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Xenoblade Chronicles

Entry updated 13 June 2017. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (2011; vt Xenoblade in Japan). Monolith Soft. Designed by Tetsuya Takahashi, Koh Kojima. Platforms: Wii.

Xenoblade Chronicles is a Console Role Playing Game (see Computer Role Playing Games), much influenced by the Final Fantasy series and (especially) by one of its designer's previous works, Xenogears (1998). The game begins with a depiction of a battle between two gods at the dawn of time, before allowing the player to participate in a much later war between the intelligent machines and organic humans who live on the continents formed from the bodies of the two deities. Its milieu is thus one of Science and Sorcery, in which guns, swords and "ether artillery" are all effective weapons of war. Gameplay combines exploration, conversation and combat with the collection of valuable objects and the creation of powerful equipment, as is conventional for the form. Here, combat is essentially real-time, but actions can only be performed when sufficient energy has been accumulated to enable them; the system is somewhat reminiscent of that used in Final Fantasy XII (see Final Fantasy). More interesting, perhaps, is the importance attached to strengthening the romantic bonds between characters by such means as encouraging them to engage in private and deeply personal conversations. Throughout, much effort has clearly been spent on making the game easy to learn; its many and occasionally complex mechanics are unusually approachable.

The game's story is broadly linear, though there are many optional missions structured in a more modular fashion (see Interactive Narrative). It tells a tale of love and loss, possession and resurrection, in which reveals and reversals are both frequent and unexpected. The many playable and unplayable characters are strongly drawn and generally charming, if slightly stereotypical. Thematically, the eponymous Weapons are archetypally powerful swords which drain the strength of their wielders and may contain spirits trapped in Bondage [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Ultimately, it emerges that the entire game has taken place in a Pocket Universe created as part of a disastrous experiment which caused the destruction of the Earth; the gods are the scientists who made this cosmos and found themselves incorporated into its fabric as divine entities. The final villain of the piece turns out to be the god who created organic life, who the player's characters must kill with one of the titular blades; it becomes apparent that the spirit inhabiting this weapon is in fact the AI which controlled the Space Habitat on which the originating experiment was performed. There are striking echoes of many of Michael Moorcock's fantasy novels, especially of the Elric of Melniboné and Corum sequences, in both of which the hero must kill the gods in order to set humanity free. In the final interpretation, the nature of the game's creation narrative suggests that Xenoblade Chronicles might be approached as a science-fictional story set in an Alternate Cosmos rather than – or as well as – a work of Science and Sorcery. Regardless, it is one of the most impressive works yet created by the Japanese school of Computer Role Playing Game design. [NT]


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