Wanderlust and Xenoblade Chronicles

A spoiler-free traveler’s guide to exploration in video games

There are a few subtle twists of fate that could have occurred to make it so this post was never written. One is that Xenoblade Chronicles wasn’t originally slated to be released in North America, thanks to Nintendo’s dislike for localizing games that people actually want to play. Project Rainfall (a group of very dedicated fans) fought nail and teeth to convince Nintendo to bring Xenoblade to the west and Nintendo finally caved in for one reason or another.  Another reason is that I already wrote an editorial for this month, so I figured I’d either wait or just not write it at all. Lastly, I wanted to review Xenoblade Chronicles, but didn’t feel like I could finish the game quickly enough for a review to still be salient to readers. I almost gave up, until I realized that I never actually wanted to review the game in the first place. I had no desire to pick apart the fighting mechanics, summarize the plot, and delve into the technical aspects of the game. I was possessed by a simple desire to write about my experience in the game, and I found no reason not to share a chronicle of my own. There are no spoilers ahead and no review scores: just a girl fondly remembering her time spent roaming the world of Bionis and Mechonis.

The world as you know it consists of two opposite halves. There’s a more organic half full of lush fields and sparkling pools of water that is contrasted by a largely artificial half made up of machines. This split is because the ground you are walking on…are actually the corpses of Gods. Mechonis and Bionis are two Gods who fought each other to the death; and now you walk around on their lifeless bodies, build cities on the small of their backs, and cross from one half to another along a bridge made from their huge swords. As a result, even a homely prairie becomes something otherworldly, as you can always see one God’s enormous figure looming over the horizon. It’s an odd feeling, but it’s not so alienating that you can’t relate to the scenery and take some time to appreciate where you’re wandering off to.

This is an RPG, and the main point is to grind and kill anything that comes your way. Exploration is optional, although it does have benefits. You can’t expect to find everything without doing a little searching, after all. Most games reward exploration with items. As a result of operant conditioning, most gamers have developed the habit to immediately scour the area in search of hidden goodies and collectables. It’s not so much that we’re entranced by a new area and feel a pure curiosity to find out what’s out there, but we want to see what it will give us in the form of tangible rewards. Most of the time, I find myself exploring for this reason because there really is no other benefit. Many games have bleak environments, enclosed spaces and repeated areas that look just like the last. If there is nothing at the end of an extra path, why would I ever want to go there? Why waste time meandering when I could be working towards completing the main storyline of the game? It can be hard to create a circumstance where the player wants to explore…solely for the sake of exploring. No in-game rewards, just walking around out of choice and taking in the sights.

Exploration in video games isn’t all bad. It depends on the player, but there are certainly examples out there of games that go against the grain and encourage looking around to learn more about the world. Xenoblade is one of those games. Let me start off by admitting that, yes, extrinsic rewards for exploring do exist in this game. Uncovering a new areas gives you exp, new areas often contain quests, and the entire realm is peppered with collectables for you to pick up. I enjoyed the perks, but that wasn’t why I was sidetracking from the main story so much. I wanted to know what this world looked like. I found myself climbing as high as I could to simply stand there and survey the land to see how one area connected to the next, returning to places I had already been to see what it looked like in the glow of the moon, and reporting on the new types of monsters that appeared at different times of day like some sort of field biologist. I was drinking it all in with my eyes because I wanted to form a mental map of Bionis and Mechonic to understand how this world worked as a whole.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this world is so charming to explore. It’s well-designed and varied, but the graphics are rather terrible. This is not a visual masterpiece to look at, so I wasn’t just exploring to experience eye candy. However, everything is bright and inviting. The world is completely wide open, allowing you to spread out instead of being restricted to tiny corridors. I haven’t run into those infamous invisible barriers you often find in games at all during my playthrough. When you have the freedom to go absolutely anywhere, it’s tempting to take that option and run wild! It’s like the world was made for you to to go off the beaten track and find hidden areas. The neat thing is that even if you accidentally run into an area you probably shouldn’t be in until you’re a higher level, you’re not punished for dying. You will simply respawn at the last checkpoint…and there are tons of checkpoints. You keep all your EXP and loot all the way until your exact time of death. Don’t like the checkpoint you were sent to? You can teleport from checkpoint to checkpoint anytime, anywhere (except in battle hurr hurr hurr). I will say this again: Bionis and Mechonic are huge. I do enjoy exploring and tend to walk more than I need to, but the teleportation ability is extremely handy. I won’t be as hesitant to explore an area in a far-off corner of the map because I can just teleport back instead of wasting time doubling back. It can be used to skip exploration for some, but I see it as a tool to go further and deeper into the world without worry of either going too far or stumbling into the lair of a level 77 armoured beast.

