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Xenoblade Chronicles - Why Must JRPGs Have Such Dumb Writing?
Xenoblade Chronicles, as you may or may not know, is something of a cult-hit JRPG. It was brought to the US largely by request of a dedicated fan base, and made a bit of noise by way of the same set of people. It's something of an unlikely hero, being as it is a JRPG on the Wii, not exactly a system known for games that require a hundred hours and lots of number crunching to beat.

It's unlikely in other ways, as well. The game actually has some stunningly good graphics, and a remarkable draw distance that is used to render some huge, sweeping vistas. There were more than a few times when I just stopped running through the world, looked around, and took it all in. It reminds me of playing World of Warcraft for the first time, and marveling at being able to see Ironforge from the other side of the valley. It helps, too, that the world design is pretty phenomenal. The environments that you roll through are unique, imaginative, and spectacular. Honestly, when you see things up close, you realize that it's relatively low poly-count stuff, but they have somehow managed to take the limitations of the Wii into account and put out a remarkable looking game.

The World of Warcraft comparison holds for more than just stunning vistas, too: the game is, well... it's WoW. Take WoW, alter the setting slightly, change a few game mechanics, and add a central JRPG plot, and you have Xenoblade. There are quests, there are exclamation points above heads, there are factions, there are backstab moves that must be executed from behind, there are cooldown timers on abilities, there are effectively three roles (healer, tank, DPS), there are gather quests, there are any number of things that draw a straight line from WoW to Xenoblade. Whether or not that's a good thing is entirely up to you, I imagine. I have long since grown sick of WoW, but I did find plenty of fun in Xenoblade Chronicles.

For awhile, anyway. The game is incredibly long, even if you don't do all the side quests, and stupid long if you do. I grew tired of it and switched to a new game long before finishing it. There are also too many damn subsystems and too much damn loot. I was getting tutorials about thirty hours into the game. I cannot keep track of or remember all the things I can and should do in certain situations. A lot of the time I just sort of power through combat with brute force rather than by using the delicate finesse that the game wants me to, because I can't remember the mechanics of that finesse. And by the time I quit playing, it would literally take me about two hours at a time to sort through and use all of the crap that I got from enemies. It had long since ceased being fun, but the enemies were hard enough that I felt I had to do it.

The game is good, though. It's fun. The voice acting is good, the controls are smooth, the graphics are amazing, and the plot is even actually kind of dark at points.

But that's not what I'm here to post about.

Why, oh why, do Japanese RPGs have to have such stupid, horrible, melodramatic, inconsistent, ridiculous dialog? Why? Why am I left fast forwarding through crucial plot sequences, face firmly in palm, shaking my head and trying my best not to hear what's being said?

Does this shit go over well in Japan? Is something lost in translation? Is there a cultural difference? Is the writing just that bad?

Let me explain. To do so, however, I will basically have to ruin the entire game's plot. Almost. Basically. Read no further if you really care about being surprised by it. Not that it's that surprising.

In the prelude to the game, Asshole leaves one of the main characters to die for petty reasons. Said character, Dunban, does not die, but he was still betrayed. Early on in the game, a huge vicious robot, Face, comes to your hometown, kills half the population, and messily murders Shulk's childhood friend and would-be-wife (even though neither of you are willing to admit that, in classic JRPG / anime tradition). You decide to go on a journey to get revenge, i.e. wipe the fucking robots out of existence. Let's make sure we're clear on that. Wipe them out. And, just to clarify, some, if not all, of these robots appear to be sentient.

Many hours and cutscenes on down the line, you beat the hell out of Face, and it is revealed that Asshole piloted Face. He not only betrayed Dunban and left him to die, he killed countless people and murdered your dream girl. He is the entire impetus for your quest. You know, the one where you decided to destroy all robots.

Let's reiterate:

A robot and his friends kill a whole bunch of your fellow humans, including your lady. You decide to go on a quest to wipe all robots out of existence. You are going to kill all robots because they killed your people. You. Shulk. You're going to kill them all.

When it is revealed that Asshole piloted Face, Dunban goes to kill him. He does your stereotypical raising of the sword, Asshole cowers, and then, of course, Shulk comes in stops him, blocking Dunban's blade with his own. Shulk then gives a heartfelt speech, asking Dunban if he's truly ready to take a life, to kill someone, in his quest for revenge. If he really should kill another human in his anger and rage. The answer, of course, is no. No, he shouldn't.

It is precisely at this point that my face entered my palm.

Let's put this fucking ridiculous bit of plot bullshit into perspective.

Shulk, in his anger and rage, decided to commit fucking genocide and wipe all robots from existence in revenge for their murder of his lady. He is in particular after the life of Face. When Dunban goes to kill Asshole (who is Face) in revenge for killing his sister, Shulk prevents him, questioning his revenge motivation, his anger, and his desire to kill the same guy that Shulk wanted dead so badly.

Asshole's life is spared, of course, but he dies anyway, of course, and then, best of all, Shulk and friends resume their fucking quest to commit genocide.

Seriously? Seriously? What in the fucking goddamn hell.

I cannot remember another chunk of writing so blatantly inconsistent, bad, and fucking insultingly stupid.

1 Comment
I understand where you're coming from with dialog in most jrpgs, especially recently, but I think you used a bad example to make your point with this game. You're missing the fact that when Shulk decided to go on his revenge quest, he had no idea the Mechon where being piloted by humans. He thought they were just evil machines. It is revealed before the scene you're referring to that "asshole" was piloting face, AND that Fiora was also a Mechon. This revelation is what changed Shulk's feelings about the Mechon. There were human beings inside of them. They weren't just evil machines. This is a character development moment, where he has to confront a moral issue. I don't want to kill them if there are human beings inside, because it is wrong to kill humans, but is it really any different to kill sentient machines? Do they feel the same kinds of things humans do? Would I also be killing loved ones and destroying lives? I think this game is pretty well written, much better than most other jrpgs of this generation. It's not perfect, but it certainly isn't a poorly written game.

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