Have you ever looked at something for a far too long while at the grocery store and then didn’t buy it? Well, that’s been my experience with Xenoblade games- except it’s been 12 years now, and there’s only been one item at the store. Like a child who refuses to try new foods, I’ve masterfully evaded the franchise despite its similarities to some of my favorite JRPGs, such as Final Fantasy VII and Persona 5.
As time has passed, I’ve run out of excuses for not trying the series. At first, it was petty reasons, such as nearly identical cover art in each entry with green grass and blue sky. (Is this marketing sabotage or pure genius?)
Other times, I just didn’t feel like I needed another oversized sword-wielding protagonist in my life- I’m looking at you, Cloud! But most importantly, every time I saw gameplay, I could see a HUD that was far too busy, and all I could hear were characters constantly interrupting one another with one-liners every time they attacked.
For the thousandth time, I concluded that these games just aren’t for me, you know, until I… um, tried it.
Where should you start in Xenoblade Chronicles?
My journey started with the remaster of the first game in the series, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, and while I like playing games chronologically, the series’ stories are independent of one another, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on details from the previous entries.
The introduction to the series pulls no punches in the most fantasy JRPG way possible as two behemoth-sized mechanized gods kill each other with swords upon an ocean-covered planet. Yep. That happens.
As eons pass, sentient life evolves on top of the dead god’s corpses, the only “landmass” available to its inhabitants. These massive corpses are in turn represented in sprawling open areas that are all interconnected throughout the game world for you and your party to explore.
As we’ve all experienced, spectacles are fantastic and all, but a big game doesn’t equate to a good game, and thankfully the combat system is incredibly solid, satisfying, and addictive.
What to expect from Xenoblade’s combat
At first, the combat seems familiar to those who’ve played any MMO in the last couple of decades. However, it’s the direction in which your character faces when using various attack types that matters here.
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Want to perform a backstab? Well, you need to get behind the enemy.
Side slash? Ok, now move to the left or right sides.
This sounds obvious enough, but whichever character currently holds the enemy’s aggro will be forced to attack head-on, negating all bonuses from directional combat. This quickly turns into an exercise in puppeteering enemies to face where you want, when you want, and when appropriately executed feels incredible.
In addition to directional combat, you can inflict a tiny hierarchy of status effects upon enemies called a break, topple, and daze. The break is a debuff and allows for toppling, topple immobilizes the enemy and allows for daze, and daze keeps the enemy down longer while opening opportunities for critical hits.
With some experience, you can easily take on otherwise tough enemies as you are ‘stun-lock’ your target indefinitely. Once you’re fluent in Xenoblade’s combat, you’re not forced into using Shulk, the glass cannon protagonist; you can choose to play as any of the large cast of party members to suit your playstyle.
Oh, and I almost forgot. Shulk can predict the near future, which heavily affects both combat and the story, but I’ll leave that up to you to explore.
A wild story with endearing characters
I’m a big supporter of not spoiling games, even if that game is ancient by gaming standards. I will say that Xenoblade Chronicle’s first outing is a perfect example of cohesion between world-building, storytelling, and the gameplay itself.
There are thick layers of foreshadowing that you don’t realize are there until you near the finish line. The characters that make up your party aren’t perfect; they must identify their faults, build each other up, grow by themselves, or face the consequences of complacency.
The story is an absolute rollercoaster ride with twists and turns, most of which you’ll never see coming. As the music swells and the sheer size of the world encompasses your journey, you’ll quickly realize that Monolith has developed a game franchise that knows exactly its identity.
TL;DR Xenoblade Chronicles is Anime KOTOR
Look, I can’t emphasize the importance of trying new things and giving games a second chance. Honestly, it’s embarrassing in hindsight to think I wouldn’t thoroughly enjoy a more extensive, complex anime KOTOR.
I beat the first entry in two weeks, and I’m already playing its sequel. Whether you start with the Definitive Edition or jump right into Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the wonderful feeling of enjoying a brand-new experience that might be out of your comfort zone is truly something special.