(And yet another game goes down in the Operation R...wait, that's not a thing I'm doing!) That's Humble Indie Bundle only! Anyway, I've knocked out one Operation Rainfall game, am almost certainly playing another as we speak, and the third has yet to get an American release. And after finishing Xenoblade Chronicles, I have to ask this of you, Nintendo: what do you have against good games? Why did it take you as long as it did to release this in America?
Was it the voice acting? The fear of having to dub all that dialogue?....OK, that's a legitimate complaint, and for reasons other than hammy Cockney robots. Dear goood, is this a noisy game. Now I'm not necessarily saying that there are a ton of cutscenes to plow through (although there are a lot of cutscenes), but this game does not know when to shut the fuck up. Battles quickly devolve into shouting matches, and it doesn't get better outside battle. In fact, with the right party, you can trigger long-ass conversations at the end of each battle, like the game swallowed everything in the medicine cabinet and is afraid it's gonna die if it ever stops talking. Hell, there's even an entire gameplay mechanic dedicated solely to characters yelling at each other until the game decides you've had enough. Just shut up, game! You don't need to fill every second of the experience with noise. It just gets grating and annoying really fast, overshadowing the finer aspects of the game.
Like the music. Is this really any surprise? It was composed by Yoko Shimomura, and it shows. She really knows how to amplify all those emotional moments in the game. Sad moments will make you depressed because you ran out of tears for crying; happy moments will make you completely forget those sad moments so you have enough tears for the next sad moment; somber moments will....do whatever the hell somber moments are supposed to do, I guess. And should you get into battle? Gear up, asshole, because shit is about to go down. (Consider my swearing a display of passion.) Overall, it's gonna take a while for another RPG to come along and beat this game's soundtrack, presumably because Ms. Shimomura's working very hard on the next hit RPG so-
Oh, wait. This is an RPG. I'm supposed to begin with the story. Well, let's pretend that the previous several paragraphs were special thanks to...uh...Yoko Shimomura, I guess. Anyway, the story. Now Xenoblade Chronicles is part of the Xeno-whatever series, a series known primarily for one thing: robots whacking each other about while waxing Nietzsche. Xenoblade is no different, deciding to finish things off with robot beatings, Nietzschean vagueries, and a plot that branches out into the worryingly insane every other cutscene. Unfortunately, that's all at the end, and to get there, you have to get through some slow-building, melodramatic cliches. Nothing terribly offensive, mind you. However let's just say that I was able to jokingly yet accurately predict lines of dialogue far more often than I'm comfortable admitting. But you know what? Persevere. Push through. It's gonna be worth it in the end. Yes, you'll end up fighting the personification of Panzer Dragoon, yet it all works. So many themes, and so many of them developed so well. Ubermensch, Gaia theory, fate, bonds with others, religion, cyclical...ness...It's all adds up in a satisfying way, is what I'm saying.
And that's not even getting into the characters. There are just so many memorable characters in this game. You got your plucky young hero Shulk, the even better hero Dunban, the "I'm too rich to inflect emotion" Melia, Kanji "Takes No Shit" Tatsumi, Holmes (who takes even less shit), etc. Again, I said that with all of Melia's enthusiasm, but the cast has more than enough chemistry to create some memorable moemnts. Better still, everybody (well, almost everybody, but more on that in a bit) gets their own piece of the story for some nice development. We start off with good buds Shulk and Reyn, move onto Sharla, then M.....it's a lot more natural than I make it out to be. There are reasons why the characters get development when they get it, and it's hard to call any of it forced or unnatural. Hell, even the villain gets one of these awesome moments, transforming him from a cliche to a being with depth and plausibility. Almost the perfect analogy for this game.
The only real bad character is fluffy comic relief Riki. I don't care how useful he is in battle (mainly because I refused to swap him in); the guy's got annoying speech patterns and...no, that's pretty much the only reason I don't like him. I know that sounds petty, but...just listen to him. (Is it racist that the most annoying character in the game is the only one without a British accent?) You may wish to stop reading this blog right now so you can replace your thoroughly burnt computer speakers. There is a bright side to this, though: the story is absolutely determined to ignore not only him, but his entire shitty species, giving them absolutely no role in the story whatsoever. Even when it looks like they're going to give them relevance with the Trinity thing, the writers snub them like the plague. Did I say it all works out in the end? Because that's all the proof you need.
Oh, wait. This is a video game. I'm supposed to talk about the game-y parts at some point, aren't I? Like the quests. Hey, why didn't I takl about the quests in this game? You'd think they'd show up earlier, since there are more quests there than there are words here. I'd say that's enough to keep you busy for a while, but that's completely ignoring what these quests are. So what are they? Let's see, there's "kill X monsters", "gather X materials", "beat this super mega monster"....uh...."run around a bit, and something about items"...."all this shit, but reskinned for a new area"...Yea, looking back on it, I can't say I like the quests that much. They're less engaging and more a side activity you distract yourself with from time to time....even though there are so many of them you'd think the game made them its main feature. Confusing, that. Still, they're a reliable fountain of experience (which you'll definitely need, given the difficulty curve and the ridiculous deprecation of enemy EXP), and you do get all other kinds of cool shit from them, so I can see why you'd want to focus on them if that's your thing.
