The Xenoblade series has steadily grown into a RPG franchise great in the hearts of countless Japanese RPG fans. Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X pushed the limits of Nintendo’s relatively underpowered platforms in unthinkable ways late into their lifecycles. As a heads up before I go further into this review let me tell you that this game is directly connected to both the Original game (Xenoblade Chronicles) and the assumed side game Xenoblade Chronicles X (It’s actually not a side story but tied to the events of what is shown in both the ending of 1&2 as well as the beginning of Xenosaga’s reveal of the Zohar and also Xenogears as well…..This is all theory on my end however Tetsuya Takahashi has said before that all the references in this game are not to be just there for references but also for long time fans of the Xeno series altogether…also both Square Enix and Bandai Namco helped with this game (owners of the XenoGears and XenoSaga games respectively) so that’s another thing linking it all together. I can safely say that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has secured a spot in the highly exclusive club of elite titles which doesn’t only measure up to its cost but may even exceed it. This sequel for the Switch grabs a hold of you and rarely lets go. It consumes you and guides you through an enriching ride with its array of majestic environments, colorful visuals, interesting and likable characters, and an overall captivating narrative. But beneath the glossy surface contains an elaborate, well-oiled machine of core gameplay elements as well. Xenoblade 2 is simply bursting at the seams with some feverishly addictive gameplay, intricate mechanics, and a bounty of content. There are a few unpolished bits and strange quirks embedded within this large mechanism, but it produces such a level of greatness that these minor flaws mostly fall by the wayside. The result is an enthralling JRPG experience and a Switch title that gives the likes of Zelda and Skyrim a run for their money.
If you missed out on XC, worry not! XC2 has a few winks and nods to it, but it tells its own tale with an all-new cast of characters that at the end ties (in my opinion) all of the Xeno series together and leaves more and more questions. Rather than the super-sword wielding Shulk and friends returning, we now take on the role of the more lighthearted and humble Rex, a scavenger of the massive Cloud Sea and soon to be Driver. Drivers are names given to fighters who wield the powers of magical life forms known as Blades, taking the place of the iconic Monado sword from the Wii game. Blades take on an equally prominent role however, as they’re essentially a juiced-up, immortal version of humans who hold various elemental powers at their disposal. They’re sort of Tolkien’s Elves meets Pokemon, ranging from weird-looking humanoids to wolf-like beasts, and apparently an occasional attractive, scantily clad woman. These Blades are scattered throughout the many lands of the world of Alrest, and are birthed from blue glowing “core crystals.” This concept is certainly a cool gimmick that adds a distinct flavor to a genre that’s been rife with familiar concepts and cliches; one which developer Monolith Soft does a fine job of playing with.
Rex, along with a band of fellow Drivers he meets during his quest, finds a special Blade named Pyra, a sought after “Aegis,” who we come to learn plays a major role in the story, more so than her more modestly clothed Blade brethren. The Blades are the crux that both the narrative and the unique gameplay largely revolve around, joining the archives of Xenoblade lore along with the Titans. Players of the original Xenoblade may recall that Titans are gigantic god-like beasts whose bodies make up the landmass inhabited by all living things. Like the Blades, they are firmly interwoven into Xenoblade 2’s mythos and play an integral part in its story. Rather than two larger Titans comprising the lands of the first game, we now have a cluster of several smaller ones, which you visit during the course of the journey. In fact, it’s revealed that there had been an even greater number of Titans centuries ago; but warfare, as well as the natural aging of the creatures, have created a lack of livable land and resources.
This in turn begets even more fighting and political strife, and thus we’re thrown into a web of major conflicts and drama that comprises the narrative of Xenoblade 2. There is a central place that these titans are encircling and that is the World Tree: On the world tree is said to lie Elysium, home of the creative deity known as the Architect, though no one in recent memory has been able to get there to find out. In addition to the regular lifeforms, Alrest also hosts special artificial life known as Blades. Blades are attached to persons called Drivers in a symbiotic relationship that augments abilities to create powerful fighters. Blades return to a Core Crystal when their Driver dies and have no memory of their previous life when they are revived by a new Driver, creating an interesting dynamic between them and humanity.
