Funny enough, it was January 2013 where we first saw the game that would eventually be called Xenoblade Chronicles X, and nearly three years later, we finally see the end result. The successor to one of Nintendo’s highest rated games and one of the highest rated JRPGs of all time: Xenoblade Chronicles. There are high hopes for Monolithsoft to create the new standard of JRPGs on Nintendo’s next generation platform. What we get is an enormous world, rich with gameplay that we’ve seen in both Western and Japanese RPGs that furthers what their original Wii game did and then some; though they may have gone a bit too far.
Xenoblade Chronicles X’s premise is incredibly different to the original Xenoblade, and they have very little to nothing related to one another despite the similar name. While Xenoblade is a revenge story located on the corpses on two dead titans, Xenoblade X takes place in our own future. After Earth blows up from an alien attack, a lone American ship carrying the last of humankind lands on an alien planet called Mira. As the game starts with humans adapting and surviving, the story starts evolving into one of them slightly thriving on Mira and even housing other alien races, while continuing wars with others.
While Xenoblade had its own race war between Hom and Mechon, Xenoblade Chronicles X has an extremely heavy focus on Xenophobia: the fear of what is foreign. Certain humans use their fear of the Ganglions, who killed off Earth, to start hating peaceful aliens like the Ma-non, and use it to spread hated and fear to other humans. Deep down when you do everything in the game, you start to understand the maturity Monolithsoft had when creating such a realistic “what if” scenario; and living in America in late 2015/early 2016, the story hits very, VERY close to home. Though I really doubt this was some sort of political statement, the execution of some of the story, mixed with the fact that the remaining humans are American (who are actually all adults who are supposed to be some of the bests in their fields of work), makes the game so much more impactful.
The five continents within Mira are gigantic and full of wonderful design, both in an artistic and technical sense. The feeling of jumping down from a high place really gets the heart racing, and trying to climb mountains that might get you higher may give some folks Skyrim flashbacks. Luckily you can fast travel to previously discovered locations at any time, because it can take a ton of time to manually run back and forth across Mira. The first two areas you heavily deal with, Primordia and Noctilum have many platforming segments with its crazy vegetation, various cliff heights and diverse regions; while the other three are mainly flat for the skell transportation that you’ll take advantage of later on. The creatures all have their little predetermined paths they follow, although I do wish they had a little more AI to them so they can interact with each other instead of pacing.
While the wild west of Mira was established beautifully, the city that was previously the living quarters of the ship, New Los Angeles, was a weird sight. For only a few thousand remaining humans, there’s a functioning commercial district, a modern residential district, booming industry and the administrative district where all the government and military processes takes place; and it oddly seems unrealistic. I’d feel that only a month or so of crashing on an alien planet and waging war on other species that the remaining humans wouldn’t chill at their pool or worry about their diner’s sales… as if they have much competition. There’s even a terrorist wanting to ruin everything NLA offers – on a ship that recruited only the best minds on Earth! I was constantly thinking why most of this even exists, but only between some of the technical oddities, like how there’s zero collision detection with you and cars.
The worlds get slightly smaller when you obtain a Skell, a transformable battle mech. They can jump high and float on water, so there’s little need to swim anymore, and transform into a vehicle for easy traversing. Though it takes forever an a half to snag a skell, any mech fan needs to own this game, as this is one of the best to utilize them in multiple ways. Once you start flying late in the game, it creates that “airship”-feel JRPGs tend to have, where that beautiful world becomes even tinier thanks to the uselessness of things like walls and cliffs. Though the game smartly litters enemies in the air to prevent exploring too much.
The game is one of the Wii U’s best looking titles that left me in awe seeing each new area in person in this intense open world RPG. Not only that, but we’ve been inclined to accept that games like these are supposed to be unstable with crashing as shown in their Western RPG counterparts, but I haven’t seen a single issue like that here. Sadly with the other consoles alongside Nintendo’s other offerings like Super Smash Bros., the game’s 720p resolution and 30 frames/second looks rough in comparison, because the game in 1080p/60fps would be incredible. Some textures look rough up close and there’s a ton of pop-in, but the game’s best moments are when you're gazing at locales from afar.
If you played the original Xenoblade, or were a fan of Dragon Age and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic too, the concepts of battle are very similar, which is more like an MMORPG in a single-player setting, complete with a similar auto attack system. Unlike the first game, they added a more complex combo system that relies on listening to your allies to launch your next title. That combo system is okay, but I liked the original’s method of selecting the right attacks to perform a status infliction. You can change weapons from melee to ranged at any time, so you can attack at various distances, which is a huge improvement. On the skells however, your special attacks are based on your weapons equipped and it feels more of a spamming fest more than strategy since hitting the right move will undo all the cooldown for your attacks. One thing that annoys me to death compared to the original game is that filling the morale gauge doesn’t allow you the ability to revive allies. Instead you have to rack up 3000 “tension points,” gained by your standard auto-attacks and continuing combos, which can be very tedious and long.
Grasping the concepts in Xenoblade Chronicles X is very tough and time consuming, but eventually rewarding. Playing the first Xenoblade gets you a leg up on some concepts, like augmenting items, affinity levels with the people of Mira and combat basics, but even fans might feel supremely overwhelmed at first. You can control probes to mine or research, invest in arms manufacturers, dismember limbs in combat, upgrade skills to lower cooldown and increase its effects, and I kid you not, control a gameplay element that prevents using up your insurance plans on your skell so you don’t have to pay a huge deductible when it gets destroyed later on. Even thirty or even sixty hours in, I’m still hearing about new things I can do in the game, and it continues after you beat the campaign. I can see some players being lightly turned off or intimidated over the wealth of gameplay in this game (I was during some points), but super hardcore RPG fans will LOVE the over-complexity of it.
