Friday, August 16, 2013

A letter of appreciation regarding Xenoblade Chronicles (Monolith Soft, 2012)

Dear friend who lent me Xenoblade Chronicles (Monolith Soft, 2012) for the Wii:

I have borrowed a lot of things from a lot of people, and... a confession... I've failed to give a lot of them back. (Dom, if you're reading this, I still have Skyward Sword, and it's totally safe, for whenever you want to play it again). Usually, it's because they didn't seem to care that much about them, but sometimes, it's not even that. Like, here's the exception that demonstrates the point:

I once borrowed my friend's copy of The Women's Room, by Marilyn French. It was her favorite book, and her copy was a special limited-run London edition, and she really wanted me to read it, so she gave it to me, exhorting me to take good care of it. I read about 3/4ths of the way through, and then left it on the Chinatown bus. I wanted to buy her another copy, but that edition was nowhere to be found, so I apologized profusely, and she eventually forgave me. It was one of my more shameful moments.

I kind of promised myself at the time that I would be more considerate of the feelings of those I borrowed things from, but still... I've been in the habit of absently holding onto things until somebody asks for them back. Being a Homer Simpson to everybody else's Ned Flanders is nothing to be proud of, and I try to do better when I can. Your case is an example.

You made it clear to me that you actually care about your games... you see yourself as a bit of a collector, and you avoid lending them out whenever possible. Nonetheless, I really wanted to try Xenoblade Chronicles. My wife and I bond over JRPG's, and we'd heard great things about this one, and it was upwards of $150 to buy it, so it was really a lovely thing when you agreed to lend it to me. That's why I wanted to fulfill my end of the bargain, and take care of that disc, and hold myself to getting it back to you, without forcing me to bug you about it.

So I did all that. The day after we finished it, I put it in its case and gave it back to you, like a regular normal decent human being.

And what irony, then, what karmic poetry, that this one time that I've really made an effort to be responsible about a media artifact, it's the one time that parting with that artifact has really hurt. Because this experience you gave me was brilliant, it was luminous, it was life-changing. My wife and I logged 185 hours in Xenoblade, and we would have kept playing indefinitely (thank God it wasn't procedurally generated, like Nethack!). There were seven playable characters, and I fell in love with all of them, including the cutesy comic-relief (Riki's dignity was preserved by the fact that he was a father and a sensitive family man, remixed as a chibby tribal fluff-ball). When you ask me to name my favorite character, I just list them all, debating with myself, until you get tired of waiting for me and go get a sandwich.

It was the same deal with the landscapes. Was my favorite location the great temple in Sartorl marsh? The glowing shards of Valyk Mountain at night, with its sparse piano background music? Was it the wild, unexplored prairie around Colony 9 and Colony 6? The Makna Waterfall, with its rainbow cascading down with the water? Every location had something that I remember now as sublime, almost mystical.

As I recount these bits and pieces of this epic game, I remember them fondly, with a nostalgia that seems inappropriate considering I experienced them all less than a few months ago. The nostalgia is most salient when I think back to that first moment with Shulk and Reyn, the two intrepid main characters, as they make the decision to leave their home colony and wander the Bionis in search of the monster that attacked their families and friends. This is the moment when the vast game-world opens up, and you feel a rush of freedom and release that's so poignant, it goes beyond anticipation and echoes with a pang of melancholy. It recalls, in a certain way, the departure from Midgar in Final Fantasy VII, but I think Xenoblade nails it even more perfectly, because of how warm and familiar Colony 9 has already come to feel by that time.

Look, all I'm saying is that it was a great game. One of the greatest, I'd say... tied with Final Fantasy VI for my favorite JRPG ever. I know this sounds like a guilt trip for letting me give it back to you, but I want to invert that reading: what you're actually getting here is a massive thank-you, a final, 800-word appreciation for letting us play this breathtaking game. It's a bit of poetry, I think, that we got this experience on loan from a work-friend, and now, that work-friend will have a little part of my soul, stacked in among his Wii games. So please take good care of that.

Thanks again,