Articles

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles 2

3-8-18

Hello everyone, this is Bennett, aka Clarion15, and I’m a brand new writer for Double Jump Gaming News team. For my first article, I thought I’d talk about a recent game that is near and dear to my heart: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for the Nintendo Switch. I am a huge fan of the original for the Nintendo Wii, and it has been my favorite game of all time since January of 2015. I didn’t fully appreciate it after I first bought it in 2012, but when I picked it up again three years later I soon fell in love with its creative world design, brilliant story, sweeping musical scores, lovable characters, and complex but fun battle system.


You can imagine my excitement when the Nintendo Direct in January 2017 revealed that Monolith Soft was developing a sequel for the Nintendo Switch. Sure, there had been another Xenoblade game before then; Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U; but it didn’t resonate as well with me as the original had. The first trailer for Xenoblade 2 had me hopeful that it would be a return to what I loved so much about the original.

As more trailers came out in 2017, and as I began to see past the hype and look at the game more critically, I started to have my doubts. I was one of many people who were put off by the “generic anime” artstyle, and a lot of the character designs (namely the main character Rex) didn’t sit well with me. The combat system also didn’t seem very interesting to me. I was worried that it would fail to live up to the original.


Boy am I glad I was wrong.

While I still have a few grievances about this game, I will say that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is easily my favorite game of 2017. Without further ado, let’s get into what makes this game so great (and maybe not so much in a few ways).


Premise

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes place in Alrest, a vast sea of clouds with massive beings known as titans acting as continents. These titans circle a large tree in the center of the cloud sea called the World Tree. In Alrest, there are characters known as Drivers who are linked to special lifeforms called blades, which are summoned and created when a worthy driver resonates with their core crystal. Four of the five playable characters in this game are traditional drivers, while the fifth has a robotic blade he created himself called an artificial blade. Each blade has their own role (attacker, healer, tank) which allows them to grant bonuses to their driver to help them fit that role. For example, a tank blade will provide a 15% bonus to its driver’s maximum health. Each blade also has its own weapon type (greataxes, hammers, lances, katanas, etc.) that they give to their driver to use in battle.


GamePlay

As I mentioned before, I had my doubts about the combat system in this game. However, once I actually got to playing the game, those doubts went right out the window. It manages to be very different from previous titles, yet it still feels like a Xenoblade game.


In battle, the player can have three drivers (or party members) active at one time, with the first member of the party being controlled by the player. Each party member can have one blade active at a time, with the ability to switch to two others mid-battle. Each blade provides its driver a set of four abilities called Arts, three of which can be equipped at a time. These Arts are unique to both the driver and weapon of the blade being used. Each art has its own gauge which must be filled before being used. Filling this gauge doesn’t involve waiting for a cooldown to expire like in the original. Instead, the driver must deliver auto-attacks, which are normal attacks that the driver executes simply by targeting an enemy and standing near them. Just like how using auto-attacks charges Arts, using Arts in turn charges a driver’s special gauge, which can reach four levels and has different effects depending on which level it’s used at. The player can perform an auto-attack cancel, which is using an Art immediately after an auto-attack to boost the special gauge faster and make the art more powerful, and even faster and more powerful if they use an Art after a third auto-attack in a sequence of three. Auto-attack cancelling may seem like a pretty minor feature, but it makes the combat system much more involved by requiring the player to implement the right amount of timing rather than waiting around for Arts to go off cooldown.


Another feature from previous games that Xenoblade 2 builds off of is the classic topple system. In Xenoblade 1, characters had certain Arts that could inflict Break, Topple, and Daze. If the party coordinated their use of Arts to inflict Break and then Topple, they could knock an enemy to the ground, which temporarily prevented them from doing anything. Furthermore, if another party member used an Art that afflicted Daze, it would take them out of commission even longer. Xenoblade 2 works very similarly to this, except instead of Daze, the party can inflict the Launch status effect on a toppled enemy, which launches them up in the air, and finish by using Smash, which smashes the enemy into the ground. And yes, it’s just as satisfying as it sounds.


Xenoblade 2 brings a few new features to the table outside of combat as well. One of these features is field skills. Every Blade has a number of field skills, which have a variety of uses exclusively outside of battle such as leaping to a high point using a torrent of wind, breaking open a cracked wall, or following a monster’s tracks. These field skills add a new dynamic to completing quests, with some only being completable with high enough field skills. Having high enough field skills is also useful for accessing new areas and collecting treasure.


At about a third of the way through the game, a feature called the Merc Group becomes available. With the Merc Group, you can put your unused Blades to use by sending them on special missions. These missions put them out of commission for a certain amount of real world time, and reward you with gold, experience, and items once completed. While this feature isn’t really a necessity, it’s a nice addition to the game that doesn’t intrude on the central gameplay.


