Caution: Spoilers follow!
If you are looking for a good game and like JRPG’s, then you can not go past Xenoblade Chronicles. Well, you can if you live in North America where it still has not been released yet and will not be released until April… Now you know how it feels to live in Australia!
Now I have that off my chest, lets get back to the game. Xenoblade is a game of epic scope, both in terms of the shear size of the worlds that you can explore and in terms of the number of things there are to do. And there are many, many, many things to do… To get near “completing” the game, you will need to spend well over 100 hours, making the game quite good value for money.
I am not going to do a detailed review of the gameplay as those are already available elsewhere. Instead I will cover the various elements there are to collect in the game. This is probably an unhealthy obsession of mine that started with Pokemon (Gotta Catch ‘Em All…), but is often an aspect of games that I enjoy more than the primary game itself provided it is not too monotonous.
Party Upgrades: Each playable character in the game has multiple upgrades that can be found (excluding basic things like level and equipment). There are upgrades to each of the “Arts” that are used during battles, which are purchased using “AP” that you collect by defeating monsters or from other tasks in the game. Before the Arts can be upgraded to their full potential, you need to learn the Intermediate then Advanced levels through the use of Books. The Books for the Intermediate level can be purchased at various stores throughout the game, but the Advanced level books are only dropped by strong monsters. At least two are dropped at a low frequency by a monster that appears only once in the game, so unless you know that beforehand, the chance of completing this upgrade is negligible. I collected all Books but have not purchased the full upgrades yet as collecting the required amount of AP would become tedious.
Each character also has a set of “Skills” that are like innate abilities that improve your battle prowess. There are learnt by collecting “SP” when defeating monsters and filling up the “skill tree”. Each character starts with three skill trees, or sets of skills of a given type, but two additional skill trees can be earned for each character. Enough “SP” will be earned to fill up most of the characters skill trees just by playing the game, but a couple of characters would require repetitive monster killing to complete.
Quests: There are 480 quests given to you by various NPCs during the game. Some are essential to complete in order to progress through the game, but others are just useful for gaining experience/money/items. What is really annoying are that some quests only appear under certain conditions. I do not mind those that are mutually exclusive (i.e. you can complete one of two quests and it really does not matter which), but those quests that only appear if you do something in a particular way (with no real indication of what that is…) are… well… I can not find a polite word to describe them. Then there are timed quests. These become unavailable (without warning) once you reach certain points in the game. So if you are wanting to complete “all” quests, you need to do each quest as soon as you are assigned it and spend lots of time exploring each region to make sure you have talked to everyone. I believe I completed all possible quests for a single play-through apart from one that was unavailable as I made an “incorrect” choice during the game.
Affinity: There is an “affinity” system that essentially measure how much people like each other. Importantly from a gameplay perspective is how much the people of each region like you and how much the members of a party like each other. How much people of a particular region like you determines the available quests and items available for trading. This is improved by talking to the various NPC who have names and completing quests. The affinity between members of your party is improved by helping each other in battle and through the completion of quests together. It is not a super-important area of gameplay although it does let characters use skills known by other characters and allows you to see “Heart-to-Hearts” (see below).
Region Maps: There are around 20 areas (depending on how you count them) to explore during the game. Each of these regions had a number of “Landmarks” and “Locations” for you to find to unlock the complete map to the region. The Landmarks serve as warp-points, which avoids much mindless wandering from place-to-place. Almost all of these would be found during normal gameplay and the remaining few during completion of quests.
Collectopaedia: Each region has a list of items that can be collected throughout it. Collecting one of each of these fills in the Collectopaedia. Just like the Quests, there are points during the game where access to the areas becomes no longer possible (without warning…) so it is important to collect these as you go. There is also a selection of items needed to complete this that can only be traded for, with one requiring an item to trade that can only be found by defeating the strongest monsters in the game (and is the one item I have yet to collect).
Heart-to-Hearts: These are cut away scenes showing conversations between characters that are supposed to provide extra insight to their inner thoughts… You get to chose various answers that direct the outcome of these conversations, although I never actually read the text so I have no idea how much your choice mattered. What I did notice was that the “acting” during these interactions was horrible.
Unique Monsters: Now this is a fun part of the game! There are 157 “unique” monsters in the game. Some are truly unique in that they only appear once during a particular quest, but others consistently respawn. There are five of these monsters that have levels higher than your characters maximum level and it is these five I have left to beat (although I have not attempted them yet…).
Achievements: The game keeps track of your “achievements” as you progress through the game. These are separated into two types, Trials and Records. There are 50 Trials that basically cover working through all the collections above so if you are going to complete those then the Trials will get completed too. The 150 Records involve things like defeating a certain type of enemy a given number of times, using a given type attack a certain number of times, raising Skill and Arts to maximum levels and collecting crystals and crafting them into gems (an area of the game that is full of mystery as far as I am concerned…). Many of these fall into the tedious repetition category so I still have about 30 to complete.
That is a lot of stuff to do… As I said above, it will take substantially more than 100 hours if you want to do all of this. But I say it is definitely time well spent.