Coming this winter to all major consoles: What?! My Girlfriend is a Sword?!
JRPGs didn’t disappear or anything during the current generation of hardware – they’re right where they’ve always been, doing what they always do, and that’s kind of the problem.
What sets Xenoblade Chronicles apart from the rest of the bunch are some really smart gameplay decisions on the part of Monolith Soft that keep you engaged in the experience without wasting too much of your time. Finished a quest? Bam – here’s your reward, no backtracking required. Need to level up? No problem – fighting is actually fun and requires your attention. Enemies you face are visible on the playfield and some are territorial and will initiate a battle if you venture too close, while others are content to wander, oblivious of you until you choose to attack. Once in combat, you’ll notice the emphasis placed on character positioning and MMO concepts like aggro and buffs/debuffs, all of which help keep you involved without ripping you out of the immersion every ten seconds to mindlessly hammer the A button. It’s really very slick.
Sadly, looking great is the one thing that Xenoblade Chronicles doesn’t do so well, but for a Wii game it’s quite the stunner, and after about 20 minutes or so your eyes adjust and your brain is able to numb the part of itself that remembers resolutions can be displayed above 480p. Fortunately, the abundant playability and the in-fucking-credible soundtrack more than make up for any blockies and blurries you have to suffer through. This is the evolutionary path I’ve been waiting for JRPGs to take – a game that goes out of its way to make itself accessible and easy to enjoy without wasting my goddamn time.
If you’ve been looking for a reason to give JRPGs another look, Xenoblade Chronicles is that reason, as well as the new benchmark by which all other modern JRPGs will be judged.
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See you next weekish!