dkirschner's Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
| [May 3, 2020 09:08:27 AM]
| It is done! According to HowLongToBeat.com, this is the 9th longest game I've ever played: 67 hours and 30 minutes. That's right around average for the main story. I maintain that this game's side quests are garbage and the "social" affinity content is pointless. Apparently all that pushes the gameplay time to upwards of 100 hours. The game could have wrapped up earlier, but kudos to the writers for making a story that keeps on going deeper and deeper. There's always another bad guy after the current bad guy, and this story traces all the way to the beginning of the universe. They really covered all their bases. |
In the one other angsty entry for this, I had been slogging through the biggest, worst designed town full of the most annoying creatures, and I was struggling with remembering all the combat controls (mostly when to use all the various Monado skills and getting overwhelmed by the fact that all the characters play differently). I was ready to hang it up. Then I think I played for 8 hours straight and the game was redeemed.
Regarding my previous gripes:
1. The "kid" is special, as I should have imagined. His friends, however, are another story. How they wind up strong enough to fight gods, I don't know.
4. Regarding "too many skills," it doesn't matter. I realized that there are better and worse skill and party combinations, but as long as you have some basics covered (a tank, someone who can heal), then most skill and party combinations are valid.
5. The party AI is awful through the entire game. It does an okay job with tanks, but characters with healing abilities will inexplicably not use them until someone is almost dead, and some of the characters the AI seems to not know how to control at all (looking at you Melia). In my last session tonight, as an example, I was in a banquet hall with tables and chairs. Sharla (ranged DPS and healer) was between a table and a wall. The enemy I was fighting killed me and Reyn (tank). Sharla needed to come resurrect either of us. The enemy came toward her and blocked her from one direction. Instead of turning to go around the table, I watched as she futilely ran against the monster trying to go through the way it was blocking. She ran in place until she died and we wiped. Go around the table! Actually that's not an example of the AI not knowing how to play a character. That's just an example of the AI having bad pathfinding, which is unfortunately a more general problem.
6. I never became enamored with the controls, but I got used to them. One thing that sucked is if I played for a long time, my left hand would start cramping because of constantly holding the joystick up while pressing C to rotate the camera and move at the same time. Regarding the action bar, on a PC you would have had abilities assigned to 1-8. With the Wiimote though, you scroll, constantly scroll. Left left left left A. Right Right Right Right Right A. Forever.
Those were things that stood out a month ago. After continuing, I realize that the game’s tone is really hit-or-miss. For example, when it aims for light-heartedness, it’s really cheesy. When it aims for seriousness, the feeling is evident but it’s often marred by voice acting and repetitive dialogue. The game is not funny at all, though it tries. The requisite JRPG cute comic relief character, Riki, sucks so much. Characters, while possessing plenty of backstory, typically have a single-minded reason for fighting from which they never waver. The connections between all the characters, races, worlds, and so on make the story complex, but characters themselves are simple. Over this long of a game, that gets tiring. Shulk (main character), for example, is motivated to fight for the girl in his village who he had a budding romance with. There’s love in the air. After they save the freaking universe, the two of them sit on the beach, she makes a comment about her haircut, he awkwardly compliments it and stutters over his words and they don’t bring up the fact that they like one another. The scene should have faded with them holding hands or literally anything except them social distancing in front of a beautiful sunset. Apparently even after you save the world, you aren’t mature enough to express a romantic notion.
