When picking up my Switch earlier this year, I had several games I could have bought with the purchase of this new console. Super Mario Odyssey, a game that has garnered much praise for its fun gameplay. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for its massive open world, interesting story, puzzles and fun combat. But I decided to pick up Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
My reasons for this are twofold. One, I grew up with games like the Legend of Dragoon, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. And two, as someone who didn’t own a Wii U and played Super Smash Bros. with my college friends, I had heard nothing but good things about Xenoblade Chronicles. I had never watched any gameplay of the original game, but I was told it was a pretty good JRPG. And it’s a Nintendo title, so it can’t be bad, right?
Well, let’s just say, I regret not doing research before making that purchase. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is not fun to play. I wouldn’t call it an awful game, it’s technically sound, has interesting world building and characters I enjoy, but the gameplay…the best way I can describe the gameplay is that it’s a stripped-down MMORPG, minus the multiplayer element. I even feel as though this game is misrepresented as a JRPG. It’s an RPG from Japan, but it’s not a JRPG. JRPGs tend to have turn-based combat, and they have quest lines with a clear beginning and end.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has an auto-combat system. Pulling out your weapon and locking onto an enemy begins combat. You, as the player, just sit there, occasionally pressing one of the skills allotted to you, based on which ‘Blade’ you have equipped at that time. This is MMO combat, you find an enemy, you click on them to attack and then you can use skills allotted to your task bar. In Xenoblade, you must worry about aggro as enemies will attack you if they are within a certain range.
MMOs can get away with this because enemy level is based on your location. In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you can have a fairly simple mission. For example, kill this monster and pick up an item. This monster is level 25, and in its location, there’s a level 90 bird that flies by. If you take too long in killing the level 25, the level 90 will enter the fray and make short work of you. That mission is real and took me multiple tries to complete. Also, characters in this game will have character classes similar to MMOs like Tank, Healer and Attacker.
While we’re on the subject of combat, my favorite part of JRPGs is grinding levels and watching as my characters get stronger. Honestly, combat is a waste of time in this game. Combat in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes too long with enemies of equal level. A fight in, say, Octopath Traveler, takes about 20 seconds, apart from boss battles, which can take up to 3-5 minutes. Battling something of equal or slightly lower level takes a minute or more, and boss fights can take up to ten minutes in Xenoblade 2.
Which, when you have an auto-combat system, is beyond boring. Combo attacks and precise button presses don’t improve this experience. Speaking of experience, the amount of experience points you receive for combat is minuscule. You are better off just doing side quests and story missions since that is where you’ll get the bulk of your experience points.
I hear you out there asking “But don’t you have to fight to do missions?”. Sometimes, in your main story quests, yes, but the vast majority of side quests amount to RNG fetch quests, delivering something to someone or talking to someone on the behalf of someone else. One of the other reasons this game feels and plays like an MMO is its mission structure. Combat does not feel important in this game. What is important: Merc Missions, increasing the development level of cities, summoning and collecting Blades (which is RNG-based) and playing mini-game mechanics like Salvaging and Tiger Tiger.
All these mechanics accomplish one thing and one thing only: add time to the game. Combat is slow and uninteresting, missions tend to include RNG, especially when grinding for resources. It took me hours to understand some of the mechanics of the game. This game can be confusing at times and has one of the longest tutorials I’ve ever had to endure.
This, honestly, is heart breaking because I enjoy the characters. Rex is a fun and likable protagonist. Tora is funny, and I love his interaction with the team. I really like Nia as well, and the various Blades you meet have cool designs and interesting characterizations. But the game is so monotonous. It’s just boring and incredibly not fun. Long combat can be good if the player is actively involved, but in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you’re just not.
Everything done in this game feels like an attempt to make you play for as long as possible. I would love to play a remake of this game in the style of Final Fantasy VI or Phantasy Star IV. But as it stands, after weeks of playing this game, attempting to push through it and trying to enjoy the story and characters, I’ve been bogged down by boring combat and RNG-based gameplay. I would say stay away from this game. But if you’re looking for a fun JRPG experience, pick up Octopath Traveler when it releases on July 13th, 2018, for the Nintendo Switch.
But if you like a different opinion, please check-out our very own Ian Cooper’s review of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 here.