Search This Blog

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review Journal #1- Pokémon X and Xenoblade Chronicles.

Hello, most auspicious of readers, and welcome to the first of a brand-new feature that should (I hope) permit me to post more frequently here at The Deck of Many Things! The goal of these ‘Review Journals’ is to provide ongoing insight into my progress and developing opinions of whatever games I am playing for review, while being able to go a little more in-depth than my typical first impressions posts. Of course, I still intend to write full reviews for the majority of my projects, but seeing as Xenoblade Chronicles, the game that has been devouring my life for the past few weeks, is one massively long adventure, I thought it best to split up my analysis of the game into more digestible chunks.

But before I get into that, I’d like to conclude my thoughts on Pokémon X. Pokémon is a series that I have been somewhat estranged from as of late, but was very near and dear to my heart when I was growing up. In fact, Pokémon Sapphire Version was one of the first games I ever completed, and is largely responsible for introducing me to RPGs (before Final Fantasy and the like sealed my loyalty forever). While I kept an eye on the series from afar during the DS generations (aside from a brief foray into Pokémon Black that left me somewhat apathetic), I wasn’t really interested in playing the games when I was more interested in the deeper mechanics and complex stories offered by other JRPGs. However, Pokémon X’s upgraded visual presentation and a whole lot of convincing from friends caused me to give it a try, and while I can’t say that I’m a born-again Pokémon fanatic, I can safely say that Pokémon X is a fantastic game and that the series is still of a high overall quality.

By the time the credits rolled and I had been inducted into the Kalos Hall of Fame, my team consisted of Charizard, Chesnaught, Azumarill, Raichu, Tyrantrum, and Espeon (my all-time favorite Pokémon by far). The emphasis on returning favorites and a smaller, but still creative, roster of new Pokémon provided a great mix of nostalgia and discovery for a returning Trainer such as myself, and I greatly appreciated the small tweaks to existing mechanics that made navigating the Kalos region a lot less tedious than the older games I was familiar with. The changes to EXP Share, which now causes your entire team to receive experience points in battle, basically negates the tedium of grinding (or at least, trims down the need to grind significantly), and, in my humble opinion, was a welcome alteration. And it cannot be understated how much the new 3D presentation helps to enhance the experience. The only gripe I have is with the minor technical issues that cropped up during battle (particularly during Horde battles against multiple wild Pokémon, which often suffered from slowdown), but the Pokémon animations are excellent and really convey the unique personalities of these creatures more than any game in the series to date.

However, I must confess that while I did enjoy my time with Pokémon X, I’m still not convinced that I will start keeping up with the series again. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching recently about growing up and how to manage the growing responsibility of adult life as well as the hobby I love. I have an ever-growing backlog of RPGs that demand my dwindling free time, and I’m beginning to adopt a policy of quality over quantity when it comes to the experiences I’m looking for in games. That being said, while Pokémon X was an excellent trip down memory lane, it also reminded me that I’m not the ten-year-old boy who was a massive Pokémon fan anymore. Still, for what it’s worth, I’m really glad I played this one, and am still inclined to give Alpha Sapphire a shot (being a remake of my very first Pokémon game).

With that out of the way, let’s address the elephant in the room, which is Xenoblade Chronicles. Monolith Soft’s JRPG epic, and the first of the Operation Rainfall trio, has been sitting on my shelf ever since its release, where I made sure to purchase a copy despite not having access to a Wii, simply out of support to the movement. I now also own The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower, incidentally, and plan on playing through all of the Operation Rainfall games in the near future. Anyways, Xenoblade is the primary reason why I decided to write this Journal instead of waiting to write a proper review, because I honestly don’t know when I’m going to finish it. Suffice it to say that Xenoblade Chronicles is the very definition of an epic, both in the tremendous scope of its story (a staple of Tetsuya Takahashi’s work) and in its length, which I’m told can easily eclipse the 80 hour mark on a typical playthrough.
Sheer beauty.

Xenoblade’s world consists of the bodies of two ancient titans, known as Bionis and Mechonis. Eons ago, these godlike entities fought an epic battle to the death, and enough time has passed that life and civilization has developed on their lifeless corpses. Naturally, organic life flourishes on Bionis, while Mechonis has given rise to artificial life. As if a premise this exciting wasn’t enough, Xenoblade Chronicles also features one of the more engaging casts in any RPG I’ve played. Not only does the camaraderie between them come across as genuine, but it also plays a factor in the game’s combat system, in a surprising level of gameplay and story integration rarely seen in games. While the MMO-esque, position-based combat is intuitive and easy to get a handle on, different characters have vastly different playstyles and, depending on how strong their relationship with another party member is, work better together as a cohesive party.

Of course, the Wii isn’t quite as technically proficient when compared to its high-definition brethren, but Xenoblade Chronicles sidesteps this with superb art direction and clever use of prerendered images. When Shulk and company look off into the distance and see the red eyes of the Mechonis glaring back at them, an ever-present reminder of their mission, the player isn’t actually seeing the Mechonis rendered in real time, but the way Monolith Soft was able to use the limited Wii hardware to create such a vibrant, beautiful world is truly spectacular. The voice work is also top-notch, Nintendo having elected to keep the European localization for the Operation Rainfall games, and there is an option for Japanese audio for those who are so inclined. The score is also excellent, with music composed by a variety of artists, including the famed Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger/Cross, Xenogears) and Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts). So, in summary, there’s a lot I love about this game.

My thoughts could change as I proceed through the game’s lengthy quest, but seeing as I’m over halfway through the main storyline (according to sources I’m using to pace myself, at least), I think it’s safe to say that Xenoblade Chronicles may be one of the best game I’ve ever played. It is certainly one of the best JRPGs in recent memory, one that successfully blends modern game design elements without sacrificing what makes the genre so special, a pitfall that several major game series have fallen into this past generation. I hope that you have enjoyed this first Review Journal, dear reader, and I will have more to say in the near future!         

No comments:

Post a Comment