In a game where nearly every location evokes wonder, it can be tough for an individual place to stand out. However, Xenoblade Chronicles' Valak Mountain, manages to emerge even above the other notable and gorgeous locations such as the Eryth Sea and Makna Forest. Located on the right arm of the titan known as the Bionis (one of the two titans that make up Xenoblade's world), Shulk and his companions are required to descend to reach the next location in their quest against the invading Mechon.
As it does, in fact, sit between major plot points, the scenes in Valak Mountain may not have quite the same shock value or emotion of others elsewhere in the story. However, they do play in important part in the setting up those scenes taking place in the immediately following area and others further along in the plot, and the location does contain a few reveals that become important later on in the story. That Valak Mountain remains memorable despite perhaps not having the most important scenes in the game is a further testament to the location.
Valak Mountain continues the game's theme of encouraging exploration with plenty of potential routes to follow and nooks and crannies to investigate. Far more than being a generic, snowy hill, there are a number of distinct sections that need to navigated, each with an individual identity that keeps the descent fresh. The steep, snow-covered mountainside is full of jutting ledges and spikes, as well as numerous large crystals that form a major part of the state of wonder the location gives off in both its beauty and harshness. Despite being such a pleasure to explore during the daytime, Valak Mountain really comes alive when the sun goes down. As night falls, the aforementioned crystals seen around the mountain start to glow with a yellow light that shoots up into the sky and illuminates the surroundings beautifully. Standing on top of one of the many ledges and staring down at the beautiful sight of the crystals lighting up the mountain is truly a memorable sight.
Valak Mountain uses the vertical extremely well, beginning with numerous paths undercutting each other, which the player can easily fall off if not paying attention. Various caves and dens can be found, housing monsters or items that may be needed for the many sidequests that help encourage exploration if simple curiosity or the stunning views didn't provide enough motivation already. Geysers can be found that will shoot players onto ledges with even more areas to explore, and the childish fun of sliding unnecessarily around on ice is present too. Finally, a mention must be made of one of the more unique rewards for exploration to be found in an RPG. Hidden away in Valak Mountain is a ski jump, and maximizing the distance flown is required to complete at least one of the many, many sidequests, providing endless excuse to zoom down the slope trying to get as big a launch as possible.
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