Twilight of the JRPG
Xenoblade Chronicles X is not a straightforward title coming from Japan meant to fill the void of traditional RPGs on this generation of consoles. Instead the game is an amalgamation of types, filled to the brim with intricate systems and a gigantic world to put them in. Xenoblade?s achievements don?t represent a technical breakthrough in any sense but the title does succeed in harboring an old-school JRPG sentiment that capitalizes on the better parts of today?s open-world and MMO style.
In the wake of losing Earth in a cataclysmic explosion, Xenoblade Chronicles X tasks players with finding a new home on a hostile alien world known as Mira. This final human settlement, dubbed ?New Los Angeles?, now serves as the last speck of humanity in the universe, and it must find a way to co-exist with Mira?s indigenous people, the Nopon.
Although not linked to the Wii?s Xenoblade Chronicles in a narrative sense, Chronicles X carries over much of the gameplay elements of its predecessor?but now couples on-foot exploration with flight via weaponized, giant robots. Customizable characters and skills will carry players through an intergalactic war across two continents, using an affinity system to build or improve relationships between your party and the world. The trouble here is, whereas the previous Xeno timeline of games?like Xenogears and Xenosaga?anchored the nearly hundred-hours of game time with celebrated philosophical musings, none of that is represented here. Neither is a compelling or distinct sci-fi drama.
Your created character emerges from a life capsule after being rescued by part of the crew from what?s left of the unified government from Earth. The creation screen is just about the most depth you?ll get from the character you play, with the main protagonist serving as mere avatar, nodding and grunting their way through the next 70-plus hours. The game?s 12 main missions and abundant?but mostly optional?side quests are tethered by its supporting cast, brought to life by a well-acted english dub. Unfortunately, the performances are done a major disservice by the frequently dull roundtable discussion scenes that make up a majority of the quests.
Those main quests are highlighted with appropriate wall-to-wall action cutscenes reminiscent of over-the-top Anime. However, far too much story is experienced through boring conversations, like watching stilted puppets express emotion via awkward poses while a voice track plays in the background. Some creative plot ideas are undermined by what is a by-the-numbers sci-fi tale, closer to the black and white, good versus evil dynamics of shows like Stargate SG-1 instead of Battlestar Galactica. Simply, my motivation to invest nearly 100 hours did not come from exploring the main story or absurd number of affinity and regular side quests.
Already out in Japan for some time, much of the game has been hailed for its overwhelming size, with claims that it towers over Fallout 4, Witcher 3, and Skyrim?s offerings?and this may be what attracts beyond the stalwart RPG fans. This is a false start however, as drawing in the aforementioned titles for comparison is a case of apples to oranges, potentially leading to expectations that Xenoblade isn?t prepared to offer and overlooking what the game does correct in its design despite working with dated hardware. Once you are able to look past the frequent draw-distance issues, Xenoblade employs a legitimately epic world to explore, obscenely larger than the first Xenoblade Chronicles, and this could demand from players the 200-hour experience they may be longing for.
Five regions make up the map, each portraying their own biosphere and wildlife (known as Ingens) with some overlap. You?ll feel small surveying the land, filled with a foreboding that is often missing in games that attempt to reach this type of breadth. Your characters do spend most of their downtime in a home operating base (also worth exploring), but everything happens in the open-world.
Xenoblade?s enormous world is made from a worthwhile intricate interplay of systems that compliment one another in how to explore Mira, tackle missions, or level up your party. It is a textbook case of ?read-the-manual,? where not doing so will oftentimes leave you clueless and overwhelmed. This is certainly not a knock against the game, though, as I enjoyed the downright steep learning curve and believe others will as well. Although it takes about 20 hours or so, mastering all aspects of the game?s systems?or at least understanding how they work?is a rewarding gift that keeps on giving, guaranteeing players will never feel as if they are visiting the well far too often on any one game mechanic.
Combat is the heart and soul of Xenoblade, and here is a case where perhaps an early lead time in player comprehension would be beneficial in preventing some of the monotony of taking on the hundreds of enemies. Under the guise of surveying for a more habitable land for the remaining Earthlings, you?ll traverse the map by installing probes that can later be used for producing currency or fast travel.
None of this is possible without first encountering the wonderful and diverse wildlife. Your party can ignore many of the native inhabitants and sprint away from the more aggressive ones, but you?ll often end up engaging one or more enemies regardless. There is no need to delve into every aspect of combat available, just know it is more MMO than turn-based RPG, and there are plenty of ways to hash out a distinct melee, ranged, or mixed approach to fighting enemies. More intelligent foes inhabit parts of Mira accessible later in the game, and they are equipped with diverse tactics, strengths, and weaknesses to keep your team on their toes and encourage use of the several classes available.
However, even the more fast-paced and busy fights you come across can?t help but become stale quickly, with combat against anything less than the hardest of enemies feeling slow. It often takes too long to complete even the easiest of bouts, dragging the inevitable lopsided win through the mire, and leaving you feeling as if you?re going through the motions. This nuisance is coupled with overpowered enemies that will pop up out of nowhere to brutalize your party in an instance, so exploring Mira may be limited to the same area in a region until you can grind away to a more appropriate level.
Around the time I hit a comfortable understanding of how to best navigate Xenoblade, (a good chunk of time) mechs known as Skells become available, adding a dynamic twist to the action. Reaching the 45-50 hour mark is where I first unlocked my Skell. It didn?t feel like a slog, and the main enemies don?t approach you with a challenge requiring mechs until around that time frame anyway. Skells make exploration and combat much easier and are an absolute blast. You can customize many aspects of your death machine and take on the massive brutes occupying Mira. The latter stages compliment Skell ownership by really upping the ante in boss fights, pitting your party against large scale enemies that I won?t spoil here.
What looks like an HD game from the PlayStation 2 era (it legit looks like Xenosaga III in parts) is made palatable by a fulfilling open world set in a beautiful science fiction universe where its Hollywood equivalent is that of James Cameron’s Avatar. The simple story, although held together by strong performances, is forgettable, which is a shame given the stage in which to play. The complex game system, although undermined by the sometimes mundane combat and dull fetch quests, is enough to propel hours upon hours of exploration of Mira, even beyond the initial main story. If you haven?t made the leap to the Wii U yet, Xenoblade won?t be the killer app to convince you to do so, but owners on the fence should absolutely visit the enormous world of Mira.
|Developer: Monolith Soft ? Publisher: Nintendo ? ESRB: T – Teen ? Release Date: 12.04.15|
Xenoblade Chronicles X has a hard time providing a tale suitable for the massive world and complex systems that occupy it, but even the most fairweather RPG fans will need little convincing to pick up this Japanese addition to the open-world genre.
|The Good||An unconventional JRPG that pushes the Wii U hardware in size and scope with creative and deep implementation of in-game systems.|
|The Bad||Forgettable narrative filled with tired tropes told by lifeless puppets. Mutates into more chore than fun at times.|
|The Ugly||Defeating a large enemy only to die to a small woodland creature who joined the fight at the last minute.|
|Xenoblade Chronicles X is a Wii U exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|