It's not my thing, though. My thing's the battle system...kinda. You see, I'm not into the actual mechanics of battle, although they are pretty good. Here's how things work: everybody shouts at the enemy, the game starts shouting status effects at you, and you spam all your arts until you have to wait for them all to recharge so you can do it again. During that time, you kinda just let the game play itself while you keep an eye on things. OK, to be fair, that's a gross oversimplification of the situation. There's actually a lot to pay attention to at any given time, and there is some strategy in which arts you bust out when and in what order you do it. Not that it's all about the arts; you also have to manage the future and chain attacks (by ignoring them because you could be reviving people instead), and Xenoblade gets enough mileage out of all these concepts to make things compelling and fun throughout. Especially so near the end, where every other battle takes twenty minutes to finish and you end up loving the game for it. Still, though, it's hard to deny how spammy a lot of the battles can get.
So what exactly do I like about the battles? Like the story, it's the characters....except Riki, obviously. See, here's the thing: the strategy's much more in the character selection than the actual battles. You can't just slap together any old party and mash enemies to death; you need proper stat management and abilities and gems and party member roles and a billion other things. Yes, that's a lot to keep track of, but it also means a lot of room for experimentation. You know, some proper motivation to try out all those different characters and abilities and whatnot. Along with deep strategy for any given situation, of course. My only major complaint is Shulk. I'm not saying that he's a bad character, but what with his future visions and all those completely necessary Monado arts, he's sticking around for the entire game, and chances are you'll only play as him. Not a big problem, but limiting nonetheless.
CHRIST, HOW DO I STILL HAVE MORE TO SAY ABOUT THIS GAME!? What haven't I cleared out yet...the graphics! Right, the graphics. The game looks like a 3D Vandal Hearts game (except people care about it), but that's OK, because it makes the game expressive as hell. It may not look it in the game, but come cutscene time, everybody's making full use of the emotional spectrum. It really is amazing how damn expressive the characters are. Story fights aside, the facial animations are probably the best thing to happen to the visual design. Hell, they even make up for the ridiculous character design! Unlike the rest of this blog, I'll be brief about these criticisms: the women are fan-servicey and the robot peoples become too Persona-y later in the game (those last words being a spoiler warning, of course). A bit disjarring, I must admit.
Fuck, STILL MORE? What else could I possibly have? OK, so there are these things called Hearts to Hearts, and they're like support conversations, only harder to max out and generally more involved. Make for some cool moments/strange story moments and that's about it. Next up: menus are smooth, quick, and all around fantastic, but I guess to balance that out, the loading priorities for this game are kinda wonky. What do I mean by that? Start the game up, and the enemies load before your battle menu does, meaning you stand around taking damage like a dumbass until your arts pop up. Hopefully, that's the end of this behemoth.
LAST THING, I PROMISE. I forgot to mention that there are a few plot holes to deal with over the course of the story. It's hard to talk about them without spoiling the game, so I'll spoil the game.
- First, less a plot hole and more just faulty wording, Shulk's major power is his ability to change the future. That's a pretty dumb power, given how anybody anywhere can do it ever. Then again, this is a pretty dumb complaint, so let's move onto the meatier criticisms.
- OK, so there's this line late in the game that implies traitor-butthole Dickson is a Telethia...and then nothing becomes of it. The writers never address that there's one Telethia that looks like a giant and can become a human at will. Shouldn't that be a bit more important to the plot? The guy's a major villain at that point; I can't imagine glossing over huge details like that is a good idea. And on the subject of the giants...
- How did the giants get wiped out? There are only two of them in the entire game. Were they the only two in existence? Or were they wiped out? Why isn't this ever explained? Am I just supposed to accept that Zanza created one or two giants and said "Eh, that's good. This world could use more Nopon, though"? At least with the Machina, we're told that they were all wiped out in the fight against Bionis and Mechonis. Speaking of the Machina...
- Why did the Homs re-open Colony 6 as soon as humanly possible?...OK, some explanation. Colony 6 is a Mechon base of operations for a lot of the early story until Shulk and friends whip some Mechon ass. Mechon leave, Homs reclaim Colony 6, and they all survive for no explained reason. The place was sitting on top of an ether mine; you think the Mechon are going to give up an area of such strategic importance that easily? No! They're gonna come back in greater numbers and massacre any squatters hanging around. Weren't you all hiding in the first place specifically because this might happen? But that's not the worst. That belongs to...
