1. It has a day/night cycle
Lots of games have day/night cycles, but, then again, many don't. In Xenoblade, not only are different items, monsters, and quests available at different times of the day, but you also get to see all the awesome views of the game's vast world in different lighting. And there's different music for day and night as well.
2. You can change the in-game time
But having in-game days and nights can be a pain if you have to wait around for morning before you can do a particular quest, right? Well it's a good thing that you can change the time of day from the menu then.
Along with the time of day changing, the weather will also change. Sometimes there are thunderstorms, just like in real life! The weather isn't just for show either; certain monsters only appear when there's a storm. You can't change the weather from the menu though, so if it's storming, you should probably haul butt to that place you needed to go for that one side quest.
4. Exploration is encouraged and rewarded
This game is huge and wide open. For once, it doesn't feel like the world is just a bunch of towns connected by artificially walled paths. You don't have to go everywhere, but if you do, you'll find landmarks, items, creatures, and interesting scenery. You get experience for discovering new landmarks and some also allow you to fast travel. Also, chances are that you'll be completing some quests along the way for even more rewards.
5. You can jump
Rarely will you need to jump, but it's nice that you can. Your movement options are not limited to a single plane, surface, or path.
6. Exploration isn't limited by invisible walls
There are few, if any, invisible walls arbitrarily stopping you from going places. If there's a cliff, you're free to jump off of it and see what's below (assuming you can survive the fall damage). If you can see it, chances are you can go there.
7. There is fast travel
As I've said, this game is vast, but thankfully you can easily jump between major landmarks that you've been to. There are just enough of these so that you can quickly get to where you want to go, but not so many that running on foot is completely made obsolete.
8. Battles happen on the field with visible enemies (not random encounters)
There's nothing particularly wrong with separate battle areas, but being able to see and engage in battle with enemies right on the field helps the game feel less like a game and more like an actual believable world. It's also nice to be able to pick and choose your battles in certain situations. You'll see huge high level enemies even near the beginning of the game. You're free to challenge them, but since they aren't random encounters, you're perfectly able to avoid them.
9. The battle system is deeper than it appears
I feared that Xenoblade had what I call a "click and wait" battle system akin to that in most MMOs in which you would mostly watch your character auto-attack enemies and wait for your special attacks to finish cooling down so you can use them again. While this game's battles do look like that at a glance, there is much more depth than meets the eye. Different attacks are more effective in different positions, drawing enemy aggro to or away from certain characters can help you get into advantageous positions, using certain moves in combination can inflict stronger status effects, you can get visions of the future and prepare accordingly, and small additions to the core battle system are added as you progress through the game.
10. Collecting crap is rewarded in the Collectopaedia
Apart from monster drops, there are also collectible items just laying around everywhere as little blue orbs. You can use them for quests or just hoard them all, but you could also use them to fill up your Collectopaedia, which generously gives out rewards for complete sets of collectibles.
11. Tons of quests, clearly marked with exclamation points
So. Many. Quests. Any NPC with an exclamation point has a quest for you, and while they do tend to just be "kill this monster" or "get this item", they don't feel like a grind because it's likely that you were going to end up killing that monster or getting that item anyway. It's also a good excuse to explore more. Instead of only getting the experience and item drops from killing things, you get the rewards of the quest as well, usually without even needing to return to the NPC.
12. Time sensitive quests are marked as such
But don't you hate when you miss out on cool sidequests because they were only available during a certain part in the story? Well, fear no longer, because in Xenoblade, time sensitive quests are clearly marked in your menu.
13. Items you'll need for future quests are marked
Since the main character has a magic future-seeing sword, you can also see which items you'll need for future quests that you haven't even accepted yet. You'll get a short vision when you pick up one such item and they'll also be marked in your inventory.
14. Many NPCs have names and relationships
The world isn't just populated by nameless identical people who tell you the same thing over and over. Many of the NPCs have names and they will talk about other named NPCs as well. As you talk to them, they appear on a relationship chart and you can see how they all relate to each other.
15. You can trade with named NPCs
The named NPCs aren't just for talking to either. You can also offer them trades for whatever they might have.
16. The story isn't super cliché
I can't speak for the entire game, but so far, the story isn't the typical JRPG tale. I mean, the world is on two colossal dead or sleeping giant god things, for Bionis' sake. That's crazy. Furthermore, the translation sounds like natural English and doesn't reek of literal Japanese translation like many JRPG translations do.
17. The voice acting doesn't suck
Maybe it's just because European accents in video games are a change from what I'm used to, but it definitely seems like the English voice acting is a cut above most games.
18. There's an option for Japanese voice acting
But if you don't like the English voice acting for some reason or prefer Japanese, there's the option. Every game should have this option.
Don't you hate when every cutscene uses the same few animations and all the action happens offscreen in a Star Trek: TOS style flash of light? Well Xenoblade's dialogue may be accompanied by the same few animations, but the game doesn't skimp on action packed cutscenes with characters jumping around and doing cool stuff. Also, you're actually free to enjoy them because they aren't interrupted by Quick Time Events.
20. It overcomes technical limitations of the Wii with strong art direction
The Wii isn't the most powerful console on the market. As such, Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't have HD graphics or super detailed models and textures. But it seems that the developers were aware that the textures would look muddy up close and made up for it by putting the focus on the horizon. With a world as big as Xenoblade's much of the beauty is taken from its sprawling landscapes, huge structures, and far reaching views. It's also bursting with color. Simply seeing the sights is incentive enough to explore and keep playing.
21. It has great music
Art is subjective, so listen for yourself.
22. You can save anywhere
If you're not in a battle, you can save. Why is this not more common?
|You can even save in a dead god's lung fluid? This game's an insta-buy!|
I hate when RPGs make you reload your last save when you die. Xenoblade doesn't do that, so not only do you not have to worry about saving every time you do something, but you also don't have to worry about dying as much. You don't really lose anything if you die; you just go back to the last major landmark you visited. Or, if it's a boss battle, you go right outside the clearly marked boss area, which, by the way, does not make you rewatch the cutscene on every attempt. I love that so much that it could probably have been Thing #24.
Bonus afterthoughts: Different equipment actually looks different when you have it equipped. It's freaking long.
That's 23+ things and I'm not even close to finishing the game. I know Xenoblade is fairly hard to come by, at least in the US, and that you have to go through GameStop to get it, but if you like RPGs at all, you really need to play this game.
So you like games with a good story? Have you played Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward yet? Prepare to have your mind blown.