Developer: Monolith Soft
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 1st of December, 2017 (Worldwide)
The journey to Elysium starts here.
Just in case it wasn’t enough for Nintendo to release one epic Action Role-Playing game on the Nintendo Switch this year in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the World, which was then followed by Super Mario Odyssey, but now they’re putting out another one and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is just as good a Game of the Year candidate as the two titles that came before it. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 isn’t just good, it is fantastic. It is expansive, deep and very, very rich that it actually justifies the existence of Xenoblade Chronicles X, but before I can even talk about the game, I will need to say a few words on its history first.
You see, while Monolift Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles 2, is stated as being a sequel to 2010’s Xenoblade Chronicles, it’s not because it’s a continuation, as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 features an entirely different world that tells a new story, but because Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is more like the original game as opposed to Xenoblade Chronicles X. Xenoblade X was met with some disdain due to tearing a couple of pages out of the rule book that was used to define Xenoblade Chronicles, before burning them. Still just because it is more like the first Xenoblade Chronicles game that does not mean it is a total rip-off, it just means Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has gone back to its roots and a magnificent forest has grown, and it’s time to talk about that forest.
As far as story goes, once upon a time, everyone lived on the World Tree with the Architect, only one day, the Architect cast everyone out of Elysium, forcing them to live in the harsh world that was once Alrest. Just as soon as it looked like life would go extinct, the Architect took pity on those he cast out and sent forth his servants. The servants were known other than Titans, gigantic beasts capable of providing sanctum to all those who sought to make a home for themselves on the Titans, as they swim from the Cloud Sea. For a while, civilisation grew and “life” returned to normal, but the Titans are not infallible.
While it is true that life goes on, as does death for that is an equal part to the process and the Titans are dying out and the more of them that fall, the less land mass there is in Alrest for civilizations to populate, which means come the day the last Titan falls, there will be nowhere safe for anyone or anything and it is this fear of what will be that makes Elysium the last hope for all who dream of having a future and one such person is Rex.
Rex is a young salvager from Fonsett Village, who lives and works on the back of a Titan he calls Gramps, but also goes by the name of Azurda to those who knew him 500 years ago and their relationship is a bit of an unusual one. Due to the size of Gramps, the Titan is too large to have been used to build a ship upon and sail around the Cloud Sea on, but nowhere near as large as the Titans in which entire countries have been built upon, so instead, Gramps is just a gigantic living creature that has one permanent resident, who just so happens to live rent free, which is a good thing as it allows Rex to send money home to his village. As for the relationship between the two, well if the name Gramps doesn’t give it away, Azurda is like a grandfather to Rex and even taught him how to wield a sword in battle, which is just as well as holding their own against monsters is something every salvager needs to know, as sometimes the treasures they haul up, come with a security guard.
Still, Rex’s and Gramps’ world is about to be turned upside down because a routine trip to the Argentum Trade Guild, where Rex often sells his salvaged goods, holds a promise of fortune that is just too good for Rex to pass up and before you know it, a true adventure can get underway and I am going to list a few of those things, but only those that have been revealed already as I do intend to keep this review spoiler free and not divulge anything that happens after the 30 hours of gameplay mark. So what does the future hold in store for Rex? Firstly, there is a deceit that would see our young hero meet his end due to having the sharp end of a sword do an Alien impression and burst out of Rex’s chest after going in through his back.
Only death is not the end for Rex because thanks to a certain fiery red head by the name of Pyra, who just so happens to be an incredibly powerful blade known as the Aegis during the Aegis War, which is a battle that took place 500 years ago, Pyra gives up half her life-force to give Rex a second chance, only this time his new life sees him reborn as a Driver, special people who have been born with the ability to form a connection to special lifeforms of immense power and skills, which the Driver can then use at their own leisure. Unlike most Drivers though, who prior to taking the test and seeing if they have what it takes to be a Driver, Rex never studied Driver Arts, Affinity Lines or anything Driver and Blade related so come his first battle, not only does Rex lose the fight, but he also loses a very dear friend, Gramps.
Don’t worry though, because as previously revealed, Gramps is not gone for good as Gramps is a very special Titan that by “maximising cellular regeneration to retain all vital bodily functions,” is available to carry on living, only this time in a far smaller and cuter form that is just as knowledgeable as he was before, only now he can take up residence in Rex’s salvage helmet and ride around on him for a change. (The shoe is on the other foot now Rex. Let’s see how you like it.) From that point on, friendships are made, bonds grow deeper and treachery lies around every corner, but as long as Rex has Pyra by his side, he will do everything he can to protect her from all those who seek to claim her for themselves and see her safely to Elysium, for the Aegis wishes to go home.
