Xenoblade Chronicles has been a long time coming for North American Wii owners. The game released last year in both Japan and in Europe while Nintendo of America held fast to the notion that it would never make the trip across the pond. Due to an overwhelming response as part of Operation Rainfall, a movement started to get three high-profile Wii games released in America, Nintendo decided it is worth their time to bring it out in America.
The world of Xenoblade Chronicles is one that is definitely foreign and unique. There are two giant creatures, Bionis and Mechonis, who literally form two separate worlds for all existence to live on. The beings on these worlds are at war with each other in a timeless battle that stretches back to when Bionis and Mechonis themselves were awake and fighting. Now the two behemoths sit dormant while the life on them carries on the conflict.
Shulk starts out as just a simple guy trying to get with a girl.
Amongst this huge battle is the main character, Shulk. He’s a teenager who lives in the relatively quiet town of Colony 6. It’s been one year since the last major battle against the Mechons and the young man spends his time examining a legendary sword, the Monado, which was the key to the previous victory. The Monado is capable of cutting through Mechon armor, making it a highly helpful weapon in the war.
When Mechon forces return and attack the peaceful town, Shulk is forced to take up the Monado and fight back. With the colony devastated and people killed, Shulk takes up the task to seek out the Mechon and get revenge. What starts out as a simple tale eventually turns epic, as Shulk and the Monado become the centerpiece for the war and the key to saving the entire world.
Environments are just plain massive.
To call Xenoblade Chronicles epic is about as apt a description as possible. It’s a lengthy journey with massive, open environments and an adventure that has Shulk and his companions crossing the entirety of the Bionis and beyond. The scope of the game is incredibly impressive and there are few games that have such a giant world, let alone a game on the Wii. Throughout your world-spanning tale you will visit bright plains, dank caverns, snowy mountains, floating cities and much more. Being a Wii game the textures are muddy and there are some bouts of slowdown but the design and scale of the world is amazing.
Another reason the game feels epic is because of the carefully crafted story. The simple duo of Shulk and his best friend Reyn quickly jumps to a full party of various races. The vast majority of the cutscenes are fully voiced and the acting is solid all around. Similar to how your party grows, the plot jumps from simple to complex over the course of the game, with several great twists along the way. By the end of the game you will hardly recognize how simple the story was at the beginning of your tale.
The hamster-like Nopon play the comedic role in an otherwise serious tale.
Everything about Xenoblade Chronicles mimics this simple-to-complex path. The combat is perhaps the best example of this. Fighting is a mixture of real-time action with an ability cooldown system like one you might find in an MMO. Enemies roam the world and you can choose to attack them or avoid them. Many are docile and will ignore you while others will attack on sight. Combat takes place in the world; you aren’t transported to a battlefield and then whisked back upon victory. Being in real time means that you can move your character around and target different enemies as you wish.
If you don’t touch anything the game will do a simple auto-attack. However, every character has several abilities, called Arts, which can be used as often as you like, barring the cooldown. Every Art is unique to the character and each usually has multiple uses. Shulk’s Back Slash, for example, does high damage but the damage is tripled if done from behind an enemy. Similarly his Air Slash will make a foe suffer Break but if done from the side it will also slow the enemy. These qualifications make each battle fun as you aren’t just standing in place spamming the same Arts over and over again; instead you are forced to move around the battlefield.
The Arts and auto-attack are just the beginning of the complexity of combat. Each character also has a special ability known as Talent Arts which unleashes some special power. You use the Talent Art by filling a gauge through auto-attacks, meaning you want to use a nice mix of auto-attacks and Arts in order to be successful. There is also a system of Break, Topple and Daze that helps incapacitate enemies for greater damage. Lastly there are Chain Attacks, which allow your party to coordinate attacks of your choosing for significant damage.
Battles are fast paced and tons of fun.
Combat is an absolute blast and throughout the long journey never gets boring. It does suffer a bit from over-reliance on the standard Tank/Healer/Damager system but there is enough complexity in the characters that you can mix and match to find your favorite combination that works. While Shulk is the main character of the story, you can play as any character and Shulk doesn’t even have to be in your party. Of course there are moments where you will want to keep him in, like battles against Mechon. The Monado also gives Shulk the ability to see visions of the future, which you can then take action to prevent. Basically you don’t have to have him in your party but you probably always will.
