Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review: the latest game in the Xeno franchise by Monolith Soft and this massive action RPG has released on Nintendo’s small hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch.
After their experimentation on Wii U with Xenoblade Chronicles X, the developers have now opted to make a traditional sequel to the original that launched on Wii. Does an amazing series that has been overlooked for so long finally do enough to gather the attention and recognition it deserves? Let’s find out in this Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review.
Release Date: December 1, 2017
Approximate Size: 13GB
Genre: Action RPG
Developed by: Monolith Soft
Published by: Nintendo
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, Exclusive.
In Xenoblade Chronicles 2 world, humans and animals live on the backs of Titans, God-like massive beings that float in the clouds. Each of these Titans house their own districts, humans, animals, and flora. An ancient war took place that involved these massive beings and though this is the foundation, the backstory, and lore of the core story, this is an intimate story. This is a quest of a good person helping another in need and the journey they embark on together. Yes, the Titans are there but the emphasis was placed on a more organic human story that takes you through a series of different emotions.
In the story you play as scavenger Rex, a well-mannered good kid who works and sends money to his family. Through a series of events, Rex encounters a woman named Pyra. Pyra is looking for a mythical land called Elysium and, being the kindhearted boy he is, Rex helps her. What you have is a massive tale that sees this young, seemingly normal, boy transform though the epic quest into a hero. The story sports a large cast, each with their own feelings and expressions, and following along provides the player with information on these characters, the world around them, and Alrest and the people’s history. Even the side quests provide additional context to the world and you will encounter twists, turns, and shocking revelations.
The cast of characters in this game need to be mentioned because of how varied and great they are. I loved each of the characters introduced and they managed to actually stick around till the end. Too many games introduce characters and they sort of flounder or get lost in the shuffle as the story progresses but not in this title. You build a bond and connection to these characters and it’s nice that they are with you till the end and this is another thing other games should make note of. The characters even evolve during the story and someone who might have started off as a comedic character will prove himself as a worthy hero in his own right. This is beautiful story telling with realistic character growth and a true wonder to experience rather than watching and reading like in other mediums.
Some games thrust you into the story and its rollercoaster ride that ends in twenty minutes. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, gently brings you into the story and it all unfolds when it needs to. This is a griping adventure than can draw you in and cause you to forget all about your real life as you are absorbed into this tale. Many times I found myself battling a boss who took half an hour to defeat but it felt as if only ten minutes had passed, that’s gripping gameplay and a strong desire to see what will happen next in the story. There were times where I watched an epic cutscene that lasted more than ten minutes but it was so engaging and emotionally charged, it felt as if seconds had passed. It truly is remarkable and those who have seen, and/or continue to watch, anime will find this right up their ally. I had my sister come over one day, shortly after I started my playthrough, and she watched one of the cutscenes. She isn’t the biggest anime fan but it was enough to pique her interest and enough to convince her to buy the original on Wii, she doesn’t have a Switch. Yet.
My only gripe for others, not an issue for me, is whether or not this type of game benefits from the portable aspect the Switch provides. I mainly use the Switch for its handheld mode but even I opted to play this game on the television with a pro controller. I did this because the game feels like a massive, epic, game full of secrets and discovery, and it truly is, and I just felt it should be displayed as big as possible. I did use handheld mode a few times and tabletop mode as well. Those were both fun and players who play the game like this will enjoy them the same as I did, just be mindful of the large cutscenes and potentially long boss encounters.
Combat in this game can be intimidating and the largest factor I feel with drive potential players away. The thing is, despite being so deep, its also very accommodating to the new player who has never experienced this type of game. Everything is explained and there is logic to how the mechanics work. There is no reason anyone couldn’t play the game and handle it, but I’ve read a lot of comments about the complex combat being a reason they wouldn’t jump into this game. Now, that’s a fair complaint because we all play games for different reasons, but I do think the complexity has been overblown and if you were curious on the game but didn’t think you’d be able to hand the combat, well, let me tell you that you can.
