Upon its 2010 release, “Xenoblade Chronicles” subverted all expectations for the Japanese role-play game, or JRPG, genre. It was almost an anti-JRPG, adapting to design trends from Western RPGs across the coast like “Fallout” or “The Elder Scrolls.” It also featured a story that, on the surface, was standard JRPG fare, but on the inside was much more complex.
It felt like one of the only RPGs on the market that truly felt new, but after just a few months on the market, Nintendo stopped producing the game, and it fell into the pit of rarity and expensive eBay auctions. But now that it’s being re-released for the New Nintendo 3DS, owners of that system should take notice.
“Xenoblade” takes place on two giants: the biological Bionis, and the mechanical Mechonis. Long ago, the two giants were engaged in a never-ending battle, until mutually assured destruction effectively killed them both. However, life began to spread on these giants, and now the inhabitants of their ecosystems continue the fight.
On the Bionis, young inventor Shulk ogles over the Monado, a legendary lightsaber that is particularly effective at killing the residents of the Mechonis, the Mechon. However, when a swarm of Mechon attacks his small town, Shulk learns that the blade chose him, and he sets off to settle the eternal conflict once and for all.
The synopsis will end here because it’s all spoilers after that.
“Xenoblade” manages to play with and/or subvert almost every trope that players typically think of when they think of JRPGs, or even the classic hero’s journey story setup as a whole. No character is exactly as he or she seems and sometimes the main characters may find allies and enemies where they least expect them. It’s a tale full of twists and turns, and it’ll keep players hooked throughout the almost 80-hour adventure.
But it’s not just narrative that “Xenoblade” toys with — it’s the very mechanics of the genre as well. The game takes many cues from modern Western RPGs like “Dragon Age,” incorporating things like fast-travel and a large open map. Side quests don’t need to be returned to the quest-giver upon completion. And Shulk’s Monado can conveniently see into the future, which allows him to see lethal enemy attacks before they happen and plan for them.
“Xenoblade” feels very streamlined because of this. The typical annoyances of the JRPG genre are mostly gone, allowing the game to feel remarkably fresh, smooth and fast, despite the average play-through time.
Until now, “Xenoblade Chronicles” has been very hard to find at a reasonable price, but those who picked up the New Nintendo 3DS earlier this year are in for a real treat. It’s the first JRPG in years that truly feels evolutionary, and with the spiritual successor “Xenoblade Chronicles X” coming later this year to the Wii U, there’s no better time to jump in.