Rei wrote:The [...] characters are captivating as well
Nope. Not even a little bit. Not even as a joke. I'm gonna go down the list, here...
Shulk is this strange mix of they tried to give him enough of a personality to be a character but didn't want to give him so much that he couldn't be an avatar for the user to project on and so he ends up incredibly bland, not making any choices that aren't incredibly obvious and not even getting emotional at times when it would make sense to (possibly in order to circumvent complaints that RPG protagonists are "whiny", in which case it worked since no one made that complaint). But you get a lot of "character details" that don't really translate into the character's actions. He's supposed to be a genius engineer/researcher, but he never does anything really smart, and he mostly fights his way through stuff instead of using his head. He's supposed to be mourning the death of his friend but he never really talks about it (until she's about to come up again - more on that abysmal exchange later), and when he does it quickly becomes a check in a sequence of events instead of an important moment of growth or loss for him. He's supposed to be worried about how he's shouldered with this huge burden that allows him to save his loved ones but he never acts burdened by it. He mentions it like twice at the beginning - as if the writers somehow thought that outright stating something and never really going into it again was how you established a "theme".
Rhyne is super one dimensional; he's the "best friend who's kind of hotheaded but always there for you" archetype except the guy he's always there for is Shulk so you don't really get any good moments at all out of their friendship since as stated before Shulk hates emotion, being interesting, and inner turmoil. He doesn't really have a life that wasn't shared by Shulk so they don't really bother trying to go into his life. He doesn't have any aspirations, personal tragedies or interests that Shulk doesn't already have, so he's basically Shulk 2 but stripped down a bit more and then made dumber. Though he's not actually dumber, he just occasionally has lines that are equally bad but the party negatively reacts to those.
Dunban's got all the makings of a good character but then nothing comes of it. They could make him really tragic and they just don't. They could talk about how his brave outer facade is how he deals with the loss of his sister or his arm or his life as a hero, but nope. They could go the other route and make him arrogant because he was once a hero but they don't even do that. He ends up being a backstory without a current story to give it meaning. There's a scene where he tells Shulk, almost in deadpan, that he always assumed his sister would end up with Shulk one day and Shulk just sort of agrees. This isn't a revelation, a touching shared moment or a shared gesture. Shulk gives it the same amount of recognition as he would if Dunban said he happens to enjoy coffee in the mornings. Even though I haven't gotten far enough for this to happen, it's obvious that scene was to set the groundwork for the sister's return, but with no emotions really attached to the scene there are none attached to the return of this character. If no one has any real stake in a fallen character, then the fallen character is no longer worth the words it takes to write about her again. You know what? I'll go more into that in a second.
Then there's Sharla. When she shows up she has a clear and compelling motivation to come along with you. And that's great! It makes her better than half the guys in the party! Then she saves her brother and loses her motivation. And says she's coming along anyway. Let me reiterate: She no longer has ANY REASON to join the party; her brother's been saved, her city's being rebuilt, her home has been protected. They've won. And she comes with these two guys for no reason other than she believes what they're fighting for. Except at this point they're not really fighting for anything. They're trying to stop the robots again? And avenge what's her face? But it's really only after that point that they come up with a cause to keep going. In the end, the only reason Sharla is with you is that they need a female character to join the party early and having a healer is pretty useful. Which is great from a gameplay perspective and absolute garbage when looking at a story. Also she suffers from the same loss that doesn't really matter conundrum? She lost her boyfriend or whoever that guy was. And she can use his gun although iirc it's not actually really good enough to use which is really a shame. And she's really torn up about her loss for her entire little arc when she has a motivation and a story. And then she gets over it at the same time as she joins the party for good. And she just becomes background noise for the rest of the game. (disclaimer: I only played the first forty hours so maybe she gets super important after that point? I doubt it though)
Melia! or however it's spelled. She keeps her motivation which is kinda nice. Except her motivation involves her father who dies, and she just doesn't care about him at all after that? Like...she cries for a good five seconds and then shows up again and is like "all right guys let's go!" But she's probably the second best written out of all the characters. She has a backstory, a different style of diction AND A REASON FOR THAT STYLE OF DICTION, a motivation and more. And then the other characters just complain about her for a while, so it ends up looking like the guys who can't be written well complaining about the one who was written by that one guy who has a lit degree. She's not great, but she's better than most of them. Oh wait, except for...
Riki. Riki is the most logically written character in the entire game. He has a clear motivation: he's the hero and has to do hero things. He has a backstory: he has a family and kids to feed and the village will take care of him as long as he continues to be a hero. He has a reason for coming along: these guys are his friends and are doing hero things so if he sticks with them he can be heroic too. And he has a personality: he's egotistical and sees himself as the center of his universe, but that's mostly a cover because he's scared of so much despite needing to be a hero; he's small and lives in a jungle where everything's the giantest ever. And the worst part? He's played off as a joke. It's just "oh Riki how silly and dumb he is" "oh Riki he's great comic relief" and he's the best damn character in your party. How absolutely terrible.
Back to the mourning thing real fast. A lot of guys do it well. They give meaning to the deaths of characters and make those deaths have a continual effect as the story goes on. Look at any X-Men comic: Jean Grey's latest death was back in 2002, TEN YEARS AGO, but she maintains a definite presence in most characters' motivations for everything they do. Also, Harry Potter, where any given death of a character starts waves of effects that last well into the last book. This is even true of Cedric Diggory, the first character to die. In FFX Jecht is thought of as dead for most of it but he's still a very real part of the characters' lives -- and I'm not talking about Sin here.
If you want a game with a captivating story and characters and you think Xenoblade is one of those, you should play almost any other game with a story and characters. Seriously. Go play ANY Tales game, or most Final Fantasies (even some of the old ones have better written characters than these guys). Pick up Last Story! Or play Chrono Trigger where the protagonist doesn't even speak and yet most of the party has very clear motivations and backstories that affected their personal growth. Look at Mass Effect, Kingdom Hearts, World Ends with You. But don't insult my intelligence by telling me Shulk is captivating. Please.