It’s hard to explain in words how utterly magical it feels to run around in this world, but I will try to recount some mini adventures for you. Goddammit, I will try.

Slightly woozy from the sharp drop from the many winding paths, I did my best not to look down. I was grateful that the sky seemed to be lightening up, as the paths looked nothing short of treacherous with only the pale light of the moon to show the difference between an edge and a fall to your death. While taking my time, the hazy figure of Mechonis in the distance caught my eye. I’d never seen it this clearly before, without a line of trees or mountains blocking the way. I turned away from the main path to the mine, Reyn and Sharla looking a bit confused at my detour. Still, they quietly followed and even halted at my signal as I waited for a massive eagle to pass over head. I wanted to see Mechonis in peace without a feathered demon raking its claws into my back. I shuffled forward to the edge cautiously, afraid that I’d slip on the morning dew that made the grass slick as ice. Just as I reached the edge, the sun peeked out from the horizon and illuminated the world, giving me the first real view of Mechonis that I’d ever seen. I’d be there soon. Soon.

See? Some really beautiful things happen by chance just from wandering around and appreciating my surroundings. It’s nice to stop and smell the roses. Okay, now one more elaboration of an actual event that happened while I was playing this. Just one more!!

As I was running desperately to save my new friend, I saw something catch my eye. I turned on a dime and jogged to the edge of the cliff to get a better look. However, at that moment, a monster spotted us and attacked. I was startled, and before I know it I was tumbling over the edge, falling headlong to my death. Or…so I thought. I plunged into a lake I never knew existed until I was 5 feet feet below the surface of it, dangerously close to the shore. So close, I don’t doubt I had a minor concussion. I can’t even recall what was so interesting for me to race over to a ledge in the first place. Slowly, I dragged myself onto the shore and looked around. I didn’t recognize a single monster or landmark. There was a maze of bridges and islands laid out before me, and the shore itself was full of monsters larger than anything I’d ever seen outside of a boss fight. All I could do was stop and stare dumbly at this new, high-level area that I wasn’t meant to be in. I was supposed to leave and come back later, but I couldn’t bring myself to teleport away. It didn’t take long before the entire party and I grew restless and got to work getting to know the area while laughing and trying to dodge huge, awe-inducing beasts that could pummel us with a flick of the wrist. Somehow, it was just as exciting as the boss battle yet to come.

In conclusion:

Xenoblade Chronicles is a fun game, but I found my immersion into the world they created to be abnormally high. Wandering around and doing nothing can be fun in a game, but I rarely find this to be the case. I have had similar experiences in only a few other games. I used to go back in Paper Mario years after beating it just to walk around the Crystal Palace because it truly felt like a cold, lonely palace. I went there so I could…be there. Almost like a video game vacation or experiencing that feeling of returning somewhere familiar after a long time. I often did the same in Banjo-Tooie, simply returning to Cloud Cuckooland and flying around the level in a few lazy circuits. There was a giant piece of cheese you could bounce on, a castle made of jelly, and rainbows you could walk on. It was truly the most majestic level I have ever had the pleasure of being in! I have yet to play Journey, but from what I’ve heard, this is an excellent example of a game where your reward for exploring is purely intrinsic. You do it for the beauty of the environment and for the experience – not for some shiny gems or power-ups. So, what do you think of exploring in video games? Do you have a game where you found exploring to be incredibly fun? Do you have a favourite level that you can’t help but return to every now and then? Share your experiences with me, fellow traveler of virtual game worlds! After all, another great part of traveling is returning home and telling your friends all about what you’ve been through.

P.S. I recommend this game!


A neuroscience graduate, black belt, and all-around nerd. You'll either find me in my lab or curled up in my rilakkuma kigurumi watching anime.
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25 Responses to “Wanderlust and Xenoblade Chronicles”

  1. Kitty says:

    Yaoi in Xenoblade yes? lol XD I shall be buying this with my tax return, thanks for the reviews always skeptical of new RPGs that I haven’t heard of before. How did you find the battle system? More like Tales or more like Final fantasy.

    • Overcooled says:

      You have to either really squint for yaoi, or pull a stunt like this.