A big part of what makes the combat work is the crazy amount of customization available for characters. Characters can have eight Arts available at a time and almost everyone will have far more than that, allowing you to design a character to fit a role. You can further affect this through equipment and weapons, of which there are tons. Each piece of equipment also changes the look of your character, which is always a cool thing to have in an RPG. Some pieces of equipment have innate abilities while others have open slots to insert gems, allowing you to really decide what attributes of a character you want to focus on. You obtain gems through a great crafting system that is complex but fun to learn.
Another aspect of customization is being able to rank up various passive skills for each character. You can then link these skills to other characters based on their relationship. This is based off a system called Battle Affinity that tracks the relationships between characters in your group. During battle there will be QTE-like moments where you have to hit B to either encourage or compliment another character, increasing the relationship. It might sound silly, and maybe it is, but it’s cool to be in the midst of battle and do a great attack and then hear “Nice one Shulk.”
I adore when a game’s cutscenes reflect what armor and weapon a character is using.
The main story of Xenoblade Chronicles is long. I had a mostly streamlined playthrough and ended up around 55 hours to beat the main story. However there is is plenty of side content to get lost in along the way. Side quests are abundant, with some quest givers handing out four or five at once. These quests are great ways to explore the different regions more fully and are also great for making money. For some reason, few quests offer experience points for completion but you will fight plenty of monsters during them, meaning it’s not a total loss.
The only downside of the side quests is that there are so many of them it’s hard to keep track. The game has a full quest journal but it does a poor job of telling you where to go for each quest and there are no map markers or anything like that. It does do perhaps the most brilliant innovation in all of side-quests in games: when you have collected your item or defeated your monster the quest is complete. You don’t have to trek back to town to get your reward. Instead you get it immediately. On top of the many, many side quests are plenty of other activities like side story moments called Heart-to-Hearts to seek out, an item trading system and an entire colony reconstruction side-plot. As if that wasn’t enough, you can start a New Game Plus with your levels, weapons and items intact.
The gem crafting system is just one of the many distractions you can partake in.
The last thing that needs to be mentioned in this review is how the game controls. This is a Wii exclusive but luckily it doesn’t offer any type of waggle or motion control. The game can be played either with a Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo or with a classic controller. I played through with the Wiimote and found the controls to be great except for the absence of a second analog stick. The camera controls are pretty bad and will require babysitting at times. It’s not too bad for most of the game but when you enter situations with close quarters it can be downright terrible. Without a second stick you are forced to use the d-pad for adjustments but it’s just not the same. It’s possible that these problems are avoided with the classic controller but I could not test it out.
Xenoblade Chronicles is a massive game in both the scope of the game and the options available. It’s one of the deepest RPGs you will ever play and the story is very good, keeping you interested throughout your long journey. The brightest spot for Xenoblade is definitely the combat, which is complex but highly rewarding at the same time. If you own a Wii you owe it to yourself to play this great game.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: The last big Wii game was Skyward Sword and while Xenoblade doesn’t offer any waggle, they are fairly comparable. Both offer huge worlds with tons to do. Both also have great art design that is marred by the power of the Wii and the lack of high definition. Xenoblade offers the superior experience through a more cinematic story and a much fresher experience overall.
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Xenoblade Chronicles feels a lot like an MMO in many ways. It has the cooldown of abilities, massive open environments, mobs of enemies to fight; even the side-quests are handed out like in an MMO. Xenoblade offers an MMO-ish experience with all the online stuff taken out and honestly it might be a better game for it. The story is presented much better and you have a greater cast of characters to draw from. Of course it’s not Star Wars but that’s hardly fair to complain about.
It has certainly been a great year for Nintendo platformers. The release and success of games such as Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M and Kirby’s Epic Yarn have all reminded many gamers why the platforming genre is still in full-force (even if it has taken a bit of a backseat to other genres like first-person shooters and RPGs). Now, in the midst of the conclusion of 2010, Nintendo hasn’t forgotten about one of its earliest icons: Donkey Kong. The great big ape hasn’t had a solid platforming experience since the final days of the Super Nintendo, so it seemed obvious to allow a developer such as Retro Studios tackle a daunting, yet nostalgic task (and for those who will say that I forgot about Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, please digress. As unique as the concept was, I’m merely talking about traditional platforming: a lot of running, jumping and obstacles to traverse. Basically good clean platforming). It’s no surprise why Nintendo gave Retro permission to develop a new Donkey Kong Country title, as it’s practically up their alley: take a concept/franchise that hasn’t seen a fresh installment and revive it, while putting a new spin on its mechanics.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is not a remake by any means, but a continuation of what Rare first established 16 years ago on the Super Nintendo. Diddy, Cranky, Rambi and even Squawks are popular characters from the Super NES original that return, yet you may ask, “What has Retro done to make this new Donkey Kong title stand out?” Well, simply put, Retro Studios may not give gamers and DK fans alike the same innovation that they did with Metroid Prime, but they have carefully weaved together a satisfying albeit challenging experience.