Your squad is pretty much divided into two parts. Drivers, the human characters, and the Blades, weapons that they are associated with that may take on the form of humans or animals. Each Blade offers its own set of abilities and comes in different types, such as a Healer or a Defender or an Attacker. The Healer class will heal you and teammates while you are attacking an enemy, The Defender class will take an enemy’s hits to aggravate them and prevent major damage to you and your squad, and The Attacker class unleashes powerful Arts. Arts are unique, high powered, attacks that one unleashes on enemies. You can think of them as special attacks or abilities. Over the course of the game, you will need to mix and match because they offer you different ways to proceed forward or help you in a current predicament. You’ll get wrecked if everyone is an Attacker and you have no way to heal yourself or to defend against enemy attacks. Likewise, a team of only defenders won’t have enough attack output to topple a foe before he eliminates you.
When you engage in combat you and the other characters auto-attack with the player selecting one of four abilities to use, which they will do automatically, and then you select another. You cannot use an ability right after using it as there is a cooldown and the heavy emphasis on auto-attacking may be a turnoff but it’s actually not. You see as the characters auto-attack, there are button prompts that pop up that you have to click which will increase the damage, regain health, or extend the combo. That’s the goal, get a large combination and destroy the enemy. Occasionally you will trigger these epic sequences of special attacks that looks extremely cool and is entirely satisfying. This is done to give the player more control over strategy, but combat control is sacrificed. When I first played this type of game I thought it was limiting and I felt almost disrespected as a player but as I learned the mechanics and began to experiment, well, I can say these games have become some of my favorite. This is coming from someone who adores the Bayonetta and Ninja Gaiden franchises and those are all about combat and player control gameplay.
Blades are many, there are plenty to collect and create. Yes, you create Blades that have different abilities and levels. The system is randomized, and should you get one that has a level too low for you, then you can send them on missions where they’ll bring you back items. It makes it so that every Blade, regardless of level, can be helpful to you and used to proceed forward. Some Blades have unique abilities that you will need to explore the world completely, one of which will be needed to continue in the main story, and some Blades are extremely rare with some even being nods to other games.
The enemies of this game are no pushover either. You will have to earn your victory because the A.I. is smart and will devise their own tactics to defeat you. The highlight being the boss encounters, some of which you will encounter more than once, and they all feel epic and extraordinary as you engage them. One of the biggest criticisms I had about Xenoblade Chronicles X was how grindy that game felt. I always felt I was rushing to reach the acceptable level to move forward and it was one of my fears when I first got this game. I am happy to announce that this isn’t the case. I never had to grind to reach the level, in many cases, I was above the required level and this was through my own exploration and my own excitement to do side quests or to tackle enemies. This is a good design and another lesson they learned from Xenoblade Chronicles X.
When you aren’t engaged in combat or the main story, there are side quests. These come across as an excuse to get the player out into the world and to branch off from the main quest. Funny thing is that I found myself doing this on my own. So many times, I was headed one way to only wind up being curious and searching for other things. There are some side quests that add more to the lore of the game and these were the better ones to me. Xenoblade Chronicles X had these great side quests that told their own small story that was well done and it’s nice that this was brought back in this new iteration.
When it comes to the combat of the game, the side quests, and the abilities I have nothing negative to say. The tutorial section can feel like it’s dragging but when your twenty hours in and have forgotten something, you instantly wish it was back. Words of wisdom I got from my other sister, the one who has over a hundred hours in Zelda and over three in Splatoon 2, is to screen capture those tutorials because once they are gone, they are gone. Another area that may scare players off is the many menus the game has, at a glance it can be intimidating and it was for me at first but the more I used it and maneuvered through it, the more it felt more organic and natural. That’s the thing about this game, you have to proceed with patience because you are in for a long ride but should you embark, your in for a great ride.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a gorgeous looking game, it really is. When it comes to Switch, and Nintendo as a whole, power isn’t what drives them. At least not anymore, we aren’t playing with power. Even so, they’ve still managed to continually release some of the most beautiful games on the market. Other studios have taken note and what we’ve seen is a more intentional decision to focus on the art style. Xenoblade uses what many have referred to as an ‘Anime’ style. This will put players off or entice others who haven’t played this type of game before but are drawn to this artistic choice. Regardless, we can all admit that this is a wonderful looking game.
