Xenoblade Chronicles X: A Love Letter to All Xeno Fans
January 23, 2016
Developer: Monolith Soft Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Wii U Genre: RPG
Xenoblade Chronicles Xis the second entry in the fresh new series by Monolithsoft, a company previously known for the Xenosagaseries. As with the previous entry, Xenoblade X takes a step back from being the story-heavy juggernaut its sibling series was known for in order to let the world and gameplay shine. Undeniably, the world of Xenoblade X, the planet Mira, is the star of the game. With its huge five continent and beautiful vistas, the planet feels alive. Over 160 hours of my life passed by in order to beat the game, but I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. The game really is a journey, but not one without its struggles.
One of the many beautiful vistas in Xenoblade Chronicles X.
Two alien races wage war in an epic space battle, leaving Earth to be caught in the crossfire. In a last ditch effort to survive, humanity launches several ships to escape before our planet is destroyed. Months later, one of those alien races adds insult to injury by shooting down one of the escaped ships, the White Whale, leaving it to crash on the mysterious planet of Mira. And that’s pretty much the premise of the game. The main character, an avatar you create, is struck with amnesia and is discovering the planet and its occupants at the same pace as yourself.
The story itself is pretty good, but it suffers some major pacing issues courtesy of the way chapters are structured. In order to advance the story within the game, sometimes you have to fit certain criteria, such as exploring a certain percentage of one of the game’s five continents. If you are a completionist who does every sidequest (and this game feels like 70% sidequests, 30% main story), reaching the goal for each chapter will come along with ease, but if you are trying to get through the main plot as quickly as possible, you’re pretty much forced to slow down. And with each main chapter being sometimes shorter than an hour, you don’t always get as complex and philosophical moments as Xenogears, Xenosaga, and even a bit of the original Xenoblade Chronicles. However, that isn’t to say X has a terrible plot, there are many intriguing concepts and heart-pounding moments to keep you invested.
Where the main plot fails to build and expand the world, the sidequests provide depth in huge waves. The game is littered with sidequests, and most of them fleshes out the world and inhabitants of Mira quite well. A problem I had with the original Xenobladewas that a lot of the sidequests were” hunt this, get that” with barely any exposition. You still have missions like those, but thankfully a lot of them provide plots, sometimes complex and test your morality, others sometimes goofy and ridiculous. Just about every alien race that joins New Los Angeles, the last city of humanity, is fleshed out in great depth through these quests, though I really wish I got to learn more about L and Celica, who are party members for crying out loud.
There are a whopping 19 playable characters, including your created avatar, but only a handful of them get any screen time. For the most part, Elma and Lin hog the spotlight. Then you have other big players like Lao, Doug, Irina, and Nagi. A few pop up in the main scenario, such as the whimsical L, but the rest are cast aside as extras. And it’s a shame because a few of them cast a very bright light with their personalities. Case in point, I hated the characters H.B. and Murderess at first, but after playing their affinity missions (basically sidequests that develop individual characters), the two have become some of my favorite characters in the game. In a nutshell, the game has a great cast of characters, but only a few of them hog the stage.
As a Xeno game, I feel as though it is a love letter to all Xenofans, whether they go back as far as Xenogearsor they have only played the previous Xenobladegames. During character creation, there are several hairstyles you can choose that look like they were modeled off characters from Xenogears and Xenosaga. Nods to the previous Xenoblade come in many forms, from Lin’s Monado hairpins to the occasional mention of legends from Tatsu. Though I won’t spoil the ending, you can’t witness the final cutscene without thinking of Xenosaga. You wouldn’t know it, but the fandoms of Xenogears, Xenosaga, and Xenoblade can be quite divided at times, but I feel like this was a game to bring them all together. For that, I love this game. At the same time, if the next Xenoblade follows up directly to this one (I hope it does because of the open ending), it really needs to step up its game in terms of plot.
Hey there, KOS-MOS.
If you have played the previous Xenoblade Chronicles, you will feel right at home. If you’ve played a Massively Multiplayer Online RPG of any kind, you will probably feel really comfortable with X. Like with the previous Xenoblade Chronicles, the battle system is a real-time affair, relying on cooldowns for Arts, your special attacks. However, one of the major overhauls for this game is the Soul Voice system. Instead of a traditional healing system, healing relies mainly on correctly hitting a quick time event at the right time or choosing the right Art your party members shout out. There are a few Arts that allow you to heal the traditional way, but only certain classes have them. Soul Voice only felt like an inconvenience a few times, mostly when I chose a class that didn’t have a certain type of Art in it that my party members would always shout for me to use.
As mentioned, the game provides a variety of different classes for the player. The good news is that they can be changed at any time. Throughout the game, I juggled many classes. If you get all the way to the end of a class branch, you can master the final class and be able to use the weapons of that class with any other class.
