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.
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?