Released nearly two years ago in Japan and last year in Europe, you’d expect Xenoblade Chronicles to look at least somewhat dated.

Instead, it seems to be worlds beyond most other Wii games, with vividly detailed backgrounds and characters, with everything moving at a smooth framerate. We had to rub our eyes to make sure we were playing on the standard definition-only Wii rather than its more advanced HD rivals, the Xbox 360 and PS3. Japanese RPGs aren’t exactly known for their simplicity in storytelling, and Xenoblade is as weird as they come.

The basic conflict is familiar enough — fleshbags (Homs) versus robots (Mechons) — and, as is the norm with robots, the Mechas are much better at fighting than the Homs. The equalizer is the Monado Blade, a legendary whuppin’ stick that’s capable of slashing up the Mechas about as intimidating as WALL-E. So here’s where things get weird.

Hero Shulk and his fellow Homs live on a dude-space god-gaia spirit thing called the Bionis. So you need to be careful where you walking, because you can never be quite certain whether you’re stomping on his nuts. The size of the the Bionis is staggering, which in and of itself isn’t anything special.

Vast, overwhelming vistas tend to make for dull slogs, but Xenoblade Saga nullifies that prospect by adding fast-travel options that let you scoot among landmarks you’ve been before. It’s also cool that much of the area is explorable right after you leap into the story, which we’ll stop explaining at this point not so much for fear of spoilers but because we could hardly comprehend the cuckoo for cocoa puffs brain-mash that is the writing.

The crux of the game is that you make your own way, exploring hidden realms for loot and engaging in cut-throat battles with roaming enemies, many of which are as intimidating and vicious as a mother-in-law. You’re encouraged to seek out conflict rather than run and hide, because, as in Bioshock, there’s not much of a penalty for dying outside of a fluid re-start.

The realm abounds with side-quests, items trading and a gauge of sorts that evaluates the relationships between you and your peeps. Combat, with three-member parties, carries the strategy of the Final Fantasy games combined with the button mashing of Dynasty Warriors. It’s a satisfying mix of hacking, slashing, resource management and special abilities juggling.

The highest compliment we can pay Xenoblade Chronicles is that it dispenses with the chore-like task management of lesser RPGs and becomes, like Elder Scrolls and Fallout games, a sort of playground that allows you to experiment, pursue your interests and compare stories with friends, only to find out their experiences have been totally different than your own. A lot happens on your buddy Bionis. Let’s just hope he keeps still and doesn’t get the urge to shower anytime soon and kill us all.

Rating: 9/10

Xenoblade Chronicles ($50), available on the Wii, was developed by Monolith, published by Nintendo and rated T. The publisher provided a copy of the game for review. For this review, we messed around the with the game for eight hours over the span of a week.

Read Phil Villarreal’s blog at and follow him on Twitter:@philvillarreal

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