The original Xenoblade Chronicles was a game that came out on the Nintendo Wii and defied all expectations of what that little system could handle. It was a massive RPG whose scope rivalled that of other popular games of the time. Its follow-up, Xenoblade Chronicles X, while still a good game, went in a more offline MMO-like direction, losing a lot of the heart and soul of the original along the way. Now, the sequel is looking to go back to its roots and channel some of what made the series great in the first place. Does it manage to pull it off?
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes place in the world of Alrest, where the population has taken refuge on giant beings known as Titans. The world is slowly decaying as the Titans themselves do not have eternal life. You play as Rex, an optimistic young salvager doing odd jobs to support his hometown. Despite the dire situation of Alrest, he remains hopeful that things will eventually get better. His life is suddenly turned upside down when he takes on a job to salvage a wrecked and ancient vessel. It turns out that his employers are searching for the legendary Aegis, a powerful living weapon, also referred to as a Blade. They eventually find it in the form of a sleeping young woman known as Pyra. Rex makes contact with her, but is killed by one of the employers because of it. Thankfully, Pyra awakens and saves his life by giving him half of her lifeforce. This makes Rex her Driver, a person capable of using a Blade as a weapon. Together, along with other characters they meet along the way, journey to the fabled land of Elysium, a paradise atop the World Tree, a place where life originated from, in the hopes of not only saving Alrest, but also finding out the truth about the world.
The story itself takes quite a while to really find its groove, and the pacing of not just the narrative but the gameplay too will probably be the biggest sticking point for most people. If I have to be honest I wasn’t enjoying the story much at first. While it started on an extremely high and explosive note, the narrative quickly fell into the bad side of JRPG tropes. Long-winded and stilted dialogue about absolutely nothing was the order of the day. Even the characters, who are the furthest thing from a bunch of jokers, came across as shallow and two-dimensional. I was frustrated, because I was generally quite intrigued by the lore and overall plot. Thankfully, the storm passed, and I began enjoying the story. If only it didn’t take me over 15 hours to reach that point.
You might be thinking to yourself that 15 hours is a long time, and it is. I’m sure it could’ve happened in less time had I not lost myself in the side quests, but even then, it’s still going to take a while before you reach that point. It might just click for you sooner than it did for me, but it’s undeniable that things only really pick up from both a gameplay and story standpoint after a certain event. From there you’ll start catching glimpses of the craziness that awaits you and if you’re familiar with Xeno games, you know you’re in for quite a ride. Is this a bad thing though? In all honesty, yes. Pacing is important, and for quite a few hours I wasn’t invested in the narrative, but I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention that when all is said and done, it didn’t matter to me, at all, because I was eventually given a story, world and cast I could love and connect with. So all I can say is just stick with it.
Just like the story, the gameplay is slow to pick up too, but it’s thankfully much more enjoyable in the interim. If there’s one piece of advice I can give you however, is that you need to get out of the Hinterlands. If you’re not familiar with this term, it was used as a pre-emptive warning to Dragon Age Inquisition players to not waste a lot of time in the game’s opening area as they would only be experiencing a fraction of what the game really has to offer and as a result, will end up feeling burned out. The same applies here.
The first big open area you get to is lush and just begging to be explored with a number of hidden areas and side quests to find. Unfortunately I got swept up in the excitement and decided to forget about the main quest line for a while. At this point, a lot of mechanics were yet to be introduced, so exploration and combat weren’t as satisfying as I had hoped they would be. Once you’re given free Reyn however, it all comes together wonderfully to create one hell of an addictive gameplay experience. There’s a ton of moving parts, and it makes sense why they’re introduced so slowly, as to not completely overwhelm you.
It’s hard to really unpack everything there is to the game, but the Blade system would be a good place to start. As a Driver, you can attune yourself to special cores which you can turn into living weapons called Blades. There’s actually an odd gatcha system attached to the creation of Blades as well, where every time you use a core you get a random Blade with the chance of getting really rare ones too. It’s not a system I feel anything towards, and I guess it could be classified as a kind of loot box, but without any real monetary price attached to it. Blades are secondary characters who join you in combat but will also dictate which special moves, called Arts, you can use as well as your currently equipped weapon. Each one of them also has their own skill tree and you can equip special accessories to them as well. There’s no real traditional equipment in this game outside of accessories, so increasing your trust with Blades, levelling up their Arts and skills is the way to really get stronger. It might seem limited at first but the variety of Blades allows for a really diverse set of options in how you want to grow your characters.
Blades also play a role outside of combat and character progression. You can send them out on missions as well, so all those unused random Blades that you have no use for can be sent away to obtain lucrative experience points and items. These missions take some time to complete so be sure not to send important ones out on these jobs. That’s not all either. Blades can learn special field skills which not only improves scavenging for materials, but also to gain access to brand new areas. I love how all these systems just feed off each other. Combat improves trust between Blades, allowing you to learn field skills, which open up new exploration paths, leading to more treasure, which you can use to improve your character and Blade so that you can learn even more skills, and open up even more paths. At times, it’s an intoxicating gameplay loop that just keeps you coming back for more, time and time again.