The environments in this game are top notch. I was left with my jaw on the floor many times, and this is a 2010 Wii game. They’re fun to run through and have branching paths, optional areas, mini-bosses, (shitty) side quests, and more. One of the final areas had me pulling my hair out though. You have to go inside the Bionis (old god) and reach its heart. It’s a vertical level so you’re walking up narrow paths. The problem is that there are a lot of enemies with knockback who will shove you off the path to the poison water far below. There’s no way to get up from the poison water, so you die. This happened to me about 20 times. If your NPC allies get knocked off, they materialize back at you and continue fighting, but if you get knocked off, it’s a wipe. The paths are so narrow that it’s really hard to avoid being knocked off. You just have to do your best to avoid engaging enemies on the paths. The level boss did the same thing. You fight her in a room with these poison pools, and she had an awful tendency to shove my tank into the pools. After a few tries at this though, I realized I could make smart use of the “focus attack” and “come to me!” commands. If my NPC allies got shoved into the poison pools, I’d run to the center of the room and use “come to me!” Sometimes it would take them a minute and they might still die (see “bad pathfinding” above), but it did the job.
That boss fight and numerous others (including minibosses and even regular enemies in the world, especially if you pull a lot of them) are tough and can last a long time (~10-15 minutes). Sometimes, boss fights just last until you realize you’re woefully under-leveled. After playing a while, I learned that this is 5 levels under the boss. In MMO fashion, if the enemy’s name icon is gray, they are too easy; blue = easy; white = about your level; yellow = 3-4 levels above you; red = 5+ levels above you and certain doom). Especially toward the end of the game, you will have to grind. Out of the 67 hours, I bet 7 were grinding, roughly 10% of my play time. Even if you explore everywhere, you’ll still have to grind. Take the Bionis level I mentioned. I entered there at level 69. Enemies in the previous area were in the high 60s and low 70s. Enemies in this area were 72-76, and I saw some minibosses wandering up to 78. I gained a level on the way to the boss, but she was red. Great. Even her little trash mobs were yellow, level 73. She was probably 75 or 76. So back I went to grind out, at minimum, 2 levels. I got up to 73 and tried again. Still a challenging fight, but I beat her at that level. This kind of thing happened several times in the latter half of the game. I wound up just muting the volume and putting headphones on to listen to music.
That is it! The last Wii game I own too. I have a few more Wii U games to play and then I can sell it all (but these are shelved until I exhaust the Microsoft Game Pass). I’m glad to have played this epic JRPG. It’s been a while since I’ve played one. It was long and it has its faults, but it was endearing, the combat was sublime, music and environments were stunning, and it pushed my RPG progression and loot buttons. I wouldn’t play it again, but I’d recommend it if you’re hankering for something in the genre. I’m also not sure I would call it one of the greatest RPGs ever—the thing got rave reviews—but I could just be playing too late to be as impressed. I have the sequel sitting here and suppose I’ll delve into it with some idea of what to expect in the future!
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| [April 3, 2020 05:03:25 PM]
| So, coronavirus huh? |
Now that I've contextualized the times...
I have so many more videogames than I did a couple weeks ago. I bought my girlfriend a Switch Lite and she grabbed a few games for it. I've gotten some nice freebies from the Epic Store. Humble Bundle had a massive $30 "help fight COVID-19" bundle with a handful of games on my wishlist, and that came with a one month subscription to Humble Choice, which has another few games this month on my wishlist (and it looks like I get to keep it for next month's games too?!). So I'm swimming in video games AND I have a little more time to play!
The first thing I did when faced with not being allowed to go to work and being in teaching limbo (we weren't allowed to teach for two weeks as we prepared to move online) was find the longest game in my backlog, which was Xenoblade Chronicles (and its sequel) on Wii (both around 100 hours!), and plop down on my couch. I've made it a little over 20 hours and am thinking about just moving on to the sequel, not because Xenoblade Chronicles isn't a great game--it is--but because I get the gist of it and I want to see what the second one changes.
This is a massive JRPG. I haven't played a massive JRPG in a long time, so this feels like reverting to when I was younger, very comforting. It also feels like a single-player MMORPG, with large explorable environments and very MMO-esque skills for each character. There are things I love about the game and things that are encouraging me to just try the second one in hopes they will be different.
1. Presentation - Music, art style, cinematography, all that is excellent. It's a beautiful game, which is odd to say about a 10-year-old Wii title.
