Image by cary. It's mine, I tells ya! MINE!

If Happiness is a Battle System, then Xenoblade Chronicles Makes Me Smile

Image by cary. It's mine, I tells ya! MINE!
Image by cary. It’s mine, I tells ya! ALL MINE!

Though I might have conked out on my self-promise to complete Metroid Prime, I haven’t given up on a number of other challenges that persist in my backlog, one of which is finishing Xenoblade Chronicles. Long story short, back in 2013, I started Xenoblade Chronicles, only to give it up after realizing just how long it was. At 60+ hours just to beat the main story (and 100+ to complete everything), I simply didn’t have that kind of time to devote to a single game. This past February, a copy of the game wormed its way back into my life, and I couldn’t turn it away this time. I picked the game back up, right at my last save point from two years ago, a mere five hours into the game. I’m now just over 40 hours in, the stress of me actually finishing the game is palpable. In fact, me stressing over this is actually stressing me out more right now, so that’s why I’m not here to talk about unfinished games, extremely long RPGs, or anything of that sort. Instead, I’m here to talk about battle systems, because Xenoblade Chronicles, for all its flaws (and yes, it has some), has one heck of a great battle system.

For the sake of those unfamiliar with the game, here’s a super quick outline of it. (If you want more on its story, a quick Google search will bring up more than you’d ever need.) At the heart of Xenoblade Chronicles is Shulk, and he comes into the possession of a special sword called the Monado. This sword can be used to defeat enemies of all kinds, but it’s particularly effective against the Mechon, a race of mechanical creatures that Shulk must fight throughout the game. (There are also plenty of organic monsters as well.) During his journey, Shulk is joined by several companions, each of whom has different abilities. You can switch out any of the characters at almost any time in order to make up your favorite party of three. (And, quite non-traditionally, protagonist Shulk doesn’t always have to be in your party.) As your team ventures forth, you come into contact with enemies of all sorts – some ignore you, some attack on sight – and the game has its fair share of bosses. Obviously, you have to defeat the bosses to move forward, and you have to take on monsters (by choice or force) in order to gain experience, which you need to beat the bosses. It’s all fairly typical for an action RPG.

What’s not typical is the mechanics of battle. (If a battle system can be spoiled, then I’m about to do it…) Here’s a rundown of three key features that, for me, make Xenoblade Chronicles‘ battle system, well…wonderful.

Maybe it’s just that I’m terrible at swordplay in games and therefore tend to go for ranged fighters, but Xenoblade Chronicles‘ auto-attack feature melts away the horrible tension I feel at having to face enemies head-to-head. If you do nothing else but press your analog stick forward towards an enemy during battle…okay, sure, you’re probably going to die, but at least you’ll die fighting! Every weapon in the game will deal a certain amount of damage without much effort on your part. No button mashing or worrying about attacking at just the right moment or targeting a specific part of an enemy (and oh, how I hate that. Metroid Prime’s Thardus battle comes to mind – UGH.) Forward means fighting, and it helps to keep your mind focused one something much more important: the Arts.

As you progress through Xenoblade Chronicles, you will gain Arts, a series unique manual attacks or buffs that you can use during battle. While you gain different Arts throughout the game, you can only set a certain number to use at any given time. And there are two different kinds: (1) Battle Arts that allow you different attack moves or enhance abilities or heal your teammates – they each have different cool down periods, and (2) Talent Arts that are applied to weapons and can only be accessed after a certain number of auto-attacks has been reached. But the most special thing of all, besides the awesomeness of the Arts themselves, is that during battle, rather than having to access them in a separate menu or other silly, disruptive way, they appear ready along the bottom of the screen. So, with your Wiimote and nunchuk in hand, as you’re auto-attacking with the analog stick on the nunchuk, you use the d-pad on the Wiimote to navigate the different Arts. Simply select the one you want, hit the “A” button, and voila! Art used. Each character has his or her own Arts, so it pays to make keep an eye on each person’s Arts and their levels. The game makes this easy to manage because, as I alluded to, you don’t have control only Shulk throughout the entire game. But if you do, your teammates will always have your back.

Your Teammates
Probably my most favorite thing about the battles in Xenoblade Chronicles is the camaraderie that’s displayed and the quips that are exchanged between you and your teammates as you fight. While you’re hacking or shooting away, your companions are doing the same, using their Arts and abilities automatically. (Except when you have the opportunity to do chain attacks – then you get to pick each character’s Arts for yourself, resulting, sometimes, in massive damage!) During most battles, you’ll get the opportunity to help or encourage your teammates, and even revive them on occasion. This affects, usually positively, the affinity (friendship) between each person, which then helps to improve cooperation during battles down the line. If things aren’t going well during a battle, your teammates will let you know, and the game gives you the chance to act accordingly, either by applying and Art or, maybe, escaping from battle. But when a fight goes well, everyone says so, and that positivity, if canned, is enough to boost your confidence for the next one.

All in all, Xenoblade Chronicles has, so far, offered up a nearly stress-free experience when it comes to enemy battles, and that makes up for its extreme length, overwhelming number of side quests, and complex story. In the game, dying doesn’t mean “death,” but rather it provides me with the chance to do better next time. And I usually do. Usually.