      I actually haven’t played either of those games…. Every FF game I’ve played is something off of the main story like tactics or crystal chronicles, although I did watch my friend play FF13 for 6 hours and it looked dreadful. It’s kind of like an MMORPG where you have a bunch of skills and cooldown times for those skills. It doesn’t take any combo-memorizing or skillful button pressing really, so it’s easy to get used to. I thought it was pretty fun. Plus, if you get bored of the main character, you can switch and play as anyone else in your party.

      I hope you like it!

  2. akagami says:

    I’ve heard rave reviews regarding Xenoblade Chronicles, and I’m sort of interested, but the fact that it’s on the Wii makes me do a 180. I don’t really care that much about graphics, but if you’re going to do a 3D world, the Wii is not the system to do it on. If they port it for the PS3 and improve the graphics I’ll bite.

    I’m a big JRPG fan, and I love exploring. I’m the one who crawls into every corner inspecting every last barrel and talking to every character to ensure they’ve said all they had to say. The reason I like JRPGs are because of the tightly woven stories that pull you in. Western RPGs have been going the open world route which I absolutely detest… if I want an open world, I’ll play a MMORPG and have 1000x more fun. (I think the last Western RPG I really enjoyed was Planescape Torment and Baldur’s Gate 2.)

    That’s one reason why I enjoy FF games, I get to run around. FFXIII disappointed me because I was awed when I hit the Grand Plains and saw that huge golem-like creature walking about… and then disappointed when I found out I couldn’t approach the giant.

    Can’t say off the top of my head an area in a game that I would revisit just for the heck of it… that happens a lot more in MMORPGs, which I’m not playing at the moment. But in EQ I used to like to hang about in Greater Faydark… it was beautiful with the elven city in the treetops and giant trees everywhere… all green and peaceful. The role-player in me was just in heaven. In WoW I liked to hang out in Stormwind city. Something about all that marble and stone. A shame RP’ing was almost non-existent in WoW.

    But back to Xenoblade, all the art makes me want to play, but then I remember the horrible jaggies and the Wii controllers.

    On a different note, I got Tales of Grace f for the PS3… my first Tales game! Which I’ll get to once I finish the true end of Persona 4, then finish Xenosaga III, play some Diablo III, and ignore the rest of my PS3 games that are screaming at me to play them (e.g. Assassin’s Creed II, Darksiders, Infamous, Disgaea 1/2/3/4, Uncharted II, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, FFXIII-2 (that is if the version with JPN audio and ENG subs ever comes down in price $60 vs. English version for $30, #!%*?!)) Not to mention my backlog of anime and manga… *sigh* I need more time in the day.

    • akagami says:

      To give you an idea, I finally got around to watching Railgun… over a year later (it’s just been sitting on my HD… in that time Nuke has already disbanded). And my backlog only contains stuff I want to watch and read (88GB of unwatched anime and 26GB of unread manga) >.<

      • Kitty says:

        Omgs Tales of Graces was amazing!! I’m a big fan of tales games, might I suggest Symphonia and especially Abyss when you’re finished. Tales of the Abyss and amazing without a doubt, its one of my favorites next to Symphonia. Gosh darn it I love them both XD

        Star Ocean Last hope was fun but I enjoyed Star Ocean: Till the End of Time more. The characters were a little more enjoyable and I dunno about you but Last Hope was fricken hard!!

        • akagami says:

          I think if I had to try either one, I would probably try Tales of the Abyss, since I like the anime more than the Symphonia OVAs. That and I don’t have a Gamecube.

          That reminds me, I got some old games for the PS1 that I wanted to play now that I never got around to trying (FF VIII, FF Tactics (the original, since I don’t have a PSP), and Tactics Ogre). For some reason I skipped 8. I did the ones before and the ones after, but not 8 for some reason.

          • Kitty says:

            Well if you get a Wii to play Xenoblade you can play Symphonia on that XD Its worth it I think and YES Tales of the Abyss rocks!! DO IT! FFVII is amazing! I also loved 9. Honestly don’t bother with 8, wasn’t a big fan of it myself, but my friends really loved it. Cloud and Link FTW! Best video game heroes XD

            • akagami says:

              That’s the feeling I get from people on 8, either they like or dislike Squall and Rinoa… for some reason most people aren’t that passionate about 8.

              Do you mean the Wii can play GC games? Tempting, but it’s still the Wii and the Wii controllers give me epileptic seizures every time I look at them.

