Xenoblade Chronicles is a game that has treated me well now for over 30 hours. Its got a fun combat system, lots of side content, likable characters and absolutly gorgeous design. And if this had been written an hour ago, that would have been the long and short of it. I have been liking this game.
However, I am not writing this an hour ago, and me and Xenoblade chronicles aren't speaking to one another currently. Because while the gameplay hasn't changed and the art design is still fantastic, its got something of a problem- the plot has begun systematically destroying my interest and goodwill. Let me explain.
I have just finished the mechonis core and most of the succeeding events. To say that these events have shifted the focus of the plot would be an understatment. They've given us a new main antagonist- the dark god, Zanza- and removed the idea of a mechonis vs. bionis conflict- those peoples are now on the same side. The god living within Fiora has been let out and subsequently killed, and shulk lies...in a coma? I guess? I assume not for long. And everything has become infinitly more boring.
Speaking of Fiora, let me start there, because in retrospect I think things started losing there way around her return. I was not inherently opposed to her return- though it is terrible storytelling to have early tragedy easiliy reversed for our main characters, she came back with enough strings attached that it didn't feel particularly cheap. She wasn't dead but she was 95 percent mechanical, and was living with another being inside her, and her new body was not particularly stable, giving her relationship with Shulk and Dunban in particular some interesting depth and giving them some new issues to wrestle with. On top of that was the fact that in the meantime, Shulk and Melia's relationship had started taking on some potential romantic undertones and things were setting up nicely for some interesting personal conflict and character development. The subsequent introduction of the independing and peace-loving people of Mechonis was icing on the cake- the game looked like it was ready to reveal the reasons and motives behind its largely-thus-far faceless antagonists and develop some moral complexity.
So with all this potential, what went wrong? Why is it utterly failing to deliver on it's potential? Some of the issues about Fiora's new body, and its potentially limited lifespan, are addressed, but a character quickly drops a hint that, hey, whatever, she's probably gonna get her old body back, good as new. Sorry, what the character (Linada) actually said was that there was very low odds such a thing might be possible but forgive me for translating- the game isnt throwing that out there in order to get the character's hopes up then crush them, it would of lingered on it longer if it was. So right off the bat we know that any angst about Fiora's new body is inheirently pointless and any sweetness about Shulk's easy and loyal acceptance of her is bought cheaply- the game didn't have the balls to really kill her and it doesn't have the balls to keep her like she is now, either.
The game not having any balls is the root cause of other problems as well. The game reveals that it has a sympatheic antagonist in Egil and that the war against bionis is retaliation for past wrongs, but then quickly has him repent when confronted by Shulk and replaces him with a pointlessly evil and uncomplex diety and have him be REALLY behind it all. Almost immediatly after his reveal, everyone becomes either nauseatingly righteous or sickeningly evil, and you can tell because the good guys- no matter what side they were on before- immediatly line up behind our party and the EVIIILLLL guys immediatly stand againt them. Black and White. Totally devoid of shades of grey.
This is the worst thing of all, so I'm going to elaborable a little more. Dickson, a previously helpful character that the game hints has some darker motives immediately comes out as a disciple of the evil god and betrays the party. It's a little far-fetched because it's so outside his previous characterization- the first hint of his dirty intentions came much earlier in the story, but it came in the form of him expressing regret for decieving the party. None of that appears here, just grinning, inhuman psychopathy. Meanwhile, Egil, a character who has festered in perhaps-justified hatred for CENTURIES immediatly abandons all ill-will toward the party and gives his life to defend them- he is quickly forgiven and accepted as a hero despite having murdered thousands of people and left more than one NPC orphan back in colony 6. It's okay, though- Since Fiora is still alive he hasn't managed to kill anyone directly related to Shulk, which we all know is the one true crime. He did still kill Gadolt but Shulk never met him so whatever, it's all cool.
Then, after a hilaroiusly stupid parallel is drawn between EVIIIILLLL god Zanza and the christian god (I'm DICKSON of the TRINITY!!!!), the treacherous Head Researcher of the High Entia is ALSO revealed to be a disciple of the evil god. Though she was a more minor character, this is arguably the most egregious example of the "black-and-whitining" of the plot- in the past, she was hinted at to be scheming against Melia due to political ambitions, helping the first consort to further her own position, and to be mostly motivated by lust for power and ambition. Now, that should have put her squarly against Zanza- whose motive is ALL THE POWERZ FOR MEEEE!!- but we cant have a bad guy working with out protagonists, can we? So in a truly ass-pull moment, we find out that she is working with Dickson (OF THE TRINITY! FUCK THE POPE!) to bring about the end of the world for her evil god. As a bonus, this makes any past actions againt Melia completely stupid- it would have been in her best interest to HELP HER reach prison island and free Zanza if that was her goal. But whatever.
So, thats where I am in the game, and I've lost all will to finish. Shulk's in a coma- apparently he was a corpse reanimated by Zanza to use as a vessel, which explains why he's now in a coma and not dead- oh, wait, no it doesnt. The High Entia are all turning into Telethia- It's something in there genes, apparently. And Melia has decided that she's obviously nothing compared to Fiora and has givin up on Shulk. I suppose it's hard when your a more complex character competing with a girl with no appreciable human flaws.
I guess I don't really have an end to this, but needed to get it out there. Maybe someone can tell me that it all gets better, but I'm not sure im going to finish this game. It fucked up too hard in the home stretch.