and get one step closer to completely finishing my Wii collection. Of course I would be interested in getting Xenoblade Chronicles 2 now when you can’t find a used physical copy anymore. I may cave and get the digital version, but with other games on my backlog right now, I can hold off purchasing it right now.
Again, thank you Kim and Solarayo for hosting this collaborating event!
Thanks for reading,