    • Overcooled says:

      I would love to have both gorgeous graphics AND a wide open world, but I don’t think they had the resources to do both. If they went with gorgeous graphics, I think they’d rely on that instead of saying “well, this looks like crap, so that means we have to design this to the best of our ability to make up for it.” I don’t think they’ll port it to the PS3…It’s really good though, and it’d be a shame to see people not playing just because the graphics are bad. Because it’s still a beautiful game despite the bad graphics. I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true!

      I like JRPGs a lot as well (although I really liked Dragon Age. They actually put together a nice story) But in general, JRPGs encourage more exploring.

      Hmm, interesting how you feel most comfortable in MMORPG worlds. Maybe it’s because you know your friends are there too, so it feels more comfortable. I used to just log into Maple Story and chat with my friends without training just because I got to stand in a giant forest while doing it XD

      …Good luck with that backlog, there. It looks pretty crazy. My friends are forcing me to get Diablo 3 as well.

      • akagami says:

        It doesn’t have to have gorgeous graphics, I got Persona 4 recently and loved it. But if you’re going to make it 3D with lots of jaggies, I don’t know. Is the Wii more powerful than the PS2?

        I think it’s the whole Wii remote really, I hate the Nintendo controllers. I don’t want to wave some silly stick in the air when I’m playing games. I’ll go to the gym if I want to exercise -_-

        • Overcooled says:

          I would assume the wii is better than the PS2. I know Okami was remade for the wii, and I recall them talking about improving the graphics.

          I’m not a big fan of the wii controller either…Is it just the waggling you hate, or the layout of the buttons, or both? I mostly just dislike the layout and how buying a nunchuck costs extra….At the very least, this game has no senseless motion control. There’s no waggling at all. Although, I don’t mind waving the wiimote from time to time, but only if it’s something that I feel is making the game experience BETTER than if I was just pressing buttons.

    • Kitty says:

      Yes Wii is the ungraded console from the GC so it can play GC games and because Symphoina is a GC game you can buy the classic controller to play it, seizures free. Or just use a GC controller as it will hook up to the Wii.

      8 was a leap forward in FF games because of the high graphics at the time. While they were nice, I found a game play repetitive and the characters not all that interesting. I loved Squall and the relationship was heartbreaking as ever. But it was a lot of running around to save Rinoa then the world. Plus FF7 being my first FF I’m a little biased XD But if you owe it go for it! Never judge something until you try it, is how that goes…. I think.

  3. Amutofan123 says:

    I’ve wanted to play Xenoblade for a long time now. Hopefully I can save up the money to get it soon. Honestly, the only reason why I wanted the game in the first place is because of those huge, wide-open environments that I had heard so much about. In a lot of the games I play, exploring is my favorite thing to do.

    • Overcooled says:

      It’s a wonderful game for exploration. I’m in a marsh right now and I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE. How can a marsh filled with frogs be this beautiful? If you like exploring, you will love this game. :3

  4. anaaga says:

    I don’t play games so I know I’m not supposed to be here, but I know I have to tell the whole world that the Xenoblade world looks effing gorgeous. It. Looks. So. Beautiful. Man, I would love to stay in that world and make virtual babies with the hottest male character

    • Overcooled says:

      Haha, you’re NOT not supposed to be here, you can go anywhere you please. The level design is stunning…I just want to leave this game on, frame my TV, and pretend it’s a picture hanging on my wall. Did you watch videos or something to see how it looked? I like how you don’t specifically say which one is the hottest, but you assume one is hot enough to have babies with. Nice.

  5. Gecko says:

    I love exploring in-game. It’s just too much fun for me. Probably the only reason I played games- the worlds offered something to me that Earth couldn’t give me at the time. I still don’t really have my freedom (parents! dang it!) so games and pictures are my way of checking out when I need to.
    But of course, I have to make sure school is first so that I can actually get out to the world XD. And knowledge is worthwhile too.

    • Overcooled says:

      It’s nice to see so many fellow explorers! I’m happy that lots of people aren’t just taking a painstakingly-crafted world for granted, and really enjoying themselves. Not that it’s the only way to enjoy a game but…you know.

      Aww, Gecko, I hope you have more freedom later (maybe when you’re older?) because exploring the real world is fun too. Well, that’s a fairly obvious statement, but you know what I mean. The real world takes precedence because you need to get smart and make a living. That’s also pretty much a given, although a bit of video game escapism is nice from time to time.

