My Top 12 Games of 2015: #04 Xenoblade Chronicles X
This one will be the roughest of my reviews because it is one of the more recent titles I’ve been playing (I think the newest on this list) but I’m pretty confident in where I’ve put it. It becomes increasingly complicated because I don’t have my video capture device hooked up to the Wii U yet. This means we won’t have any lovely pictures today! How droll. Ah well, such is life. I’m not sure where this review will go, so we’ll just wing it and see what happens.
First off, this game is not perfect. There are some things about it that I find borderline infuriating. Let’s talk about these things. The first is that the music is loud as fuck. It’s always running at 1000%. I’ve never played a game that had its music this loud for this long. And not only is the music loud, you can’t turn it down, and furthermore the music is louder than the people talking. Luckily this game has subtitles, but wait! The subtitles are choppy white text on multicolored backgrounds. Apparently nobody told them that adding a black border would make it actually legible. Impossible to hear often, impossible to read often, it makes me wonder why I even bother paying attention to the story.
As a soundtrack the music isn’t awful. But they break a lot of rules in this game. Music with lyrics repeats over, and over, and over, as you move from scene to scene in the city. It quickly eats away at your mind and threatens to erase all you hold dear. The next flaw is that the items you collect in game don’t get added to a repository that will later tell you exactly where you can collect them if you need them for a mission. This seems like a small oversight but this game is massive, not knowing where “Spherical Pant Cleanser M1” is and needing to find it always necessitates a google.
Next we’ve got the problem of affinity missions. So if you start one and it’s finding a Spherical Pant Cleanser M1, you are proper fucked. Because until you find that you can’t do any other affinity or story missions. Sometimes it’ll ask you to do something WAY beyond your abilities which then leaves you locked out of the rest of the game. This is awful design and whoever did it should probably get a spanking. But the angry kind, not the naughty kind.
Normally these things would be the death knells of a game for me. I don’t think anyone playing this game has trouble finding things that make them absolutely furious. But somehow I still really really like this game. While it sucks in so many ways it excels in so many more. Firstly the actual world is positively stunning. This is the most aesthetically pleasing game I’ve played in a very very long time. The creatures are imaginative, the environments are vast and colorful, and the vistas seem to go on forever. Each time you see something amazing you realize “I could go there.” This game has little in the way of set pieces, everything feels functional and amazing. I often run around with my camera zoomed in real close because I love the feeling of smallness.
Creatures in the zones are varied. Just about every place seems to have low level and extremely high level creatures. This makes adventuring feel a bit dangerous and exhilarating. You never know if that bulge in the ground or that plant in the distance is really safe, or a burrowed creature ready to strike. I’ve walked up on quite a few “safe” things only to find my characters head getting punched out their ass.
The game respawns you back at the last fast travel point you walked to (or the last named location you walked by). It also heals you after each fight that you survive. This keeps the game moving and makes the act of exploring something that is encouraged. Maybe you SHOULD try fighting that super strong monster, maybe you’ll win? The game wants you to try and that’s a great feeling.
Eventually in the game you’ll find yourself getting a large mech called a “Skell”. I only got this recently and I absolutely love it. It is at this point that the hundreds of thousands of credits I had amassed went to work. I decked out my Skell with all the coolest stuff on the market. The giant “buster” sword on my back makes short work of most foes at the moment. Additionally the “cockpit” mode is a moment of awesome that sadly I can’t just leave on. It’s like they want to tease me with a superior viewing angle. “This could be yours, but it was designed by the guy who implemented the music, so you can’t have it.”
Skells are a bit more dangerous than other content. You can (from what I understand) actually lose them if you fuck up in combat. This does put me a bit on edge but thus far I’ve had insurance that covered it when they broke. I’m not sure how many “insurance” I have or where to get more, I should probably check later.
That’s another part of this game that I love. I don’t know basically anything about it. The game doesn’t hold your hand at all basically. It makes you work for every piece of information and you learn as you play. I love games like that and wish more games had a “Xenoblade” mode where they don’t caudle me like some kind of invalid. Sure this means that sometimes I ruin myself but there is almost nothing you can’t recover from in this game. This speaks to me on quite a few levels.
The story isn’t awful. It reminds me a bit of Hitchhiker’s Guide with the introduction. For some reason this time around the loss of basically everything didn’t feel quite so heartbreaking to me. When I read HHGTTG I remember thinking “Why care?” Earth means a lot to me I guess. I currently live in “Old” LA and I’ve got to tell you, if New LA is anything like Old LA there is little reason to save it.
Oh shit, so I just went to Pieology. I really don’t remember what I was saying. Let’s see…Skells, City, LA Sucks…Ah! Right. So the quests are actually pretty fun. I know they are mostly “find this” or “kill that” but the dialogue for a lot of them is actually pretty neat. You meet a lot of characters that each feel like someone you’d meet. Some are nice, some are assholes, some are cultists. You know, just the usual suspects.
This game has a lot wrong with it. But it also has a lot good with it. And I genuinely think that the good is so delightful that it outweighs the bad. This, for me, feels like a real game. This isn’t a product, which was a praise I gave to a previous title. As you play it you feel that it was designed by people who wanted to have fun and wanted their players to have fun. Even some of the awful design flaws seem to come right out of late 90’s early 2000’s game design. Sure, I’d have preferred they actual QA the blasted thing and have sound controls, but I’m willing to accept a little bit of poop if it means I’ll get an amazing overall experience.
Xenoblade at its worst is better than most of the games I play at their best. That might be a slight exaggeration but it’s not often that I drop everything else I’m playing to play something. So yeah, this is a game I keep coming back to. I could totally see myself coming back to it again in the future. By that definition it falls into the spectrum of great games :).
The bad things are pretty bad. But the good things are REALLY good! That's all I got. It's difficult to describe why this game is so much fun, it just ends up being so.