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Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X

Xenoblade is Nintendo’s big 2015 send-off, and while a lot of games Nintendo released at the end of this year were critical disappointments Xenoblade Chronicles X manages to be one of Nintendo’s better efforts. X has an enormous world to explore and amazing vistas to see. Along with a superb combat system there is a lot to like in Xenoblade. That is as long as you take your time and actually read the manual.

 

Mirra, our new home.

In Xenoblade X you follow humanity as it escapes Earth just moments before blowing up. After escaping the alien menace responsible for the cataclysmic event humanity is left drifting in space looking for a new home. It doesn’t take long however for the alien race to catch up and destroy the ship which humanity inhabits and sending chunks of the ship down on a nearby planet. Along with the debris is the residential area of the ship called New L.A. Most of the people on the ship were in this area of the ship and survived, but most of the inhabitants of the ship are in something called the Lifehold. And so humanities main priority is recovering the Lifehold.

The game itself starts you off as your create-a-character is awakened with amnesia by a soldier called Elma. Your character is more meant to perceive the world and its lore for the first time just like the player, rather than being the main focus of the story. Elma is the main protagonist and this is largely her story. The story has those elements of mystery and conflict much like all Xeno games but it all leads up to a rather disappointing cliff-hanger. What doesn’t help the story is the inconsistency in its cutscenes. There are some exhilarating and neat looking high-budget cut-scenes but then there are other scenes that are done with stiff awkward and repetitive animations. It makes for a very mixed and awkward presentation leaving you wanting for more of the first and less of the latter. Characters aren’t that fleshed out either and it’s hard to care for what’s mostly being said or done. The voice acting is done rather well and the dialogue is okay. There are some more forced scenes that attempt at a running joke that get stale from the get-go and progressively get more sigh-inducing the longer they go on. Xenoblade X’s story is disappointing, certainly considering previous Xeno games covered some excellent stories, themes, and philosophies.

xenoblade X reviewCutscenes go from looking really high budget to characters standing around talking with stiff animations.

 

Mechanics overload

Xenoblade plays as a real-time RPG in which the player and up to three different teammates can fight monsters and do quests. When the player initiates battle they will auto-attack with either their ranged or melee weapon and during the battle can select an Art, which are this game’s special attacks. Arts are shown below and when the player uses one of these attacks they will enter a cool-down state and have to wait for it to recharge. Characters can have up to eight Arts but can be swapped out with other Arts depending on their class. They can also be upgraded to do more damage or extend their effects. It allows players to make their team complete with the moves they want.

The combat is fun and while very strategic still has a slight element of reflexes because some moves will get perks depending on player placement, previously done moves or the state the enemy is in. There is just something so satisfying about beating an enemy that’s seven times your size. It’s a bit overwhelming at the start but soon enough most players will get the hang of it and that’s where the upgrading and experimenting begins. Players can also join up with three other people online and take down monsters in a Monster Hunter-like fashion. But don’t expect to roam the countryside with friends since you’re pretty much restricted to one specific area of the map.

Describing or explaining all the mechanics in X would take more than a few pages to do. Xenoblade is filled to the brim with complex and in-depth mechanics. Just about everything, there is to do in the game is deep and riddled with subsystems and mechanics. Most of these systems allow players to get better gear, weapons, and upgrades but aren’t necessary for most of the game. Still, if you feel compelled to make the best character you possibly can, you can go ahead and do so. Aside from the main story there are tons of quests ranging from getting X amount of each item to slaying a specific monster. Some quests you’ll get will require you to talk to an NPC who then will ask you to go get something for him but while most games would end their quest there, Xenoblade likes to throw extra objectives on top when you finished the original objective. Sometimes this allows for some fun moments but most of the time it boils down to running back and forth between characters and just talking to them. It makes some of the quests drag on for too long and soon enough you just want them to end. There is enough to see and do in Xenoblade X and that might be a bit problematic for some. Newcomers will feel overwhelmed and players who played the first will not have it any better by the insane amounts of stuff there is going on. It doesn’t help that the game does a terrible job of explaining how these systems work.

