5 Ways Xenoblade Chronicles Set Itself Apart From Other JRPGs
An instant classic.
Unique Story and World Setup
It’s been five years since the release of Xenoblade Chronicles on Wii, and since then Xenoblade has become a veritable new series for Nintendo. With Xenoblade Chronicles 2 just about to hit, we take a look at what made the first game so special, and why it’s one of the greatest JRPGs of the last generation.
Xenoblade Chronicles has a fascinating setup, unlike anything else that you can find in your typical JRPG. It all starts with a battle between two humongous titans, the Bionis and the Mechonis. These titans freeze, locked in battle, and with time life begins to grow on their backs an bodies. The Xenoblade equivalent of humans, called homs, live on the Bionis, while the machine-based Mechons they’re at war with reside on the Mechonis. This provides a really unique sense of scale to the game, as you travel through the different body parts of the Bionis and Mechonis. Walking through Gaur Plains and seeing the humongous Mechonis loom in the distance is a grand sight. At the same time there’s a strong central mystery in Xenoblade Chronicles that revolves around the Monado, a mysterious sword that grants its user the ability to battle the Mechon and see into the future.
This adds to the game in two ways, with the Monado and its powers serving as an important gameplay function in battle, as well as a central element to the plot. In this way, Xenoblade Chronicles was able to smartly weave plot devices into gameplay, allowing you to use the various powers of the Monado to let your party do damage to Mechon, or glimpse into the future to save a teammate from dying.
Characters That Break the Mold and Phenomenal Voice Work
On its face Xenoblade Chronicles falls into many tropes of the JRPG genre, with characters like the stalwart hero and mascot. However, across Xenoblade’s 60-80 hour run time, the characters grow tremendously and show real depth, even subverting tropes to a degree. Whether this is the truth behind Shulk’s existence, or the hotheaded character Reyn that has a much softer side that shows the more you get to know him. Each character, and their relationship with other characters, are expanded upon by a heart-to-heart system. As characters’ relationships grow by battling together, or completing quests together, you can view special scenes between them revealing pieces of backstory and personality. The main story has a ton of development for each character, but there are numerous heart-to-hearts that expand greatly on the characters for anyone who wants to know more.
The other way that adds onto this is that Xenoblade Chronicles has some pretty exceptional voice work across the board that really adds emotion and personality to the characters, especially with the main leads. The main character Shulk in particular has some really strong voice work that represents his anger and emotion at key points in the story. Interestingly, for the North American version of the game Nintendo kept the European localization in, along with the European voice actors. This surprisingly worked wonders, as the character’s accents seem to fit them and the world perfectly, something that many fans agree on. This is why Xenoblade Chronicles 2 once again gives its characters British and European accents, as it’s almost become a thing with the series at this point.
Complex and Active Combat System
Xenoblade Chronicles really changed things up with its combat system, which combines elements from both traditional turn-based RPGs and MMOs. Battles play out in real time, with your characters attacking automatically when you’re close to enemies. You don’t have to control standard attacks in any way; however, the main loop of combat comes with controlling various arts. Every character has a selection of arts to choose from with various effects like healing, dealing more damage from behind, and inflicting status elements like stagger. Xenoblade’s battle system worked in such a way that you wanted to constantly stack these different elements on enemies, inflicting break, then topple, then daze, to take the enemy out of commission for a short while.
Battles played out quickly and oftentimes frantically in Xenoblade Chronicles, constantly keeping you on your toes by moving your character around the battlefield to get a good position and use different arts. You had the option of controlling any one character in battle, not just Shulk which added some nice variation as each one played quite differently. Combat scales pretty well throughout the game and gets more and more challenging, requiring even more strategy as you go. It was fast, fluid, and complex – pretty much everything you could ask for from a JRPG combat system. There was certainly a bit of learning to do initially, but once you got a hang of all the different systems, Xenoblade’s combat was a blast.
Massive Open World That Worked With the Wii’s Limitations
Xenoblade Chronicles is a gorgeous game and absolutely massive in scale, that’s really saying something for a game that was on the Wii. Somehow Xenoblade found a way to work with the Wii’s limitations and create a stunning world, both in look and scope. Part of this is due to the unique setup as you wander through the Bionis’s interior or across Sword Valley, which is literally on the Mechonis’s sword that’s stuck in the Bionis, linking the two titans together.
Countless environments in Xenoblade Chronicles are huge open fields to explore that often rival the size of games we get today. It’s truly astounding that Monolith managed to cram so much detail into a massive open world game on the Wii. Of course, Xenoblade Chronicles does have its drawbacks; character models can look a bit flat and ugly at times, and there’s the fair share of muddy textures here. Even so, seeing the hulking forms of the Bionis and the Mechonis in the distance while roaming through massive plains or a dense jungle is impressive. It also speaks to the variety of environments in Xenoblade, with everything from poison swamps to hulking mechanical cities and grand floating cities. Hopefully whoever was in charge of environmental design for the game got a raise.
The soundtrack to Xenoblade Chronicles is fascinating in just how eclectic it is, with slow vocal tracks, gorgeous piano and violin pieces, and even elements of rock and metal. Part of the reason for this is the fact that the soundtrack was composed by six different people. Manami Kiyota, the music production group ACE+ (made up of Tomori Kudo, Hiroyo “Chico” Yamanaka, and Kenji Hiramatsu), Yoko Shimomura (known for Kingdom Hearts and Super Mario RPG), and Yasunori Mitsuda (known for Chrono Trigger and Shadow Hearts). That’s a huge cast of talent working on one soundtrack, and that team was also assisted by Nobuo Uematsu’s record label, Dog Ear Records.
All of this led to a huge soundtrack with 91 different tracks, with different styles and composers. You can hear the differences by just comparing things like the gorgeous slow-paced main theme, versus the heavy rock battle theme of “You Will Know Our Names.” Xenoblade’s soundtrack can easily stand with the best of the genre like Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger, and Lost Odyssey. There’s a distinct personality to the soundtrack of Xenoblade Chronicles, and the fact that such a diverse team of musicians worked on the game only strengthened the overall experience.