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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Sunday, October 7, 2012

POST 100: "Not So Fesh" DUAL REVIEWS- Xenoblade Chronicles and Chrono Trigger

Part one: Chrono Trigger

Okay, so I just beat Chrono Trigger last week, for the first time, on my DS. I was pretty impressed. With the whole thing, I mean. But I decided to skip forward in time on my trusty Epoch and play an RPG from the future: Xenoblade Chronicles. Considering I've hyped up this game, and this review, for a while now, I figure there's nothing better to talk about in my 100th blog post. Now, I'm gonna say some opinionated stuff in this post, that may or may not pertain to one of the greatest RPGs of all time. So let's strap in for one hell of a review.

Now, it's kind of hard to talk about Chrono Trigger without mentioning a recent list that popped up on IGN very recently- their picks for the top 100 RPGs of "all time". While the list was quite an interesting piece, many of the choices were very justified, though their placement could certainly be argued. The truth is, I highly doubt anyone has ever played all 100 of those RPGs listed, so the placement is kind of a moot point. My favorite RPGs were present, and that validates my good taste. But Chrono Trigger was ranked number 2, and I think it's hard to debate that. The things that Chrono Trigger does correctly and the finesse it has in doing them is astounding- though it may seem small scale to those of you who play Skyrim or even Final Fantasy XIII, the things this RPG did defined the genre.

Turn-based, yet very active battles are Chrono Trigger's forte- but it's more than just that. The battle system keeps characters on the timer (based on their speed stat) and allows access to basic, physical attacks or techs-special moves that deal heavy damage. Magic falls under the "tech" label, and each move uses up your precious MP. Techs can be combined with certain characters, allowing moves that were previously only special physical attacks to be mixed with magic, and vice versa. Characters technically have a "placement" for each battle, running to certain areas, and certain moves can change enemy placement. Depending on how enemies move, you can hit them with proximity-based attacks, or tackle them one at a time. It really is a great battle system, and it awards you with both EXP to level up your character and Tech Points to level up your techs- using certain characters in battle together will cause them to learn dual techs, making battle possibilities quite varied.

As for me, I quickly fell into a Warrior/Mage/Healer lineup, though I often resorted to double healers. The enemies in the game don't give you much warning as to when they'll attack, and battles can be fast-paced. Taking too long to pull out items and decide/wait on techs can be your downfall. Another thing- battles are not randomized encounters- every battle you take part in can be seen on the field beforehand, and the characters run to their places when an encounter begins. Terrain is not usually a factor, but the locales that enemies exist in alter their placement. It's cool to feel like the battle system and exploration mesh together, but it does bring up some issues.

If an enemy encounter system isn't randomized, then dungeon design- especially those that some RPG fans love, with their twists and turns and dead ends- suffers a bit. While dungeon paths wind a bit in Chrono Trigger- there's rarely branching and hidden areas. Things kind of seem straightforward- taking you ever-closer to the next boss. While the battle initiation is usually caused by physical touch, there's a number of unavoidable, scripted initiations- and while you can run from these battles, it still feels a little cheap that a battle system so dependent on the player cheats at times. And the last thing I'd have to complain about is the number of enemies in the game. They are so few, and they don't grow with you- areas that had level 10 enemies will always have level ten enemies- so that grinding only in certain areas becomes a bit dull, as you rarely have to explore elsewhere. However, these are minor complaints, because the game still manages to be fairly challenging and engaging despite this.

