Release date: Out Now
Systems: Nintendo Switch
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We want to give special thanks to Nintendo UK for sending us a copy of this game to review.
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If you’re interested, here’s the script that was made to record this video.
Before I begin I want to thank Nintendo UK for sending us a copy of this game to review. The rise of the Xenoblade series has been interesting to watch as a fan of the series. When the series first launched it was fairly minor and almost didn’t make it outside of Japan. Fast-forward to 2017 and we have Xenoblade Chronicles 2, actually the fourth game in the series including ports, being a headliner for Nintendo’s new system. The release date given was Holiday 2017 and no one on the internet believed it. Afterall, Xenoblade Chronicles X took nearly 4 years from announcement to release and Nintendo has been known to give early release dates and then delay the game. That expectation was here, but despite all odds Nintendo delivered and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has become Nintendo’s last major release for 2017. But is this a game I was really feeling, or is it no longer Xenoblade time? Let’s find out.
I need to start this by being upfront with everyone. As of making this review, we only received this game late last week and so have not had as much time as most reviewers. Because of this, I haven’t finished the story at the time of making this review. I am at the end of chapter 4 and about 40 hours into the game. Anyone who has played the other titles knows that Xenoblade is a 100+ hour game so that should give you some reference to where I am at. Although I do think this game is shorter than the other two and I’ll give my thoughts as to why at the end of this review.
The game is set in the world of Alrest where people live on the backs of giant beasts known as titans, who wade through a cloud ocean and circle around a gigantic tree known as the world tree. Thousands of years ago, all of mankind lived on this tree with their creator, the architect, but at some point, everyone was evicted off the tree and made to fend for themselves. This proved a disaster for humanity and eventually, the architect began to pity them and sent the titans down to take care of them. Everything was fine until an incident 500 years prior to the story happened where a great weapon called the Aegis sank 3 continents and caused a ceasefire amongst the warring states. Now in the present day a terrorist group called Torna is planning to obtain the Aegis once more so they can wipe out humanity, while the two major powers in the world have begun boosting their military might, almost as if a war is about to begin.
Our hero this time is a young boy named Rex who lives on the back of a titan named Azurda. Rex spends his days scavenging for treasure in order to sell at the local market. Most of the profit he makes gets sent back to his auntie and the village he was born in and life is happy. When Rex gets offered a large sum of money for a single job he sees this as the chance of a lifetime, but little does he realise this job will change everything.
In this world there are people called Drivers who are powerful warriors who have control over beings called Blades. Blades are born from a person’s energy by using special crystals and they are immortal, returning back into the crystal upon the death of their driver. Rex finds his own Blade in the form of Pyra, a young red-headed girl who can control flames and who has a mission to reach the fabled land of Elysium, found on the top of the World Tree. So Rex and Pyra set off on their adventure, meeting friend and foe along the way.
Some notable characters include the cat-like Nia and her blade Dromarch, the Nopon scientist and otaku Tora with his artificially made blade Poppi, the mercenary with a heart of gold and years of experience called Vandham and his blade Roc, the self-proclaimed greatest warrior of the universe Zeke and his blade Pandoria, and finally Morag, the strongest driver in all of the Ardanian army and her blade Brighid. Each one of these characters is fairly likeable and distinct and I got extreme enjoyment out of Vandham and Zeke. Vandham is an absolute boss and brilliant mentor figure whereas Zeke is every generic anime hero with long-winded attack names and an eyepatch that ‘seals a power so great it could wipe out the universe if he removed it.’ He also has a pet baby turtle he keeps in his jacket pocket which is so utterly random that I love it.
Our villains this time around are Torna with their three leaders being Jin, Malos and Akhos. Akhos is sadistic and calculated whereas Malos is a massive and vile brute with a deep connection to the Aegis weapon. Jin is Riku from Kingdom Hearts who doesn’t know how he got here… What? That might be true. It’s really hard to say as Jin is incredibly mysterious. They were both designed by Final Fantasy’s Nomura and it shows.
In terms of tone the game certainly has a more upbeat nature to it than past Xenoblade games, which is reflected in its art style and writing. People were worried this game looked too anime and the writing can feel like that as well. You get a hot spring scene, references to maids and Otaku culture, as well as pieces of fan-service and over the top reactions.
But for every light-hearted, comedic scene there is a moment that is just beautiful and brings about real emotions from the player. As I said, I still feel like I’m in the first half of this game, but I have already bore witness to intense and heart-wrenching moments that have fully immersed me into this game’s characters and world.
