Xenoblade Chronicles X – Review
By Josh Goldie
Back in 2010 there was an internet movement known as ‘Project Rainfall’. The idea behind this was to convince Nintendo to localise three games on the Wii that had gained some notable notoriety online due to the positive reception in Japan and the prestige behind them. These three games were Pandora’s Tower, The Last Story, and Xenoblade Chronicles. In the end, Nintendo of Europe would bite the bullet and localise the games in English, and all three titles were met with a positive reception. Out of these three games the most famous, and by far the most popular, was Xenoblade Chronicles by Monolith Soft. This gargantuan game was easily the best JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) in a long time. The game was successful enough both here and in Japan that the games protagonist managed to earn himself a space on the roster for Super Smash Bros on Wii U and 3DS, was remade for New 3DS in 2015 and eventually got a sequel for the Wii U called Xenoblade Chronicles X, which launched in Japan April of last year and December for the rest of the world.
The first Xenoblade Chronicles was known for many things. It had a very likeable cast of characters and a very strong story that spanned 100+ hours. A big draw of the first game was its world. The land of the Bionis and Mechonis, two titans who killed each other in combat, and from their corpses the world was born, was breathtaking and looked absolutely stunning, especially for a game on the Nintendo Wii. This world was packed with life from collectible material, people with side-quests to give you and lots of monsters with varying ranges. One step into the Guar Plains really showed off how great this game could be.
Unfortunately with such great scenery, something was inevitably there as a counter, and these were the character models. They were not good, especially the faces, which was slightly disappointing. The combat was done in real-time and used a new style of fighting where you and your team would auto-attack while you decided what special abilities they would pull-off. These abilities were called Arts and ranged from a certain type of attack, healing, stat buff/debuff and aggro among many more. All this went together perfectly to make an ultimate JRPG experience and is a game I recommend everyone to try. However, it is not the game I am reviewing today. The reason I am explaining the first game to you now is because the games sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles X, takes everything from the first game and expands on it; unfortunately, not all of these expansions are an improvement.Photo: Nintendo Co., Ltd., Monolith Soft, Inc.
We will start this review with the positives, and the first thing to note in this game is its world. The world of Mira is massive and beautiful. There are five main environments to be found on Mira with two lesser areas that you will visit. The main areas consist of a huge plain and mountains called Primordia, something very similar to the Guar Plains but with an even greater sense of awe; there is the giant rainforest of Noctilum with huge vines, swamps and insects to be found; the area to the east is the ruined desert of Oblivia with lightning rain and floating islands; there is the ash soaked valley of Sylvalum which is guarded by ancient monsters and giant robots that patrol the area looking to destroy other mechanical life; and finally in the far north is Cauldros, a land of fire a brimstone where only the most powerful of monsters can survive.
While visiting these areas you may sometimes find yourself travelling across Mira’s great sea and discovering little Islands along the way. If you ever find yourself needing some downtime there is also the final area that acts as your main hub: New LA. New LA is a bustling metropolitan filled with humans and other peaceful alien life. New LA really does feel like a living, breathing town lost in the heart of an alien planet and that is exactly what it is. This games biggest strength is the fact that you really feel like you are exploring an undiscovered alien planet and it creates a sense of adventure in the soul that no other game has done to me before.
This breathtaking world could not come to live if it wasn’t for the amazing HD graphics that this game has an over. This title really shows exactly what the Wii U can do and looks a lot better than many of the games you would find on the PS4 or Xbox One, at least from a distance. When you actually jump into the game you will end up finding that up close not everything is as great as you might have expected, with the character models still being the worst of the bunch. In Xenoblade Chronicles X you have the ability to create your own character which is new to the series. However this comes with a downside, as all the playable cast essentially has the same build. This is to allow for any outfit or weapon to work on any character but it creates the problem that characters either look really generic or have really odd faces up close.
The only exceptions to this are Elma and Lin who are the de facto main characters, as the story follows them along with the Avatar character, but more on that in a bit. The player may find themselves running into graphical issues when entering into a new area with textures not loading or just looking rather choppy and some elements like cars and planes literally go through the player which kills some of the immersion. However with all this said there is an upside. It becomes somewhat understandable why all of this happens when you realize that there are practically zero load screens in this whole game. The whole world, minus one or two areas, is one gigantic map that the player can freely enter from any side and at any time without restriction. The game’s focus is freedom and exploration, and Xenoblade Chronicles X captures this perfectly.Photo: Nintendo Co., Ltd., Monolith Soft, Inc.
