Friday, June 22, 2012

Game Review/Nerd Alert: Xenoblade Gushing (Wii)

Xenoblade Chronicles is the greatest game I've played since Chrono Trigger. It's got four main things going for it: (one!) an expansive, beautiful world; (two!) epic music; (three!) a mind-blowing story; and (four!) compelling characters.

Let's start with one:

"You and me can totally take that giant in the sky. Whaddya say?" 
The game has about a dozen locations, with plenty of standouts like Gaur Plain (pictured above), Makna Forest, Eryth Sea, and Satorl Marsh. The developers weave these impressive locations into the gameplay, and reward observant players who like to wander off the beaten path. I happily explored everywhere, and in this way, accidentally stumbled upon secret areas that would later become crucial to sidequests.

The amazing music sets the mood as you move through the world of Xenoblade. For example, Gaur Plain has a rhythmic, toe-tapping number to accompany your characters' free ranging. At night, ether adds an ethereal glow to the otherwise icky Satorl Marsh, and the music shifts to a choir-and-keyboard arrangement that floats as gently as the marsh lights. Eryth Sea, home to the isolated High Entia race, has a melancholy sound. When it comes to boss battles, there's a piece called "You Will Know Our Names" that captures the fury and defiance of the characters, in their initial encounter against an unbeatable foe. In every instance, the music is in step with what's happening on the screen.

Xenoblade starts off with an epic story -- two gods, the Bionis and the Mechonis (whose silhouette is seen in the picture above), battled, and eventually, each struck blows against the other that froze both titans into place. Then on the bodies of both gods sprang the races: the Bionis gave birth to pioneering Homs (humans), entrepreneurial Nopon (fluffy balls with legs), and the aloof High Entia (angels, except their wings grow out of their heads).  At the game's start, players are introduced to the Mechonis species: the Mechon, soulless machines intent on eliminating all life on Bionis.

To the experienced RPG gamer, this is all pretty cliché -- e.g. the Bionis vs. Mechonis is clearly an allegory for humanity's anxiety over technological advances -- but the plot later develops genuinely surprising twists. For instance, what starts out as a roaring rampage of revenge -- humans swearing to smash the machines that destroyed their loved ones and homes -- becomes a realization of the fundamental similarities between biological life and mechanical beings. Another example would be the shocking link between genetics and divine will.

I haven't finished the game, and I'll write up a review on GameFAQs with more about this, but I'm at the point where my characters have journeyed all the way to the body of the sleeping Mechonis, only to find out that the Bionis, their creator, views them simply as an energy source and is intent on wiping them out. Take note that the two gods are basically planets, and the Bionis had just destroyed the Mechonis, so if we destroy our planet who wants to kill us, where do we live? Um. Paging SpaceX, paging SpaceX, please report to your nearest titan at your earliest convenience.

Sharla, the undisputed leader
of the Crushing Boobs team.
Which brings us to awesome factor number four: the characters. To the developers' credit, I care about my characters because it's so much fun to mix-and-match dream teams with varying strengths (e.g. I have a Crushing Boobs team, a Sausage Tank team, a Cuteness Overload team, a One-Hit Kill team, etc.), and also because of their engaging stories and backgrounds. There are tons of hints that some of your characters aren't really what they seem. The main character, Shulk, is orphaned when his parents died in an altar to the Bionis' sword -- how did he survive? Melia, the half-human, uptight crown princess of the High Entia, is informed by a machine that her "80% Homs gene integration" is a very good thing. What does that mean? Why does rejected J-Pop band member Alvis seem to be helping us, but not really? 

Well, I have an answer to one question above, at least. I'm 116 hours into this game, and I'm having a blast. I can't wait for the conclusion, since I hear the ending is super fabulous, but I'm also content to keep exploring, fighting, discovering, hunting, having mini-heart attacks during cut scenes, and squealing during the sweet heart-to-heart character conversations. And maybe, just maybe, I'll play the game again and take note of the egregious license they took with the translation. Like, "Konna ni samui no wa hajimete da!" which I'd have translated to, "I've never been anywhere this cold before!" Instead, MonolithSoft went with, "I could really go for one of Dickson's homebrews right now!" It conveys the same point: it's butt-cold, but the resulting characterization becomes different. See? See? Also, why are my characters not yet gay despite my best efforts? MOAR GAY.

To end on a silly note, here are tributes to my favorite Xenoblade characters:





Happy Friday!!!

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