Xenoblade: Inspiration from Wilderness

As this is my first free-form article for this blog, I am a bit nervous as to how fitting this is. But I suppose I’ll wing it.

Over the summer, I got my hands on a video game called Xenoblade Chronicles. The game was developed by Monolith Soft and released for the Nintendo Wii system. It is a role-playing, adventure game following the exploits of a group of people struggling to fight a horde of machines called the “Mechon.” So what does this have to do with the National Parks and the wilderness? The game itself is visually impressive, given the graphical limitations of the Wii console. So much of the game’s design is centered around the environments you must travel through. The maps are, for the most part, impressively large, and there are a variety of locations. Here’s a sped-up video showing a player running through roughly half of the maps of the game.

Keep in mind that the player is taking the most direct routes through the areas to reach the next location. There are more places off the beaten path that the player does not run through. So keeping that in mind with the fact that the video is really sped-up, you might be able to get a sense of just how large these maps are.

Ok, so the maps are huge. But what does this have to do with the National Parks? Well, the maps are large enough to fit an incredible amount of detail into. And I’d argue that a lot of the scenery will look a little familiar.

Gaur Plains

A screenshot of Gaur Plains from Xenoblade Chronicles – Xenoblade Wikia.

Does this landscape look familiar? The Gaur Plains location is massive, and is located in a large crag. There are also streams and a large lake. There are even several massive waterfalls. Although the terrain is subject to the whim of the concept artists, 3D modelers, and the map creators, this landscape has some similarities to what we see out west in places like Yosemite Valley.

Albert Bierstadt, “Looking Down Yosemite Valley” (1864)

And I did mention there were waterfalls, right?

A screenshot of Kasharpa Falls – Xenoblade Wikia

There are even several, large, arching land masses that are similar in form to what you might see in Arches National Park. In the first screenshot, you can see an example of this on the right hand side. Now, below is a photograph my dad took of me at Arches National Park.

Arches National Park; that’s me in the green jacket and straw hat.

Yes, the real arch is much larger than the arch in the screenshot. But to me it still seems like the concept artists and map makers may have taken inspiration from landmarks out west. The large, crag-surrounded grassland of Gaur Plain may have been inspired by the terrain one might be able to find in Yosemite, though it is also probably just a coincidence. Other in-game locations may take inspiration from other National Parks, or perhaps just different terrains from around the world.

For instance, there is a wetland location named Satorl Marsh. There are wooden walkways allowing the player to walk over swamp water. The location may be inspired by the Florida Everglades, but I admit this could be a stretch; it’s more than likely just inspired by wetlands in general. Another location, named Eryth Sea, is a large water-mass with floating islands, surrounded by mountain-like structures on all sides.

The hovering reefs in the Eryth Sea environment. – Xenoblade Wikia

Although there are enclosed seas in other parts of the world, I can’t help but think of Crater Lake National Park when I look around this area.

Crater Lake National Park. Image from shannontech.com

Although it’s difficult to tell by the screenshot from Xenoblade Chronicles, there are several normal islands in the sea that look pretty similar to Wizard Island, pictured in this view of Crater Lake. And there are still even more areas that may take inspiration from the National and State Parks of the United States. There is Makna Forest, a large jungle with towering trees. One tree is massive enough that it is a small village inside. Perhaps this tree is referencing the mighty Sequoias?

And in this same forest region is a rather impressively rendered waterfall named the Great Makna Falls. Its design is heavily reminiscent of Niagra Falls, and I’d argue that the design is based heavily on it.

Lakeside view of the Great Makna Falls from Xenoblade Chronicles – Xenoblade Wikia

Niagra Falls – Image from the Moonlite Motel homepage.

To conclude, I am arguing that the creators of Xenoblade Chronicles‘s environments may have been inspired by landscapes from the National and State Parks of the United States. The scenery in the game is very similar to what one might see in the parks. I would also like to go out on a limb and suggest that many designers for other games, and perhaps even television and movies, may take some subtle inspiration from such places while creating new worlds. This makes me wonder, however. Would the game have been different if the National Parks didn’t exist? If the landscapes of Yosemite, Yellowstone, Sequoia, and even the barely preserved Niagra Falls had not been looked after, and been completely destroyed by commercial development, would the landscapes in our contemporary imaginations be different?

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