2. Setting - The game world is the body of an old, dead god. I lived on the bottom of the leg and have been traveling my way to its head. See, in the past, these two old gods fought and died. Their bodies became fertile ground for life forms or something. It's so cool.
3. Overall story - I don't know where exactly the story is going, but I like the big arc, which is a fight against the "Mechon," which are (you guessed it) machine-like beings. They are, in typical JRPG style, pure evil bad guys. There is something bigger going on, and I want to know what happens!
4. Combat - I do generally enjoy the combat. It's active in real time. You control one character and the others are controlled by AI. Positioning matters. The order of abilities matters. It's challenging and complex.
Dislike or meh
1. Characters - This is one of those "kid saves the world" stories. The voice acting is fine (the British accents grew on me) and the dialogue is fine, and there isn't anything special about the characters really. They fit stereotypes. Except I did just meet Riki, the mandatory cute/annoying nonhuman party member, and I think I hate him.
2. "Affinity Points" - There are places in the world where, depending on your party members' affinity for one another, special cut scenes will occur. I've found like 30 of these places and only had the right affinity to see like 2 scenes. There is a lot of "social" interaction between characters and NPCs that contributes nothing to the main story and feels arbitrarily locked behind vague stats and busywork side quests.
3. Pointless side quests - Do you like to "kill 5 Red Hoobaloos" and "find 4 Plains Wacacadoodle toes?" Great! Because you'll be doing that all the time. The same NPC will give you 5 or 6 quests like this at once. There is no side quest pacing. You go to a new area, talk to two or three NPCs to pick up 10 side quests, and maybe knock them out along the way.
4. Too many skills - In true MMORPG fashion, each character learns up to 16 skills, but can only equip 8 of them. They are complex in how they work together (good) but this makes it difficult to understand which skills can be left out (bad).
5. Bad party AI - #4 is coupled with bad party AI, who tend to use skills poorly. For example, there are some really useful chains of status effects. You can "Break" an enemy, which allows them to be "Toppled" and take a bunch of extra damage. If an enemy is toppled, you can "Daze" them, which is an even stronger debuff. So I have various skills equipped on the AI (who can only use the skills if they are equipped too) that do these various things. I use my Break skill and...neither of my AI companions uses their Topple skill! Why not?! They should never be using Topple unless the enemy has Break. There aren't any detailed AI settings you can play with to guide their behavior. It's quite maddening. There are so many more examples. If you let the AI control Schulk (the main character), he won't do basic things like using Monado Arts (his special attacks) at crucial moments. Some characters the AI does a serviceable job with and others the AI is horrendous and basically cannot play.
6. Wii controls - This is one that's going to make me retire the game. You've played MMORPGs. You know how many buttons there are. Now try and map all that onto the Wiimote and the nunchuck. The result is a functional, but awkward and slow control scheme. I spend so much time in menus. On a keyboard, or with a regular controller, navigating menus would be much breezier. Combat also feels at times like a big menu navigation game because you have an action bar with 9 buttons on it, and you can only move the cursor left or right. So battle is you running around with the nunchuck thumbstick pressing left left left left A right right right right right right right right A left left left A right A left left left left left left left A...selecting skills on the action bar until someone dies.
There's plenty more to say, but I've listed some key positives and negatives. My decision is whether to skip ahead to the sequel. I feel like I've gotten many awe-inspiring moments from this game, and those moments are now few and far between, replaced with more frequent feelings of tedium. I am motivated to continue for the story, but I understand that however much I enjoy that and the exploration, I've got at least like 60 hours of gameplay left, and that is such a long time for something I'm not wholly into at this point. I may chug ahead for a while and decide after another long play session or two, perhaps after committing some combat learning to memory. We shall see!
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dkirschner's Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
Current Status: Finished playing
GameLog started on: Wednesday 18 March, 2020
GameLog closed on: Sunday 3 May, 2020
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