Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review

  • Developer: Monolith Soft
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Platform: Switch
  • Release Date: 1 December 2017
  • MSRP: $59.99

Introduction

The Xenoblade series is a JRPG among JRPGs.  Committing to play a Xenoblade Chronicles game means you’ll be in for the long haul.  Hopefully you have plenty of free time because you won’t be going out much.  Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was my first real foray into the Xenoblade series.  I briefly dipped my toes into X but it didn’t capture my attention.  Then I tried the original Xenoblade Chronicles, but it was on the 3DS.  The poor resolution made it difficult to appreciate the imaginative world.  One of the problems I had with both games was grasping the combat system.  Wow do these games have complex battle systems.  We’ll see how Xenoblade Chronicles 2 fares in this regard.

Monolith Soft is the studio behind the Xenoblade series.  It was founded by former Squaresoft staff and it really shows.  The JRPG pedigree is on full display.  Originally owned by Namco, they developed such cult classics like the Xenosaga series and Baten Kaitos.  Later, Nintendo bought an 80% stake in the studio, making Monolith Soft a first party developer for Nintendo.  Xenoblade Chronicles was announced at E3 2009 as Monado: The Beginning of the World.  It was later released in 2010 in Japan.  Nintendo of America initially passed on publishing the game in North America.  Nintendo of Europe meanwhile released it in the EU, which is why the entire voice cast is from the UK.  Nintendo of America finally gave it a release in 2012 during the Wii’s dying year.  Xenoblade Chronicles X was released in 2015 on the Wii U.  Fans were mixed on the changes made, such as less emphasis on story.  Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was announced during the Nintendo Switch’s full reveal in January 2017.  It was a return to the original formula.  Let’s see how Monolith did making a story driven RPG.

Story

cloud sea

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes place in the world of Alrest.  Alrest is on the brink of ruin.  Many millennia ago, humans nearly destroyed themselves from war.  The creator, known as the Architect, remade the world.  He created Alrest out of the ruins of the old world.  On this world is the Titans, giant behemoths where the humans make their homes.  Surrounded by these Titans is the Cloud Sea.  Unfortunately, the Titans are dying.  The entire world is in danger of ending.  The kingdoms on each Titan are scrambling to ensure their peoples’ survival.  At the center of this dying world is the World Tree, a gigantic tree that reaches the heavens.  The top of the World Tree is said to be the paradise of Elysium.  The place where the Architect lives and the hope for Alrest’s salvation lies.

Enter our hero Rex, a naïve but good-natured boy.  He lives on a small Titan he calls Gramps, making a living as a salvager, diving into the Cloud Sea and gathering objects that may have fallen in.  Rex is roped into a salvaging mission deep into the Cloud Sea.  On this mission he meets Pyra, the Aegis.  In this world there are Drivers and Blades.  Blades are beings that act as weapons and supply power to their Drivers.  Pyra is a special Blade known as the Aegis.  Something many adversaries will be gunning for.  Torna, the mercenaries Rex was traveling with, betray him and leave him for dead after he woke up Pyra from her 500-year nap.  Luckily for him Pyra shares her power with him and prevents him from dying.  The journey officially begins.  Rex and Pyra make a promise to reach Elysium together.

rex and pyra

Along the way Rex will meet an interesting and endearing cast of characters.  Nia (who is best girl by the way) the Welsh cat girl with plenty of sass and her regal Blade Dromarch join Rex early on.  Rex and Nia help a Nopon engineer named Tora (who might be a pervert) realize his dream of becoming a Driver by helping him complete his Artificial Blade.  Poppi is her name, a little robot girl who innocently snarks her master.  Morag, who holds the position of Special Inquisitor of the Empire of Mor Ardain, initially pursues the gang but is later inspired by Rex to see the end of his journey.  She is joined by her sultry Blade Brighid, who make a deadly combination.  Next, enter Zeke, or better known as the Zekenator.  A foppish vagabond with comically horrific luck who is joined by his snarky Blade Pandoria.  Everyone of these characters is lovable in some way.  They all have had some difficult times in their lives but always find a way to carry on.  Xenoblade Chronicles 2 shows that tragic characters don’t have to be angsty wet blankets.  We can only feel tragedy if we also feel happiness. Seeing the characters laugh and have a good time will make the tragedy hit much harder when it comes.  Heart to Hearts are used to demonstrate a character’s current thoughts or something in the past that weighs heavily on their minds.  Or just to lighten the mood.  Heart to Hearts can be found on the map and will appear at specific points in the story.  Certain Blades may be needed to activate them.  Al in all, the characters are fleshed out by story’s end.  I don’t see how anyone playing this game will not love the characters.

