A party gauge fills slowly as you work together, allowing you to issue chain-link commands when ?filled, stopping time and queuing arts from each character. Meanwhile, Shulk’s sword imbues him with the power to see into the future, and occasionally the flow of battle will be interrupted to show you a special move your opponent is due to make soon, allowing you a few moments to prepare a counter or pre-emptive healing spell.
Battles take place in the main environment, where enemies can be clearly seen and avoided if necessary. Happily, many creatures in the world won’t bother ?you if they aren’t of a hostile disposition, or if your team is too strong for them, and so, in contrast to ?many other JRPGs, there’s an ecosystem at work here, and Bionis is a pleasant, diverse place to roam as a result. The influence of western MMOGs can also be felt in the side-quest structure, which sees you taking on as many missions as you can carry. Rather than taking the form of fetch quests, often these missions will be automatically cleared when the criteria are fulfilled, with no need to return to the quest giver to claim your rewards.
The story is fast-paced and engaging, with regular set-pieces to reward investment. A strong, characterful translation from Nintendo helps enormously, while the all-British voice cast gives the game’s key characters an uncommon, fresh tone. But the greatest triumph is that, unusually for a JRPG, many of the best stories in the game aren’t prescribed, but instead generated by your own inquisitiveness.
Wonders and terrors are equally positioned in ?the world to imbue even the slightest diversion off ?the beaten track with drama and anticipation. When married to one of the strongest battle systems in the genre and a cast of characters and story that twist convention, this world becomes irresistible. It’s a ?potent return to form for Takahashi, then, a glowing comeback for the Japanese RPG, and an injection of creativity for some tired hardware. Xenoblade Chronicles manages to impress, enrich and, best of all, inspire wonder.
See our next issue, out August 30, for a fascinating Post Script on how a single decision made by Xenoblade Chronicles director Tetsuya Takahashi at the outset of the project informed a whole game’s worth of improvements.