No one is trying to sell me content when I play Xenoblade Chronicles on my Wii. There are no retail exclusives and even if there were, there is no place to enter a code to activate them. There will be no DLC. No one is going to vaguely promise to change the ending. No one is going to sell me a new gun or add skins for Sera or Garrus or Magneto. It’s almost enough to make me not mind spending literally dozens of hours on my Wii playing a single game.
After the jump, the character that would have been DLC
The nopon are like a combination of ewoks, penguins, totoros, and Skittles. They live in the jungle, in a tree house village. You’ve seen plenty of videogame tree house villages. But this one is built over a bunch of thirty foot tall dragons and ogres casually stomping around the jungle. As you cross a rope bridge, a behemoth strolls just underneath you, close enough that you could reach down and pat him on a pate the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
The nopons built their village up here because they kept getting stepped on. They also live inside a giant tree at the center of this web of rope bridges. Again, you’ve seen a lot of levels inside giant trees. For instance, the giant tree level in every single Zelda game. But the inside of this giant tree is a sight to behold. It reminds me of the inside of the mothership from the deleted scene in Close Encounters. It’s crissed-crossed with bridges to spiralling catwalks where houses are built and lights are strung up. Instead of public clocks, it has time telling mushrooms. Each level is a different part of the nopon economy and society. Go ahead, work your way up to the top. It’s worth the trip.
Even the outside of the tree is grand, adorned with balconies from which you can admire the ocean looming overhead where the sky should be. Xenoblade Chronicles doesn’t take place on a planet, or a flat plain, or a box, or whatever. This world is a character in a creation myth. Imagine if God was one of the colossi from Shadow of the Colossus and all of creation was one of that game’s boss battles. This jungle is his back. Below that is a swamp for his butt. His legs are plains. I went through his lungs on the way to his head, which is on the other side of that sea floating in the sky. The nopons have said they’ll help me cross the sea once I slay a mind-reading dragon that can predict the future. Sometimes, far in the distant sky, I can see the dim glow of another face. It’s the other half of this creation myth. Is there a whole other world over there?
Nopons refine pollen in this tree, which is some sort of industrial operation of pulleys, gears, and mining cars, all run by a cheerfully hapless nopon in a hamster wheel. Most videogame tree villages are where forest folk live and most videogame mines are where dwarfs live. This is a combination of the two. And inside I get one of the game’s great surprises. A nopon is now a member of my party. A Protean character in the collector’s edition of Mass Effect 3? Pfft.
Here are a few things I love about Riki, who the nopon have designated my “heropon”:
1) During some battles in shallow water, I noticed Riki wasn’t doing anything. Bad AI? No problem, I’ll just control him myself during the next battle. At which point I couldn’t even attack, because all my icons were disabled. Bug? Turn out it was neither. Riki’s stubby little feet can’t touch the ground when he’s in shallow water. During a battle in shallow water, he bobs helplessly like a fat duck.
2) Party members in Xenoblade Chronicles each use a specific type of weapon. For instance, Sharla uses a sniper rifle and Reyn uses some sort of huge honkin’ sword with a folding shield in front of it. Riki uses something that resembles a hobby horse or a puppet. It’s as big as he is. He wears it on his back when he’s not in battle, so it looks like he’s got a head floating over his head. His first weapon, the Serpent Biter, looked like a sock puppet with button eyes. I have since given him the Frog Queen, which is exactly what it sounds like: a frog head wearing a crown, seated on a stone throne. It goes beautifully with Riki’s new tiger skin jungle armor.
3) Riki’s motivation for adventuring is simple: he has to support his family. Seriously. That’s the character’s backstory. He’s working off debt and trying to feed his wife and kids. Riki is a working class heropon.
4) His battle cry sounds just like Howard Dean’s famous scream at the end of his 2004 concession speech after the Iowa primaries. You’ll know it when you hear it. And you’ll hear it a fair bit when Riki is in your party.