It may present itself as a lighthearted story at first, but XC2 is ultimately an adventure of growing up. Several darker, mature themes begin to unfold the mysteries surrounding Rex and Pyra’s trip. XC2 excels at presenting multiple sides for the conflicts that prop up. There are many clever narrative tricks that brilliantly expose alternative perspectives on tricky situations. Characters often have a fairly compelling reason of why they do the things that they do and I’m glad that XC2 takes the time to explore these in great detail as I was connecting the dots. There are many aspects in play here; we have nations and factions at odds with each other, Blades at odds with humans, Blades fighting other Blades - you name it. During the journey, Rex and company find themselves in the thick of this instability. Motivated by a desire to put an end to the whirlwind of conflict, protect the Aegis, and to find a more prosperous place to live, they venture to the center of the known world, of which all the Titans literally revolve around. Here lies a romanticized land steeped in legend called Elysium, which sits atop the World Tree. But many of the various forces in play - each with their own motives - either want to control the area themselves or bar our heroes from reaching it. An astonishing feat of XC2 is its firm commitment to flesh out the denizens of Alrest. As I made my way to new locales on each Titan, I began to learn about how and why people lived at each of them. I learned how each nation’s political body functions and how they’ve adapted to the land conditions on their corresponding Titan. It’s an insane attention to detail. It’s all quite mythological, even Biblical in nature - as we’re guided through an origin story that continues to escalate further in scale and significance, until it all reaches a satisfying crescendo.
Yasunori Mitsuda's musical direction is excellent, ably supported by a small selection of other composers devoted to the field and combat tracks. A wonderful selection of battle themes complement the action nicely, while others bring further emotion and atmosphere to key cutscenes, and sweeping, hauntingly beautiful, and distinct themes for the various settlements and fields further add to their character. The score is full of hugely pleasurable tracks to listen to across the board. Just like in the first XC, the English voice cast does a tremendous job selling the characters. A wealth of varied accents make it one of the more uniquely sounding RPGs once more. Not every delivery is perfect, but I was quite satisfied with the English performances overall - especially given the scope of how many voiced scenes are in the game. The frequent, inadequate lip-sync to the English script is one of the more noticeable flaws. Entire lines missing their mark when a character speaks is a common ongoing problem throughout XC2. The game's Japanese voices are available on the Nintendo eShop for free if you'd rather go that route.
Of course, the marquee feature that defines a Xenoblade game is its world and level design. Exploring Xenoblade Chronicles 2 both on my TV and on-the-go has been a remarkable experience. It’s a return to form from XC1; expect heavily populated towns, villages, fields, and much more. From rocky deserts to snowy mountains, it is a vivid, marvelous thing to gaze at. XC2 may not be the most graphically intensive game on the Switch, but its scope and art design are as beautiful as ever. The final stretches of the game are breathtaking to behold. Most areas seamlessly flow into one another and the only time you’ll be seeing a loading screen is when you’re booting up a save, fast traveling, or transitioning into a cutscene. It’s not one huge consistent open world like XCX, but it sure can feel like it at times. Loading times are only a few seconds long, though it comes at a cost. Fast traveling between areas often load into incomplete environments. Textures and assets will be missing more often that not, so it could look real ugly for another second or two before it fully gets done loading in. The party AI that follows you around has a nasty habit of warping around you as the game panics to logically relocate them by you; this is most noticeable when you’re traversing at uneven elevations.