Hop into a blast barrel and hit the jump, as I’ll tell you why Retro Studios and Donkey Kong are tailor made for each other.
Activision certainly took a huge gamble when they announced last May that they were remaking the classic N64 first-person shooter GoldenEye for the Wii. A GoldenEye purist like myself (both as a fan of the original and the film it was based on) was skeptical of the idea of remaking a game that is still played in some shape or form today. After the James Bond license has been passed around from publisher to publisher for almost fifteen years. Since then, no title has equaled the poise and character of Nintendo and Rare’s revolutionary shooter. The idea of a remake was not appealing to me and trying to have lighting strike twice seemed impossible and foolish. This GoldenEye remake had the early makings of a quick cash-in and the alienation of a massive Bond following.Â However, given the amount of flak I’m giving GoldenEye on the Wii, it’s easy to assume the worst without a prominent developer at the helm. With that being said, I’m glad I was dead wrong. Developer Eurocom outdid themselves with this one.
GoldenEye for the Wii is not necessarily a remake per se, but a re-imagining of the original game and film as a whole. Developer Eurocom really did their homework in order to bring a pleasurable and engaging experience to a console that is low on decent first-person shooters. The makers of last year’s on-rails first-person shooter, Dead Space: Extraction, have continued their unique storytelling methods while not straying too far from GoldenEye’s original intent; that being a first-person title that balances its campaign and multiplayer for an experience that pleases both crowds. Indeed, Eurocom was wise to evolve the game for today’s standards rather than copy it shot-by-shot.
Hit the jump to see if this re-imagining (and its multiplayer) has earned its 00 status.
Back in 2002, Nintendo took a huge gamble with Austin-based Retro Studios on bringing the Metroid series into the third dimension. In short, it paid off, ending the series’ long dormancy and introducing bounty hunter Samus Aran to a new set of fans. Now, with the Prime saga complete, Nintendo has rolled the dice again, this time with Team Ninja taking the reigns of Samus’ next adventure, titled Metroid: Other M. Gone is the struggle against the extra-terrestrial mutagen known as Phazon and in its place is a continuation of Samus’ life after Zebes.
What separates Other M from Retro’s Primes series of games isn’t just a shift from the first-person to third-person perspective but its focus on story. This time, Nintendo and Team Ninja want to explore Ms. Aran’s mysterious past that we have only had a short glimpse of through a Japanese-exclusive manga and from the more recent 2D-based Metroid titles. In general, there’s a lot to be excited about from this package, but there’s also a lot to worry about in terms of gameplay, storytelling and whether giving Samus a voice was only good on paper.
Hit the jump to see if Nintendo made the right decision with Team Ninja handling the Metroid franchise, or if they ran out on their own luck.
According to many, space is the final frontier. Our vast universe was thought to be the final area of exploration for Mario and company in 2007. The critically acclaimed platformer for the Wii, Super Mario Galaxy, evolved the franchise to a new standard. As gamers, we thought we would have to wait until the next console generation before we were able to play a new proper 3D Mario title. That is, until Nintendo pulled a fast one on us at last year’s E3 with the introduction of Super Mario Galaxy 2.
At first glance, Super Mario Galaxy 2 may seem like a simple expansion or rehash, considering this is the first time in more than a decade that we have a direct Mario sequel on the same console. That assumption made many worrisome, but once you examine the amount of detail and concern that went into Mario’s galactic adventure, you’ll understand why Nintendo has a firm grip on the platforming genre.Â Mario Galaxy 2 is a sheer cultivation of whimsy, color and zaniness that makes one throw out the doubts that Nintendo could outdo their previous masterpiece.
Now, a few months ago, I stated how New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the reason why we play video games and how it introduced gamers to a realm of why the platform genre is easy to learn. Although, now that I look back at it, NSMB:Wii was merely an appetizer for the bigger meal ahead. The second rebirth of Mario’s 2D antics may have wowed consumers months ago, but this is where the senses are about to get a lesson in video gaming therapy. Mario Galaxy 2 is a rare gem, as it’s a sequel in the realm of 3D Mario titles, which allows for some doubt regarding the “wow factor.” The far reaches of space may seem like familiar territory, but fret not, as Nintendo has upped the ante with a tough and awe-inspiring adventure.
