After having watched my partner, Clarice, play through around half of Xenoblade Chronicles and around 75% of Xenoblade Chronicles X, I’ve built up a rather fond respect for the two titles; a larger, somewhat more isolated part of the Xenosaga and Xenogears franchises respectively, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 aims to provide an extremely loose sequel to the original Xenoblade Chronicles… Even if the connections are negligible at the very best, but does it succeed in evolving the world, mechanics and character writing presented in Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X?
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 starts off rather oddly; we’re introduced to our main protagonist, Rex, ‘salvaging’ for age-old artefacts and equipment below the Cloud Sea, a world-wide oddity that layers over an actual sea; instead of traditional continents or land, the people of this world, called Alrest, instead are forced to live on the back of living beings known as Titans; Titans can range from small-scale blimp-sized beasts to gigantic giraffe-like colossi, all with varying levels of population – For instance, the Titan Gormott has a modest population, but is largely inhabited by wild creatures, fauna and flora, whereas the Titan Mor Ardain exists as a polluted mega-city of sorts, home to the Imperial Moh Ardain Empire and is a global war machine… Then we come to Rex, and his local Titan, Azurda, who takes the form of a large dragon, able to fit maybe four or five people maximum on his back, with only room for a small caravan; soon after the game’s opening, Rex is enlisted as a mercenary for a group of fellow Salvagers who want to unearth a giant vessel that is said to hold various treasures inside – With the help of three other mercenaries, Nia, Jin and Malos, the gang make their way through the newly unearthed ship to find a coffin, and the body of a mysterious girl, named “The Aegis”, said to hold immense power and destruction within it; it’s not long until (Surprise, surprise) Rex is betrayed by the group (Jin, in-particular), stabbed through the heart and left to die… It’s only when the identity of the Aegis, a mysterious girl named Pyra, gifts Rex with half her life essence to become her “Driver”…
Pyra’s one of the best characters Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has within it’s diverse and interesting cast.
In the world of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, two types of being exist other than the various Titans roaming around – Blades and Drivers; Blades act as living weapons of sorts, able to tie their souls to “Core Crystals” that manifest into usable weapons such as machine guns, railguns, lances, swords and more, which can be used by an eligible Driver – Drivers act as standard-fare people who have the ‘potential’ to become a Blade’s Driver, which, if they turn out not to have potential, suffer from excessive blood loss and overall physical damage due to the rejection; the advantage Blades have over Drivers is that Blades are eternal, given that their Core Crystals are never shattered or cracked, meaning that even if the Driver dies, the Blade can be passed on to somebody else, albeit with their memories totally reset to factory settings, so to speak. The Aegis, in this way, is special however, being the only class of Blade in existence that can open the pathway through to the center of Alrest, where the World Tree sits – At the top of the tree rests Elysium, a supposed paradise with abundant land, able to end the world’s shortage of habitable space; for unknown reasons, Pyra wants to ascend to Elysium, and Rex, being the jovial and nonchalant person he is, just outright accepts to escort Pyra to Elysium, no matter what – Across your journey you’ll encounter a varied cast of NPCs, story characters and party characters that all have their own unique motives, character traits and plot threads that’ll both surprise and entice you…
Epic and sprawling scenes such as this are common-fare for a Xenoblade title; Xenoblade Chronicles 2 brings a new level of visual majesty to the franchise…
…Saying this, however, I don’t quite personally believe that the characters in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 are as driven and well-directed as those in Xenoblade Chronicles 1 – Genuinely heartfelt moments of love, rage and tension just don’t feel like they’re treated seriously, which can be partly due to some of the rather terrible voice acting this game has; some characters such as the cold and military Molag, the warm and friendly Pyra, and the dramatic and hyperactive antics of Zeke do bring the voice acting up a notch, but it just gets brought down by a good number of flopped lines, badly directed cutscenes and repetitive battle quotes (…But more on this point specifically in a minute…); characters such as Rex have a number of badly voiced lines, especially when it comes to core voice components such as battle cries and the over-emphasis of specific words in delivery – Admittedly this is one of the things where you’ll either love the voice acting, or you’ll hate a good chunk of it; lines such as “I love the smell of SALVAGE” (Literally pronounced with the same emphasis), or hearing Rex just go “OOOOWWWWWW” in the middle of battle just distract from a relatively well performing cast – This extends to a larger issue with the game’s combat overall, where battle quotes are repeated en-masse over, and over, and over again, without delay; this is shown off the most during an early portion of the game where you take on a battleship full of guards – The only thing you’ll hear for the next 30-60 minutes through this section are the battle quotes “THINK YOU CAN TAKE ME..?!”, and “DON’T FORGET ME..!?”. It got to the point where I was actively skipping battles just to avoid the terrible battle quotes from repeating over and over again, which is a cardinal sin committed by many JRPGs such as this. Thankfully you can turn off battle quote voices in the game’s options, but it leaves you rather lonely, ironically.
