I’ve recently found myself at odds with the Auto-Attack function in Xenoblade Chronicles. For all the amazing facets of the game – visuals, aesthetic, music, freedom of exploration, etc. – I have found battling to be confusing to the point of being unnecessarily difficult.
Why? Because Xenoblade uses an auto-attack function that is central to the game’s combat. I’m about 5 hours and 2 dungeons in, and I can’t seem to get a grasp on how the auto-attack works and what to do in combat. Do I just let Shulk stand there, going through an attack animation every 3-4 seconds and helplessly taking hits in return? All the special attacks have a cooling period – which is understandable – but I am forced to spend 70% of combat standing still, or moving Shulk around in a circle as he swipes at enemies in front of him. A good portion of the time (~30%), the special arts are actually locked away by enemies, meaning that I’m stuck with the auto-attack, where I feel useless.
There’s a serious disconnect between the player and the character here. While I consciously know that I’m controlling Shulk, I don’t feel like I am. The player is a puppeteer with half the handles, struggling in vain to make sure his/her marionette on-screen does his/her biddings. This problem seems to be improving as the game goes along, mostly because of new combat options as opposed to a fix of the auto-attack itself, but again, I’m five hours in already. Imagine if you had no control over the scope while you were playing an FPS. The idea is crazy, right? Yet that’s the equivalent of what’s occurring.
Moreover, Xenoblade is frustrating in this aspect because I *know* that it doesn’t have to be this way. The Last Story had an auto-attack as the default control system, and I kept it throughout the game. In TLS, I knew that I was genuinely controlling Zael, the protagonist, and combat felt that way as well. The combat worked, and I felt like the mastermind behind everything, including Zael’s use of the auto-attack. Both Xenoblade and The Last Story function the same way: run up to an enemy, and you’ll instinctively launch blows. Yet their executions differ significantly.
In The Last Story, the camera is much closer to Zael. You have a close-up of him, and you see him constantly attacking enemies, with one hit automatically chaining into another. There is no waiting period for the auto-attack. If you don’t guard or change the control scheme, Zael is a flurry of sword-swipes. The rumble feature of the Wiimote is also crucial: There is a vibration feedback for the attacks, confirming that you actually landed the hit. The sound design reinforces your recognition of the hit. Each attack makes a particular sound upon impact, letting you know if your attack was blocked or not.
Contrast this to Xenoblade. The auto-attack feature works every 3-4 seconds or so, there is little to no feedback via sound or rumble, and the only way of knowing that an attack connected is to see the damage number float up from the enemy. Considering that the world of Xenoblade is massive, and enemies obscure each other on screen, that’s difficult to do. For a couple solid hours, I was convinced that Shulk wasn’t attacking because I had no player feedback to confirm it.
In fact, during a boss battle in Tephra Cave, I saw for my own eyes that Shulk wasn’t attacking anything. For a span of 20 seconds, I kept rushing Shulk towards a crowd of spiders, and he didn’t lift a finger. It wasn’t until I sent him towards the boss monster, who (I presume) was spawning the smaller spiders, that he finally swung the Monado. This happened in several other battles, where Shulk would refuse to auto-attack anything but the biggest baddie in the room.
Shouldn’t it be the player’s choice who to attack?
I’m so far loving Xenoblade, and I’m gradually getting the hang of combat (especially since level 10 monsters don’t instantly kill me anymore), but this difference in execution between it and The Last Story had “teachable moment” stamped all over it. In bold, capitalized letters.
Random note: I’ve finished Psychonauts, so I’ll make a post about the cultural elements in it at some point. I’m also looking into a few texts on old religions and Greco-Roman philosophy, since I found a few major games that significantly borrow from it, and there doesn’t seem to be widespread recognition or understanding of that fact. But first, I must actually get a big picture of the religious doctrine and tenets.