The Wii has been a barren wasteland of releases this year. With a few minor exceptions (Mario Sports Mix, Wii Play Motion, The Conduit 2), there has been very little in the way of new releases. Even fewer, in more meaty experiences. Nintendo of America seems content on keeping that going until The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword launches in Nov, but Nintendo of Europe has taken it upon themselves to fill the void with the localization of some of the Wii’s jRPGs. While gamers have to wait until 2012 to get their hands on an English version of The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower, Xenoblade is now available across Europe.
For those who have about 30 minutes and some extra cash though, the game can also be made available to American Wii owners, and that is how I got my hands on Xenoblade to try out. I’ve played roughly two hours of the adventure, and have hardly scratched the surface of what it offers, but I wanted to share some brief and early impressions!
Might as well get this out of the way early, it is a Wii game so of course the graphics aren’t state of the art. Though some parts are rougher than others. The scale of the environments have been awesome so far. Character models on the field aren’t too bad either. However get close to buildings and structures and you get some pretty rough looking textures. The character models are also hit or miss up close and during some cutscenes, but it doesn’t hurt the game. Just kind of stands out.
Also, it is fairly early in the game, but the music is pretty decent. Really dig the overworld theme. Voice acting though is a completely different beast. Being an all European cast really allows the game to stand apart from a lot of its competitors. Having an accent also potentially hides any bad dubs, because well accents make everything sound cool. Thus far, I’ve enjoyed all the voice work though. With my favorite being Dunban so far.
Graphics and sound are covered, but the real meat and potatoes of any game is of course the mechanics that drive the experience. I will state up front that I’m not an avid RPG gamer so sorry if I can’t compare the Xenoblade battle engine to another game, but it is unlike anything else I’ve played before. For the most part, your basic attacks are done automatically once you are in range of your enemy. This works pretty well, and you are always allowed to re-arrange your placement as the battle goes.
You are able to give out various orders to your teammates. Like focusing on a singular enemy (though so far, all encounters have been one on one for the most part), have them back away to regroup/recover and attack from certain positions. Those all work pretty well, but since this is an action RPG, the game doesn’t slow down for anything. Also an element that was just introduced, is the encouragement system. Throughout the course of battle, a prompt will pop up from time to time, and when you press it at the right time, boosts the affinity between characters in the game. These trigger certain heart-to-heart scenes that can help you gain more EXP and also expands on the relationship between characters.
Finally, there is the most interactive part of the battle system, the Artes system. These are character specific power moves/techniques. There is of course an assortment of them like healing, melee, wide range and the likes. Each arte has its own meter/cooldown time, and ability to level them up as you see fit. In addition to that, some have specific traits/enhancements depending on where you are on the battlefield. For example Shulk’s Smash is more effective from behind an enemy (and even more so if you do it behind an enemy who is focused on one of your partners!). It keeps the player engaged and aware of their presence on the battlefield!
All in all, I find the battle system pretty engrossing, as it keeps the player alive, while taking away some of the control so they don’t feel completely overwhelmed. It also has enough elements to keep it fresh (Gems, placement, team-ups, etc).
Being only 2 hours into an RPG, it is hard to really give a fair assessment either way. The story, world, characters and battle system are only in their infancy. Any and all of those elements can take a turn for the worse, but as it stands now I’m thoroughly enjoying my experience with the game. I hope that Nintendo of America changes their mind about bringing this game over, but if not, I do think it is worth importing at the moment. We will hopefully have a more detailed report when the game is completed or perhaps another Power Hour at a major time landmark!