Battle Quotes will never end. You’ll never escape them. You’ll never outrun them. They’ll haunt your very dreams… Just think; if you think you can take me, don’t forget me…
Regarding the game’s combat, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has done a fairly good job at evolving the initially confusing “Arts” system in Xenoblade Chronicles 1 – Arts are easily accessible and limited to 3 per-Blade, with a special Combo Finisher for each that acts like a super-move of sorts, with four different charge rates with differing levels of intensity, damage and effect – With 3 Blades available per-Driver; this allows for a Driver to be entirely healing focused, damage focused, defensive, or a blend of all three in a variety of ways, with layering elements, status effects, buffs and debuffs that can be applied – Each Blade has a variety of Field Skills that can be used in the world like HM Moves from Pokemon, where you may require specific Blades with specific Field Skills to proceed to a certain area; this can be extremely annoying to try and predict, however thankfully a lot of content requiring Field Skills are both optional and re-visitable at any point; this just means it’s a bit hellish for us completionists! Blades are also upgradable, as per standard JRPG fare, with different “Chips” that can alter their weapon’s stats, effectiveness, and passive abilities (Such as elemental defence, boosts and better RNG rates for various statuses – Not only this, but Blades all also have their own unique skill trees that can be upgraded by hitting various milestones; things such as “Defeat X of Y enemy” or “Walk Z steps” are all fairly standard here, and allow you to boost up your favourite Blades and use them throughout the entire game with little to no redundancy in your party.
Blades can easily be beefed up with various upgrades… It’s just a sheer shame that there’s no form of “Blade Evolution” anywhere.
New Blades are acquired through resonating with Core Crystals found throughout the world, either by Salvaging (Timed QTE’s that provide you with loot), battle rewards or from treasure chests – Core Crystals come in two main rarities, being Common or Rare, providing a free loot box-like system where you can randomly pull either Common Blades (Fairly cookie-cutter beings that just have varying weapons and elements), or Rare Blades (The special “Legendary” Blades that you really want to pull) – Rare Blades all have unique designs, drawn to life by various different popular Japanese artists, allowing for a heck of a lot of diversity – Want a samurai-like Blade who conjures static ink that he can manipulate with his purple flaming katana? Hell yeah I do! Want a cute bird-like Blade to cheer you on and also rip apart any foes that stand in your way? Sure, sign me up! Want an anthropomorphised bunny rabbit with gigantic knockers..? Er… What..? …Am… Am I still playing the same game…?
Dahlia’s just one of Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s more questionable Rare Blade designs – It’s extremely hit & miss.
Yes. Yes you are. And this leads to another problem with Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s very design by nature; the game has a hell of a lot of intentional, and unintentional fanservice. The game’s distinctly anime visuals clash greatly with the original’s more realistic and mature art style; everything here is over-exaggerated, from the character’s reactions, costumes and very bodies – Pyra for one literally has knockers made of steel as they never move! They’re always extremely protrudent in even the most calm of scenes; now, I’m a fan of fanservice at the best of times, but there’s a time and a place… Saying this, however, it does, ironically, help to promote the game’s new ’emotive’ directive. Characters now have a lot more emotion on their faces and in their designs; fun, comedic scenes are at the franchises’ best; dramatic, tense moments are so, so good when you can see the focus and killing intent in the character’s eyes, and one death scene literally nearly had me in tears; something I haven’t had a game do to me in quite a while. It’s such a shame though that the game’s voice acting nearly ruins these moments – Going back to this death (That I shan’t spoil where, when or who it involves), Rex’s immediate reaction after a little cry is to try and rush the killer, with… One of the least emotive screams I’ve heard in a JRPG.
Rex has his fair share of traumas, the poor lad; however wether he can project that appropriately is a whole different story.
…It’s near the point where I’d nearly rather hear a fandub of these scenes than the official dub; and this is coming from someone who actively hates the whole “Sub VS Dub argument”. Other issues with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 involve smaller things, such as the game’s UI being rather confusing at first, one of the worst map systems I’ve seen in a JRPG (Which is thankfully being patched to be better at the end of December), and an overall step back from the Skell Mech system and customisation introduced in Xenoblade Chronicles X – I almost feel that, if Xenoblade Chronicles 2 went under a different Xenoblade name, such as Xenoblade Colossi, it would’ve fared a lot better instead of being compared in the shadows of it’s two predecessors. It feels a lot more like another spinoff similar to X rather than a direct sequel to the first game; whilst there are connections between the two, these connections are literally summed up in less than a paragraph, and are made known to the player right near the end of the game, with little-to-no consequence, effect or surprise.
Despite all the flaws, I still end up loving the resonance the main cast have – Definitely one of the stronger points of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a flawed, but charming JRPG that fares well on the Nintendo Switch; being the system’s first exclusive large JRPG makes the game rather special in nature, and is fun to take with you on the go, given that you can forgive the game’s frequent drops to sub-480p in Handheld mode, survive through the game’s numerous sudden frame drops, dicey voice acting and messy design, you’ll find a bit of a surprisingly good game in the midst of all these problems.
If I had to describe Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in a nutshell, it would be “A flawed diamond”, beautiful by nature and at it’s core, but extremely flawed on the offset, which makes criticising this title all the more painful; I want the Xenoblade franchise to succeed and improve, and to swell into a beautiful, wonderful franchise, however after seeing the top-notch Xenoblade Chronicles and well-performing spin-off that was Xenoblade Chronicles X, I feel that Xenoblade Chronicles 2, as a sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles and on it’s own merit just gets outshone by it’s precursors.
I give Xenoblade Chronicles 2 a 7.5 / 10, and would definitely recommend this title on the Nintendo Switch – It’ll certainly keep you busy, but wether you’ll enjoy every last second of it is a totally different, and personal story.