In early 2013, I made an attempt to play Xenoblade Chronicles. This was on the heels of finishing The Last Story, so I was in a JRPG mindset, and a pretty good one at that. But the timing just didn’t work out. After finding out that I’d need well over 60, 80, 100 hours just to get through XC’s main story, I set the game aside. I just didn’t have that kind of time to sink into a single game.
When the game came back into my hands on February 1, 2015, little had changed. I was as busy as ever, and I still couldn’t let go of 100 hours just for a single game. Yet, I simply couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Something had led to that moment that I couldn’t ignore or deny. Regardless of it being fate or happenstance, I had to play Xenoblade Chronicles again. Not only that…I had to complete it.
On September 20, 2015, I did just that: I finished Xenoblade Chronicle’s main story in just over 96 hours. I’ve sunk more hours into other games (Mass Effect, GTA IV), but my time with XC was something entirely different. I’ll likely discuss the game further in the future, here and on my own blog, but I wanted to eliminate some in-the-moment (and possible vague) experiences of playing XC from my overloaded brain while they’re still fresh, because it’s about all I’ve been pondering the past few days. No worries, no spoilers.
The beginning (5-40 hours)
I picked up XC where I had left it in 2013 at about five hours in. Protagonist Shulk and his two companions were greeted by vast and sweeping plains replete with a manner of life. I took several hours to become reacquainted with the game, getting used to its mechanics and controls again, and remembering how to use everyone special abilities or Arts. When I started the game back up, I made a silent vow to ignore side quests, and I made good on that. I stuck closely to the main story. However, the explorer in me couldn’t help but spend some time wandering around the lands of the Bionis, one of the game’s primary “worlds.”
An early boss battle instilled the importance of maintaining a decent level relative to the enemies and bosses in a given place. As with any just RPG, being under-leveled made for difficult fights and lots of frustrated dying. Being over-leveled made for swift battles in which you gained little experience in return. I did my best to maintain a balance, but this faltered after awhile due my hatred of grinding, which I gave in to only when absolute necessary.
During this time, I also ran into my biggest timesuck in RPGs: changing out armor and weapons. Every time I got something new, I had to at least read about its attributes and see what it looked like. I tried not to get too carried away with favoring form over function, but I always gave Shulk the best of the best no matter what. Because that’s just what I do with my main characters.
The middle (40-75 hours)
By this time, I’d come to accept the rabbit hole through which I was falling, falling, falling. And this was when I started to get curious about side quests. As I’d been collecting things from the start, now during certain pick-ups, the game announced that I’d retrieved something for a quest I hadn’t even found yet! (This thanks to Shulk’s ability to see the future.) Not realizing just how many things had actually collected, I turned to the games’ “collectopaedia” and quest list, and I was floored by just how many things I had gotten and the number of sidequests that I could complete as a result. So off on that tangent I went for awhile. And then, because my gaming nature demanded it, and as I was already distracted, I started to seek out more things to return to more people. In turn, I ended up doing a lot of backtracking and avoiding battles.
When I eventually got myself back on track with the story, I realized that I’d forgotten all about leveling and balance. (Ha!) My side quests runs, rushing through the story, and lack of wanting to grind out levels had led me to a point of being much too under-leveled to face a necessary boss in a beautiful and wintry land. So, grinding it was. I spent several sessions with the game doing only that. After awhile, I realized that grinding in XC wasn’t…bad. In fact, it was something completely different from what I knew of grinding (mostly through Final Fantasy games). What I hadn’t realized before was that grinding gave me the chance to not only become better at using Arts but also become a better leader and teammate. This was when I realized that Shulk didn’t always have to be the primary lead. In fact, I could form any team of three I wanted. With that information at hand, suddenly, XC became a brand new game. Yes, I was grinding, grinding, and grinding, but I was also experimenting with characters and learning new tactics. I was progressing in a whole new way, and it felt great.
With this renewed spirit, I also uncovered a number of secrets while traveling about finding enemies to fight. I knew that XC was a deep and rich game, but it wasn’t until dozens of hours in that I realized how engrossing and enlivening it really was. Better late than never, I guess. This was also the period when the sheer magnitude of XC really set in. With every new place that opened up came a brand new and huge area to explore, complete with new faces to meet and new enemies to defeat. This was when I remembered that the Wii wasn’t such a weak system after all.
The end (75-96+ hours)
There were at least two or three times before the actual end of the game that I thought the game was going to end. But no, Shulk’s story just got weirder and more fascinating. The game’s heretofore subtle religious underpinnings were made quite plain. The truth about Shulk and his special sword, the Monado, were revealed. And more than once tears welled up. I don’t cry during games…I just don’t. But XC made it happen several times. It deserves its own special achievement just for that.
Throughout the game’s final stretches, nothing distracted me from the end game – no sidequests, no messing about with armor or weapons or loot, no unbound exploration. I had developed my skills with two different teams of three, and interchanging them as needed saw me through. But as determined as I was to see the game’s credits, the final battles nearly quenched that flame. I became stuck at the game’s point of no return; that fabled spot in a game where you must finish things in one sitting and without saving. In XC, the time from the beginning of the point of no return to the end felt like a lifetime. During that time, I faced off with formidable enemies in several rounds. And I nearly hated every minute of it. Though I thought I had things under control, my ability to get *this close* to the end to only wind up dying almost induced controller-flinging rage. I stopped playing the game for a bit and I thought about that post I had written about beating games. Did I really have to beat the final boss? What did I really have to prove, after all? I understood where the story was headed, so why risk rage quitting?
Because I couldn’t quit. I HAD to finish the game. And I did. On September 20, 2015, I watched the credits roll while a bevy of indescribable feelings washed over me. I even started up a new game plus, even though I have no plans to play. It is time for Xenoblade Chronicles to rest, and I am happy.