I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all there is to the game. There’s a special Blade called Poppi who can only be customized by obtaining materials from a special videogame mini-game. You can also develop the various towns in the game by completing side quests and engaging with NPCs. The Heart-to-Heart feature makes a return as well where you can find special spots in the world to view cutscenes between characters. There’s just a staggering amount of things to do, and this is without even touching the combat system.
Battles appear to be fairly simplistic early on. Once you engage the enemy, your character will start auto-attacking, filling the meters of your various Arts mapped to the face buttons. Some Arts have special properties such as doing more damage when attacking the enemy from the back or side, so positional awareness is important, as you will also stop auto-attacking when you move. Later on you’ll be introduced to Blade combos. Every Blade has a special move that they can use in combat. These moves rise in levels during combat and once used, and depending on the level and element, you can initiate a Blade combo. Once initiated, a sort of progression tree will appear on-screen. This will show which elements need to be used next to move up the tree, which ultimately leads to a devastating attack. For instance, if a level one fire special was used, the tree might indicate that a character now needs to use a level 2 ice special next, followed by a level 3 earth one. Once it’s successfully executed, an orb of the last element used will start floating around the enemy. This means that the target is now resistant to that element, but it also plays a huge part in Chain Attacks.
During combat there’s another gauge which fills up too called the Party Gauge. This gauge is divided into three segments and serves two purposes. You can either expend a segment to revive a fallen ally or, when completely full, use the entire gauge to initiate a Chain Attack wherein each party member has a turn to use their Blade’s special move. If there’s a floating orb surrounding the enemy however and a special move of the opposing element was used, causing the orb to break, you gain more turns in the chain. So the more orbs you stack up, the more attacks you can do. It took me quite some time to get used to this, but it’s only the half of it.
Driver combos are up next. These are coordinated status inflicting attacks, carried out by you and your teammates to dish out some heavy damage. You have to use Arts in tandem with your teammates to effectively inflict all four statuses. So, if a party member puts the enemy in a Break state, you can use an Art which causes the Topple status, knocking it to the ground. Once toppled, you can inflict Launch, which tosses them up into the air, opening a way to use Smash, which, as you guessed, smacks them back down. You can also combine Driver combos with Blade combos to pull of Fusion combos as well.
If that wasn’t enough, each Blade also belongs to one of three classes. A Tank draws aggro from enemies, while a Healer keeps your party health up and Attacker goes on the offense. Composing your set of active Blades from different classes also grants various buffs and effects too. You can switch between 3 drivers on the fly in combat, so just looking at all options available, there’s an insanely large amount of strategies you come up with.
I loved the combat system. I’m a sucker for crazy battle systems, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is exceptional. It just works extremely well even though it sounds like a mess of random mechanics. I never felt like I had to grind as changing up my strategy always yielded the expected result. If I did want to level up, you acquire experience points from side quests which you can use at an inn, so there was never the need to go out into the world and get into countless random battles just to increase my stats. This, in turn, keeps the battle system fresh as well maintaining the flow of exploration. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into all the mechanics, and while it is a bit complex, it manages to turn complexity into depth, thus creating one of the most entertaining JRPG battle systems I’ve ever come across.
Xenoblade Chronicles is known for its stunning artistic direction when it comes to the environments and 2 is no different. Some locations in the game look absolutely gorgeous and make me wonder just how they managed to create such a vast yet well-constructed world. Locations don’t just feel like they were slapped together, instead, they’re connected in a way that makes the world feel truly alive and believable. Not to mention that the soundtrack is absolutely positively outstanding. Dare I say it even surpasses the original game’s OST. It’s just that good. I’m so glad that Yasunori Mitsuda, ACE and the other original composers are back as they’ve truly created something special. Not all is perfect however as the game does unfortunately suffer from some bad frame rate issues at times. It’s mostly smooth sailing but when the stutter hits, it’s quite noticeable. The resolution also takes quite a dip in handheld mode, but it’s something I got used to and despite that, I actually played this game 90% of the time undocked, so it’s really not that bad. Overall though, the presentation is quite fantastic.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a game that gets off to a really slow start. It might come across as a typical run-of-the-mill JRPG but there is just so much more to it. Once the game hit its stride you realize that it’s filled to the brim with heart and a pure sense of adventure. It’s an unforgettable ride that truly took me by surprise. Technical and pacing issues aside, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 manages to stand tall in a year where two juggernaut Nintendo titles dominated the system. This is one adventure you don’t want to miss out on. All I can say is I’m really feeling it!
Last Updated: November 30, 2017
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 suffers from some technical issues and takes a really long time to kick it into high gear, but when it does, it manages to become a sublime RPG, standing toe to toe with the behemoths of the genre.