Xenoblade fills Wii role-playing void

2012-04-12 20:04

New York - In most game-playing households, Nintendo's Wii is the console that gets powered up when the whole family wants to play, whether engaging in the lighthearted antics of Mario Kart or Wii Sports or the more exhausting physical activity of Just Dance or Wii Fit.

With a few rare exceptions - like last year's The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - Wii games don't offer the kind of immersive, time-consuming adventures that hardcore players love. So when it appeared that the sweeping Japanese role-playing epic Xenoblade Chronicles was going to bypass the US, Nintendo of America was deluged with complaints from Wii die-hards.

The aggressive fan campaign did the trick, and Xenoblade Chronicles ($49.99) has finally made its way to the US. As one of the most ambitious Wii games ever, it was certainly worth the wait - although it doesn't quite live up to the standards of homegrown RPGs like Bethesda Softworks' The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or BioWare's Mass Effect series.

It's a continuation of director Tetsuya Takahashi's Xeno series, which includes the 1998 landmark Xenogears and the PlayStation 2 trilogy Xenosaga. It's not a direct sequel, but fans will recognise plenty of thematic connections - particularly Takahashi's man-vs.-machine obsession.

The landscape constantly changes, moving from the verdant plains of Bionis to a shimmering floating city to the metallic gloom of Mechonis. Some settings - such as a vast tundra punctuated by luminescent towers - are so gorgeous that I wished I could experience them on a high-definition console.

There's no such problem with the lush soundtrack, which delivers all the right notes of joy and menace, triumph and despair, depending on the circumstances.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of Xenoblade is its vast menagerie of enemy beasts, starting with easy pickings like insects and rabbits and working its way up to towering robots. For the most part, you can check out your foes from a distance, so if your party isn't ready, you can head in a different direction.

Combat is hectic. You control one character, while the other two warriors in your party are handled by artificial intelligence. This can be frustrating: There are just a few limited commands you can give to your partners, and depending on an AI-controlled Sharla to know when you need healing is a good way to end up dead.

  • Shaun.groenewald - 2012-04-13 12:34

    AI heals? GOING TO DIE perma

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