Another new feature of Xenoblade Chronicles X is the class and Skell mechanics. As the main character is an avatar they do not have a set weapon or ability layout like the characters from the first game. Instead you have access to a full range of classes and weapons to pick from. You can decide to be a jack-of-all trade or prioritize one specific loadout. With each of these classes come different skills and Arts you can equip to make your character play like you want him to. The player moves around in a squad, with a maximum of four members, and while you can change the classes of your partners, there are more than enough of them to truly customize every aspect of battle.
Unfortunately, as cool as the class system is, it almost becomes pointless when the Skells are introduced. The Skells are basically giant robots, like Transformers or any mech anime, which the player can pilot from the inside. The Skells have all their own stats and abilities and offer a better damage output, more health and more manoeuvrability when travelling the world. In exchange for this you will likely never use your class loadout again until the game forces you into ground segments. This is all worth it though as soon as you unlock the ability to fly, as flying around Mira with 4 Skells feels amazing, and the music really helps to make the moment feel special, especially the first time you set off.
There are two more combat features that play a role in this game, both during ground and Skell combat, and these are Soul Voice and Tension Points. Soul Voice replaces healing in this game and takes some getting used to. Essentially, you have to be a good team mate. Your partners will sometimes make requests of you such as ‘Move in close with a melee attack’ or ‘I could use a buff’. These prompts are met with a coloured border and require the player to use an art of that same colour. This will not only increase your affinity with that character but activate a quick time event that upon entering correctly both you and the character you helped will get some health back. It seems complicated but it will eventually become natural and the same can be said for the Tension Points (TP).
Over battle various factors increase your characters TP such as morale, auto-attacking, and as a side-effect of certain Arts. TP can then be used to perform certain Arts; specifically Auras which have miscellaneous effects on you or your party, and for activating Overdrive. Overdrive is a special mode where all of you characters stats will increase for a set amount of time. The time you are in Overdrive can be extended by the arts you perform and the more TP you can earn while in Overdrive. This skill is absolutely required to learn for the later parts of the game, and this can seem quite confusing at first, so I recommend paying sharp attention when they explain this in the game.Photo: Nintendo Co., Ltd., Monolith Soft, Inc.
That covers it for all the gameplay parts of this game so now is a good time to discuss the music. The music for this game was done by popular Japanese artist Hiroyuki Sawano who is well known for his work on Blue Exorcist and Attack on Titan. He puts his usual style into the world of Xenoblade and it is certainly not for everyone but personally I found it to be very cheesy, camp, and ultimately very awesome. Every track feels different and matches what is happening on screen. The various songs that play during a battle match the scope of the fight and make you feel pumped. The music that plays when you fly through the sky is also magical while Noctilum’s theme is probably my favourite of all of them, as it makes you really feel like an explorer of unknown lands. Not all the songs are good; the night-time New LA theme is just strange, but for the most part this game OST is definitely one I would like to own myself.
So, finally we come to this game’s negative, and I was saving it for the end because it is quite major: The story is pretty bad.
The games plot is simple: Aliens have destroyed the Earth but a small section of humanity escaped in various ships. We follow the White Whale which has been shot down and lands on an alien planet. Now it is up to the player character to join the military organization BLADE and help the human race survive by finding the life hold of the ship, where the majority of Earth’s population is asleep in cryogenics. Unfortunately, the Aliens who destroyed Earth have appeared here as well in attempt to finish what they started. The game’s premise is fine, and the world it has built seems like a good one, but the issue is that nothing is given a proper explanation.
Only a handful of the games many plot threads get some kind of resolution and a lot of the character moments are relegated to the side quests (which are vastly improved from the original game, although gathering quests are even more annoying this time due to a lack of direction for the player). There are about six player characters in the game (out of 17) who matter at all and most of them lose all sense of character outside of Elma and Lin as they are required but the fourth character is not so they usually stand there as a lifeless husk. Almost like the main character in this game, your avatar. Shulk was an enjoyable protagonist because he had character, but the issue with using a player controlled avatar this time around is that they have no character. Every so often you pick from a choice of dialogue options but your character never speaks outside of battle and so really just feels like he is a side character to Elma’s story rather than it being the other way around.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is an absolutely wonderful experience and one I recommend any Wii U owner picks up. The gameplay, presentation, and music are fantastic and will keep you engrossed for over 100 hours easily. This can be a problem because it does require some sort of investment, however the game can be tackled with a group of friends (a feature which I, unfortunately, did not get to try). If you are expecting a great story, however, you will be left feeling very disappointed.
Despite this major flaw, I loved Xenoblade Chronicles X and I pray that one day it may see a sequel with a half-decent plot to wrap up everything left behind in this game.