If you’ve played  Xenoblade Chronicles, what are your thoughts on its battle system? What other games do you think offer up great (or awful) battle mechanics?

13 thoughts on “If Happiness is a Battle System, then Xenoblade Chronicles Makes Me Smile”

  1. With a few exceptions (Earthbound, I am looking at you), I cannot stand overly traditional battle systems. Therefore, I really loved Xenoblade’s battles; they were pretty dynamic and action-packed. You always need to be doing something, so they kept me hooked and entertained.

    I hope you get to finish it, because it is one hell of a game.

    1. “…hooked and entertained.” That’s the absolute key to the amazingness of XC! Like, even if you completely ignore the sidequests (which I’m kinda doing), you can still work towards completing them during regular gameplay. The game doesn’t force you to go out of your way to do anything — every move, every fight, every item has meaning and gives you experience. So no time you expend ever feels wasted. It’s utterly brilliant, and I wish more games would follow XC’s lead.

  2. It’s tempting but I’m just going to leave those here and not speak anymore of Reyn. The battle system is great, yes. My favourite character to use in battle is probably Sharla, and honestly I would never have imagined my favourite character to use in any game would be “the healer”.

    1. And I’ve found my new screensaver! :D

      Honestly though, I love Reyn as a fighter, but his commentary got old pretty quick. Now I’m rockin’ Dunban and Sharla on my team. Sharla is probably my fav as well. And thank goodness “Sharla” doesn’t rhyme with “time.”

  3. I used to want to play this game, but it’s length makes me rather afraid. I am currently in the middle of playing an RPG with a less overwhelming length, Ni no Kuni, and I really enjoy the battle system in this game, as well. You have three characters in your party that can fight, and each of them have three creatures that can help you in battle, as well. You can only control one at a time, and selecting attack will cause them to attack until a timer runs out (you can cancel it early if you want, as well), and then you can choose attack again or pick something else. Plus, you have lots of extra moves, like magic spells, as well, or the option to defend and the like. And my favorite thing, you could actually walk around in battle, unlike many RPGs. So yeah, I thought Ni no Kuni had a great battle system because it’s very simple, but very effective. I just don’t understand complicated battle systems a lot of RPGs have. I get easily confused.

    1. Yeah, when battle controls get too complicated, I tend to get really confused as well. The simpler the better. That’s cool about Ni no Kuni (it’s on my to-play list — maybe next year?). Seems it provides you with lots of flexibility during battle while keeping the action moving. There’s nothing worse than a boss battle that’s both confusing and boring.

      Though I’m not done with Xenoblade Chronicles, I can’t recommend it enough. I was really worried at first that infrequent play would lead to problems, but it hasn’t been as bad as I would have thought. It does take me a few minutes to get used to the gameplay every time I start up, but once I get reacquainted with everything, it’s smooth sailing. For a big JRPG, it’s pretty easy to pick up and put down.

  4. I heard this game described as a single-player MMO more than a few times. Would you say that’s true? The battle system sounds absolutely thrilling, but if the rumors are true I’m wondering if it can hold up under the weight of MMO-style grinding.

    1. Not being fully familar with MMO mechanics and how they might differ from an action RPG, I can’t say for certain. However I will say that grinding in XC is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Because you have some control over the enemy encounters, and because the battle system is so dynamic, grinding feels less a chore and more like a challenge, and a welcome challenge at that. Even if you take on the same enemy several times in a row, each battle is different — not only can you mix up your attacks, but your teammates do as well. It’s a highly engrossing way to make players become more in tune with their skills, strengths, and weaknesses throughout the game.

      Not sure that answer helps any (or makes sense)…watching videos of XC battles might help demonstrate things better, but it’s totally worth seeking out the game to experience it for yourself.

  5. Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    There are no two ways about it — since finishing DA: Inquisition, I’ve been OD’ing on Xenoblade Chronicles. At this point, it’s like heroin: the immediate and thrilling high of playing it far outweighs its later consequences. Recently on United We Game, I discussed one of the game’s most addictive aspects: its usual and wonderful battle system. Auto-attack, unique and easy to access abilities, and a brilliant cast of teammates are all I want from any game now.

  6. OMG the game I bought the WII for and then found you cant get the game anymore! (for a normal price that is…)

    I love the sound of this game and I thought it would start the return to console gaming for me (3 years of world travel pretty much killed it off, only my ps2 and snes, hidden at my mums remain!) when I found I was unable to get the game I was devastated, not helped by reading all the awesome reviews it got!

    1. The state of this game “on sale” is a tragedy! After renting it (and failing to make nice with the game the first time round), I eventually looked into buying it as well. It’s a fine game, but not one that worth hundreds of dollars! The copy I have now I’m borrowing from a kind family member, otherwise, I’d be lusting after it from afar as well.

      Though there’s Xenoblade Chronicles X, it’d be fantastic to see Nintendo re-release the original game (as is, beautiful flaws and all), so that it reaches a wider audience. If you can get your hands on a copy by any (legal?) means, go for it. I can honestly say now that it is a game not to be missed.

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