Rumours of the JRPG’s death have been greatly exaggerated. That’s not to say it wasn’t touch-and-go for a moment there. While Western RPG developers such as Bioware and Bethesda have thrived on the technical capabilities of the current generation, their Japanese counterparts have seemed at a loss at what to do with the extra console power. Ultimately, the result has been games like Mass Effect and Elder Scrolls being able to deliver experiences that were unimaginable 10 years ago, while current-gen JRPGs have either showcased graphics at the expense of the gameplay experience (a la, Final Fantasy XIII/2) or retreated to the safety of the familiar with a cartoon art-style and a classic battle format (a la, everything else).
It is fitting then that the genre’s bright new hope comes from the current-gen console with the most modest of specs. Held tantalisingly out of reach ever since being teased at E3 in 2009, Xenoblade Chronicles has grown in infamy as the hit JRPG that might never be – the figurehead of the Project Rainfall campaign that set out to ensure three little Japanese Wii games didn’t languish forever in localisation hell.
Now, after being released in Japan, Europe and even the traditionally ignored Australia, Monolith Soft’s acclaimed RPG finally comes to the US, so that everyone can enjoy the JRPG’s glorious resurrection. But can one game really revive a genre in critical condition? And what if that game is released on a console that isn’t in much better shape itself?
Xenoblade Chronicles’ charm is in its dichotomies – not least its careful balancing of the familiar with the unique. One has to look no further than the game’s setting to see proof of the latter. The game-world consists of two behemoths: the Bionis and the Mechonis. Locked in an eternal struggle in a featureless landscape, these two deities have been frozen for a millennia in the killing blow in which both finally brought about the demise of the other.
Yes, I did say these figures were the game-world, as Xenoblade Chronicles takes place on the lifeless mass of both colossi. The Bionis is home to all types of flora and fauna, including human-like ‘Homs’ such as your hero, Shulk. However, the bodies of the two great beings now being linked by the blade of the other means that the relative peace of Bionis is regularly upset by raids from the machine-like Mechons of the Mechonis’ dark mass.
It’s insane, barely comprehensible and exactly the kind of illogical fantasy concept that launched a thousand JPRGs. Yet, far from being a good yarn to spin-off with a typical narrative of the orphan boy armed with only spiky hair and an impractically-shaped sword with which to save the world (the latter is the Xenoblade of the title or the ‘Monado’, the former is Shulk ), this odd concept is only the start of Xenoblade’s strange wonders. The rabbit-hole goes deep, making it exactly the kind of wonderland you’ll want to sink days of your life in to.
A bold modern take on the classic JRPG.
Held back graphically by its platform.