The landscapes are varied. You have locales lush with flora, some with beautiful waterfalls and lakes, and its all populated with other NPCs and fauna. Character models are detailed, expressive, and some are completely unique in a way I didn’t expect. There have been some comments on the questionable clothing attire on some characters and I understand that. It can be off-putting but that was developer choice and not a technical issue with the game. A lot of times you will find yourself stopping and taking it all in as it’s a joy to look at the beautifully crafted world. A lot of times worlds are beautiful, games look exceptional, but they give you that feeling that the world was created for the player. There are occasions where the game world feels like a real world and not created for some unexplained entity and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 gives off this impression. There are times where you feel like this could be a real world and that if you weren’t involved, these events would play out this way. Whether you control Rex or not, Pyra would still be having these issues and he would still aid her. This realism to the world is enough to be appreciated and its organic nature is what other games should adopt (though most have been better at it now than a few years ago).
There are some NPCs that did not get the same care and attention as most and these can stick out. Especially when they are in one of the magnificently crafted cutscenes. There are also locations (indoors) that stick out because they are bland and square. A game of this size was bound to have some blemishes but it’s a shame that they stick out as much when they do crop up. You will encounter some pop up as you run around in the world, though not as bad as Xenoblade Chronicles X on Wii U, and there are a few instances of framerates dropping. None of this will hinder the enjoyment of the game or tarnish the experience but it is something noticeable and it will be encountered.
On portable mode, you get the complete grand experience at a lower resolution. I’m amazed that this entire game can be taken with me anywhere I go, and I can play where I left off with no issues. That novelty continues to surprise me, and I don’t think it’ll ever wear off. If it’s one thing Nintendo can boast about when it comes to their small console with specs vastly below its competitors, it’s that they continually offer some of the best visually stunning games and enjoyable experiences.
Let’s start off the bat with the game’s soundtrack. Wow, just wow. The musical score of this game is amazing, truly fantastic. You have sad melodies that tug at your heart strings when an emotionally engaging scene takes center stage. You feel what these characters feel, and the associated melody can bring the sorrow to a whole other level. Then you have tracks that are adrenaline pumping, fueling you with intensity as you battle powerful foes. Monolith Soft always delivers when it comes to their games music, but they have succeeded to a level they probably didn’t know they were capable of. If you never play the game, buy the soundtrack. Chances are it’ll be enough on its own to convince you to buy the game, it’s that good.
The vocal cast of the game has received some criticisms from others I’ve seen. Let’s set that record straight. The voices in this game are varied, I’m talking representations from all over the world. Accents that are American, European, Australian, Irish, and many more. They all deliver their lines as one would expect, and I wish more games would have such a broad scope of vocal talent and variety than the standard American accents available everywhere else. With all that being said, the only true gripe anyone can have with the voice-over is whether or not the associated voice fits the character. With such a heavy anime style, the voices can come off as jarring and unfitting with that character but the problem, for lack of a better word, is rectified almost instantly as you progress through the game and get used to it. If it truly is a problem, the Japanese voices are available day one for free as DLC. Personally, it didn’t bother me one bit and I enjoyed the game completely.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a fantastic open-world action RPG game that is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. The story, characters, world, and the gameplay is the highlight of the game. The game is both fair and challenging and despite the auto-attacking, every victory feels earned. It’s a shame that it was released so late and unable to qualify for any awards because this is one of the best soundtracks in gaming and deserves to be recognized.
There are some framerate issues and it has to be brought up because it can be noticeable at times and pull you out of this world and back into real life. The game may be too large or the cutscenes too long for those who primarily game in portable mode. There are a lot of menus and at first glance, the entire package can seem overwhelming. With all of that being said, you should still buy this game.
The game is actually fun with a great story and the world itself tells its own story as you wander around it. Rex is a nice kid who is easy to develop a connection with as you watch the story from his eyes. This game is a prime example that despite what EA says, single-player games are still as relevant now as in the past, especially when they are crafted to this degree. This isn’t a perfect game and the framerate needs some addressing but its worth overlooking because of how great it is. I hope this game gets the recognition the franchise deserves because it truly is a phenomenal experience and fun.