X Marks the Spot

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

By Anthony Vigna. Posted 11/20/2013 13:00 6 Comments     ShareThis


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!

6 Responses to “X Marks the Spot”

  • 222 points
    PanurgeJr says...

    Somehow Xenoblade managed to be my favorite game on a console that had two Zelda titles, which I intend as the highest of praise. I logged well over 200 hours, in part because I play all games slowly, and in part because I took an even more leisurely time with it. When I first got to Eryth Sea I took an hour just swimming around the edge to see how big it was. There were times I’d visit Satorl Marsh at night just to hear the music. I made sure to completely build up Colony 6, watch every heart-to-heart, and maximize every character’s affinity for all the others. It truly is a masterpiece.

    I don’t fault them for the negatives that remained in the game, simply because that’s how progress is made, in steps, and sometimes you’re going to miss a few steps you could have made. Allow me to add a few suggestions to yours for improvements I’d like to see:

    1) A bestiary. Especially if I’m expected to find some drops.

    2) The ability to replay cinematics. There were times I’d go weeks between cut scenes, by which point I’d forgotten all but the most obvious and general plot points. Anything foreshadowed was lost to me.

    Until I see what Aonuma-san has in store X is my most wanted game, period. And Monolith Soft has enough of a track record that it may even be possible for them to exceed my expectations, outrageously high though they be.

  • 849 points
    ejamer says...

    I really, really enjoyed Xenoblade Chronicles. The only other RPG that had anywhere near the same effect on me was Final Fantasy VI back in the SNES days when it was originally released.

    Totally agree that the score and sense of exploration are keys for the sequel. Each new environment had me searching for beautiful vistas and hidden locations.

    Having more interrelated and relationship building quests is also a great idea. There were some in Xenoblade, and they usually were the best ones. Rewards (in game and emotional) are greater if you have complete multiple steps to uncover a difficult secret quest. But I guess the collection and combat quests are probably necessary filler in a game this large.

  • 1244 points
    lukas85 says...

    xenoblade is my favorite rpg since ffIX. but i dare to say that xenoblade is even greater than the ff trilogy for the psx. And right now X is my most anticipated wiiU game. I have high hopes for this one

  • 1570 points
    penduin says...

    A great article, about a great game. :^) I don’t have anything to add that others haven’t said, but kudos, Anthony. Really great write-up. And Kroisos, those are great additions.

    If the “X” developers hit even some the notes you brought up, and keep the spirit that made us all fall in love with the world of Xenoblade, then we’re in for a hell of a treat.

    I’m excited for a number of upcoming Wii U games, but none more so than “X”.

  • 3 points
    Creaks says...

    Its pretty wierd to see someone who enjoyed xenoblade so much fail to understand it so bad…

    If anyone else is in the same boat, Im going to leave a beif… info stream, so they dont have trouble enjoying X… As these ‘faults’ arent actually faults, but strategems that keepthe game from being a worthless pile of dramatic presentation of non difficulty garbage. Stop asking for the next game to be nuetered, because you dont know what you are doing. Please, PLEASE take a look at other game series that have suffered this fate, and walk a different path for this one.

    The tutorials, in depth tutorials for each individual character as they get each individual move are in the menu under tutorials… They give in depth strategies on characters stats, moves, and combos to use with them, and why. It only propmpts you ONCE as to where to find them, and then only breifly gives you the most basic explanations in game, leaving your time up to you. Please dont ask for a phi in ‘X’.

    The side quests were brilliant to AVOID grinding, and AVOID having to do them all. I guess obsessive compulsives are kinda shafted though… The reason there are so many side quests is so that the player can level, and gain town affinity, the necessary amounts rapidly and without grinding.

    If you notice, unnamed npc’s give you the meaningless by the numbers quests, and they give them to you all at once. You are supposed to take them all at once, and just do your own thing, you will then naturally clear the quests and gain extra xp and affinity without going out of your way. You ARENT supposed to drive yourself mad trying to finish every last one, as their is purposefully FAR FAR MORE than you will EVER need to max town affinity. They do it like this so you dont get quest screwed for any particular thing you are trying to do that requires affinity. They figured, no matter what the player does, or who they dont or do see, they are likely to get a certain percentage of those quests, by simply going wherever they want.

    There is also a robust trade system. Why go out looking to scrap a bunch of enemies you have no interest in when you can just trade for the item and be done in 30 seconds, 90% of all collection quests can be completed by trading.

    The NAMED NPC’s, have varied, interesting FANTASTIC quests, like performing a sting operation on a nopon drug smuggling ring, choosing life altering decisions for many npc’s (including changing character models, descriptions, locations, and even resulting in the death of npc’s, or preventing death of npc’s) These quests often culminate in unlocking secret skill moves, or often, literally (literally), the best use of character development in any videogame, ever, as develping your characters personality changes gameplay.

    And that leads into the final point. You can easily take on enemies 20-40 levels your senior if you know how to play the game. In fact, since the level cap is 99, and there are 120 level unique monsters in the game, its a obviously a pretty purposeful design choice. Please, PLEASE dont take this away from people who know how to play games. The game is plenty easy enough without ever having to learn this, so PLEASE, dont cry for the nuetering of yet ANOTHER series.

    Gems: These are incredibly important if you want to explore the game underleveled, and can infact boost your character stats far, FAR beyond your current level. Im not going to go into it here, besides, if you cant hit the bad guy, you can either level to his level, or gem up smartly. Look up a gem faq if you can figure it out.

    Affinity matters. No, its not some pointless throwaway japanese dating sim something or other, or only good for unlocking text dialog exchanges, it has a massive, MASSIVE effect on gameplay. Parties with good affinity for each other will build tension faster (if you like hitting bad guys this is important) keep it from dropping, increase the party meter faster, keep you from missing when your tension drops, get extra hp recovery in multiple ways (to the point that you dont even need a dedicated healer).

    Past that, affinity affects affinity coins, with affinity coins you can give other characters, special moves, abilities, stats, and skills of other characters they are close with, and build unstoppable death juggernauts capable of wiping the floor with baddies 20+ levels higher, with the magic of freindship.

    No games perfect, and xenoblade is no exception, but these things you are complaining about are among its greatest strengths, not its faults. Please dont ask for this game to be dragged down into dum dum territory like zelda, or metroid, or any of the other greats nintendo nuetered over the years.

    • 180 points
      Anthony Vigna says...

      You seemed to seriously misunderstand a couple of my points. Let me clarify some of them for you.

      I never called for this game to be “neutered”. In fact, Fi is a pure example of the kind of tutorial system that I hate. That’s the same kind of in your face text that teaches you how to play the game. There are plenty of ways to teach a gamer how to play, like through the gameplay itself or level design. That’s what makes this medium so special, as you don’t have to lay out instructional text for everything. Sure, when the virtual manual wasn’t vague, it did help me out at times. But I can’t help but feel that there could have been a better way to do it, especially for a complicated game like this. You are free to feel differently, but I personally struggled to grasp everything for a long time.

      You say that the side quests were implemented to avoid grinding, but when the side quests are so boring, it serves to be a problem. I did them in the proper way that you outlined, but it didn’t mean I found them any more entertaining. I’d personally rather have quality side quests over quantity fetch-quest missions, but maybe that’s just me. You are right that some side quests are better than others, and I would love to see more refined side quests like those in X.

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