While going over a Nintendo Direct conference some weeks ago, I mentioned I would was planning to write about what’s been shown of Xenoblade Chronicles X so far, and my thoughts on it. Well, earlier today Nintendo released a trailer and release date (April 10) for Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, and rather than talk about that and how much I love the game and hate the system (seriously, the game is not meant for a portable system), I’ve decided to get ahead of the crowd. Xenoblade 3D is being made for two reasons -well, one reason, money, but money from two fronts. To help sell the N3DS system, and to get some more name recognition before Xenoblade X is released. Chances are, we’ll be getting a trailer for that in the next week too, and the release date will be shortly after April 10. But business cynicism aside, let’s talk about X.
Starting with footage of the game from E3 2013, back when it was mysteriously called just “X“, we see- Oh my god! It’s an entry plug!
Clearly the nod at Evangelion is a metaphor for how this franchise began as an ambitious art project that would evolve not only its own genre but the medium as a whole, but over the years will fall into being an over-marketed cash-grab. Okay, now no more cynicism.
Mechs: Since the first trailer, the biggest thing to stand out about X has been mechs. The biggest change in this display is that X has added a tab showing the amount of “Doll Fuel” you have. We see what this means when it’s suddenly a mech running, transforming and driving through through the world, rather than a person, and the counter starts dropping. Clearly we’re dealing with a whole different beast, thematically, here. In Chronicles, the mechs are a set of enemies, not a mechanic. The apprehensive relation toward foreign (“xeno”) technology was kind of a big deal. But now it’s being embraced. I’m keeping an open mind on this, but I can’t help but be concerned. The way Chronicles did this, it made for a more original and subversive story. But giving the protagonist (and thus the player) a mech has been done so many times, and is rarely anything more than just a neat play-thing.
User Interface: Minor aesthetic alterations from Chronicles‘ interface. The main thing is a more realistic radar-like map, and the analog time display being replaced by a digital one to reflect the more sci-fi style.
Pause menu navigation now looks like it’s in a different language, perhaps partly because it’s Japanese. Still, it does not look like as clear a system as Chronicles has, which is a little frustrating.
Upon defeating enemies, a drops interface the covers most of the screen just appears, telling you what you picked up. This look very intrusive and detrimental to the flow of gameplay. Why are these still a thing?
“BLADE: Beyond the Logos Artificial Destiny Emancipator.” You did not just come up with that name and then realize, “Hey guys, this makes a cool acronym!” I’ll give you “Artificial Destiny Emancipator”, but “Beyond the Logos”, not gonna fly. Gurren Lagann got away with it because it was subtle, and it actually played into a larger theme of Nous in the philosophy of Anaxagoras. Unless X‘s got spirals, that name was just butchered for the sake of an acronym. Also, why would something that allows you to alter destiny be called BLADE- Oh! Well then, carry on.
Spiritual Sequel: X is apparently a “spiritual sequel” to Chronicles, which usually I would rip into as it’s a way to get the Xenoblade name without limiting the demographic to just people who played Chronicles, but I’m actually happy with this. Sequels to games that didn’t need them tend to retroactively damage the original, even with good sequels.
Character Customization: I do not like this. Character customization is useful when a game’s protagonist is meant to be a self-insert or fantasy for the player. The amount of customization options you get is inversely proportional to the amount of personality your character has. But one of the best things about Chronicles is its characters. Shulk is a great protagonist, and I rarely get to say that about a video game.
Opening: “Sorry about skipping through. I want to get to the gameplay really badly.” Hey that’s okay. Though, would you mind my asking, wouldn’t the player want to do that same? If so, are you recommending that players skip through all the content you chose to put before gameplay?
I know Chronicles had an opening cut-scene, but it had a whole, original universe to show off, and it got through it at a good pace. This has a generic space battle. In fact, can we just ban space battle cut-scenes? There are already a million of them, they’re lazy, they’re way longer than they need to be, and they’re impossible to make any sense of. Though I do like the Kill la Kill trumpets.
Combat: I can finally be optimistic! Two new features are immediately apparent, and I like them both. First, an indicator of where you are relative to the enemy. Because certain attacks in Xenoblade have damage modifiers depending on where they strike, it’s helpful to know what the game registers your position as. Second, switching weapons. It’s an obvious but effective way to add more depth to the gameplay. The detection system appears unchanged, which I’m fond of.
There’s also a class system, which by name is different and a little concerning, but based on what little is said about it, it sounds like it’s just a different name for the skill tree system.
You can direct NPCs in combat, which should probably fix all the problems of Chronicles’ combat AI, but at the price of micromanaging. Hopefully the AI is good enough that you don’t have to constantly use this. Though I hope the field AI still sucks, because that’s just fun to watch.
Visuals: Well, the graphics have certainly improv- Oh, it Sonic Boom‘d…
Obviously it’s got some of that fancy HD technology in it, but to me HD is like Godzilla. It would be kinda cool if everything was fine, but everything isn’t fine and you know who to blame for it. For instance, the main character’s reactions. For a guy who just step out of an escape-pod having landed on a mysterious planet with giant monsters everywhere, he looks a little bored. Customization and advanced graphics both have a hand in this, so I guess it’s German porn.
Elma’s character design on the other hand… I got nothing. I could love it, I could hate it. It depends on the game and story, and whether her deign works best for her character. Though I do like the more standard JRPG style, it makes me think this isn’t going to be a Ubisoft “appeal to a wider demographic” thing.
World Design: Oh boy, the big one. We’re breaking this down into subcategories.
-Macro: As you can see from the image, there isn’t any Bionis-Mechonis universe here. It’s not that surprising since this is more sci-fi, which includes space travel, and you really can’t mix that with a world like the Bionis, but it is a shame. I don’t mean to sound like anything that’s not the same as Chronicles is bad, and I certainly don’t feel that way. But you can see it there, the curvature of a spherical planet suspended in space. It looks mundane.
-Movement/Landscapes: On foot characters seem to get around pretty well. The main thing is jumping and fall damage. Characters’ jumping animations look strong, and they get good height and distance. There is little fall damage if any. And the environments are extremely complex and layered. It looks like there will be a lot of 3D exploration, which I like.
I don’t get why the third-person camera has scouter vision on what I assume are ether deposits. It looks awkward against the natural landscape, and the the information could easily have just been relayed through the map.
-Creatures: Of course they look cool, but they might also behave cool. According to the commentary, their AI responds to weather pasterns. This could be so shallow it’s pointless (like is a certain creature only spawns if it’s raining) or awesome if it incorporates things like migration patterns, so one creature might avoid rain and end up moving to an area it was never even meant to be to avoid it. It’s things like that that can really help bring a game world to life.
“Right stick for camera control. Left stick for movement. It’s natural.” Oh my god, I hate everyone at Nintendo Treehouse.