What with Strider specifically asking me to blog more often, I felt like it was time to get off my lazy butt and start getting back in the game. Do I even have the time for this? Good lord no, but I’m doing it anyway. In fact, this blog is the test run of what I hope I can turn into a series over the course of the year! Usually I only blogged when something new and exciting came up, but I’d like to try my hand at a more steady stream of laidback blogs. Will this work? Probably no; only time will tell. So what’s this all going to be about? Well, it’s about the thing I love most about videogames. I don’t solely play videogames for this one reason, but it’s definitely the big one.
Ladies and gentlemen, I like exploration. No, I love exploration.
Exploration across prairies, in streets, in trenches, in grasslands, in frozen tundras, through deserts, on the sea, in the air, I love every act of exploration that can occur upon this earth.
Violence can be fun, and so can strategizing. In fact, videogames are fun in many ways. But to me, nothing beats the feeling of being transported to a new world with all sorts of amazing new things to see and do. The feeling of looking to an unfamiliar horizon and going “Ooh, I wonder what's over there?” before heading off in that general direction and no doubt being distracted by something cool halfway there. The feeling of seeing a tower off in the distance and wondering whether you can climb it. The feeling of checking to see whether there is an edge to the sea or not.
It's that feeling this series is devoted to. But don’t think that I'm restricting myself to big open-world sandbox games here. A well-made 2D Platformer can give you much the same feeling, and cleverly hidden secrets can give you just as much incentive to explore as any far-off castle. It's all fair game, as long as you make me want to explore every nook and cranny of your world, and you’ll let me. Invisible walls will earn you a slap in the face, but may not be unforgivable if you have something to make up for them.
Today, let’s explore the world of Xenoblade Chronicles.
It was kind of inevitable that Xenoblade would be the first entry in the series. It is far and away my favorite world in all of gaming. Besides, that Japanese Nintendo Direct on Xenoblade Chronicles X from a few weeks ago has me mad hype for the series again. Not like I ever quit being mad hype, but still.
The first thing you would notice when you're off to start exploring the world of Xenoblade is that it's a fundamentally different world from anything you’ve ever seen. It's not round like Earth, it's not flat like Earth before Jesus was born, or anything in between. It's actually made up entirely of the bodies of two giants locked in combat. One is the biological Bionis, and the other is the mechanical Mechonis. And that’s when you know; you're going to want to see all of it. I remember when Xenoblade was first announced, this premise alone completely sold me on this game. I mean, how is walking around on giant fighting gargantuans not the coolest thing you’ve ever heard? Hell, you even get to explore their insides, and walk across their swords! But premise alone only gets you so far. You still need to deliver on your promise to make me want to see all that your world has to offer. Did Xenoblade do that? Why of course it did, silly!
My favorite thing about the world of Xenoblade is that even on the underpowered Wii, every single area looks gorgeous. This game is the shining example that good art direction beats good graphics any day of the week. From the first steps you take all the way until the last, there will be something to gaze at. Sometimes it's a huge landscape, sometimes it's a beautiful waterfall, and sometimes you have an amazing view of the opposing giant. It tends to get even better at night. Remember how in James Cameron’s Avatar the bioluminescence was far and away the best thing about the entire movie? Well Monolith Soft took that idea and ran with it. When you first enter the Satorl Marsh, it seems like a drab, uninteresting place. Nobody likes a swamp, it’s like nature’s sewer level. But then night falls, and that’s when the lights go on:
Apart from that, the areas are amazingly huge. Come to think of it, much like in America most things in Xenoblade are big. The cities, the lakes, the animals, everything provides a very distinct sense of scale and awe. As a result, more so than in most other games, Xenoblade makes you feel like you’re exploring a connected world. Nature is very much on the forefront when you’re walking around on the Bionis. In fact, watching gigantic creatures walk by in the distance is one of the main attractions of the entire game! Now your first instinct might be to run up to them for a fight. But no, you’ll quickly find out that these guys are way out of your league. They’re not here for you to kill (yet). They’re here for you to gaze at, to bring the world to life.
Another thing that I really love is how all of the areas you visit make sense in some peculiar way. For example, the snowy mountain range Valak is located on the Bionis’ chest. Thing is, the Bionis usually faces away from the sun, so his chest is almost always shielded from the heat. Ergo, snow. At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got a lush rainforest on his back, which is where the sun does get to. Most of the areas you visit have a similar quality, so that if you think about it there’s some logic behind it. It’s only some logic, mind you, but it’s still a nice little detail.
Unfortunately, Xenoblade never lets you explore the giants’ private parts, but my educated guess is that you’d find a big forest with an impressive tower in the middle. Possibly an oddly-shaped canyon if the Bionis turns out to be female.
- Possibly something like this if she’s incredibly horny.
But all of the above is just nature. To be fair, the nature is easily the best, most beautiful part of Xenoblade. However, there’s more to a world than nature. Who live here, and are they worth meeting?
There are a couple of races in this game, three biological and one mechanical.
- First on bio's, there are the Homs. Humans, really. They live in settlements (Colonies) on the middle to lower part of the Bionis, say from about the lower back down to the feet. Their settlements tend to be pretty large and self-sufficient, so for a large part they keep to their own.
- Next, there are the Nopon, who are small round furry creatures with an extra set of prehensile arm-
like appendages. They live in a giant tree in Makna Forest, but a lot of them are the traveling sort. At the end of the day, you’ll find Nopon everywhere. They’re energetic little bastards, but they can still be quite a force to be reckoned with once they get serious.
- The last of the Bio’s are the High Entia. They function a little like Elves usually would, in that they are more developed and more ‘cultured’ than the other races. They look much like humans, except that they have wings growing out of their heads. Pure-breed High Entia have big airworthy wings, while half-breeds have to make do with smaller Asterix-style ones. They live in a great city all the way at the head of the Bionis, on a floating island above the Eryth Sea. It’s sight to behold.
- As for the robot dudes, they are the only mechanical race in the game. They're the Mechon, and they may or may not all be evil. For all intents and purposes they function just like humans, but they're a lot more durable. Practically all of them live on the Mechonis, so it will take you a little while before you get to meet them. They're well worth talking too though, and some of them give you some very important information over the course of the game.
By this time, you might have noticed how many different locales I already mentioned. Well, there's an very good reason for that.
If there's one thing that the world of Xenoblade has, it's variety. When you just start out the game you'd be forgiven for thinking that all you're going to be seeing is large grassy plains. Well you couldn't be more wrong, and before you know it you'll be exploring all sorts of different locales, each prettier than the last.
You'll come across snowy mountain ranges, rocky valleys, incredible seas, lush forests, floating prisons, robotic bases, sprawling cities, and so much more. And again, most of the areas change dramatically at night, so it's almost like exploring every area twice. If I could decorate my room with just art from every seperate Xenoblade area, you bet your ass I would.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what's over there in the world of Xenoblade Chronicles. It is one of the most imaginative worlds I have ever seen, and pretty to boot. It's a gigantic world that I nonetheless devoted hours to scour every inch of. It's a world I wouldn't mind living in, and a world I would pay mad cash for to ever visit.
In a world of Battling Behemoths Frozen Forever, exploration is king.
To round off these posts off, I'm going to pick two 'favorites' from the world I'm talking about. Here they are for Xenoblade:
- Favorite thing ‘over there’: the fallen hand of the Mechonis that was cut off during the battle. It actually houses a town of its own, as well as a lovely beach.
- Favorite song to explore by: Gaur Plains
Man, I so need to revisit this game now. The wait for X is killing me.