xenoblade chronicles 2 zeke

Rex and the gang will be battling against Torna, a mercenary group hellbent on destroying what remains of Alrest.  At the helm of Torna is the other Aegis Malos, who represents the opposite of Pyra, as in he wishes to destroy everything.  At first, they seem like your typical JRPG villains, but by the end of the game you may find yourself sympathizing with them.  Malos and Jin may be trying to destroy the world but they aren’t complete monsters.  The more I found out about them, the less evil they felt.  The actions they take may be abhorrent, but you can understand where they’re coming from.  Torna is ahead of you very step of the way on the journey to the World Tree.  Both parties seek Elysium but for very different reasons.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 manages to craft a world of imagination and incredible scope.  Monolith Soft is a master of world building.  Alrest feels like a living, breathing world where people actually live.  NPCs seem like they have lives outside of what you see.  Each kingdom has its own distinct culture heavily based on the climate of its Titan.  Xenoblade Chronicles 2 may not be the biggest game but what it lacks in square footage it more than makes up for it with scope.  Its not about how big the game is but rather how much excellent content you can cram into it.  Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will have you fully invested in its world.

Gameplay

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Combat

XC2 has one of the most complicated battle systems I’ve encountered in an RPG.  Combat has numerous mechanics the player must master.  I’m hard pressed to find another RPG with such deep and complex battle systems.  It’s an amalgamation of real time and turn based combat.  The player has full control over the character’s movement.  When movement is stopped the character performs auto-attacks.  The focus of combat is the relationship between Driver and Blade.  You must raise Affinity between Driver and Blade to increase power.  Raising Affinity allows for use of Arts and Specials.  Arts recharge slightly after each successful auto-attack.  Specials recharge every time an art is used.  The special has four levels, each more powerful than the last.

Perhaps the most important battle mechanic in XC2 is Blade Combos.  Each blade has an element type and weakness.  Sort of like Pokémon.  When a Blade uses the first Special of the battle a graphic will appear in the top right corner of the screen.  On the far left of the graphic the previously used element will blink with one above and below it.  A bar will wind down and you have until it runs out to use the next element in the combo.  Follow the combo chart until it reaches the end with a very powerful attack.  Be sure to switch between blades to have many elements at your disposal and to aid in recharging Specials.  Keep an eye on the Party Gauge.  When the gauge is full you can perform a Chain Attack.  Use this in unison with Blade Combos for deadly results.  After each Blade Combo is finished, an orb representing the last element used floats around the target.  The more orbs the better.  Activate the Chain Attack and break the orbs.  Every broken orb gives the party an extra turn in the Chain Attack.  This is massively important in challenging battles.  Mastering this will give you a much less frustrating experience.  XC2 is not the kindest to beginners.

It took me many hours into the game to get the hang of combat.  Partly my fault for not paying attention.  Once you grasp the combat it becomes much easier.  But be prepared to struggle in the beginning, especially against bosses.  I did get frustrated with some of the battles.  Exploring the world at lower levels can infuriate you if you’re not prepared.  High and low levels enemies are mixed together.  Be sure to know which of the local wildlife is aggressive or passive.  Getting mowed down repeatedly by level 80+ enemies is controller smashingly annoying.  Just being at a higher level isn’t always enough to overcome tough battles.  Strategically using Arts and Specials is key to victory

blade roles

You will need to acquire many Blades for Rex and friends.  Having a variety of blades will be vital in your journey.  Not only for Blade Combos, but for the different roles each blade fulfills.  Each Blade will be one of three types; Attacker, Tank, and Healer.  Attackers focus on offense, Tanks distract the enemy and take the hits, and the Healer keeps everyone alive.  Its best to have each combatant fill one of these roles at any given time.  Don’t be a dumbass like me and forget to keep a Healer on board for an important boss battle.  The most used blades will be the ones that are essential to the story but there are other ways to get Blades.  Blades are acquired by using Core Crystals.  There are normal Blades and special blades.  The normal Blades are less powerful and have a somewhat dull appearance.  Rare Blades are more powerful and were designed by various guest artists.  The only Driver this doesn’t work for is Tora, who has Poppi, an Artificial Blade.  Every Blade comes with an Affinity Chart that requires certain tasks to be performed, like using a Special a given number of times or acquiring items through use of Field Abilities.  Drivers also have an Affinity Chart.