The journey will not be easy, but both are determined to stand by one another no matter the cost and honestly have one of the weirdest but sweetest relationships in a video game that it is hard not to like them and for me, in addition to a compelling story to keep the player engaged from start to finish, I do love a game with a good set of characters and Xenoblade 2 Chronicles has that in spades. It’s not just Rex and Pyra who are worth keeping an eye on but Gramps and Dromarch (Nia’s Blade,) have one hell of a bromance going on, while the Nopon Tora, who fabricated his very own artificial Blade after failing to pass the Driver’s test has the most ludicrous relationship of them all. I mean, I know he made Poppi and everything, but he clearly made her to be more than just a Blade as the way he and Poppi act with one another, especially the things she says, can be a little wrong at times and by wrong, I do mean in the kinky sense and there’s a lot of that in this game actually. From comments about “one-eyed monsters,” to Rex waking up in bed with Mythra, who just so happens to be laying pressed up against him, with her bosom close to his face, who then wakes up, freaks out on him and calls him a “Pervert,” Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a game that is not afraid to show off its sexy side.
It’s not all innuendoes though, as Xenoblade 2 is rich in all counts, as there are many humorous moments with the majority of them being Pyra related, especially when she’s turning into or from her other form Mythra, sad moments, which includes a touching death that is the result of self-sacrifice and even very, very serious moments or just moments that make you go “Wow!” From lush scenery packed with monsters to vast open world surroundings and a story that reaches epic proportions, Xenoblade 2 really is a game that strives to blow players away in almost all aspects, as even the soundtrack is formidable, but the resolution is a killer.
With large areas such as The Leftherian Archipelago, Temperantia or the Kingdom of Tantal that are beautiful and so fun to explore, it is a huge same that these and all the other locations in the game, just don’t look anywhere as good as they could have been due to a low resolution that even in the final build, is not the improvement we wished it would be. When docked, you can see everything pretty clearly, but the edges around characters can look a bit blurry at times, even when out of battle, but compared to undocked performance and I just shake my head and say no. I know a lot of you aiming to get Xenoblade 2, aim to play it as a handheld title so you can take it on the go, but unless you are willing to settle for a lesser experience, just so you can grind in a bid to level up and amass more Weapon and Skill Points that you can use to strengthen Driver Arts and unlock/improve skills on each character’s (Drivers and Blades) Affinity Chart, handheld mode is just not worth it.
I really do hate having to say that, as I really don’t want to say anything bad about such a great game, but it is a truth that has to be said. Handheld mode is poor and doesn’t do Xenoblade Chronicles 2 any favours in the slightest, but at least Nia still sounds great. Not only is she a character that grew on me the more I played Xenoblade 2, but that Welsh accent of hers is great and she’s not the only one. In fact, if you love the Welsh accent, regardless of regional variations, there is an entire village of Welsh accented characters who are just a delight to listen too, much like the Scottish accented Mórag. Worry not though, as there are non-UK accents as well, but being English myself, I immediately preferred those who sounded like friends I left behind when I moved to Spain.
Now, since I touched on the game’s scale a little bit in a previous category, where I named a couple of locations, let’s talk a bit more about them. While there are magnificent lands to uncover, Landmarks to reach that can then be used as fast travel points as soon as you discover your first one near the very beginning of the game and gargantuan plains filled with monsters and animals, willing to do battle and draw your blood, there are your usual side-quests as well. While it is true Xenoblade Chronicles 2 does want you to focus on proceeding through the game’s main story during your first 10-15 hours of gameplay, there are side-quests available very early on in the game, with some being so tedious like the ones on Gormott that it’s very easy to lose half an hour just trying to do what started out as a mere fetch quest that turned into anything. What’s even better though then side-quests that can take up quite a bit of time, and others that can be completed in mere seconds if you have the required materials or enough money to make a purchase or two. Shops can be brought, provided you have brought 1 of every item a store has to offer, including the items that get unlocked from later Chapters in the game and the deed to the store, but then there is the Merc Group option as well.
Although Merc Group doesn’t come into effect until much later into the game (20 hours in at least if you want to be specific,) it is a great side feature where you can use the Blades you’re not using to carry out missions and requests that will not only earn you Gold and EXP like side-quests can, which often show up as a blue marker when observing them on a map that can be toggled on, large and off, but you can also use them to build trust with your blades and affinity, which in turn improves their effectiveness when in battle, battles which by the way can take place at any time of the day, as there is a day and night cycle, there is sunshine and there is even rain.
