We take Nintendos epic sized RPG out for a spin and splash

September 1st. That’s the big day. The day you will finally get to hold the glorious Monado blade in your own two hands. Or, you know, control it from Shulk’s hands. September 1st. So close, yet so far away.

The Monado is of course the powerful energy blade featured in the game. It grants special abilities to whoever wields it, such as the ability to see visions of the future. In fact, the game was originally titled Monado: Beginning of the World, which emphasises its overall importance within your adventure. And what an adventure it is!

My own adventure started last week, when I was invited to meet with Product Representative Jamie Wilson at the headquarters of Nintendo Australia. Jamie has been playing Xenoblade Chronicles feverishly, as evidenced when he loaded his personal save game to show me the massive scale of everything in this game. He had already put in about 70 hours of his own time into the game, and wasn’t even close to completing the story mode or the multitude of side quests that Xenoblade allows. Jamie loaded his own saved game, and proceeded to show me some of the areas you play through in the game. You’ll fight your way through forests, swim through oceans and climb to the very top of towers – and all in real time, as Jamie stressed. You want to get to that towering point you can see in the distance? Go on then, climb those stairs for ten minutes. Everything you can see, you can interact with. There are no invisible barriers to stop you falling to your death, and maybe if you position yourself just right, you’ll be able to dive into that crystal clear ocean that looks like a mere puddle from the height you’re at.

Xenoblade Chronicles looks even better in person than what you’ve seen from all those stunning online videos. I guess years of tinkering with the development of Wii games has given Monolith Soft the upper hand, and they’ve squeezed everything out of Nintendo’s best-selling home console of all time. The graphics were the first thing that wowed me, and that was quickly followed by amazement at the perfection of the music. Jamie told me to jump on YouTube and search for “Xenoblade music” and I suggest you do the same. This isn’t just video game music; this is music you can play all day, every day. And it’s definitely music that adds to the massive scale I mentioned earlier. Everything about the game is huge.

I could write about this game all day and barely scratch the surface. The battle system is deep and intuitive. The voice-acting is superb (both Japanese and English). The environments are lush and varied. Special abilities are exciting. Weapons, armour and characters are entirely customisable. But you knew all that already, didn’t you?

I thought that all the above is what I would be writing about, having only expected to watch Jamie playing through various parts of the game. But then the unthinkable happened – Jamie restarted the game, handed me the controller, and left me alone to experience the opening cinematic and get some hands-on time with the title. He also pretty much threatened to take my life if I saved over his game.

Wow. There I sat, classic controller in hand (the preferred option for controlling Shulk and the gang, it seems), ready to experience what will surely go down in history as one of the best Wii games ever.

The game begins in the midst of a battle between two giant Gods, Bionis and Mechonis, who fall to their deaths and thus become the sprawling world where the entirety of Xenoblade Chronicles takes place. Flashing forward to some centuries later, the next part of the opening cinematic shows an intense battle between man and machine, and introduces us to the Monado and some of the other starring characters. And it’s here, in the thick of battle, that you will get your first chance to experience the brilliant control system of Xenoblade Chronicles.

Unlike many other video games, you won’t necessarily need to bash the attack the button to strike at your enemies with the Monado. Your chosen character will automatically swing the blade, which frees you up to tactically launch special attacks and abilities (click the D-Pad to seamlessly perform these moves). It’s a wonderful addition, and one that is definitely necessary, as the battles are fast and ferocious. They aren’t turn-based; they are instead in real time and require all your concentration. Some abilities will require some recharging time, which helps balance the battles and forces you to think outside the box with each new enemy you face. Your allies will execute attacks automatically, but there are also some commands that you can use during battle to control what they do.

After this introduction to the battle system and controls, and some further story elements told through video, we skip forward to a year later, where our hero Shulk is surveying some of the remnants of that battle. It appears that some enemies lurk close by, so it is here where you will first get to play as the blonde-haired hero of the game. You’ll be given control tips before each battle, and while there is a lot to take in, everything is paced perfectly and will have you feeling like you’ve mastered the controls within minutes. After Shulk has taken care of the first few enemies, you’ll run through the luscious grassy landscape to Colony 9, his home town, where the locals will be waiting to talk to and guide him. And it is here, I’m afraid, that I had to give up the controller and end my hands-on time with the game.

And that was that. I was hooked. I’ve had the game on my mind since I first watched Jamie slicing through some of the difficult enemies from later in the game. I’ll admit, I was pretty shocked at how easily he seemed to take care of them – it all looks so frenzied when you’ve never played it yourself. But after some time with the game, I can safely say that the control system is damn near perfect, and by the time you get to some of these harder enemies, you will be a master of the Monado yourself.

You can also play with Wiimote and Nunchuk if you prefer, but the inclusion of a red classic controller with the European release of the game probably means that this is the way that developer Monolith Soft wants you to experience the game. And you should definitely experience it, as it is definitely going to be one of the games of the year, and one of the best titles for the Wii, period.

Thanks to Nintendo Australia for letting us loose in their HQ for the hands on, we’ll replace everything we swear.