affinity charts

One of XC2’s strong points is grinding is mostly unnecessary.  It manages to overcome one of the downfalls of JRPGs with emphasis on side-quests to gain considerable experience.  You will not have to waste time grinding against enemy after enemy.  Talk to NPCs with blue icons on the map to be given quests.  All quests can be found in the Quests menu to keep track of which ones you have.  Some are as simple as kill a powerful beast or as complex as putting down a rebellion.  The bigger quests often will take numerous steps to complete and may need to be completed after a specific chapter.  Along with side-quests are Merc Missions; where Blades are sent to complete missions.  Missions are completed after a certain amount of time has passed.  It’s an efficient way to fill out Affinity Charts for rarely used Blades.  Side-quests and Merc Missions give the player so much experience and gold.  Remember to look through them if you get stuck.  Oh, and remember to stay at inns to gains EXP bonuses and to level up.  No grinding, no problem.

Combat in XC2 may seem chaotic and complicated, and it is, but is very satisfying once you get the hang of it.  Don’t let is discourage you from checking out this title.  There is a lot of deep mechanics to delve into.  Don’t worry too much about mastering them.  If you can master Blade Combos you’ll be set.  Be sure not to have the volume too high.  All the characters yelling one-liners may irritate everyone in the house.

Visuals

uraya

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 sees a significant art style change from the original game.  The characters are very anime looking.  The original game had a more down to earth style.  Some may not like the character designs.  I don’t have too much of a problem with how the characters look, except the outfits are kind of dumb.  Its Tetsuya Nomura levels of over designed in some cases.  Not surprising since the game’s director was once an employee of Squaresoft.  Speaking of Tetsuya Nomura, he designed the members of Torna and they aren’t nearly as ridiculous as you’d expect.  Landscapes found on the Titans are so imaginative and breathtakingly beautiful at times.  Each Titan has an aesthetic unique to it.  You’ll always know where you are.

This is a very ambitious game for hardware that isn’t the most powerful.  There are times the Switch’s lack of power will be apparent.  Textures can be off or missing.  Framerate isn’t the best.  I didn’t see a significant drop off in picture quality when undocked.  Despite the clear limitations and graphical flaws, the game can look very beautiful at times.  Another example where art direction beats graphical fidelity.

Sound

yasunori mitsuda

The music composition was lead by noted video game composer Yasunori Mitsuda.  Now this dude has one impressive resume.  He worked on games such as Chrono Trigger and Cross, Mario Party, Xenosaga, and the first Xenoblade Chronicles.  So you know the OST is gonna kick so much ass.  Guess what? It does.  Whether it be sweeping orchestral music when running through the fields of Gormott or the lonely piano in the desolate Land of Morytha.  The music is so beautiful.  I had several occasions where I had to stop, listen closely, and shed a nostalgic tear.  Hype moments also have hype music with guitars and synths.  XC2 has considerable variety in music that always fits the circumstances.  This needs a CD release.  I don’t care how many disks it has, I need this in my life.

Now on to the voice acting.  I would say it was hit and miss.  Most of the main cast is well acted but some minor characters sound off.  Looks like Nintendo of Europe oversaw picking the voice cast, just like the original Xenoblade.  That means various accents and dialects from around the UK.  Some may think the accents may be too much, but I can’t imagine hearing them any other way.  I love Nia’s Welsh accent.  It adds to her attitude. Maybe its because I’m an American but I really enjoy not having to hear generic American voices like every other game out there.  Not everything I have to say about the voice acting is positive.  Many of the Rare Blades have downright atrocious acting.  They sound like total amateurs.

Overall

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a fantastic JRPG and probably the best one available for the Switch as of writing this.  This game is jam packed with content that will keep players busy for a long time.  A deep combat system provides for many unique ways to vanquish enemies.  Beautiful landscapes and music await you in world of Alrest.  This is a must have title for any JRPG lovers who own a Switch.

8.5/10

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