But even if the Merc missions don’t appeal to you, there is always foraging for new goods, insects or even just items as Rex can scavenge on land, or in the Cloud Sea itself via using purchasable cylinders at various Salvage Points all over Alrest, although sadly, while players do get to press the right buttons at the right time, that’s pretty much all the salvaging experience has to offer you as you don’t get to do any of the underwater work, as Rex is only shown to jump in and then jump out, followed by the treasure he is able to locate and monster that may have been guarding it and if you’re engaged in battle, you won’t be able to open any chest you’ve found, until the threat has been eliminated and now onto the bit I have been dreading the most.
Being an RPG packed with beasties, beautiful designed Blades that are the creation of some outside help and a levelling up system, a huge part of Xenoblade 2 is of course, its battle system and there is a lot to know! But before we tackle the harder stuff, first let’s begin with the easy stuff. Although a Driver and a Blade are two separate characters, in a battle they fight as one, so although together they can use Driver Arts like Rex’s Anchor Shot to do damage and cause the enemy to drop a HP Potion, or just use a special move of which there are four levels with the fourth being the most devastating, the reality is it’s essentially one character attacking due to a joint effort.
Next up, as well as the usual thing like each fighter having stats and skills they can use, which is all very basic of RPG’s, much like accessorising them to given them a better weapon, or just strengthen it and make sure they are wearing clothing and accessories that benefit them the most, although Xenoblade 2 starts off with Rex fighting on his own with Pyra, up to three Drivers can be used to shape your party, with each Driver able to take up to three Blades into battle at one time and switch between them at your own discretion, but just know changing Blade will change the weapon you happen to be using as weapons are exclusive to each Blade.
As for the actual attacking, everything is done via button presses, so if you wish to use a particular Driver Art, you need to press their corresponding button on the right-hand side of your remote, with the buttons on the left side acting as your means to summon your desired Blade, or just have everyone focus on attacking the same enemy, whereas auto-attack is done automatically, provided you are targeting the enemy, have your weapon drawn (can be unsheathed at any time) and stood close enough to strike. I wasn’t a fan of the auto-attack when I first started playing, but it grew on me, much like the status effects such as Topple and Break that can be rendered upon you, or your enemies.
Now in the event of dying, if dying in battle, provided the Party Gauge has at least 1 full bar, your fallen comrade can be revived, but if the Party Gauge is empty, and your playable character dies (although Rex is the main character, the formation can be changed so others can take the lead,) then it’s all over, and you’ll find yourself respawning at the last landmark you visited, with your progress intact. Should you wish to use the Party Gauge for something other than reviving allies, you can at a later point in the game, execute a devastating chain attack where you and those in your party can let loose with all their might. Although powerful attacks mean nothing if the foe you’re up against is a superior level to yours as a Level 40 monster will lay you to rest in seconds if you are not equal or greater. (I’m not saying victory isn’t possible, as it is, but it’s just a lot harder and it pays to level up, especially when there are enemies who can one shot kill you.)
In terms of levelling up though, there are two ways to go about doing it. The first is to battle and keep on battling, as each defeated monster results in you earning EXP and gold, but even completing missions and side-quests can result in you levelling up as they award you with Bonus EXP that go unused until you find yourself resting at an inn. Although you don’t have to choose to use the Bonus EXP as you can leave it for another time, if you’d rather but it can be used to level up each character you have in your possession and no, it is not shared, so you’ll never have to worry about picking which character over who in a bid to have one unit you can rely on, or building up a weak character you’re struggling to level up.
But the simple fact is, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 really is a black hole game as even now after 3,000 words, I have still yet to cover every aspect of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, because there is just too much to mention, like the fact there is an in-game mini-game by the name of Tiger Tiger, which is a great way of getting the required materials and Ether Crystals to improve Poppi. Then there are rare creatures that when beaten, will become a gravestone, but can be battled at any time. Chests and secret locations just waiting to be uncovered, Heart to Heart moments and so much more and even if you don’t buy the Expansion Pass on launch days, odds are if you picked up the game on launch day, you still won’t have finished it, even if you do play it every day for the whole of December because Xenoblade Chronicles has plenty of reasons to have players running back to it!
To say Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a captivating adventure, would be to undersell it as it is so much more than that. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is like Final Fantasy X, X2 or even XIV, but on a Nintendo platform. It is virtually flawless in almost every regard and it’s a huge shame Video Capture was not supported as there are many moments I would have loved to have filmed for they do deserve to live on forever. But yes, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a case of more of the same, just bigger, better and whole lot more appealing and does not require you to have played any of the previous games., but the low resolution does it no favours.
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*Review Key Provided by NintendoTags: December Feature, Monolith Soft, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, review, Xenoblade Chronicles 2
This post was written by Jack Longman