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Xenoblade: First Impressions are Everything, Right?

April 18, 2012

Here’s a quick entry. I dumped about 5.5 hours into the game so far:

1. English voices are so good! Maybe it’s because I am American, but I think the accents really lend itself to a different world entirely than what I’m used to in JRPGs. I like it; they deliver the lines without melodrama, fuss, or fanfare, actually playing characters. Although wow, those names are rubbish (very British!). Usually I am the first person to turn the English voice acting off if I can (and if I can’t…well, I’m not happy about it.) If I am to compare, Final Fantasy XIII is pretty much the pinnacle in regards to that sort of thing.

2. It’s Japanese WoW, with a bit of active flavor for measure. Quests everywhere, though some can be really hard to find. You basically have to stand on top of somebody to find a quest, and given the day/night cycle, it’s not an easy task to find that person you want. Given the only way to find a specific person is through the Affinities menu, which is really terrible at displaying information, this can be problematic. What level are the mobs I should defeat? Where are they? These are questions WoW can answer with ease, but Xenoblade struggles to make it straightforward. Now, I’m not begrudging this fact – I like that the game WANTS me to explore its world, find stuff, get killed by enemies far above my level, defeat enemies who are slightly higher through skill and deft use of battle mechanics, but if you’re expecting a Western MMO you will be disappointed by Xenoblade’s “vagueness”. I’d say it is more about that Japanese “vagueness” and modesty – it’s up to the player to fill in the blanks, not the invisible guiding hand of the authors/developers (a reason why I mostly prefer Japanese games). Plus, they don’t seem to know how inventories, gems, etc., should work (look at WoW, guys). It’s just poorly presented information. However, again, I actually like its cumbersome nature because I actually have to think about it. I’m weird, I guess.

3. Battle system is excellent. It uses the standard MMO archetypes of tank, DPS, and healer, and they work as you’d expect. However, the game really wants you to think about using abilities, rather than a rotation or constant button pressing like WoW, for instance. When should I Topple, for example, the Mechanoid so I can use it at the same time as my teammate’s ability to Stagger, thus letting me do damage? The AI is good at this too, because it knows what you want to do to the enemy most of the time; the basic commands you can use seemed pretty unneccessary to me, but that could change. For boss fights, it even has its own DeadlyBossMods setup, letting you predict boss attacks and letting you use abilities according. It gives you interesting decisions, is what I mean to say, and that’s good! I don’t love real-time systems all the time, but this one does what it does well.

4. Story…well, if JRPGs are nostalgic comfort food to a degree, all I could see was anime tropes and characterizations from a mile away. But all the characters are likable despite the circumstances the plot places them in, so that’s good! That means they are relatable, and even if the story ends up with “mysterious boy with mysterious power defeats mysterious villain”, at least I actually want to see what happens to the characters I grew to like regardless. Plus, since Xenogears, I am wary of plots from Tetsuya Takahashi – but, I’m going to guess an extra 12 years or so since that ambitious, flawed, and fascinating project did the man some good. No more weepy emo Nietzsche/Freud/Jung stuff, maybe!

So, overall so far: good! But we’ll see when my studies are over (when I can touch it again)

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