Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review
Different kinds of RPGs cater to different sorts of gamers. If you like getting lost in a long, complex narrative, you can do that. If you like to obsessively micro-manage, you can do that too. If you watch a lot of anime, there is somehow a thriving subgenre that caters to your tastes. If you want all of these things in a single game, you turn to the Xenoblade series. Of course, what I’ve listed fails to fully encapsulate these games. Heck, I could hit my word count just listing off everything to see and do in these games. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 carries on this grand tradition in style, offering players a plate so full it threatens the table with catastrophic structural failure. Whether you find sustenance in this towering meal depends on your proclivities as a gamer.
You play as Rex, a salvage specialist living on the back of a dragon. Everyone in this world lives on the the bodies of huge monsters referred to as ‘Titans.’ Some of them are big enough to act as merchant ships, while others are the size of countries. Lately, these Titans have been dying, leaving people to wage war over the viable living space that remains. Rex is spurred into seeking a new home in the form of ‘Elysium,’ the fabled point of origin for every species on this planet, after being bonded to a living weapon named Pyra. For the sake of brevity, I have greatly simplified the overarching narrative. Like most aspects of this game, the story is crazy dense. Thankfully, this is a story that rewards your efforts at investment. I was quickly hooked, in spite of the familiar themes and telegraphed turning points. Yes, certain character deaths are basically advertised in neon signage scattered throughout the cutscenes. On top of that, the major narrative arc is hinged on every successive reveal being bigger than the last, until you start waiting for God to pierce the sky-box and claim final responsibility for this entire mad dash to the denouement. I loved it anyway, every cheesy bit of it. Perhaps I just have a bias towards huge, insane anime storylines, but at least this game is never boring about it. I wasn’t mindlessly clicking through a death march of shivering portraits. Every scene was full of life, strung together with some excellent camera work and a handful of decent voice acting performances. I’ll take a cheesy story over a boring one any day of the week.
“Like most aspects of this game, the story is crazy dense.”
If the story sounds like a bit much, I have some bad news about the combat system. Sorry. What I meant was, I have some bad news about the many combat systems featured in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. You start with auto attacks, then they give you Arts to execute once their cooldown is up. Soon you learn about cancels, joint combos, chain attacks, breaks, topples, launches, affinity specials, elemental orbs, and foresight. Then, once you’ve absorbed all of this (you haven’t, don’t kid yourself), you’re thrust into battles that require mastering all of these systems at once, balancing your focus between every meter, button prompt and pop-up in order to win. It sounds utterly insane, but as long as your paying attention you can more or less keep up. Essentially, the battles are designed so that you never get bored, even with the ordinary enemies you’ve fought countless times. Plus, the more you invest in this flight manual of a combat system, the more effectively you can decimate your enemies.
There are some caveats to consider, however. Since fights are initiated without moving you to a separate space, you need to be careful about antagonizing a large group of opponents. You also need to be wary of the enemy’s level. That 20-foot tall behemoth is exactly as strong as you’re guessing he is. Wander into his field of view and he’ll crush you flat. This isn’t the sort of game that lets you evade with some fancy footwork, either. Evasion is determined by character stats, meaning you can’t outrun a fatal strike unless you leave combat before it’s executed. With the ability to avoid enemy encounters, you may be tempted to skip the mindless battles and bounce from one objective to the next. This will almost certainly seal your doom. Take your time, fight those faceless hordes and avoid getting stuck for several days on a late-game boss you aren’t prepared for.
Preparation can take other forms beyond diligent legwork in battle. Xenoblade 2 has a massive checklist of duties to attend to outside of combat. You need to spend WP in order to upgrade your weapon skills. Each character has an AP skill tree as well. You have accessories to manage, item pouches to fill and new Blades to forge. Your Blades (living weapons that fight alongside you) also have a set of menus to manage. You can assign battle chips, aux cores and affinity skills. Tora’s Blade requires mastery of an arcade minigame in order to earn currency for upgrades. Blades that aren’t in use can be sent on missions which take set amounts of time to complete, earning you ample rewards. Rex can go on salvage dives using a variety of cylinders to recover useful items. There’s a massive list of cooking recipes to learn. The frustrating part is that most of what I’ve listed can’t be ignored if you want to successfully complete the game. The further you progress into the game, the more chaotic your attempts at time management become. Eventually, you either master the endless layers of minutiae, or they drown you.
“Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is an RPG that demands mastery of every element contained within.”
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is an RPG that demands mastery of every element contained within. You need to focus in order to absorb the dense story, the escalating combat systems and the endless sea of upgrade menus. Like an advanced math class, there are dire consequences to skipping even a single lesson. However, buried under this formidable outer shell is a heartfelt story that hooks you early and doesn’t let go. Those countless battle techniques blend together into a dizzy dance of death when properly mastered, leading to some immensely satisfying victories. I’m not as hopeful about the non-combat menus and upgrades, though. It feels like something you just have to get through. Especially the WP skill trees, which appear open at first, but are structured in such a way that you’ll almost certainly unlock everything in order. I knew going in that this was going to be a long, complicated game to get through. I admit there was some dread. But the total package delivers such a compelling experience that those awful menus dwindle somewhat, dulled by the radiance that is the rest of the game. If you’re searching for the next big JRPG in your life, you can’t pass this one up. You may gnash your teeth and hang your head but Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will earn your love all the same.
***A retail copy of the game was provided by the publisher***
- Deep, involved combat system
- Engaging, powerful story
- Characters you care about
- Too many combat systems to count
- Lot of menu management to wade through
- Voice-acting is a bit uneven