Getting my feet wet in Mira, the world of Xenoblade Chronicles X, took a lot more effort than usual. Although recently unemployed, with limitless freedom in front of me, the game’s release coincided with my partner and I packing up for a month away from our cosy inner-city apartment. Arriving at my parent’s house in the flood prone swamp lands of Busselton, I discovered the internet speeds of my hometown have not kept up with the developed world and have intact regressed due to the ageing copper interchanges slowly rusting away. It took over 30 hours to complete the 20GB installation, 30 hours I mostly spent complaining to unsympathetic ears on Miiverse where people told me to “just buy a physical copy” or “get a job”. Compounding matters further there’s only one television and my Mum hates video games so I didn’t get any game time in until everyone went off to their respective workplaces this morning. The four hours I did get to play though, were spectacular.
Due to the sheer scale of the game’s landscapes and the epic science fantasy art direction, this is the most impressive looking game on WiiU. Up close, textures are low resolution and environments are blocky, but the enormous scale of the landscape and the way the game constantly invites you to gaze over the vistas of Mira keep it looking stunning. While other open world games are rightly criticised for empty, lifeless worlds, Mira is highly detailed and beautifully hand crafted. The science fantasy setting has allowed MonolithSoft’s artists to design amazing environments full of spectacular features that would be impossible on our own Earth. The verticality of the game world is highlighted in the opening sequence when the player is invited to leap from a cliff to as an alternate route to the colony of New Los Angeles. Mira is full of life too, a huge variety of fascinating creatures of increasing size populate the valleys, rifts and forests I’ve discovered.
Less impressive is the plastic anime appearance of XCX’s human characters. Against the dramatic and detailed environment, the characters look like cartoonish, lifeless dolls with reflective hair and glowing eyeballs. I know this style has its fans but frankly I find it jarring and disappointing. I subconsciously I designed my player character to look as generic and unremarkable as possible just so he’d fit in with the other drones.
While I’m nitpicking, the game’s interface is disappointing too. During the difficult period of waiting, I bullied some kid who complained about the game’s interface being too small, telling him to buy a bigger TV. Once I actually played the game I agreed with him instantly. The tiny, slim typeface is not suited to playing on a television, at 720p (the game doesn’t run in 1080) at all. Admittedly, my natural eyesight isn’t the best, but it has been corrected with expensive contact lenses and I was straining to read any text at all. I find myself sitting much closer to the television than I’d like playing this game.
Xenoblade Chronicles X feels intimidating in size and I’m not referring to the landscape. At just four hours, the game has already unpacked a large number of game mechanics while signposting more to come. Already my characters have learned half a dozen or more different talent arts and the menu shows that heaps more waiting to be unlocked. There are branching skill trees, which are not talent arts. I seem to be able to select what buffs the random shouts from my party invoke on the battle. I can equip two weapons and switch between them, the party has four live participants. There is just so much going on that I’m trying to decide whether to buy the official guide or not. I understand the satisfaction of discovering and mastering game mechanics for yourself but there is so much that I think I’d appreciate the helping hand so I can focus on all the other aspects of the game. There is just so much.
The game’s pacing early on deserves special commendation. Compared to the last Xenoblade, the story is moving along more proactively and the drip feed of new game mechanics is spread out enough that, despite my previous paragraph, I don’t feel overwhelmed. These new mechanics are also being introduced quickly enough, and with minimal explanation, that I don’t feel the game is holding back on me either. Adding to this is the fact that the world of Mira is totally open to me from the first ten minutes into the game. The only thing stopping me from losing myself in the wild unknown are the occasional aggressive, over levelled monster that will wipe me out if I stray into their line of sight, as has happened once already. Xenoblade veterans will know though that the game offers minimal penalty for dying to encourage players to confidently push the frontiers of the game and explore it at their own pace.
As a student of post-colonial literature, I hope the game finds time to explore themes of colonisation in the compelling scenario it presents. From what I’ve learned of the story so far, the humans are simultaneously refugees, displaced from an interstellar war that destroyed Earth, and settler colonisers, arcing out a living from the indigenous life of Mira. This combination could potentially provide profound experiences for the player to explore. Having played a few Japanese role-playing games, I’m skeptical that it will actually do this. Even though I’m barely through the introductory chapters, there has been enough foreshadowing that I fully expect the plot to rapidly gain pace and get wrapped up in dramatic betrayals of flying robots who believe in the spirit of timeless demigoddesses. I can appreciate that, I’ve been enjoying Lin’s character archetype more than I expected but hopefully there will still be a moment or two about the colonial experience. If there is I’ll be sure to come back here and try to relate it to Albert Memmi or something to look smart. I am hopeful, but I won’t be disappointed.
So far, I’m really impressed with Xenoblade Chronicles X. It feels very much like the last Xenoblade game, which I adore, and there is a tantalising amount of content to get my hands on. I can’t wait for the house to clear out against tomorrow so I can lose myself for another 4 hours in Mira. I might try to use the gamepad screen and headphones to steal a few extra hours while Mum is prowling around the house too. I almost wish I was back in East Fremantle with no one around to just play 16 hour long sessions like I did with the last game.