Pumping 60 plus hours into a roleplaying game is one of my gaming past-times. It has to be good, of course, but sinking hours into an engrossing story and massive worlds whilst questing until my eyelids begrudgingly close is something I love most about gaming. It’s rare though. Xenoblade Chronicles is one of those games in question. Back on the Wii, it was a beast of a game, one that pushed the console to its limits with expansive, massive environments, a deep plot and even deeper gameplay elements; it breathed life into a dying console era.
With the birth of the Nintendo Switch, developers Monolith Soft wasted no time to release a sequel. First, Xenoblade Chronicles X, which came out for the Wii U, featured a new story but kept the same gameplay mechanics and added cool-but-really-hard-to-obtain driveable mechs which helped battle the game’s larger foes and also to get around quicker, as X had some ridiculously massive worlds to explore. It wasn’t really a sequel though. But now, we have a direct sequel to the original Xenoblade Chronicles with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Whilst the Switch has a few games in the RPG genre already, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a much higher profile one, and whilst it doesn’t bring much of anything new to the table, it’s a meaty game that you’ll want to invest a lot of hours into.
In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you play as upbeat salvager Rex in the world of Alrest which is covered by a cloud sea where people live atop colossal beasts called Titans. In the quest for untold riches, Rex undertakes a special salvaging job that sees him discover the Aegis, a legendary weapon which transforms Rex into a special type of soldier called a Driver. Drivers are linked to their own living weapons called Blades which take on various forms depending on the personality of their Driver. Adopting the Aegis awakens Pyra, a fire-based female who becomes Rex’s Blade who longs to visit a paradise atop a huge tree that sits in the centre of Alrest called Elysium, and so Rex and Pyra’s journey begins, but there’s also the threat of bad guys who want the Aegis’ power for themselves. It’s an endearing story filled with mystery that uncovers at a perfect pace. In the beginning, you’re a typical young lad, salvaging to get by, but by the end, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with. There’s just one problem with the story: the inconsistent voice work. Rex has a weird Northern English accent which doesn’t contrast well with his Titan Gramps’ posh Londoner accent and Pyra’s American one. Then there’s Nia. Oh, Nia! She’s an interesting character, or she would be if it wasn’t for her godawful Welsh accent and irritating dialogue that makes her screen time cringy, to say the least. Her Blade is cool though.
The gameplay doesn’t defer much from previous entries. As Rex, you run around exploring each environment towards your quest goal whilst battling wildlife and bandits along the way. The varied environments are one of Xenoblades 2’s strongest features; they are vast and full of places to see, from the forest-like zones of Uraya to the opening industrial utopia of Mor Adain. Each environment is dynamic, and accessible areas open and close access depending on the everchanging tide of the clouds which is indicated by an icon on-screen. To find your quest goal, you use the compass at the top of the screen which shows you the general direction to go and how far away you are from your goal. It doesn’t show you the exact route to take, however, so this meant I spent hours trying to find my way to my objective more times than I’d have liked. It’s a system that works in any RPG, and it kind of does here, but a little more help would have been appreciated. Exploring is really great in Xenoblade 2; you can come across collection points that may have items or materials which can be used to strengthen Core Crystals. Core Crystals are the basis of your Blade’s being, they wouldn’t be able to exist without them. They also grant Drivers new weapons and abilities.
Rex can equip up to three Blades at any one time that can be switched at the press of a button. Blades have a multitude of advantages and properties. Elemental types, such as Fire and Water, are what you’ll begin with, but you’ll soon be able to unlock more and collect them like Pokémon. Each Blade can level up, which automatically unlocks new abilities for them to use. These may be passive ones, such as a boost in strength against certain types of enemies to ones that can be used to remove things blocking Rex’s path or finding more stuff at collection points. You have to continuously check their skill trees as new abilities won’t be unlocked until you do.
The basis of Xenoblade 2’s depth is its brilliant combat system. Combat engages at the press of the B button which readies Rex for combat. He, and any companions in his party, performs normal attacks automatically in combinations of three hits. Each successful hit fills the gauges of your special moves called Arts. You activate Arts by pressing the buttons they are assigned to, in which Rex performs them instantly. Rex has a total of three Arts which are different moves depending on what Blade Rex has activated at that time. Performing Arts fills the gauges of your fourth Art, which is undoubtedly your strongest and flashiest. Hitting the button for your fourth Art requires you to complete a quick time event which maximises its intensity. The combat isn’t just pressing buttons whenever your Arts are filled, no, it requires mastering the timing so that you perform your Art at the same time as you hit the enemy with your weapon, and this amplifies your Art’s damage output and also builds your affinity with your Blade more quickly, which in turn levels them up faster.
Another gauge fills as all this is going on too, which is your party meter, and once it’s filled, it can be used to activate a chain attack which allows Rex to activate his big Art move alongside one of his party members, which puts on a display of badass tag-team moves that also mixes up different elements, like a fire attack followed by a huge water-based attack that feeds into the enemy’s health bar, and it’s superb to watch too.
Certain Arts can place enemies in different states, such as Topple, which allows for some free hits, or Break, which nullifies any armour or blocking abilities. To place enemies in these states, you have to activate the right Art on the right part of the enemy, which takes some effort.
There’s a lot to get your head round with regards to the combat, it’s undoubtedly complicated with a lot to learn, but once you have, it becomes addictive and exciting. There is one small complaint when fighting. Yep, there is a bad part to the excellent fighting, and that is the fact that Rex and his companions never shut up. Even after the battle, Rex reels off the same repeating phrases that are novelty at first but get on your nerves quickly. That damn dialogue.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a worthy sequel and proof that you don’t need mechs to make an RPG exciting and engrossing. All you need is massive places to explore, a deep and complex fighting system and a great plot. It could have done with better voice work though.
Developer: Monolith Soft
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 1st December 2017