Case in point, the GamePad is used as your “FrontierNav,” a device that controls all your map functions, including your fast travelling, mining probes and locating missions and their objectives. At first glance it looks like a mess, but it feels more like organized chaos once you get into the flow of its processes. With a game this big, the map becomes an essential part of the game, so learning its craziness is a must have. There is an option for using the Pro Controller for combat and exploration, which I used mostly; but keep in mind that you’ll still need the GamePad close by for its screen… and perhaps a charge cable.
Missions are hit or miss with some telling you exactly where to do, and others so ambiguous that I’ve literally spent hours trying to find where to go, heck what to do in it. There was one mission that took me over three hours to find where the clue led me, figured out the enemy that spawns there only does so at night and had to attack a certain part of the body to get the drop. I swear your partner in the game isn’t the FrontierNav or Elma - it’s Google. In addition, many of the quests are fetch quests so prepare to fast travel, kill or pick up something (or someone) and fast travel back.
Also a point in the thousands of little complex things is the online functionality, where thirty-two active players passively form a squad (aka not join up together) that cooperate to complete certain objectives like kill random types of creatures or collect certain items across Mira. It’s cool that it doesn’t force anyone to participate, yet get some goodies for doing so, and you can join more hardcore Conquest groups who regularly beat these. These groups exist because once the objectives are clear, you can recruit players in your squad, or use your in-game party to take out a boss in order to obtain some of the rarest items available.
In a surprising twist, Nintendo left the soundtrack in Xenoblade Chronicles X in the very capable hands of Hiroyuki Sawano. If you don’t know him, he has done some of the most memorable anime scores in history. His work in Kill La Kill, Attack on Titan andGundam Unicorn have made those great and popular shows so much more epic in feel, and Xenoblade Chronicles X is no different. It’s amazing to felt that every battle, big or small, every emotional moment and every place you travel to is backed up by excellent music, though cutscenes are sometimes drowned in it. Many of the tracks are vocalized (and in Sawano’s fashion, natively in English), and span multiple genres like rock, hip hop, orchestral and electronic. I swear I’ve seen less musical diversity in Rock Band. Sure some of the lyrical songs have a few corny lines due to a Japanese guy writing English lyrics, but it never fails to give a positive reaction. Especially when you’re fighting your first monsters in the game and all of a sudden a harder rock song complete with some killer drum work starts blaring on your speakers. Its unorthodox score makes it one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a video game, ever.
The rest of the audio work is pretty good as well. Your regularly staffed anime dubbers do the English vocals, with Caitlin Glass (Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club) and Cassandra Lee Morris (Edea Lee in Bravely Default, Leafa in Sword Art Online, and a personal fav) providing your main buddies Elma and Lin’s voices respectfully, and a great job is given to them along with the rest of the staff. Your avatar doesn’t speak in cutscenes (which sucks as well as it kills the flow of the scene when everything pauses to get your opinion in a multiple-choice offering), but he or she does speak in battle. What’s super cool about that is that you’re given a bunch of options for who provides your voice, and are actually given the voice actor’s name as your option, which I chose Bryce Papenbrook (Eren in Attack on Titan, Kirito in Sword Art Online). Everyone has some funny lines within combat, like Cristina Vee (Haruhi Suzumiya, Konata in Lucky Star) saying, “You unleashed my inner animal! Grrr!” during a fight. Every voice casted has a wealth of in-game lines that are used in battle, and it’s fun to know that your chose that voice.
Throughout the game, you recruit many more allies to fight with, but you also obtain a little furry guy named Tatsu. He’s your comic relief and not soon after you long adventure in Xenoblade Chronicles X, he starts waning on your patience. His comedy revolves solely on his cowardice and Lin wanting to cook him. These running gags perform a marathon of half-baked jokes that try to break up the depressing and serious tone of the game. In RPGs I always hate the useless characters, but Tatsu brings it to a whole new level.
With all this said, I can say that Xenoblade Chronicles X is probably the most mature game Nintendo has made. Not because it has intense swearing or a ton of gore; but because it feels grown up, is executed sort of realistically, has heavy tones that rings true in today’s world, and treats the player as an adult to learn and adapt on your own without the handholding that the company is notorious of. That’s ballsy, especially with the thousands of little things the games has for you to do, Xenoblade Chronicles X’s complexity makes Fallout look like Pong. Unfortunately that means that it’s hard to recommend this to anyone except those knowing exactly what they’re walking into, because Mira is terrifying without preparation. Though if you grit your teeth and bare it, and you will, you’ll have a ton of fun exploring and researching the world of Mira.
Great looking with inventive locales to explore
Tons of milage, especially if you're going for 100%
Mature setting, story
Fun combat with dismemberment options
Mechs feel powerful
Legitimate GamePad usage
Great voice acting
Nifty passive online functionality
Losing all HP lets you just resume, no setbacks
Some crazy perquisites for continuing story at times
Quests can get you lost for hours
720p/30fps doesn't let the game shine as it could
Many fetch quests
Healing/reviving is much more harder than original Xenoblade
Could be too much for certain gamers
Music drowns out voices in cutscenes, no options to fix
Tatsu is a crappy character
Consistently needed a tablet/smartphone nearby to Google things