On Mira, no one can hear you scream
Developer Monolith Soft’s Wii role-playing epic, Xenoblade Chronicles, was one of the finest RPGs to release in many years. The game’s masterful blend of heartfelt storytelling and wide-open sense of discovery as you explore the hulking remnants of the dual giants, Mechonis and Bionis, is a frequent topic of discussion a round the Hey Poor Player water cooler. Having said that, it goes without saying that the recent release of the game’s successor, Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U, was one of the our anticipated games to come down the pipe in 2015. Unfortunately, upon firing up the game we can’t help but feel a little burned with the final result, largely due to the studios’ decision to incorporate the dreaded “Silent Protagonist” as the game’s starring character.
Ah, the Silent Protagonist: a relic that many thought fizzled out over the past decade or so, rears its ugly head in Xenoblade Chronicles X. After crafting your mute avatar from a character creator that feels about as robust as Phantasy Star Online‘s, you’re thrown forcefully into the sprawling alien world of Mira, a vast playground comprised of 400 square kilometers of terra firma to chart, consisting of five unique continents to explore on your journey. However, it’s hard to care about the game’s massive virtual playground when your tongue-tied protagonist responds to even the most dramatic situation with a simple nod or shake of the head. This problem is only exacerbated by the rest of the party’s solid voice acting, which only underscore’s your hero’s pseudo-vegetative disposition.
Honestly, as someone who has played role playing-games rather ravenously over the past two decades, I could overlook this issue if it weren’t for the fact the game’s predecessor got the whole main character thing down so well. Shulk was an instantly likeable character, and his intense exchanges with (spoiler warning) father figure turned-superhuman heel Dickson were some of the most memorable moments to unfold in the past several console generations. Even outside of the main story, Shulk’s banter with Reyn and the rest of his companions went a long way towards helping the player forge a sense of companionship with the team, which is all but impossible with Xenoblade Chronicles X’s silent cipher.
Sure, you could argue that Elma is the star of the show, and Cross, your voiceless wanderer is simply there for the ride, but if that’s the case why does he make all of the decisions for the squad? Simply put, it’s not much fun being the peripheral protagonist, and even if you switch characters and control Elma or another member of the squad, the strange disconnect whenever Cross takes center stage in Xenoblade Chronicles X is pretty hard to overlook.
Considering the game’s online mission mode, which was introduced in the middle of Xenoblade Chronicles X‘s development cycle, it’s understandable why Monolith Soft took the steps to shoehorn Cross into the game’s narrative to make things work, but you have to wonder if other steps could have been taken to make his implementation feel less lazy. Having your online-mode avatar level-up in a relative way to a separate, more fleshed-out main character would have been a good way of doing this, allowing you to build up your online avatar while still experiencing the story as a meaningful central character.
Despite the studios’ decision to cast a Level 8 Silence spell on Xenoblade Chronicles X’s hero, there’s still plenty to love about the game. The world of Mira is simply gargantuan, and who doesn’t love suiting up in a Skell and beating the snot out of the various hostile flora and fauna that roam the planet’s never-ending landscape? It’s just a shame the game tries so hard to derail the experience by tossing a mannequin into the helm of a world so full of life and wonder.
So, what are your thoughts on Xenoblade Chronicles X’s silent protagonist? Has Monolith’s decision to handle the story this way impacted your enjoyment of the game? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.