Stuff I’m on the Fence About
The Battle System
No turn-based battles or random encounters here — all the critters you fight wander around the map fully visible. Once you attack (or are attacked by) a monster combat initiates seamlessly, with your characters dealing out basic attacks automatically. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? It is — at least when you’re fighting easy creatures below your level. Once you find yourself in a fight with a more challenging opponent things get confusing fast.
There’s actually quite a bit of depth to Xenoblade’s battle system — arts, combos, aggro, chain attacks, team spirit — there’s a million things to keep track of when the battles actually get tough, and often the action is simply too fast and chaotic to keep a handle on it all. The tougher battles can go wrong in a heartbeat — your characters can all have full health one moment, then all be dead 10-seconds later.
I’m hoping I’ll get a better at it with practice, but for now I find myself powering through tougher battles through brute levelling, which is usually a sign that there’s something not quite right with the battle system. We shall see.
Stuff I Don’t Like
The Damn Menus
Menu navigation is a big part of any RPG, and unfortunately it’s pretty frustrating in Xenoblade. The game uses an odd control scheme that involves navigating lots of small, difficult to distinguish icons using the Wii Remote’s D-pad. I’m sure things would be somewhat more comfortable if I was playing with a Classic Controller Pro, but even with two analogs, controlling your character’s movement with one stick and menu navigation with another would continue to be weird.
Look Too Close and the Graphics Aren’t So Great Anymore
Xenoblade handles scale well, but it kind of craps out when it comes to the fine details. Lots of blurry textures on display and character models that look like refugees from an early Dreamcast game.
Character models aren’t so pretty.
The Main Character’s Name is Shulk
…and no, the main character is not a large breasted green lawyer, so there’s no excuse for it.
It seems like Xenoblade Chronicles has been specifically designed to be a nice gentle introduction to modern RPG design for diehard JRPG fans like myself. It feels fresh, ambitious and open, while still delivering the goofy anime-style flavor. The battle system and menus remain, for the moment, a bit baffling, but I’m sure I’ll get the hang of them. Mechanical nitpicks aside, I’m just glad to see a JRPG that embraces modern design instead of endlessly dredging up 16-bit conventions with better graphics.