Hop on a Launch Star pad, hit the jump, and you’ll see why Mario’s latest adventure could be the best game on the Wii.
The Mega Man series has always been close to my heart. The music, characters, levels and the Blue Bomber himself were the right mixture for an epic 2D side-scrolling platformer. But, like many games that originated during the 8-bit era, their difficulty was center stage. The harsh difficulty was one to make a sane gamer snap their controller into two or yell feverishly at the television. Come to think of it, I once believed that some masochist developed these titles and programmed them in blood.
Those were the days, people. They just donât make video games like they used to back then. Until, that is, when Capcom paid tribute to many Blue Bomber fans and released Mega Man 9 via digital download. After the success of Mega Manâs return to 8-bit form, we thought of this as a one-time experiment. Glad we were wrong on that one. Its successor, Mega Man 10, is more or less what you would expect out of the series: nostalgic 8-bit visuals, catchy music, lame boss names (Iâm still waiting for Out-of-ideas Man) and, of course, the difficulty that will cause us to shout expletives. All in all, Mega Man 10 is another nod to fans of the series, all while doing little to drastically change its formula.
Hit the jump and find out if this one is worth your Wii points or if Capcom should go back to the drawing board.
Nostalgia has always been a hit or miss thing with me. Sometimes the best parts of a game aren’t articulated well enough in today’s gaming world, while others hit the ground running, reminding us how far the video game industry has come. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is certainly the latter. During a time in which the industry is ruled by the all-mighty FPS (along with the expansive sandbox title), NSMB: Wii strives to keep the nostalgic factor at exceeding levels, just like when we first laid eyes on our favorite mustached plumber in the 1980s.
But, with nostalgia, there also come the preceding factors such as gameplay and ingenuity. Like its predecessor on the DS, NSMB: Wii is another classic retake on the 2D antics of the Mario games of old, one that makes good use of how to make a great 2D platformer. This time though, Nintendo is selling this new title on the idea of cooperative multiplayer, a new addition to this line of Mario titles. At first thought, you might think this is a quick rehash of New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, but rest assured my friends, this is one experience both young and old alike should not miss out on, even if you’re too busy with the plethora of titles released during the holiday season. The idea may be the same, but Mario still has our hearts hooked on the Mushroom Kingdom.
Hit the jump and I’ll tell you why Princess Peach is in another castle, and it’s worth the trip.
Thereâs a lot about Dead Space that makes sense as a rail shooter. There are a lot of pop-up scares, a lot of atmosphere, and that whole âgoing crazyâ aspect that they can milk. There were just parts of Dead Space that werenât scary because we were divided from the âactionâ by always being able to see this faceless, heavily-armored and extremely competent avatar. So moving the scenario to a first-person affair with no camera control was a great idea to let gamers soak in the horror.
Well, it tries, at least. Maybe it was me, with my little TV, my insistence to play with the lights on and my genre-savviness, but I just didnât find myself greatly terrified, just occasionally startled. Once you got deep into the game, the feeling wasnât âoh god itâs the necromorphs!â but more âOh, itâs these jerks again.â Dead Space just canât seem to realize that pacing is important to the horror genre, and our heroes really shouldnât have a flamethrower.
Revisit the Ishimura after the jump.
Itâs easy to be skeptical with a Sims game. While the idea of guiding a bunch of morons you designed through the rigors of normal life has this unique godlike appeal, the series never seems to know what it is doing, with a variety of bad ideas and pointless expansions drowning the initial kernel of brilliance. Its spinoffs especially tend to feel really derivative, like the Sims Online (which quickly became a festering hole for cybersex), the Urbz (which was a horrible and offensive idea), and MySims, the series targeted at a younger audience.
The MySims series keeps on wavering on this line of competence, the first criticized for being too mechanical and the franchise senselessly including a racing game. But MySims Kingdom was a pretty decent adventure game, if a bit exhausting with all that building, so maybe thereâs something to MySims Agents, which seems to be going the same way only with the rarely touched world of spy stuff. Kids like spy stuff, right?
Luckily, this idea bares a lot of fruit, with the game stripping away all the lamest mechanics of the first parts of the series and giving a fun and quick, if a bit easy and streamlined, adventure in the world of high investigation.