Best of ND 2013: X Marks the Spot

What should we expect from Monolith Soft’s upcoming game?

By Anthony Vigna. Posted 12/27/2013 11:00 Comment on this     ShareThis


This story was selected as one of our best from 2013. It was originally published on November 20, during Issue 180.

There’s a reason why Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the highest rated Wii games of all time, as the game is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The game beautifully redefined everything about the JRPG genre, instilling hope in those who have lost faith in these games once more.

Upon playing it, Xenoblade quickly became one of my favorite games of all time, and I didn’t want my time with it to end. Monolith Soft must have heard my prayers, as I nearly had a heart attack upon seeing the trailer for its new game at E3 this year, titled X! The game looks like a gorgeous spiritual successor to Xenoblade, featuring everything that we know and love about the game in beautiful HD graphics. The addition of characters traveling in their own giant flying mechs in open worlds sounds like a match made in heaven. Who doesn’t love giant robots?

I want X to be an incredible experience, and I hope it takes cues from its predecessor to live up to the praise that the series has gotten so far. However, Xenoblade is not without its flaws, so X shouldn’t copy the formula completely. Monolith Soft must find what has worked with Xenoblade, and what could have been improved, and utilize this information to make X the ultimate JRPG experience on Wii U.

Here is what I think should return from Xenoblade, and what I think needs to be improved.

Good: Massive Open Worlds

I remember when I played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the first time, my jaw dropped on the floor when I saw the large plain of Hyrule Field. There’s no doubt that it’s still impressive to this day, but in comparison, it’s mind blowing to think that Hyrule Field is just a small fraction of the size of each world in Xenoblade. The worlds are enormous and are filled with a plethora of areas for players to explore. I often found myself getting lost in each new place I discovered by exploring for hours and forgetting my all of my primary objectives.

If X lacked massive open worlds, it would be missing a very integral part of what made Xenoblade so much fun. While X already appears to have massive open worlds from its trailers, I don’t think my concerns are unwarranted. Jim Sterling, reviews editor of The Escapist, wrote an editorial on why Xenoblade had to be graphically inferior in order to reach the scale it achieved, and I completely stand by his argument. By developing Xenoblade on the Wii, Monolith Soft didn’t have to worry about graphics, as it focused on crafting a great experience with a beautiful art style instead. As X revamps its graphical engine, I have to wonder if the scale of Xenoblade will ever be matched. Video games are expensive to make, and Monolith Soft isn’t a big company. So, if the studio pours its resources into graphics over gameplay, then I fear that the scope and the amount of explorable worlds may be less impressive in X.

Bad: Side Quests

The massive open worlds are fun to explore, but is there anything to do in them outside of killing monsters, exploring, and collecting items? Well, I was initially impressed with how vast the list of side quests was for each playable area, but as I cycled through them and tried them, I was immediately turned off. A lot of these quests have standard, run-of-the-mill objectives, like gathering a specific number of materials from a monster or killing a certain enemy a few times.

I have no patience for overly generic and mundane tasks like this, and I would rather see something more substantial in X. Whenever I think about good side quests in a video game, I always immediately think of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Not only did each side quest have its own personality and gameplay style, but it also helped push some of the background story for those that wanted to dig deeper into the world of Termina. I’m not saying that every side quest in X has to be like this, as they are more complex to develop, but it would be nice to see something akin to this style alongside the typical MMO sidequests that Xenoblade was so adamant on pursuing.

Good: Battle Mechanics

Xenoblade’s real time battle mechanics, which are heavily reminiscent to that of an MMO, were a breath of fresh air in the genre of JRPGs. What makes this battle system unique are the characters’ special moves, which are called arts. Each art is subject to cool down times and has a unique color that represents the type of move. By utilizing the colors of certain arts, it’s possible to stun an enemy for a few seconds by attacking them with a pink break art, a green topple art, and a yellow daze art through working with your two AI teammates. Another way to utilize the color system is through a chain attack, which is usable when the party gauge builds up through the use of arts and successful QTE sections in battle. A chain attack will allow each member of your team to use a minimum of one art on an enemy at the same time, and if you chose the same art color for every turn, your attack dramatically increases.

