System Pitch: Xenoblade Chronicles — Fast Travel

Oliver Gallina
6 min readMay 9, 2021

Xenoblade Chronicles is my favorite game of all time. I love almost everything about it, its huge & intricate game world which hosts its epic story being one of my favorite aspects. Arguably the biggest part of the game’s enjoyment comes from the gripping narrative surrounding the main character Shulk and his friends. Most of the time Xenoblade’s story is fairly urgent in nature; in-universe-wise, it makes the most sense for the party to move from area to area in a relatively swift manner, rather than doing a whole lot of backtracking. Because of this, the player’s immersion in this narrative is arguably one of the most important sensations to be maintained, as far as the game design and writing is concerned.

Where the game stumbles somewhat in achieving this goal is its Skip Travel system (i.e. the game’s fast travel system). Each area of the game is populated with Landmarks, recognizable locations that, once discovered, can be “Skip Traveled” back to instantly by clicking on their icons in the map screen. You can Skip Travel at almost any point during gameplay, outside of a select few story sequences. This allows for situations where the player can, after starting the game in Colony 9 located on the titan Bionis’s leg, travel all the way up to Eryth Sea at the Bionis’ head after 15-20 or so hours of gameplay and story progression, and then Skip Travel all the way back to Colony 9 and proceed to ignore, for example, the urgent main story scenario of traveling to Prison Island to do battle with threats from the titan Mechonis, in order to complete side quests and craft new equipment Gems.

The Point

It is my opinion that scenarios like the one I mentioned above shouldn’t be possible in Xenoblade. The Skip Travel system, in its current form, degrades the game’s sense of story immersion by allowing the player to sharply deviate from the main scenario almost whenever they want. My new system pitch would allow the player to feel a much greater sense of connection to Shulk and his adventure, greatly reducing the disconnect between what Xenoblade’s story wants you to do, and what the game allows you to do.

New System Pitch

For my new system pitch, the first part of it involves modifying the current form of the Skip Travel system. I would make the following changes to it:

  • Skip Travel would only be useable to and from each Landmark within its own specific area. For example, you would be able to Skip Travel from the Refugee Camp to Spiral Valley, both of which are located in the larger Bionis’ Leg area, but you wouldn’t be able to Skip Travel from the Refugee Camp to the Silent Obelisk located in the next separate area, Satorl Marsh, or to any Landmarks in the previous Tephra Cave or Colony 9 areas.

This change would still allow the player to experience the convenience allowed by the Skip Travel system when exploring a given area, while greatly discouraging them from walking all the way back to an area at the beginning of the game from an area in the middle of the game where a major story sequence is occurring.

  • Skip Travel, along with the ability to travel to irrelevant areas (an irrelevant area in the attack on Prison Island would be anywhere except Eryth Sea, for example), would be disabled entirely during any major story sequences, e.g. the attack on Prison Island, the sequence involving the capture of Juju on Bionis’ Leg all the way up to his rescue in the Ether Mines, the trek from the Fallen Arm up through the entirety of Mechonis (before the Junks ship becomes operational once again), etc.

This change would go a long way towards enhancing the player’s involvement in any given story sequence. Instead of thinking “Oh, I need to save Juju, but first let me Skip Travel back to Colony 9 to upgrade my equipment and then I’ll continue to make progress on this Main Story Quest,” they’re forced to think more along the lines of “Oh man, Juju needs to be saved right now, and all I have is the equipment and Arts levels that I have currently. Maybe I can try my best to see if there are any further upgrades in the Refugee Camp shop, but otherwise I should hurry up and go try to save him.” This new thought process would place the player in Shulk’s shoes much more firmly, and deepen the game’s story immersion potential as a result.

The second part of my new system pitch involves the addition of a more original idea. This mechanic would show up after the point in the game when the Junks ship, found on the Mechonis’ Fallen Arm, becomes operational once again after being fixed by the Machina. At this point in the game is where the “Junks Travel” mechanic comes into play; it would finally allow the player to Skip Travel between entirely separate areas. Here’s how it would work:

  • The player needs to activate the Junks ship from within the ship itself (say, for example, by interacting with a console or by talking to the captain) in order to activate Junks Travel. Junks Travel allows the player to Skip Travel to any previously discovered Landmark in any previously discovered area (e.g., going all the way from the Syrath Lighthouse in Eryth Sea to the Tranquil Square in Colony 9).

This change is inspired by the unlocking of the Lordvessel in Dark Souls, which is obtained about halfway through the game and allows the player to fast travel to any previously discovered bonfire. Like in Dark Souls, such a change would allow the player to feel a great sense of progression (unlocking a cool new flying ship) after being denied easy access to separate areas for so long. It would also serve to enhance the player’s perception of the Machina people’s usefulness in the story, as they would provide the player with a tangible benefit rather than a plot device that really only shows up in cutscenes to ferry the party from one area to another during a few particular story sequences.

  • In most areas, after the Junks ship becomes unlocked, a few new Landmark locations, known as “Junks Docks,” should appear. These Landmarks, like all other Landmarks in the game, need to be reached by the player before the player becomes able to Skip Travel to them. Walking onto a Junks Dock allows the player to call the Junks ship, allowing them to use Junks Travel.

This change makes sure that the “groundedness” of this new Skip Travel system is still kept intact. While Junks Travel offers the player a lot more freedom, it still requires the player to at least Skip Travel over to a Junks Dock in order to use it, ensuring the player consistently feels immersed in the game world. Also, Junks Travel would still be affected by the aforementioned mechanic where all forms of Skip Travel get disabled during certain important story sequences.

Open Questions

This new system raises a few questions that, assuming we time traveled back to the late 2000s and into Monolith Soft’s offices, would need to be answered by Xenoblade’s development team as a whole in order to implement it effectively into the game. Some of these questions, I think, would be:

  • Can there be multiple Junks Docks in a given area? If so, where should they be placed so as to make sense within the game world? In the lore of Xenoblade, did the docks exist there already, or should they need to be built out of materials somehow, a la the Colony 6 rebuilding mechanic?
  • What changes, if any, need to be made to Xenoblade’s story in order to make sure using Junks Travel makes sense for the main characters to do at any given time?
  • Would disallowing Skip Travel between separate areas (and disallowing it entirely during important story sequences) do enough to dissuade players from walking all the way back to a far-off previous area, and would this change ultimately enhance the game’s immersive role playing experience? (It is, of course, hypothesized that it would, but some playtesting would need to be done in order to confirm this).
  • What changes, if any, would need to be made to Xenoblade’s level / experience, or quest progression systems in order to ensure that this new system doesn’t make it too difficult for players to reach an appropriate level to take on any given critical story quest?

Conclusion

I believe this new system involving a modification of Xenoblade Chronicles’ current Skip Travel system, in addition to the new Junks Travel system, would greatly increase the level of immersion and story sense that players would feel while playing the game. I think it would, assuming these open questions are answered properly and thoughtfully, fix the game’s pacing and “just wait a second, final boss who’s about to destroy the world, let me do a bunch of side quests real quick” issues, ultimately creating a far more involving, grounded role playing experience for players. Thank you for taking the time to read this design exercise, I’ve had a great time thinking it all up and writing it all down.

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