Operation Rainfall seemed like a pipedream when it was first announced. Gamers have attempted campaigns like it countless times in the past and the majority of them have failed outright. Whenever one did succeed, it rarely posted the sales that the publishers hoped to see. People are willing to verbally support a cause, but it seemed like few were willing to spend money on it. Worse was that the campaign was appealing to Nintendo, one of the most stubborn developers in existence. Ever since its release in 2006, fans have been begging Nintendo for an American release of Mother 3, but it looks like it'll never happen outside a fan translated rom. I fully expected the same to happen to the Operation Rainfall games: The Last Story, Pandora’s Tower, and Xenoblade Chronicles.
Yet, miraculously, the campaign has mostly worked. Two of the three games were confirmed for release this year in America and provided a bright spot in the otherwise anemic Wii release schedule. However, compromises needed to be made in order to make this happen. The Last Story won’t be published by Nintendo in America, instead that duty (and cost) was given to XSeed Games. Xenoblade Chronicles, which was released a month ago, was sold exclusively at Gamestop. But those are just minor footnotes in the story of Operation Rainfall. The big question is, were the games worth the effort to bring to America?
Based on the experience I had with Xenoblade Chronicles, absolutely. It is one of the best JRPGs I have played in years, and I’m still working my way through its absolutely massive world. That was perhaps the biggest surprise I found within the game. It is loaded to the brim with content, coming close to rivaling what’s found in Skyrim. The difference is where Skyrim encouraged exploration, Xenoblade Chronicles focuses on interaction. That is evident within the first hour of the game when the protagonist, Shulk, returns to Colony 9. Over half the town is filled with named NPCs and rather than just being hints for how to continue the game, the people all have lives of their own. It starts slowly at first as you talk to each in turn and receive the occasional sidequest, but as you complete each one it quickly becomes apparent how interconnected the town really is.
These interconnections have a direct link to the Bonds system. By doing these various sidequests the village begins to take a liking to you and, after completing so many quests, increases their affection for you. This in turn opens up new quests for them to give and shows even more connections between the townspeople until every person has some kind of link to another. These quests also improve the attitude of many of the NPCs so that you can see miniature story arcs begin to develop. What’s mind-blowing is that the Bonds system doesn’t just apply to Colony 9 but every single town you visit. There are hundreds of quests to be found and while they can be repetitious, they are worth seeking out. Each one offers money, equipment, or experience points as a reward. In essence, it takes the grind out of the game. Despite the hours I’ve sank into the game, I’ve never had to continually grind monsters for experience.
But it isn’t just the NPCs that players can interact with. An Affinity system is also in place that shows how much your party members trust and care for each other. Affinity can be increased by doing quests, encouraging one another in battles, and taking part in special conversations called Heart-to-Hearts. The more your characters care about each other, the more abilities they’ll be able to share. It all plays back into the combat which again makes the Affinity system worthwhile.
Speaking of combat, the battles are very much like other JRPGs with some unique changes to keep things interesting. Players only control one party member at a time but can switch on the fly. Control also shifts if your character dies in combat. Fights play out similarly to Final Fantasy’s Active Time Battle system with your character attacking automatically based on his speed. At any time players can activate Talent Arts, but they require a cooldown afterward. Only eight of these Talent Arts can be assigned at a time though each can be strengthened after earning enough Talent Points. The strategy of a battle comes into play by knowing where your character should be placed at key points. Many of the Talents are more effective if used on certain parts of an enemy or if a certain condition is in place at the time. Aggro also comes heavily into play with monsters focusing on the player giving the most damage. Managing these elements is the focus of each combat so that simple monsters require little thought and more challenging ones make the player think about his options.
The story of Xenoblade Chronicles also had me hooked quickly. The world itself is actually the dead bodies of two immense giants who killed one another in combat. Rather than fall, their bodies stopped in place while plant and animal life emerged upon them. One of the bodies was settled by humans while the other became the home of autonomous machines. The machines are constantly out to attack the humans though it isn’t apparent why. It could be that they are just evil or simply the fact that the machines use humans as a food source. Because of this, the humans defended themselves in a bloody war that ended in victory thanks to a sword known as the Monado. It is the only weapon that can easily destroy the machines, but it is almost impossible to control as it draws the life force from its wielder.
A few years have passed as people are still recovering from the war and trying to make a life for themselves including Shulk, who has dedicated himself to the study of the Monado and its abilities. Its previous user, Dunban, was left without the use of his arm after the war so Shulk is hoping to find a way to counter those effects. Without spoiling too much, the machines return more vicious than ever and cause a great tragedy for Shulk though in the process he discovers that he is somehow able to wield the Monado with no ill effects. He and his friends set out to stop the machines and discover the many secrets found within the Monado.
It’s a story that knows the clichés of the genre but is willing to use them to great effect while also changing many of them. Whenever you feel like you have things figured out, Xenoblade Chronicles will toss another wrinkle into the mix. More and more elements come into play and make for Monolith Soft’s best story to date. It’s not as bloated as past Xeno games and chooses to focus on the gameplay while keeping things simple yet engaging as far as the plot. The game is all the better for it in my mind.
There are so many more things that can be talked about when it comes to Xenoblade Chronicles, but I’ll leave those for you to discover. Just know that it is one of the best RPGs on the Wii and is one of the best ways to get the most out of the system. The game was truly worth the effort that Project Rainfall put in to secure that American release and for that I am extremely grateful. It’s one of the last great games for the Wii.
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