Golden Visions: On Xenoblade and Nostalgia

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

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I want to call attention to moments we’ve all faced as people who genuinely enjoy video games. What I have in mind goes far beyond games to encompass all forms of entertainment, but as some of us begin to put the finishing touches on Xenoblade Chronicles, moments like this become clear.

Whenever a video game, film, book, or even a piece of music profoundly impacts someone, something special happens. The synapses in that person’s brain explode with the realization that they have just witnessed a new paradigm in their preferred form of entertainment. You know something is powerful when your initial reaction to its end is just to walk away, taking however long you need just to let it all sink in.

Everyone here has experienced something like this, no doubt. But after pouring my heart into over eighty hours of exploring the world of Xenoblade Chronicles and finally seeing its rich story draw to a close, I realized something…

It’s been a really long time since I last felt like this.

I’ve been mesmerized by the experience that video games provide since I was so young that I could barely hold my NES controller. I grew as technology evolved, and I’ve played through titles most consider to be “the greatest games of all time”. As I put down my Classic Controller Pro and slowly walked away from Xenoblade, I couldn’t help but hear the echoes from the past…a comfortable, familiar wave like the one that enveloped me the first time I beat Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, or Phantasy Star.

I’ve waited so long for a game to genuinely impact me. I’ve indulged in some of the greatest games on Wii over the six years that I didn’t own any other gaming console. And since I bought a PS3 last winter, I’ve been quick to catch up on all the wonderful Triple A titles I’ve missed. In spite of all of this though, while many of these games impress me, it’s very hard for me to place Super Mario Galaxy 2 as highly as Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros 3, for example. I think many developers are desperately trying to capture the same lightning in a bottle as they did when they created some of the games that define the medium. Aonuma has said over and over again that he’s been trying for over a decade to surpass The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, after all. Tetsuya Nomura has said in a recent Famitsu interview that rather than remake Final Fantasy VII, he is more concerned with creating a game that can manage to surpass it.

There are titles bound to each of us, games from generations past that we consider to epitomize the pinnacle of their respective genres. Has “the greatest Final Fantasy game” from the SNES or PSX era truly aged well when compared to something of the visual scope that Mass Effect 3 has?  Or is the more appropriate question to ask—will a polished RPG experience from this console generation truly persevere against the golden visions of games from our past?

Xenoblade Chronicles dares to answer that question with “yes”. Despite its graphical shortcomings when compared to games of a similar vein that remain exclusive to the Xbox 360 or PS3, reviewers and the gamers they influence still consider Xenoblade to be “the greatest JRPG of this console generation”.

I want to know your definition of great. I want to see the golden visions from your past, and hear what titles you believe come anywhere close to competing with the memories of youth.

Has creating a great game truly fell to the wayside in a developer’s personal folly to surpass his greatest creation from the past?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

  • DunbansBiggestFanForever

    Xenoblade And Skyward Sword had the same effect on me.

  • The first game to ever have this effect on me was Okami. I’ve played few games like that since, but I’ve found that the two OpRa games I’ve played (Xenoblade and The Last Story) had this effect on me, TLS more so than Xenoblade.

    I think developers are still making good games. But I don’t think I’ve played enough to really judge. 

  • To be honest, Xenoblade isn’t really the “greatest JRPG of this console generation” to me. I feel like it’s “big for the sake of being big,” and wandering for hours across huge landscapes just annoys me, especially since I’m a completionist, so crossing the same, overly large area over and over again looking for an item or a unique monster that I may or may not have killed already is very annoying.

    Also, it’s way too hard to find people NPC’s since the game doesn’t give you a good idea of where they are.

    Basically, I like the game, but tons of generic fetch quests, plus huge environments makes it somewhat tedious for me.

    *Raises flame shield*

    That aside, Final Fantasy IV will always be special, since it was one of my first JRPGs (I played it on GBA). KotOR was another great game. I loved making new characters, and playing through the game differently each time.

    • Ryan Tyner

      People like different things, it’s being human. That said, I 100% the game and I found it quite enjoyable. However, you wouldn’t want to attempt it without a guide like the Xenoblade Google Doc. Trust me, use the Google doc and you’ll enjoy the experience a whole lot better. This game requires it for completionists.