- HOW DID FIORA FUCKING COME BACK TO LIFE!? She got stabbed in the fucking stomach. How do you fix getting stabbed in nine vital organs with claws the size of I beams? And how did the Mechon drag her body back to Mechonopolis without arousing suspicion? During the inevitable clean-up, did nobody find it strange that Fiora's body was absolutely nowhere to be found? Doesn't that seem the least bit strange? I could assume that they didn't notice this immediately, since cleaning up after a major attack takes a while, but Dunban and Dickson tag up with you long after the event; I imagine that would give you enough time to notice something amiss about that whole "my sister died" thing. Granted, the game goes to great lengths to justify this plot twist, almost as if it's apologizing for doing something so stupid, but at the time, that's A LOT of disbelief to suspend. I had a hard time finding a rope strong enough for the job.
OK, we're done. I got the point across. No more Xenoblade writing. That's it. Except for the...
Desperately Needed Review Synopsis
- I don't know what's better: the story or how it's presented.
- Wait, I know the answer: ignoring Riki so I can mess around with other party members.
- Oh, and something about sidequests and loading priorities. One of them is good, I think.
- Was this Persona 4 all over again? Should I post my notes again? Because I'm sure I still have them.
Anybody else wish Riki was more like this?
(Only now do I realize that this game serves as the perfect contrast to Xenoblade Chronicles.) Let's look at the facts: Xenoblade Chronicles contains enough mythos and story to begin its own culture; Clock Tower's entire script could fit on a cocktail napkin. Xenoblade takes an entire lifetime to complete; Clock Tower occupies a mere afternoon. I'm confident about my opinion of Xenoblade; and I have no goddamn clue what to think of Clock Tower.
For instance, the gameplay. Does it suffer the pitfalls of the survival horror genre, or does it make them entirely irrelevant? Somehow, both; it's the Schrodinger's Cat of video games, which is my way of telling you not to play it. Like Clock Tower bef....after it, Clock Tower (that Schrodinger comment is making more and more sense by the minute) is an adventure game that could use a mouse, but, for some reason, doesn't. Of course, this means that gameplay is completely slow, encumbered, clunky, and overall a pain to play. Coincidentally, that also describes the scenarios, which boil down to running around the Barrows mansion, grabbing the shiniest thing in the room and rubbing it on other in the vain hope something results of it. Granted, the game will bluntly tell you what is and isn't usable in a room, but it's still easy to miss a crucial part of the game and spend your time spraying the walls in insecticide. Yet it's not like I can fault the game too much for its gameplay. The solutions often make sense, and ham aside, all the things Jennifer picks up are things that would kinda make sense to have on her, given the situation (everything wants her dead). Besides, there's not much to this game in the first place, so it's rather difficult to be offended by the nothingness.
In fact, that's what makes the game work so well: nothing........That's a good thing. See, I'm willing to forgive a survival horror game of its bad gameplay (because it's hard to find a survival horror game with good gameplay) if it has a decent story or atmosphere to make up for it, and this is where Clock Tower shines. First, remember that last sentence of that last paragraph? It applies to everything. You're pretty much the only thing on screen at any given time (ham aside), and about 95% of the sound in the game is just your footsteps. Nothing else. Clock Tower does an amazing job of making you feel like you're utterly alone.
Now this wouldn't be that scary if not for the second reason the atmosphere is so good: everything wants you to die. That innocent parrot in the master bedroom? He's a fucking snitch (who, in good playthroughs, gets stitches). That doll? It's gonna beat you to death? Come on, the piano, too? Yep; it summons Scissor Man, the murderer who lives in the ceiling. At this point, it's a life and death situation as you search for a hiding spot that might conceal you. Might. There's no guarantee he's gonna fall for it. (OK, there are a few that are guaranteed to work, but they're always on the opposite side of the mansion.) And that's what makes this game so great: not knowing if you're ever gonna be safe from Scissor Man, since he can pop out of anything and he can spot you in anything you hide in. Not to insult the rest of the game by comparison; since everything else can kill you, it creates the perfect tense mood that makes you question everything in sight, since anything can happen.
Unfortunately for this game, things happen, and that's it's greatest weakness. For you see, the game's so good at building up fearful anticipation that when it comes time to deliver on that fear, it throws its hands in the air in frustration. Why do you think I waited this long to mention the story? Because it's full of dumb shit like Mrs. Doubtfire killing her adoptive children or....whatever the fuck this is. Actually, that's a perfect metaphor for this game: pull back the curtain, and you're left with a lumpy-headed mess. Hell, even when it's genuinely scary, it's pretty stupid. I could talk about Scissor Man looking like some drunk man had his way with an angler fish, but instead, let's focus on that parrot. Yes, it screaming "I'll get you" is all kinds of unsettling, since it either suggests sentience or that it's the witness to a previous murder, but let's back up for a second: a young girl is being terrorized by a parrot. What, exactly, is scary about half the plot to Aladdin? The part where she stuffs it into some bedsheets, or the part where the parrot is voiced by Gilbert Gottfried?......Alright, point taken.
- WHY AM I COLLECTING HAM?!
- Is it to appease Baron Underbheit and hope he doesn't stab me to death?
- Wait a minute, I'd believe that. After all, the game's actually pretty frickin' scary.
*passes out from exhaustion*