New to the Xenobladeseries is the ability to pilot your own giant robot, called Skells in the English version. Combat is pretty much the same as on foot, but the ability to take your fights over deep water or up in the sky adds a whole new dynamic to the game (and looks really, really cool). However, you don’t get your own Skell right away. Like getting a car in real life, you first have to wait until you are eligible and then apply for a license. Your Skell even has insurance. It took me over 50 hours to get my Skell license, but you could probably get it maybe 20 hours sooner than I did. I don’t mind the late addition because it adds variety to the game. Revealing your hand early on would just cause boredom down the road.
Every moment with your Skell makes you feel like a proud parent.
One of the most addicting features of the game is planting probes all across Mira. Planting probes not only helps provide locations for quick travel, but it also allows you to mine for precious materials, gain a lot of money, and also mine for miranium, another currency in itself that can be used to craft equipment and refuel your Skell. There are different types of probes you can use to maximize your experience, and I felt like it was an interesting puzzle to figure out. Granted, planting the probes comes with its dangers, with enemies three times your level walking around, but it also adds a bit of thrill to the whole process. Also, I love how mixed the levels are for enemies purely because it feels organic for this alien world.
The gameplay isn’t perfect, though. The main issue I had with the game is how you handle your party members. In order to recruit someone in your party, you have to find them physically within the entirety of New Los Angeles. Unlike the previous game where you can simply just put them in your party from a menu, you have to track them down yourself. Also, depending on the time of day in the game, the character you want to recruit might be somewhere completely different because of the heart-to-heart system. Heart-to-heart events are meant to develop your affinity for each character, but it just becomes a pain at times to find them. Google was my friend.
Also, party members do not level up outside of your party. I know, other RPGs do that, not a big deal. However, it is a big deal when the game constantly shoehorns only Elma and Lin into your party, leaving most of the other party members under levelled, unless of course you do some power levelling. And with a cast as large as Xenoblade Chronicles X, you might need to juggle quite a bit if you want everyone in the same ballpark.
Also, small pet peeve, but several characters in your party show up in cutscenes with their own Skells, but outside of cutscenes it is expected for you to buy Skells for them, and Skells are not cheap. Pay for your own giant robots, guys!
Besides party management, item collection can be one of the greater frustrations of the game. Collecting items isn’t as easy as going to a place, picking up the item, sidequest solved. No, you must go to a place, collect items until you get within the right percentage for the item you want to drop. Same goes for enemies, though your odds improve if you target the right portion of an enemy. But this gets more complicated when the game tells you very little about where to find an item. “Go check Primordia for this item,” it says, except that Primordia is a huge continent. I found myself Googling a lot of sidequests throughout the game (the player’s guide was of little help except for the maps). However, if you play online, this whole procedure is rectified with Reward Tickets, which you earn from squad missions and by other means. By earning these Reward Tickets, you can use them to pay to get items, which feels cheap, but it saves you hours of gameplay time. Unfortunately, you can’t buy every item in the game with these tickets, but it is still helpful.
Which leads me to my last complaint: the game tells you very little. Sure, I don’t want the game to hold my hand for over 100 hours, but I didn’t find out many key things until I was deep in the game, mostly by accident. It wasn’t until I hit the 85 hour mark that I found out how to upgrade Arts and skills. While playing online (which is cool but the number of missions can be quite limited), I had no idea what BLADE Medals or Tickets were used for until I Googled them. The game does have a digital manual, but I was hoping the tutorials that are actually in the game would help more than they did.
None of these flaws (probably not flaws to some people) were a game breaker, only small annoyances. I still loved the gameplay, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone beyond 100 hours.
Though the online features can feel limited, having the ability to recruit other players’ characters into your party is a really cool touch.
One of the highlights of Xenoblade Chronicles X is the soundtrack. Though it is very polarizing amongst others, I greatly enjoyed the music. Hiroyuki Sawano throws in many tracks with vocals, typical of his style. Granted, the tracks with rap can be a bit jarring for a JRPG, but I grew accustomed to it. However, what I didn’t get accustomed to was the fact that many key scenes in the story blared the music louder than the characters talking. It became a jumbled mess when tracks with vocals played while characters were talking at the same sound level. An option in the settings to adjust the sound levels would have easily fixed this issue, but there is no such option for this game. It’s quite a shame.
The voice acting itself is pretty stellar. With a mixture of American and British voice acting, the characters play off each other well. One voice I did not expect came from L: he just sounded so goofy to me at first. However, his voice grew on me because it really suited his personality. “Asscaves” has been added to my everyday speech.
Xenoblade Chronicles Xis a charmer. I fell in love with the vistas of Mira and its inhabitants. The story left much to be desired, but what was there enticed me to keep going. As a Xeno fan, the game is a wink and a nod to all fans, though I hope the next game will be able to combine what made Xenogears and Xenosaga special, a philosophical and deep storyline, along with the addicting gameplay the Xenoblade series has become known for.