    •  I don’t think you’ll have to use that flame shield much, Devin. Xenoblade certainly isn’t the ideal game for everyone.

      If you haven’t played Final Fantasy VI yet, though, I recommend it. Four was my longtime favorite until I finally got the chance to see six.

      The conversation that tends to bring up the most disagreements with fans when it comes to nostalgia vs. quality seems to be whether the 16bit Final Fantasy games surpass the PSX ones (VII in particular, of course).

    • I have played VI (Bought it on VC for the campaign), and it was great, though I tended to get wrapped up in it, and forget to save, so I’d lose hours and hours of progress.

      Discouraged me so much. I’ll probably go back to it at some point.

  • Maybe it’s the nostalgia rose-colored glasses talking, but I too believe the SNES/PS1 era was the height of the JRPG. This console generation the 2 standouts that I’ve played so far that remind me of the “golden era” are Lost Odyssey and Xenoblade, and I’m hoping The Last Story will do the same.

    • Peter Triezenberg

      I’m really hoping we’ll see more JRPGs like that in the near future.

  • Kyle Bue

    You know what the really weird thing is for me? I only ever played one other JRPG in my life before Xenoblade. That was the Golden Sun series on the Gameboy Advance (LOVE those games to death, btw). However, Xenoblade STILL managed to have that effect on me. And it hit very hard too! It’s easily become one of my favorite games of all time right up there with Metroid Prime, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Banjo-Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64 (as you could probably tell, I grew up in the N64 era lol). I can’t pinpoint why, but this game grabbed me, clenched hard, and wouldn’t let go. I really never felt this way about a game since the Gamecube era with Metroid Prime. This generation of games never had the same effect on me at all. Some came close, like Skyward Sword came REALLY close to hitting me hard. But Xenoblade has finally done it for me. Just a fantastic experience that I was glad I invested in. I will remember it for the rest of my life.

    • If the two Golden Sun games were your entry into the world of RPGs, I’d say you started on a wonderful note. Those two games are fantastic; they offer plenty of things that both pay homage to the SNES-RPG era and evolve it appropriately.

      If you haven’t played any of the Final Fantasy games released before VII, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger / Chrono Cross, Super Mario RPG (not to mention the Paper Mario games and the three Mario & Luigi games released on GBA and DS, respectively), you would do well to give them all a try. With the exception of Chrono Cross (PSX/PSN exclusive), you can find all the aforementioned games on the Wii Virutal Console (or GBA / DS in the case of some of the earlier FFs).

      I’m almost jealous of gamers far younger than I. If you keep an open mind when it comes to the capabilities of graphics and sound, there is a golden world to explore in the games of the past.

      The RPG is truly a lost art. Xenoblade is one of a handful of exceptions I can think of (I also could throw Tales of Graces: f onto the list) of games released this console generation that truly attempt to recapture the art form of the genre.

  • I really love the game, first I was wary, because now I’m used to ps3 like graphics, but after a while I got used to it and started to see the beauty in this wonderful game.
    While it started pretty much like most jrpgs(naive teenage boy goes on adventure) it definitely outpassed it and became something completely else. Sometimes I just craft gems for hours because its so much fun.
    But even with gems like this one and TLS, I think there is a reason why they’re both on Wii, I think the advancing of graphics killed the epic RPGs, now everybody puts more importance in looks than in content.(isn’t it the same with people too)
    And imagine how long it would take to make such a big game in FF graphic style.

    But I’m still happy that we were able to play this absolute wonderful game AND understanding it XD

    Please excuse any spelling/grammar errors^^

  • Top 5 games of all time. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Final Fantasy IX, Kingdom Hearts, Legend of Zelda (NES), and Xenoblade Chronicles. 

  • Some recent RPGs that I loved: (both) Digital Devil Saga, Persona 3, (both) Baten Kaitos, Star Ocean Till The End of Time, Lost Odyssey, Arc Rise Fantasia, Xenoblade, The Last Story.