If there's one thing truly great about Chrono Trigger it's the  wonderful story that comes with the whole package. This is a simpler time in video games- one where a time travel plot doesn't have to involve characters monolouing for twenty minutes about whether or not their experiences are real. You jump from prehistory, to super-advanced past, to medieval era, to modern (slash-futurisitcally-enhanced), to post-apocalyptic, and people just go with it. Even with all these different time periods, there's an established conflict in each, and they all tie into the greater scheme of things. Party characters come from all different eras and have their reasons for joining in the battle. With minimal dialogue (only enough space to fill that rectangular box at the bottom of the screen), the characters are fleshed out extremely well and have fascinating relationships with one another (as per usual, one party member kinda drops the ball- I'm calling it, kids. It's Ayla.). While there's not a LOT of optional side-quest material, the DS did add a big portion of content with a whole new area and shadow battles- I did play the DS version, so I'm gonna say that it's the definitive version. However, each side-quest in the original version contributes heavily to the story of each character- and that's really nice, knowing that if you complete a side-quest, it will really contribute to the story in some way. The side-quests are actually pretty emotional at times- Lucca's especially. One thing I remarked about the Last Story, another one of my favorite RPGs (it's a new one, but still good), is that it conserves a lot of energy by making sure everything you CAN possibly is easily accessible and available. Every bit of the Last Story is crucial, and the same goes for Chrono Trigger- map areas are cut off or inaccessible based on how far you've progressed through the game, and only when you access your trusty Epoch that you can change time periods on your own accord, and you have to wait a bit longer after that before you can traverse the ENTIRE world map. The game is loaded with progressive content that teases you and makes you want to explore more.

I mean, there's not much else to say about this game. The combat system is great but enemy encounters are sorta flawed, and the story, music, art, exploration, and content are all top-notch. It's one of the last pixel-masterpieces before the jump to 3D, so you know it's a great, quality experience.

Now.

We move on.

Part two: Xenoblade Chronicles

There's something everyone needs to understand about this game. When I first encountered it, I merely saw one of the fifteen minute map exploration videos with a sampling of the soundtrack. It showed a number of party members running around the environments, capturing the sense of scale and awesomeness. And that's pretty much it. I was completely hooked. That's strange for me, because it wasn't the combat or the story or the gameplay- it was pretty much just the music and the locales. But the world were just so vibrant and massive. It was really cool to look at and I knew I wanted to explore it. I waited anxiously for localization to be announced- I sat through the Operation Rainfall ordeal- and when the release date finally hit, I was overjoyed. I was ready to play. So I popped that baby in and got ready for a wild ride.

What I got was addiction.

Shulk is a young scientist who is researching the Monado, an epic sword that is dangerous to humans, or "homs" because of its unstable, damaging nature- Shulk's love interest, Fiora, has a brother who once used the Monado to combat the Mechon, mechanical beings that are invading the husk of the lifeless god Bionis, which you just so happen to live on, from their own home of Mechonis, the other lifeless husk of a mechanical god. These two gods killed one another in battle eons ago, and life began on both of their dead bodies. In any case, Shulk discovers that he is adept with the Monado, not suffering from its effects like other Homs, and gets glimpses of the future at times, which he desperately tries to change or prevent, sometimes with success, and sometimes not so much. Shulk eventually goes on a quest for vengeance against the Mechons after someone close to him dies (this is all within like, the first two hours of gameplay). It may seem like a lot to handle, but it's much easier to follow than one would think, and even though the characters dabble in uncertainty, they adapt to the more fantastic concepts of the world around them with ease and the story moves forward quite quickly.

Xenoblade essentially plays like a MMORPG, but it's an entirely single-player experience. You have "hot-keyed" special moves, auto-attack, a number of story-related and random side-quests (that range from boring and simple item hunts to more complex, character driven exchanges), and land traversing. However, it also comes with the best freaking travel system, making sure that exploration is required but once done, you can jump from landmark to landmark or area to area. The partner affinity and battle system is brilliant, allowing team-up chained moves and the ability to share abilities between characters. The unique quality system which allows your character strengths in different areas, causing you to revamp your team and battle strategy. Even your special moves can be upgraded and switched out, changing how you set up your chain attacks and even your battle strategy. You can lead your three-person party with any of the seven main characters and have your two party members be whoever you want, and each character has a unique battle style fitting either an RPG archetype or class. You have your Tank, your Medic/Sniper, your Berserker/Mercenary, the Thief, the Mage, Well-balanced Paladin, and I won't got into the potentially spoiler-worthy seventh character's qualities.