The other thing that makes Xenoblade’s combat so special is the inclusion of the main character’s ability to see into the future. If one of your teammates is about to die, you will have a vision of the attack before it happens to alert you. Once the vision is over, it’s up to you to figure out how to keep your teammate alive. There are a number of ways to dodge an attack, and it’s up to the player to think of their own solution to every premonition they see.

The strategic use of arts with your teammates and the ability to change the future in battle were two major staples of Xenoblade’s combat that made it a blast to play, and I’d love to see this deep battle system return in X.

Bad: Tutorial

As most Xenoblade players can attest, the game’s battle mechanics are not as complicated as they may seem, and are relatively easy once you have a good understanding on how to play. Yet, the most prevalent feeling for those starting to play Xenoblade for the first time is complete and utter confusion. I fell into this crowd as well, only obtaining a decent understanding of the game’s mechanics after a whopping 14 hours! Even after that period, I was still learning how to fully master the game’s combat system. This confusion is entirely to blame on the game’s tutorial, which fails to teach you how to play efficiently through numerous text prompts.

A block of text is only capable of showing the player how it’s done, but in an interactive medium, tutorials work a lot smoother when you practice each specific action in gameplay. Not only are there few instances where the game teaches you how to play by executing moves yourself, but Xenoblade’s on-screen prompts lack clarity in some instances and fail to reveal everything about how the intricate combat system works. The only way to completely figure out Xenoblade’s combat is to look into the game’s virtual manual, and I’d personally hate to learn how to play X in the same manner.

Good: Story

I had a friend who used to watch me play Xenoblade, and every time I got to a cut scene, he’d ask me, “Is this the end of the game?” I had to assure him that it wasn’t multiple times, but I knew he wasn’t screwing with me. His questions were justified, as the main cast of characters constantly screamed on the top of their lungs for revenge in a dramatic fashion. Every cut scene feels packed with action while also being relevant and necessary for the game’s plot. It’s incredibly refreshing for a JRPG, as this is a genre known for padding its games with unnecessary plot lines in its story. I’m so used to playing a game like this and thinking that the story isn’t supposed to get good until I’m about ten hours deep. However, Xenoblade is a complete roller coaster ride throughout, as something is always bound to go down in each and every cut scene. It’s a good thing that they are also directed very well, as the game exhibits some of the best cut scenes I’ve ever seen in a video game.

X needs to take note of this. I want to be engrossed within the action at all times, and I hope Monolith Soft will be able to create a well crafted story like this once more. Also, the voice actors better be British in X! British voice actors kick ass.

Bad: Grinding

Xenoblade’s great story became one of my main reasons for wanting to progress through the game. I was able to get through the first half of the game without any hard difficulty spikes, fighting enemies and bosses that were perfectly balanced in difficulty. However, grinding became a necessity as soon I hit the middle of the game, and it stayed that way until it ended due to the high levels of enemies in newer areas. Even if you wanted to play through the game under-leveled to see the rest of the story, it’s almost impossible to accomplish because level discrepancies affect your party’s stats. For example, if a boss is six levels higher than you, your hit rate takes a -120% dive! That’s without including the huge disadvantages given to the player in evade rate, block rate, damage resistance, and weapon damage. So, fighting closer to the level of a boss becomes more of a necessity than a choice for the player.

Grinding wouldn’t be an issue in Xenoblade if the side quests were actually fun, so if they are more interesting in X, then this shouldn’t be a big problem anymore. X could also get rid of the need to grind by keeping a consistent pace throughout and removing high difficulty spikes. Xenoblade was already over 60 hours in its main quest alone, so there should be no need to make the game longer through tons of grinding. Another way to help X play smoother would be to get rid of the accuracy handicap, or at least dramatically lower its disadvantage to the player. Giving the player a chance to hit a high level boss might give them incentive to try fighting at a lower level, while also giving the option to grind if it’s too hard.

There you have it! In my mind, these points create the perfect formula of success for Monolith Soft’s upcoming JRPG on Wii U. What do you hope X will be like when it comes out? Let us know in the comments below!

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