Early on in the game, one of the playable characters, Tora, creates an artificial Blade (essentially a robot) named Poppi. What sets Poppi apart from other Blades is that she can’t equip items like other Blades can. Instead, you purchase stat upgrades for her using ether crystals. To earn these ether crystals, you have to play an 8-bit video game that Tora created called Tiger! Tiger! How this works in-universe is completely unknown to me, but it’s a pretty entertaining mini-game nonetheless. If you want to upgrade Poppi to her fullest potential though, the amount of time you’ll have to spend playing this mini-game will make you start to hate it.


One thing I should point out is that Xenoblade 2 is not very difficult. Once you manage to get familiar with the complex combat system, most battles will become a breeze, especially if you complete as many side quests as you can to level up faster. On my first playthrough, I took a rather minimalist approach, focusing mostly on the main story while doing the occasional side quest. On my second playthrough, I took a more completionist approach, doing all the side quests as soon as they were given and exploring every area to find the best items. Having a beefed-up party combined with knowing a great deal about the game from my first playthrough made my second time through a cakewalk. In the few occasions where I did struggle with a particular enemy, it seemed like that enemy had some sort of cheap gimmick to make them difficult, such as having a one-hit kill move that they would use if I didn’t eliminate them quickly enough. There are ways that the game tries to circumvent this problem, though. There are some locations off the beaten path that have enemies leveled more towards stronger parties, so if you’re looking for something that can actually go toe-to-toe with your overleveled party, you are bound to find them somewhere, just not on the main story path.


Speaking of high-leveled enemies, Xenoblade 2 continues the series’ trend of having really high-level enemies in areas for low-level characters (the infamous level 81 Territorial Rotbart from Xenoblade 1 makes his return in this game). One of the reasons I didn’t like Xenoblade Chronicles X all that much was that it took this Xenoblade staple a bit too far by making a large number of enemies in every area much higher level than the player’s party would be upon reaching it, and when I played it I often found myself having to search for enemies that I could actually beat. In Xenoblade 2, the amount of overleveled enemies is brought back down to a minimum, and the feature serves to make the player exercise caution when exploring areas rather than hinder their exploration altogether. Some players may still find this feature annoying, but I think that if you keep an eye on the movement patterns of high-leveled enemies and plan your own movement accordingly, you shouldn’t have much trouble.


Overall, the gameplay of Xenoblade 2 brings a lot of great new things to the table, while also retaining what made the gameplay of its predecessors so fun.


Story


For the most part, Xenoblade 2 has a pretty solid story. One thing that I’ve always loved about Xenoblade 1’s story that holds true for this game is that it establishes this very interesting and unique world that has a lot of mystery to it, and as you progress further and further into the main story, more and more mysteries about the world become unraveled to the point where you are basically learning about the creation of the world by the time you reach the end. The main reason I took a more minimalist approach to the game on my first playthrough was because I was too eager to learn more about the world to stop and do side quests.


The story is not without its problems, however. I didn’t find the villains to be all that compelling. With the exception of Jin, the character traits of the villains in this game mostly boils down to “they’re evil”, and their motivations mostly boil down to “they want power and to kill all humans.” It sort of disappointed me because the villains from Xenoblade 1 like Metal Face and Egil had really interesting personalities and motivations.


The ending sequences of each chapter of the game were the parts of the story that really didn’t sit well with me. Every chapter ends with a boss fight against the villains, and what always irked me about these fights was that even if the player beat them through gameplay, they would just beat the heroes in the cutscene that followed, appearing to be completely unfazed. The gameplay in these ending boss fights often has such little impact on the cutscenes surrounding them that every ending may as well just be one big cutscene (and that wouldn’t make all that much of a difference considering how long the ending cutscenes are anyway).


Overall, I really liked the story and the way it builds the game’s world. I just wish the villains and their respective boss fights could have been more compelling.


Sound


The soundtrack in this game, without exaggeration, is my favorite soundtrack of any video game I have ever played. It is that good. Every titan has two pieces of field music to listen to while exploring: a bold, sweeping orchestral score during the day, and a soothing melody after the sun sets. The battle themes are fantastic as well, and they really get you pumped up during a combat encounter. I can’t name a single song from this soundtrack that I didn’t like, and my personal favorite is the song that plays in the Kingdom of Uraya during the day.


The sound design isn’t really anything to write home about. Weapons don’t sound as impactful as they should, nor do they sound like how they actually should sound. Also, enemies don’t sound as intimidating as they look. The mixing also leaves a lot to be desired, as there were many cases during cutscenes where I was glad I had subtitles turned on since the music nearly drowned out the dialogue. Granted, Xenoblade 1’s sound design wasn’t very good either, but it would have been nice to see an improvement with this entry.


