A civilization resting on top of gigantic creatures in a sea of clouds seemed a silly premise for me at first, but after spending hours playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I was immediately drawn to the vast open environments and great characters. Nintendo really made the right decision by releasing this game by the end of the year as a “finale” to the awesome exclusive titles to come to the Switch this 2017.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is Monilith and Nintendo’s latest entry to the Xenoblade franchise. It somehow took inspiration from Breath of the Wild with its open-world style of play that will easily take you at least 80 hours to somehow complete the game. The best part about it is that the game seems simple at first, but it grows more complex the further you play it.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is largely seen through the eyes of Rex, a young salvager who makes a living by exploring the ocean floor for treasure and other items left by past civilizations. In true Japanese style, Rex is your typical boyish and optimistic protagonist. He is portrayed as family oriented, as he sends most of his earnings from salvaging to his family. It is easy to dislike Rex at first, but as the story goes on, there is more to him than the clichéd protagonist he appears to be.
The story begins as Rex gets involved in business with some shady characters, and it doesn’t take long before the true nature of these people were revealed. Soon, Rex finds himself bound to protect a living weapon known as the Blade, one of the most powerful one the world has ever seen, and Rex becomes its Driver. Naturally, the bad guys want to take the Blade for themselves that sets Rex on a quest to protect the Blade and save the world. As a newcomer to the series, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 stands out on its own and doesn’t require the player to know the events that transpired on previous titles. I liked the fact that I didn’t need a backstory to understand what’s happening in the game.
Visually, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is pretty impressive. The art-style of the game can go from a bright and lighthearted village to a gloomy and dark wasteland. The anime-style of the characters gave them the ability to express a wider range of emotions, although I have noticed that some movements seemed unnatural and clunky. As much as I loved the game’s design, there were instances where the environment displayed a somewhat fuzzy look even when the Switch is docked, and worse during handheld mode, and there were also times when frame rate would drop especially when there is too much going on in the screen.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a vast game with tons of content. It is meant to be played at a slower pace, so that the player can take in the lush environments, and learn the many mechanics of the game. During the first chapter, I found myself almost putting down my Switch during the first tutorial because of how the combat system in the game seemed too simple for my taste. You approach the enemy, draw out your weapon, and watch Rex fight with the auto-attack feature. The only interaction you’ll have during combat is when you need to move around the enemy to get HP potion drops, or when special skills are available to use. You can also have three members in your party but you can only control one at a time, which felt too simple for me.
However, as I nearly finished the first act, the simplistic combat system that I thought would last throughout the game, got complex way too quickly and made the gameplay significantly better. I finally understood at that point why the game chose to keep the combat system simple at first, because they don’t want the player to get overwhelmed with information too quickly. I liked how the game slowly introduced its mechanics, specifically the relationship between the Driver and the Blade. There were numerous instances in the game that it would seem impossible to kill a certain Boss. This forced me to re-think my strategy on how to approach the battle and paid attention to my Blades to make sure that I equip them with the proper gear and skills depending on the enemy’s weaknesses.
At this point, I started enjoying the game as it became more complex with the variety of options you can choose from during combat, specifically with the Blades who have particular strengths and mastery of certain elements like fire and water. You can only control a single Driver at a time but can switch between different Blades depending on the environment you’re in or the opponent you’re facing.
The open-world in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is one of the game’s strongest feature. The diversity of different locations became widely dynamic through cloud tides, as areas became accessible or not depending on the cloud level. Also, completing certain quests in the area allows you to improve its “development level” that would introduce new shops, better items, and discount prices. Navigating the game’s environment can get a little bit tricky, as your only indicator on finding your way on where you need to go in a quest, is through a directional compass that only gives the player a vague idea on finding locations. The game’s navigational system may be a problem for some, but personally I liked the fact the it only gives the player a general idea on where to head next and not spoon feed on where your objective is located.
Given the vast area the player is set to explore, a fast travel option is available in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. However, the map does not open to your exact location, which makes it a little bit inefficient to use as you’re forced to find the correct map first, but at least it shows you the actual location of your objective. The menu system is also not as seamless as I’d like, but it seems to be a whole lot better than the map system.
Thankfully, the English voice acting in the game was done in a superb fashion. However, we can still expect the standard JRPG dialogue with deep heavy themes and sometimes overly-emotional lines. This is not entirely a bad thing though, as there were numerous times that I found myself deeply invested in an emotional scene as Rex delivered his soliloquy and then suddenly, something silly would happen and the mood would drastically change from sad to happy. This emotional rollercoaster may not be for everyone, but I found myself laughing at most of it, more than cringing. The emotions are further heightened as cutscenes and battle are complimented with an upbeat and heroic soundtrack that is undoubtedly anime.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a game that contained tons of surprises. It managed to steer away from my expectations, which is a good thing, as it was able to find a perfect mix of storytelling, combat, and vast exploration. Although the game has its shortcomings like the inefficient fast travel system, and a few graphical glitches here and there, it was able to compensate with an intuitive combat system, diverse environments, and well-fleshed out characters that makes it an excellent game filled with fun gameplay that delivers an awesome experience.