Xenoblade Chronicles X Review
Crossing Off the Hours
Following the great success of Xenoblade Chronicles, it was unsurprising that Monolith Soft and Nintendo would want to build on it. Running with the current big thing in JRPG naming conventions, Xenoblade Chronicles X takes significant parts of its predecessors’ template, crafting them into something new but just as substantial. Although certain aspects prevent it from being a universal recommendation, it’s easy get sucked in to emerge a likely-unplanned large number of hours later, much like the developer’s prior opus.
The game opens in 2054, just as the Earth is destroyed by two warring alien factions. Having been forewarned of the impending doom, Earth’s governments commissioned the building of numerous ark ships to try and evacuate people so they could carry on the human race. Unfortunately, Los Angeles’ White Whale appears to be the only one to successfully escape the planet. Despite managing to flee Earth’s initial destruction, the White Whale is found by one of those alien forces — the Ganglion — two years later and forced to crash on the planet Mira. Miraculously, the main body of the ship manages to survive mostly intact and the city of New Los Angeles is formed within. Running the city is BLADE, an organisation tasked with setting up the humanity’s new home and with finding the Lifehold, part of the ship that houses a large number of remaining sleeping humans that was lost somewhere on Mira in the crash.
Players start off with creating their own character, who acts as their point-of-view. A lot of time can be spent having fun with the character creation, and the wide selection of voice actors is a very nice touch. Players have choices in how to respond at various points, eliciting reactions from those present, but they aren’t particularly interesting, have no impact on the wider story, and are not voice acted. The choices play a much more significant role in sidequests, where they can affect the result but even then there’s little conversational engagement. Really, the main protagonist is Elma, a relatively high-ranking member of BLADE who wakes the protagonist from the stasis pod and accompanies virtually all story-based missions and scenes. XCX‘s story takes many twists and turns, with appropriately fascinating reveals towards the finale. It doesn’t attain the same level as the original Xenoblade Chronicles, with both the protagonists and antagonists not being given as much chance to individually stand out and develop. However, there’s still a generally strong set of very likeable characters and the overall plot is absolutely worthwhile.
XCX takes a different direction from its predecessor with a greater focus on sidequests and New Los Angeles’ inhabitants. Story missions are of greatest importance, though some will require certain pieces of side content to be done first. Second to these are affinity missions, which focus on the party members, usually having a level requirement coupled with an affinity requirement achieved by bringing the character on enough battles or other quests. After these are the more standard sidequests collected from various NPCs where they ask the player for help, with generic collection and hunting quests at the bottom rung. There is a huge amount of content, and though there are only a dozen story missions, even a standard completion can be expected to run to nearly ninety hours. This content can be overwhelming for new players, as the game expects one to simply dive in without much hand-holding. Certain missions are also a pain to complete without guidance, notably those that require rare drops or collectibles. It can also be annoying that players can only activate one major mission — story or affinity — at a time without the option of dropping it, particularly if that mission is a bit more difficult than anticipated.
It’s greatly engaging to see how New Los Angeles alters with sidequests, with new inhabitants appearing and moving around as sidequests are done. Many characters get their own mini-series of quests, some connecting multiple threads, and the world is given even more depth as players are familiarized with individual characters and groups. XCX does a very nice job of providing a sense of NLA becoming a more bustling, living city as individual character arcs progress or more friends are made. The sidequests are frequently engaging, coming from all walks of life with many having a lighthearted flavour: a couple of examples being a supposed time-traveller trying to get back to the future, and an investigation of the murder of one of NLA’s alien inhabitants.
The world building is helped by the game’s amazing visuals. The design is excellent throughout, be it in the urban architecture of NLA, all the characters and races, the incredible vistas and wild environments complete with variable weather effects, and the vast array of creatures and their different movements and behaviours. Combat is nice and action-packed, but the action is often eclipsed by the simple joy to be had while running, driving, or flying around and beholding the beautiful surroundings. The only mark to be made against the visuals is that the text may be too small for those with small screens, large living rooms or poor eyesight.
XCX‘s battle system is based on the foundation of its predecessor, but enough is different to offer a distinct experience. Battles play out in real-time, with characters having automatic regular attacks and special Arts with MMO-style cooldown timers. A number of status effects give players tactical options to incapacitate enemies or string together different Arts for extra damage. The battle system is great in that it doesn’t take too long to get to grips with the basics, but there’s a lot to master when it comes to both setting up characters and using their abilities in practice. While the available party members have a set class, the player character has free reign of battle styles and can switch between them at any time. These are divided into three base classes, with each base class splitting into a couple of two-tiered advancements. There’s a good amount of difference between how each class plays, so players are encouraged to experiment to see which is most suitable.
The biggest issue that players are likely to find with the battle system is how the game fails to explain a lot of things regarding character builds. The difficulty is such that many players won’t actually realise there’s an issue with their builds until late in the game — especially when some nasty spikes hit in the last couple of story chapters. Thankfully these situations are recoverable, it just means some hours wasted to find out what needs to be done, and then getting the resources to do so. Players really are advised to read the manual or check out some introductory guides first as it’s very easy to miss aspects like upgrading Arts and passive skills if just going off the very limited information provided in-game.
In addition to the highly welcome fast-travel points, the potential feasibility and time issues of exploring Mira’s further-flung areas are solved once Skells are unlocked. These piloted mechs are a lot of fun to travel around in, especially once the flight option arrives towards the latter stages of the story. It would be foolish to give players a mech without letting it be used to fight, and XCX doesn’t disappoint. Fighting in a Skell is much the same as the base combat, with Skell Arts determined entirely by its gear. The other major difference is that while dying on foot is a simple respawn, a downed Skell must be replaced back in NLA. A limited number of replacements are covered by insurance but it pays not to be reckless with them.
Unlike its predecessor, XCX‘s soundtrack is entirely the work of relative newcomer Hiroyuki Sawano, who brings a new and distinct style. While it may not be to everyone’s tastes, it seems to fit in very well with the game’s themes and never becomes tiring, even with plenty of repetition in town. Nearly all of the tracks have good hooks, with an decent assortment of vocal offerings helping it amount to a pretty grandiose score. Despite the choice in voice acting, the created character doesn’t actually speak during cutscenes, player speech only happening in battle. Otherwise, the voice acting is strong throughout, with all the cast putting in high quality performances.
Much like Xenoblade Chronicles did for the Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles X gives the Wii U a huge leap in relevance for RPGamers. While those hoping to just pick it up and immediately know what they’re doing are likely to be a bit overwhelmed at first, others who are looking for a deep title chock-full of systems and content that have a learning curve will be well taken care of. There are certainly issues, but they get swallowed up by the sheer quality of the base game and its focus on depth. Even though my play time ran to eighty-seven hours, it never felt like a chore outside of some last-chapter grinding (and even then I was still enjoying things) and I was always more than happy to get sucked into lengthy sessions. Monolith Soft and Nintendo have an incredibly good thing going on here and it would not be remotely surprising to see it continue.
Tons of content
Highly enjoyable gameplay
Not friendly to new players
Late-game difficulty spikes