Several technical limitations keep XC2 from being a smooth experience. It does a decent job maintaining 30fps most of the time; however, certain situations will make it start sweating. Bigger towns cause it to slow down as it was loading in bigger buildings and denser crowds of NPCs. Busier battles with lots of enemies and flashy skill effects popping off at once will cause it to chug. There were even a few instances in which the game audio would cut in and out. XC2 is an impressive game no doubt. I wonder if a few more months in development would’ve done some good to iron out these kinks. Hopefully a patch can resolve some of these glaring issues. Handheld mode on XC2 holds up well for the most part. There’s a noticeable resolution drop, but the Switch’s small screen size helps keep the environments largely crisp. Portable players will want to have power-banks handy for play sessions. A full charge dropped to a low battery warning in just two and a half hours for me after a fair mix of battles, exploration, story cutscenes, and fast traveling. Nevertheless, roaming around XC2’s environments still feels as great as it did in the other Xenoblade entries. High viewpoints give you a brief moment to survey the lay of the land before diving in. The overwhelming sense of wonder and curiosity about each new area I encountered never failed to cease. Everywhere you run in XC2 is a new story waiting to tell your friends. Foes of all levels lurk in every inch and in true Xenoblade fashion, prepare to run like hell from that high-leveled enemy when it sets its eyes on you.
Monolith Soft has done a superb job of revamping the mechanics of combat to make for a complex yet user friendly experience, while retaining subtle elements that worked well from prior entries. There is a plethora of attacks and strategies you can utilize rather than mindlessly sitting back hacking away with auto-attacks. The game impressively manages to cram even more intricacies into the system this time around, while also tweaking the interface to be easier and more efficient to use. Rather than scrolling through a list of potential moves ala Xenoblade 1, you’re now given Blade attacks which are directly mapped to the Switch’s face buttons. You can carry up to 3 Blades and swap them out on the fly by mapping them to the directional buttons. The interface is very manageable and clearly displayed despite all the factors involved, and I was able to grasp at least the basics pretty easily.
There are, however, several layers of more complex details and strategies that dedicated players can play around with to gain the upper hand, and which you’ll need to at least moderately understand when delving into the later chapters. Im going to include a link here to a good friend of mines and fellow YouTuber AndresRestart video that explains in detail how to understand the battle system for this game and while you're at it give him a subscribe and follow on YouTube and Twitter (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1Y_ctUO_yU).
Auto attacks for instance, each contain a distinct combo of strikes that vary in timing and animation depending on which blade you use. Tapping a button for a Blade art shortly following the end of this combo will increase the damage for said ability. If timed successfully, this will accelerate the process of enabling a special move mapped to “A” button, which eventually reaches a potential of building up to 4 tiers of strength. Each Blade also embodies a different elemental type, and you can initiate a special move that corresponds to an element indicated on the top right of the screen - known as a Blade combo. Once you’ve fulfilled this condition, it’ll trigger the next level’s requirement where you repeat the process until you complete a third elemental move. Are you taking notes? This is going to be on the test. Once the final stage of the Blade combo is completed, an orb of that element will form and rotate around the enemy, which can then be further exploited by using a chain attack. Chain attacks unleashes all party members on the opponent and can pack a punch. With elemental orbs in the mix, you can further compound the damage by bursting them during your chain attack, allowing you to string several attacks together. Some enemies also come with elemental weaknesses which can be taken advantage of Pokemon-style. The combat system is like a sort of violent dance that factors in timing, location, stacking effects like toppling, linking moves, and utilizing elemental types; all of which contribute to efficiency in one way or another. Once you get into the swing of it, this system proves to be an enjoyable and rewarding process that rarely gets old despite the frequency of battles you’ll be fighting. It all seems like a ton to digest, but the game does a fine job at staggering out the introduction of these little nuances as you go along with tutorial prompts. Even 40 hours in, I was still shown an occasional new move or strategy to toy with. At times these interruptions can break the flow of the gameplay and border on annoying, especially early on when they occur more frequently. Nonetheless, they go a long way in getting you acquainted with the unique system by guiding you along in baby steps; this is assuming you take the time to really focus on the brief explanations. You’ll only be told once and can’t draw them up again, unless you’d prefer to needlessly burn currency by buying them in the form of vague descriptions from town Informants.