Everything about Xenoblade Chronicles just feels right- from the exploration/platforming aspect that begs you to discover more areas on the insanely large and varied maps for a reward in experience points, to the wonderful musical score, to the somewhat by-the-numbers but still very unique, science-fiction-magic story with a great deal of heart, to the fast-paced, frenetic battle system with hundreds of possibilities and a "future-sight" system that shows you attacks before they happen so that you can avoid them, to the staggering number of side-quests and bountiful rewards you can get from them. It's extremely accessible and virtually snag-free. You will rarely ever find yourself grinding, and if you do, it's by choice so that you can upgrade something. You have checkpoints that are always shown on your map- if you wish to advance the story, you go to them, but if not, you have the ability to go anywhere and do anything else. The NPC towns are bustling with life and each have a fame system that rises as you complete side-quests and unlocks harder challenges. Did I mention the maps are massive? I think I did.

See, the wonderful thing is that every map in Xenoblade is unique in some way. You have your basic hometown, but it's circular in layout. The first cave system is large and sprawling, and then the first plains area opens up and is . You travel from a mysterious aural swamp with a giant's fortress within to a hazy jungle perched over a massive river, to a network of floating islands over a gargantuan sea, to a winding, freezing glacial pass. And that's only the body of the ORGANIC god you live on. Then there's the mechanical god whose body plays as more of a huge dungeon- and yes, you'd be pleasantly surprised by the amount of dungeons that actually exist in this game. It's just a stunning game in scope that rivals other current RPGs in size, though it's split up a bit but easily accessible because of the fast-travel system.

It's an epic because of it's lengthy story, which hits the seventy-hour mark even if you refuse to deviate from the main course. Because the world map is giant and gives a sense of travel, of moving towards a larger goal, and of real scale. Because the world changes, from rebuilt cities, to the way NPC's regard you, to the ecosystem of enemies that you may have to avoid or can finally face when you're on their level a bit more. It's jam-packed with elements that deepen the experience as well as streamline it. Simply put, it's a blast to play, and very, VERY hard to criticize because it satisfies almost every need you could possibly have- except pinpointing exact NPC locations, as the bastards do roam freely and at certain hours- and while they give you their hours of operation (on an NPC CHART that is always available to you), they don't give your their general location- so you might want to keep that in mind.

I think its great to compare these two RPGs side-by-side, because Chrono Trigger is just a game that takes its main feature- time travel- and exploits it in the best way possible while also having a bunch of other great aspects to it. It's a highlight of its era, while Xenoblade is in a strange place- it's not an High Definition RPG, but I would call it a highlight of the 3D Standard Definition era, because it has a ridiculous amount of polish to it. And that's safe to say about both games. They represent this high level of quality and understanding of their genre and what they could do- Chrono Trigger does fascinating things with its time travel function, dynamic, specific time-period overworlds, and clever battle system. Xenoblade does incredible things with its overworld's scope, platforming areas, and dynamic but easily accessible gameplay. Both games are neat, but Xenoblade is quire possibly my favorite RPG and maybe game of all time because even now, its sense of scale and content is overwhelming. But, overwhelming in a great way. I would love to spend ridiculous amount of time playing this game while Chrono Trigger would be fun to do another playthrough, and that's a main draw for me- Xenoblade could be played without being beat for a ridiculous amount of time but Chrono Trigger is just a tight package that is really well put together- one is a game that you could play forever and the other is a game that is a wonderful, comprehensive experience that knows when its story needs to close.

That's not to say Chrono Trigger is a short game, of course. It took me about thirty-eight hours to complete, including the extra dungeons. Not too shabby. But it did seem like a very linear experience with not much side-questing to do. Xenoblade is very different- but equally as awesome because of it. These are two games that I loved very much, and I'm glad that they're a part of my 100th post!

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