  6. Matt says:

    You have to be an HD obsessed person to call anything about these graphics “bad”.

    • Overcooled says:

      It’s a bit of a paradox. The graphics themselves are poor (textures slapped onto things, tufts of grass and plants that are completely flat) but Xenoblade makes the most of it. So I’d call the graphics bad, but still say the environments are beautiful.

  7. Kai says:

    The lust world indeed looks beautiful, and exploring these beautiful world is what makes gaming so fun sometimes.

    • Overcooled says:

      It’s even better when you’re actually in it. Exploring is literally my favourite part of the game – even more than fighting. It makes me want to actively seek out games that have worlds made for meandering in.

  8. Hawthorne says:

    I made note to come back and comment on your post once I actually got Xenoblade, and reading this post was a big contribution to me wanting to get it in the first place. So, thanks for that. XD

    From reading your post originally I expected some large environments to come my way, but I never thought they’d be so incredibly grand and beautiful, as you described. The first time I booted up the game I literally spent 7 hours on Bionis’ Leg alone, collecting items, completing side-quests, staring in awe at the huge level 89 beasts that roamed around carelessly waiting for a newbie like me to cross its path. And in the end I had only seen a measly little portion of what the game had to offer (and of what Bionis’ Leg had to offer). I was entirely captivated by the game at that point.

    I love the story you wrote based on your own experience by the way! One of my own favorite moments was stumbling across Daksha Shrine on Bionis’ Leg, curiously walking over to the edge of the cliff to see how dangerously high up I was, and then running in terror as an enormous high-leveled spider came barreling up the side to make me its next meal. There are so many stories to share just from playing, which reminds me a lot of Skyrim. (:

    My only gripe with the environments is Alcamoth City, which is frustratingly huge (but beautiful like the rest of the game of course). And since I’m one of those annoying completionist people I have to find EVERY quest, which meant running around the city for hours on end talking to every NPC (to fill my affinity chart) during both the day and night cycles TWICE (before and after Prison Island). I got over it though, because the game is too amazing to hold something that trivial against it. (Seriously though, I feel like this game is endless when it comes to side-quests. ><) I'm still in the Valak Mountains at the moment. I can't even count how many times I've died from falling off icy cliffs and getting mobbed by those flying manta ray-things. But ahhh it's so pretty. ´▽` Thanks for the awesome post OC! I hope you'll write more of these game editorials in the future! They're much more fun to read then conventional reviews. ^^

    • Overcooled says:

      So far I’ve gotten two people to get this game now, and it seems like a hit. I’m so happy that my post inspired people to go out and actually spend money on something. I’m even more happy that you like it! Flattered, even…!! (✿◡‿◡)

      It’s impossible to explain how striking and vast the environments are in Xenoblade with words. Just walking around is an adventure, and that magical feeling starts right away. Usually the first few levels are dull, but Xenoblade wastes no time throwing you into a beautiful place. It’s easy to just get lost doing side-quests, believe me, and this game has tons of them XD

      Thanks, Hawthorne! As I progressed further, more amazing things kept happening to me. All unscripted, chance moments. Everyone has their own little stories too, it’s great. I actually never found Daksha’s shrine until later, but the spider still freaked me out o_o I really need to get around to playing more of Skyrim. I have a character just waiting for me to use but I never feel like booting up the game…

      Alcamoth City is pretty lame, I will agree. There is like an entire ring you have to walk around to see all the NPCs, and you can’t see quests until you’re close enough =___= I walked around once then gave up with that area lol. You’re a trooper for going around so much!! There’s only so many side quests I can do… Eryth Sea is also a bit painful when you have to swim to those little islands. Swimming takes…forever….

      Valak Mountain is super pretty. When I first arrived it was night and I thought I was in a desert, so the cutscene about it being cold made me very confused XD Then the sun rose and I freaked out. There’s a lot of ways to die accidentally, but it’s very pretty, haha. the music is also wonderful. The OST to this game? AMAZING.

      Thank you so much, Hawthorne! I prefer this writing style more and I’m glad other people do too. I’m going to keep using it for all the games I feel like talking about in the future.

  9. […] in Xenoblade Chronicles X, the soul sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles (which I also loved exploring, as you can see from my last post about it!).  The world of Xenoblade Chronicles X is lush and full of nooks and crannies to explore. Much […]

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