The voice acting also isn’t anything special. There were zero instances I can recall in which the voice acting was amazing. On the other hand, I don’t recall very many instances where is was bad either, though there were a few cases. For one, the voice actor of the main character Rex cannot do dramatic moments at all, and parts where he had to yell or scream sounded like a twelve year old kid doing a Super Saiyan impression. Also, the voice actress for Patroka, one of the game’s villains, did such a bad job that she shouldn’t be allowed in a recording booth ever again.


Visuals


Xenoblade 2 is an extremely visually stunning game. From the lush marshes of Uraya, to the rustic deserts of Mor Ardain, to the snowy cliffs of Tantal, it’s all enough to make you want to stop and take in the breathtaking visuals. To further add to the beauty of the game’s world, there are special weather conditions unique to certain titans, such as crystal sleet falling from the sky in Uraya or a purple geothermal haze in Mor Ardain.


I don’t really care for the game’s artstyle that much, however, and I know this is an opinion that I share with a lot of people. Xenoblade Chronicles 1 had this semi-realistic JRPG art style that meshed very well with the style and tone of the game as a whole. In Xenoblade 2, this art style is swapped out for a more cartoony, generic anime art style that doesn’t really go with the more realistic monster designs and some of the darker themes that this game explores.


Characters


The characters in this game are a mixed bag in terms of overall quality. The main character Rex is my personal least favorite of the five playable characters in the game, embodying the aspects of a typical JRPG protagonist (very young, reckless, and naive), with a pretty ridiculous design to boot.


Speaking of design, the character designs in this game leave a lot to be desired, with many being oversexualized to the point of looking silly (Pyra, Mythra, and Brighid come to mind), and others having an overabundance of details that make their design look cluttered (Nia and Pandoria are good examples of this). However, that’s not to say there aren’t good designs in this game. Characters like Tora, Mòrag, Zeke and the villainous members of Torna (the main villainous organization in the game) all have excellent designs that are simple, visually consistent, and can give you sort of an idea of what their characters are about just by looking at them.


As for personality, I don’t have quite as much of a problem with the characters in that regard. The main protagonists, aside from the previously mentioned main character, are pretty well written, and their personalities play off each other pretty well. I can sort of forgive this game having an uninteresting main character, since it helps highlight the more interesting personalities of the supporting cast members.


As I mentioned before in the story section, the villains of this game weren’t all that great. All of the members of Torna, with the exception of Jin, have either bland or obnoxious personalities, shallow motives, and weak backstories. Outside of Torna, Chairman Bana made for a pretty good comic relief villain. Although his character isn’t very deep, I’m willing to give it a pass since he’s not meant to be taken too seriously. Later on in the story, an interesting villain is added to the mix, but writing about them would mean dropping some major spoilers.


Polish


Being a Nintendo game, you would expect this game to have a great deal of polish, and you would be correct. It does have bugs, but they are rare and the gamebreaking ones are even rarer still. There was an instance where the game completely froze and I lost about an hour of progress, but that was a single moment in my 170 total hours of playtime. Other instances of less serious polish issues include enemies shooting projectiles through walls, AI-controlled party members jumping off of cliffs, and character models shuddering when standing on certain surfaces. But again, these are very minor issues and won’t affect gameplay other than maybe making you raise and eyebrow every now and then.


Summary


Before I finish, I thought I might answer a question some of you reading this might have: do I need to play other games in the Xenoblade series to know what’s going on in this one? The answer is no. The story of Xenoblade 2 stands well enough on its own, though there are a few references to the original toward the end that might make people who haven’t played the original a little bit confused. On the other hand, playing Xenoblade X is not necessary at all.


Xenoblade 2 is one of the best games on the Nintendo Switch, right up there with Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey. The gameplay is a cut above the original, adding many new features while still staying true to the series. The story, while flawed, is a very interesting experience that will take you on a wild ride from start to finish. The soundtrack is absolutely stunning, but other aspects of the sound like sound effects, mixing, and voice acting leave a lot to be desired. Its visuals are some of the best I have ever seen, and the unique locales and weather conditions make the experience truly breathtaking. Characters are a mixed bag of quality, some having excellent personalities or designs, while others not so much.


I can’t recommend this game enough, even to those who don’t typically play JRPGs. While you shouldn’t expect a perfect experience, and some of the mechanics do take some getting used to, you should have a pretty good time, especially if you’re a fan of the genre.


My overall rating for this game is a 9/10. While it has its notable flaws, it’s an overall enjoyable experience. If you’re looking to expand your Switch library, you should consider giving Xenoblade Chronicles 2 a chance.