The best thing to do when starting the game is taking it slow and reading the manual. The world of Mira is absolutely ginormous, and while it’s a lot of wide open spaces there is enough to see and do and a fair amount of places to discover and explore. Xenoblade is by far one of the, if not biggest open world game out there right now and while there will be people who find enjoyment in exploring Mira there are going to be those who think it’s too empty.  After obtaining this world’s mech’s called Skells, traversal changes in a significant way. Players can reach places they couldn’t, get to places faster, are able to fight bigger monsters and in the late game can just fly over the world. Xenoblade is filled to the brim with stuff to do and see, most of it fun. However, the mechanics are overwhelming and the wide open plains will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Xenoblade truly feels like a single player MMO with some neat social features thrown in. Just be sure to take it slow and learn everything there is. Once you do that you will see jut how deep and engaging X is.

xenoblade review 2Combat is fun, deep and engaging and never feels like a chore.

 

The beautiful fauna and flora of Mirra.

Xenoblade absolutely looks gorgeous. On a graphical level It’s one of the best looking Wii U games out there. The graphical fidelity of the game perfectly complements the really unique areas and stunning creatures in the game. All areas are breathtaking and there is a fair amount of variety in each area. Mirra’s five continents follow the traditional plains, desert, forest, lava and snow-esque themes but in every ginormous continent there are variations like mountain area’s or oasis’ to make everything look different enough. Standing on cliffs, looking into the distance and setting a waypoint to something of visual interest is what makes exploring Mirra so much fun. And of course jumping off said cliff into a sea, lake or just onto the ground from insane heights is incredibly satisfying.

Monsters usually follow a blueprint of a real-life creature injected with some JRPG design creativity. And the scale of the monsters makes it all the more impressive. There is something whimsical about running around along titanic golem or dinosaurs, or look into the distance and see some unidentifiable being moving around. It compels the player to go and check out what exotic creatures there are waiting for them. The only minor parts visually are the character models which sometimes look awkward and some areas in New L.A.

Since the game has a custom avatar in it, it means a lot of the cut scenes don’t have as much going on animation-wise. The original Xenoblade’s characters animated nicely and showed some real emotion because of its narrative focus. In X not so much. Animations in cut scenes are stiff like most big RPG of this style. There are some well animated cutscenes but these are far and few in-between. The models themselves are more reminiscent PS2-era RPG’s like Star Ocean or Xenosaga Episode One than they are Xenoblade. As a matter of fact, a lot of designs in New L.A. and the Skells are very similar to the Xenosaga games. Speaking of New L.A. while some districts look okay because it’s visually very calm the more detailed areas look way rougher than the crazy outside environments. Specifically the Commercial District has some building and cars with some low poly textures.

As far as sound goes Xenoblade has that on lockdown for the most part. The voice acting is pretty solid and most characters sound great with the exception of some races in the game that have voice filters to make them sound alien and exotic but it just comes over as irritating. The music is in the same boat. While it doesn’t have as much of an amazing soundtrack as the original Xenoblade because of the way it tells its narrative it still has some pretty engaging and catchy tracks. That is as long as the vocals are kept out of it. While there are some songs that have good vocals a lot of the music just takes a dip in quality when the vocals kick in. The main battle theme and both New L.A. themes are the absolute worst offenders, with one of New L.A.’s track only containing UHS and YEAHS. Xenoblade is an absolutely gorgeous game and the music is for the most part excellent.

xenoblade review 3The game can be breathtaking at times.

Conclusion:

Xenoblade X is an amazing game. Its scale is absolutely incredible without ever feeling overwhelming. What does feel overwhelming are all of the side mechanics which don’t get explained all too well. The story builds some intrigue but doesn’t deliver a satisfying ending and along with all the characters being underdeveloped X is a disappointment on a narrative level. However the combat is deep, creative and incredibly fun. X’s main game is its giant world where there is so much to do and see and while the extreme open-ended ness of the world might not be for some. Exploring Mirra and discovering its wildlife is a great and rewarding experience. The game changes scale considerably when getting your mech halfway through the story and is one of the most rewarding things you will do in a game this year.

9/10

I'm a fun loving guy who like piña coladas, getting caught in the rain and long walks on the beach. I work hard, I play hard. Must like cats. Ugos need not apply. If you want to ask me anything you can contact me at yordi.verhoene@gmail.com