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History of the Xenoblade Chronicles Series

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BY July 6, 2020
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A lot of first-party Nintendo games have a similar style and experience to them. Characters like Mario, Kirby, and the hundreds of Animal Crossing villagers are all cartoonish and family-friendly. These games aim for a broad audience and particularly appeal to younger gamers. One Nintendo series that breaks this mold is Xenoblade Chronicles. After a string of less-than-successful releases, Monolith Soft took one last shot at making something of its Xeno series. Next, after Nintendo agreed to publish the title, suggesting it retain a remanence of the Xeno brand to it, Xenoblade Chronicles released on the Wii. In short, for a console full of family-friendly party games, the title stood out in an extraordinary way. Finally, with a remaster on the way for the Nintendo Switch, let’s take a look at the history of Xenoblade Chronicles.

Monolith’s Xeno Series and the Birth of Xenoblade Chronicles

Nintendo Image Credit: Nintendo

Japanese developer Tetsuya Takahashi worked all throughout the 90s on a series called Xenogears for Square. When he founded Monolith Soft in 1999, Takahashi planned to push the series to new heights with a six-part Xenosaga. Unfortunately, by the time the second game in the series hit shelves, it was clear low sales would halt the story. By the time the third game in the Xenosaga released in 2006, the team at Monolith was at an all-time low. Poor sales on the PlayStation 2 didn’t feel great, considering that the console was wildly popular all over the world. 

A lingering concept of a game where God-like creatures the size of giants lived alongside humans gave Takahashi hope for a new game. Initially called Monado, the concept began as a 3D action-adventure. A lot of early models were shown to colleagues in the gaming industry to positive feedback. Ahead of the final development stages, Takahashi showed the game’s content to Nintendo. They agreed to help with system issues related to performance for the rights to publishing. Initially, the game was agreed to be a standalone title, much like The Last Story, another Wii-era JRPG. The game, still titled Monado: The Beginning of the World was changed at then-Nintendo president Satoru Iwata’s request to honor the Xeno series. It was here that Xenoblade Chronicles came to be. 

Unique Game Elements and Lore

Nintendo Image Credit: Nintendo

Takahashi didn’t want to develop another failure. In planning for the release of Xenoblade Chronicles, he considered the elements missing from most JRPG titles in the late 2000s. One major element he didn’t care for was too much emphasis on the story. In the Xenosaga games, the narrative tended to distract from gameplay. Takahashi also wanted to avoid the typical turn-based battle system with something more open-world. In this format, battles could occur while exploring the game, rather than pausing to warp to a battlezone. Takahashi wanted to mimic the feel of an MMORPG where you had a giant map in which several things could happen at any time.

On top of these elements, the act of exploring would need some sort of incentive for players. Takahashi decided to create a wide array of craftable items and accessories to help push players beyond the boundaries of the main narrative. In a way, it melded Western role-playing elements to the JRPG stylings he knew well. One of those elements would be a world-class soundtrack, composed by Manami Kiyota. Takahashi approved each song composition by composition, rejecting a ton of music he didn’t believe fit the game. WIth Dog Ear Records assisting in environmental tracks and ACE+ working on battle music, more work went into this soundtrack than most games. Most notably, the music aimed to break from JRPG tropes of slow, boring travel music and upbeat, anxious battle music. The soundtrack ended with 90 tracks, including two different theme songs and a 9-minute track to rival a movie score. 

Reception and Sequel

history of the xenoblade chronicles Image Credit: Nintendo

Xenoblade Chronicles released in Japan on June 10th, 2010. Its European release hit shelves on August 19th, 2010. Concerns of sales in North America delayed its release in this region to April 6th, 2012. The game found favor with fans and critics, garnishing many major awards in RPG, JRPG, and Nintendo categories. In its opening week in Japan, the game sold 80,000 units, hitting 200,000 by the end of 2013. Surprisingly for Nintendo, Monolith Soft, and even Takahashi himself, the game performed better in North America than Japan. The game’s main character, Shulk, even landed a spot on Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo Wii U and 3DS

A follow-up began with the intended release on the Wii U. Unfortunately, if you’re familiar with the history of the Wii U, then you know the console was trouble from the start. The game became Monolith Soft’s first HD video game. Because of the massive map and game content included, it barely fit on the Wii U disk. The game was released on April 29th, 2015 in Japan and December 4th in Europe and North America. Critics called the game a masterpiece in some reviews, with others praising the title as well. The game felt massive yet enjoyable from start to finish for many players. Despite being made for hardcore RPG fans, the speed increase to battles offered more action to novice players. Likewise, the removal of a healer character helped to force players to take on more aggressive approaches to gameplay. 

Xenoblade Chronicles 2, DLC, and New Heights in the History of the Series

history of the xenoblade chronicles Image Credit: Nintendo

The next game in the history of the Xenoblade Chronicles would be Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The game intended to follow the first title in terms of narrative, leading to its sequel-notated title. Overall, the game was meant to help show off the Nintendo Switch’s graphical capabilities, with Nintendo intending the game to release early in the console’s lifecycle. A few key elements Takahashi wanted to change was more expressive, anime-style characters. Oddly enough, Takahashi was able to strike a deal with artists at Square Enix to work on the characters. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 featured “blades,” who serve as weaponized lifeforms. The game pushed the story and substance of the Xenoblade Chronicles series to new heights, which really was saying something. Finally, the game released worldwide on December 1st, 2017 after being announced in January of the same year.

Overall, critics and fans called it another success, with some considering it the best JRPG in the current console generation. Some criticisms included a battle system in need of improvement and too much dialogue. To combat these issues, a DLC pack titled Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country. The DLC improved on the battle system and added more content to the already massive 70+ hours of gameplay. Takahashi said of the game, which became the best selling title in the series, that its popularity “exceeded his expectations.” That sentiment marked a complete redemption for the game maker who found himself down and out after the Xenosaga letdowns of the 2000s. 

The Future of Xenoblade Chronicles

history of the xenoblade chronicles Image Credit: Nintendo

Most recently, the next game up in the history of the Xenoblade Chronicles series will be a remake of the original. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition will be released worldwide on May 29, 2020. The game intends on improving the original controls, music, visuals, and overall player experience. The game will also feature a new epilogue called “Future Connected.” If you haven’t played the original, then this is a great chance to do so. 

Overall, it’s hard to express the influence of the history of Xenoblade Chronicles. The series helped show Nintendo that JRPGs could succeed on modern consoles despite the company’s core audience of casual, family-friendly gamers. JPRG fans who love Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and other monumental titles in the genre celebrate this series, as do non-traditional RPG gamers. It’s a massively huge success all over the world, and a remake due out this year should introduce more gamers to this incredible series. 

If you have an opinion on the Xenoblade Chronicles series, then let us know in the comments! Thanks for reading Comic Years for all things gaming, comics, and pop culture.

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

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Taylor loves to play video games in his spare time. He has two degrees in Political Communication and wrote his thesis on Marxism and the exploitation of college athletes. In his spare time, he loves spending time with his wife and two Toy Australian Shepherds. He’s always got headphones in, and he’s a diehard Cubs fan.

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