Al at Decade’s End: My Top of 2012 – Xenoblade Chronicles

Welcome to the end of the decade; the end of the 2010s; Al at Decade’s End. This is a miniseries where I celebrate the past ten years in video games, starting by talking about my favourite games from each year, and ending with the end-of-year extravaganza for 2019! The games I talk about here might not necessarily be the best of the decade, but they sure left the best impressions on me for one reason or another. And so, without any more delay, we begin our look at 2012!

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At the beginning of this miniseries I talked about a game that ranked as one of my all-time favourites. This time, we talk about a game that was until very recently, my number 2 of all time. This is a game that originally released in Japan back in 2010, and for a long time had people worried that it would never reach the west. Its eventual release in our neck of the woods is in large part credited towards a huge fan campaign known as Operation Rainfall. The initial primary focus of Operation Rainfall was to promote three Japanese exclusive Nintendo Wii titles in particular, in the hopes of prompting a North American release. These games would be The Last Story, developed by Mistwalker, a company created by Hironobu Sakaguchi of Final Fantasy fame, Pandora’s Tower, a unique RPG published by Nintendo, and our focus for this entry: Xenoblade Chronicles.

I was one of those people who had heard about about Xenoblade through Operation Rainfall, but I was admittedly more interested in The Last Story. It was really an issue of past associations; I had associated Xenoblade with the convoluted Xenosaga series while linking The Last Story to the amazing Lost Odyssey through Mistwalker. However, I would eventually only be able to find Xenoblade out of the three. I actually found it hidden in the corner at my local EB games, and I had a gut feeling that if I didn’t buy it in that moment that I would never see another physical copy. So I got it (perhaps against my best judgement), and I have zero regrets. I immediately fell in love with the quirky character and the setting, and the story would leave me glued to my seat for the full 80-90 hours it took me to finish the game.

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Xenoblade Chronicles is a massive game in so many ways. The story is massive, the setting is massive and there’s a massive amount of depth in the gameplay mechanics. Hell, the world itself is built upon two titanic beings that have long since died while still standing. The characters are somewhat refreshing as well, as the protagonist Shulk is of the rare breed of protagonists that actually have a clue. Shulk is an intelligent weapons researcher who has tasked himself with studying the enigmatic sword known as the Monado, in order to find out its secrets and why it’s the only weapon known to man that can damage the villainous Mechon. As is likely evident from the name “Xenoblade”, the Monado becomes the central point of mystery in the overall plot as well as the origin of one of the primary game mechanics of Xenoblade: the power to have visions of the future.

Outside of battle, Shulk’s visions are a main driving force in the story; frequently giving him an idea of what his next objective should be while also prompting him to solve the true mystery of the Monado as the source of said visions. What exactly is the Monado? Where did it come from? Why is Shulk the only person that see these prophetic visions while wielding the Monado? Ths visions also provide to give the player hints at potential upcoming side quests, as sometimes when picking up certain collectible items or talking to certain people will trigger a vision that shows what you might end up doing with that item or person later on in the game. The visions will also come into play during battle. Combat itself is played out in the world, with no instanced battles, and with the ability to attack any monster you see within the world (for better or for worse). Fighting is actually somewhat similar to hotkey-based MMORPGs like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV. Characters have an auto attack and can have up to 10 Arts on their action bar at any one time. Each character also has one Talent Art which is unique to their character. For example, Shulk can activate the Monado to choose from one of the Monado Arts you’ve unlocked, while the beefy Reyn’s Talent Art is an extremely potent taunt that almost always causes the enemy to attack him as opposed to someone more frail. Now with all of that set up, here’s where the visions come in. Occasionally while in battle Shulk will see a vision of the immediate near future, usually showing that an enemy is about to unleash a powerful attack. You see most of the important information about what’s about to happen as well: which enemy is attacking, who the target is, what Art the enemy is using, how much damage it will do and if it proves to be fatal, and how much time is left before the vision comes true. Armed with this information you have the ability to change the future, which is super exciting and satisfying.

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There’s so much more I could say about Xenoblade Chronicles, like the deep levels of customization and the insane amount of side content, but if I went into everything this might end up being longer than my senior university paper. There’s a reason this was my second favourite game ever for the longest time. If you have the time time pour into a game as big as Xenoblade and you love JRPGs, I cannot recommend this game enough. As of writing this there’s a few ways of getting it, but they might not be the most feasible. There’s the original Wii release which is somewhat rare, there’s the New Nintendo 3DS port of the game. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, and then there’s the Wii U Nintendo eShop release. If you happen to be the patient type, there just happens to be a remaster coming to the Nintendo Switch in 2020 titled Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. Once that version comes out, there’s no excuses. Play it.

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