In Glick on Gaming, Dan Glickman leaves baseball (mostly) behind to talk video gaming. This time: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for the Nintendo Switch.
The Xenoblade Chronicles by Monolith Soft series that can be found on Nintendo consoles is an odd one, one of the most unique of Nintendo’s stable. Given that this is a company that has a mushroom-eating plumber as its mascot, that may be saying something. However, it is odd even compared to other Nintendo series. Here are a few reasons why:
IT IS BRITISH
Well, not really. It, like most games published by Nintendo, was created in Japan. It’s done in an anime style that is full of big-eyed people, scantily-clad women, and wild hair. In fact, an argument could be made that it is one of Nintendo’s most Japanese series. Its genre is even JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game). However, the vast majority of Nintendo games when they are localized (translated) into English are done by Nintendo’s American branch. The voice actors that redub any Japanese dialogue are almost always American, the spellings used are the American spellings, and so is the slang.
In Xenoblade, that isn’t the case. A quirk of history meant that Nintendo’s branch in the UK did it. It all stems from Nintendo of America’s initial refusal to bring the original game to the USA until a fan campaign convinced them to do otherwise. Since Nintendo’s UK branch had already localized the game, Nintendo of America simply decided to use their work.
As a result, almost all of the characters in the Xenoblade games speak in British accents, generally by actual British people. This leads to some glorious subversions of what you’d expect, giving the series a unique character that isn’t really found anywhere else in Nintendo’s repertoire. For example, take this character from Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Nia:
Now, looking at her, you’ll notice a few things. The most notable is that she is a cute cat-person with big fuzzy ears. You’d think that this character would have some sort of cutesy kiddy voice.
You would be wrong. Nia is an angry and often sarcastic catwoman with a Welsh accent:
This leads to the next thing that makes Xenoblade a unique series at Nintendo…
THE NOPON AREN’T WHAT THEY SEEM
Nintendo games are often quite straight-forward. Really, the number of Nintendo series that truly have stories that go beyond the standard “good versus evil” can probably fit on one hand. It ultimately goes to the Nintendo philosophy that puts the gameplay before anything else. Monolith Soft, the production house behind Xenoblade, is not as beholden to this, as they actually had been independent until being bought out by Nintendo. As a result, no Nintendo series has more twists and turns. And few Nintendo series have a more surprising setting filled with interesting races of beings.
Take, for example, the Nopon. The Nopon are small egg-shaped balls of fur with prehensile ears. Here is Riki from Xenoblade Chronicles 1, for example:
And just in case that doesn’t truly show Riki’s essence, here’s the official art for him:
You look at him and you doubtless think: this is clearly the kid-friendly cutesy character only there to serve as comic relief. And in that, you are right. Except here’s the thing:
Riki there? He’s a man, he’s 40! He’s got 11 kids! He’s deeply in debt to basically everyone in his village! In fact, he’s so in debt that he’s basically forced to go on a suicide mission and join the heroes!
Not what you were expecting, huh? Well, the thing is that the entire Nopon race is like that. In a medium that often paints other sci-fi or fantasy species with a broad brush, the Nopon have layers. The Nopon character in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a borderline-perverted engineer who clearly has a crush on his robot creation, The Nopon characters in the Xenoblade Chronicles 1 pseudo-sequel Future Connected are a brother and sister where the sister is the big physical basher (usually a role reserved for a giant muscular man, not a cute pink bunny-ball) and the brother is the healer (usually the role reserved for a woman in games such as these). Still others in that same game are a group of explorers with various different personalities, wants, needs, and quirks.
Other Nopon you meet during the series have as varied of personalities as the humans as well. Many of them are back-stabbing businessmen every bit as cruel and cunning as the worst people you know, and they will use their cuteness to their advantage in doing so. Other Nopon are as varied as humans. There are loving mothers, deadbeat fathers, salesmen, thieves, orphans, scientists, and every other type of thing. This may seem obvious to those not familiar with Nintendo’s games, but this wide variety is rare. In the Zelda series, for example, the non-human species are often pigeonholed into specific roles. The Gorons are almost always miners and explosive experts, for example. Not so for the Nopon.
I don’t mean it in the “there are scantily-clad cartoon women in this” (although there are) sense. Nor do I mean it in the violence sense (although there is violence). No, it is adult in theme. It covers, either directly or indirectly, some of the following topics:
- The existence or non-existence of a higher power, and what value that being does or does not bring.
- Whether we are in charge of our fates or destined to go on a predetermined course.
- Racism, discrimination, and the difficulties of overcoming hatred.
- War and the scars left by it.
- The question of whether the nature of mankind means it will repeat its mistakes forever.
- The need to overcome nihilism.
- Generational trauma.
- The relationship between man and nature.
- The burden of responsibility.
- Whether memory is a blessing or a curse.
This isn’t to say there aren’t other video games that deal with topics like this. There are. But in Nintendo’s stable, Xenoblade is one of the few that do, and perhaps the only one that does so many.
And now, it is only a month until the third official game of the series (a side-game was released for the Wii U) comes out. The third installment of Nintendo’s most unique series.