My first four hours with Xenoblade: exceptional. It’s been a mashup manticore of Monster Hunter, Majora’s Mask, Dragon Quest I, VIII, and IX, Ys I, and a hint of Chrono Trigger.
I’ll start with what I can’t talk about:
- The characters. By my choice, I haven’t spent more than two minutes with any of them.
- The story, for the same reason. Other than the story-opening scenes and taking my first party member back to town, which I think was mandatory, I haven’t met the goals to see a single cutscene.
- Item creation, again for the same reason. The machine that creates orbs to slot into my equipment teases me by being broken and I don’t believe I can do anything yet with materials gathered from killing monsters. I assume I’ll eventually run into in-depth item synthesis.
- The battle system. Since I only have one character right now, I don’t consider it fair to judge. The power of various Arts depends on the hero’s positioning behind or to the side of enemies, but with no other characters around to distract monsters, I’ve only faced them head-on except for a single strike from behind to initiate the battle.
Even without those factors, I’ve already found at least twelve things to love to death.
Explore it all. Every last step on land and every last kick of the legs at sea.
- 1. The greatest fantasy game environment I’ve ever had the honor to play. Every hour I’ve spent with Xenoblade Chronicles has only been in the starting area around Colony 9 and even though I’ve only been slaughtering small-scale monsters like rabbits, mosquitoes, flamingos, and armadillo-cows, the seamless world around them is as awe-inspiring as any area of Dragon Quest VIII, which featured possibly the most impressive overworld in gaming until now. Every piece of land clicks; every untraveled pathway invites. Ever heard people say that they believe in a creator because nature has such a majestic quality that they can’t believe it came about by chance? I don’t find it logically convincing regardless of my personal belief, but I perfectly understand how it can be emotionally convincing.
- 2. Ubiquitous instant warp points. For two and a half hours, I didn’t realize that every Landmark—a point where a fallen Shulk will respawn—was also an area that I could warp to in about three seconds at any moment I pleased. When I found out what I’d missed, I didn’t curse myself for my ignorance; I had no reason to. Every minute to and fro on foot had shown me a new path to travel, opened item collection possibilities I didn’t imagine, and wowed me with gorgeous scenery. Even so, the freedom of open teleportation across a supersized landscape doesn’t settle for boggling the mind; it expands the mind. True freedom unfurls the welcoming carpet of potential—not a red carpet, but white, an empty canvas across which the brush of the pioneer spirit cannot help but sweep, for the heart cannot long tolerate it to remain blank and must begin its strokes, each more thickly layering on a paint crafted from the liquid mix of dreams, ideals, and the soul.