Although it isn’t all good. There are some classic Xenoblade elements of lore and world-building that are distinctly absent here. There are still lots of side-quests, but I feel there are not as many as the old games or they appear less frequently. Heart-to-Hearts have also been dumbed down, now just requiring you to find the location and that is it. You don’t need any specific party members or a specific affection level between them. That’s not to say affection is gone entirely—it no longer exists between teammates, but it does exist between Drivers and their Blades, and increasing this is important for unlocking skills.
One sadly removed feature is the character tree from past games. Before, nearly every NPC was part of a long character tree which told you their relationships and how they were affected by your actions. This is completely gone with no replacement. On top of this, a lot of the same models are reused for NPCs, and the more minor characters feel distinctly less important this time around.
I should also talk about the voice acting. I will admit I have a particular taste for the voice acting in the first Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s rare to find something feel very distinctly British and cheesy while still being able to get all the key moments voiced well. It’s unfortunate to say that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is not as good and can feel outright bad at points. Rex’s voice surprised me but it’s something I got used to. There are a few dodgy deliveries here and there but it’s mostly ok. Other characters like Pyra and Vandham sound very good though and I think they were performed very well. But Nia, oh man why. She’s not a bad voice actress but I don’t think it fits the character at all. Early on in the game I was genuinely struggling to deal with some of the awkward deliveries between her and Rex and it nearly put me off the English dub altogether. Thankfully, even the worst of performances managed to get the important scenes done well. The bonding moments and genuinely heartfelt story turns have been voiced perfectly with the right amount of emotions portrayed. It’s not just the voices to blame for some of the more awkward deliveries in this game though. There are some questionable animation choices and some often don’t line up with the emotions of the line. The lip syncing is also pretty bad. Not Sonic Adventure levels, but they didn’t even try to get them to match up to the dialogue, which was always distracting.
That was a lot of time just spent on story elements, although this is an RPG so I guess it should be expected. Let’s take a look at the gameplay.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 follows a lot of the gameplay elements of its predecessors but adds in enough new twists and turns to make it unique. You still only control the leader of your team and attacks are automatic although they get stronger with each hit, which is something I don’t remember from the other games. Where you stand in the field can increase or decrease the effect of certain arts and nearly all the various classes are back with attackers, healers and tanks. There seems to be an absence of support units like Melia this time around with buffs and debuffs now being done individually and tied to certain attacks. Breaks, Topples, Smashes and launching attacks are all back though.
The big difference this time around is the introduction of Blades and how they affect combat. Every driver comes equipped with blades, who are this game’s form of Personas, Yokai, Pokemon – however you want to think about it, really. Each of these blades comes with three arts for their driver to use as well as an elemental type, weapon type and their own skills and equipment. These decide everything in combat from what weapon the driver uses to what arts can be utilised, and you can store up to three of these for each driver to cycle through during combat. The arts for each of these blades can’t be changed but they can be upgraded, and they all come with additional features such as the ability to heal, increase aggro, cause debuffs, or do more damage from a certain angle.
Items and equipment are handled differently in this game as well. Players can only equip two pieces of clothing and they don’t change the character’s outward appearance at all. These vary in rarity and what they can do, so you should utilise which equipment you feel might be suitable to your play style. Blades can also wear additional pieces of equipment that only come into effect when the player is using that blade. As for items, rather than using them to heal or gain ether, players instead add them to their pouch and they last a set amount of time. They are not really used for healing anymore, rather they can add buffs or debuffs, and increase affection. You start with 1 pouch slot for each character and while you can increase it with a special item they are very rare which can be a bit of a pain.
A new part of battles are the chain attacks. Chain attacks have existed in prior games but they have been changed up here and made easier to pull off. Every driver has a bar that they fill up by pulling off art attacks with successful timing. This bar can increase from 1 to 4 and allows a driver and their blade to pull off powerful AoE attacks. When you perform one of these attacks it adds an element to the opponent and by performing another one of these attacks, with a slightly higher level, within a time limit will lead to even more damage and eventually an elemental orb.
The elemental AoE attacks are done with the A button but once the group affinity gauge is full you can perform a chain attack. These attacks are ridiculously powerful and by making use of the elemental orbs players created with the AoE attacks you can increase the combo to ludicrous levels. Setting these up and performing them correctly can sometimes obliterate bosses, which is very satisfying.
Outside of battle, exploration is very similar to the first game in the series. You can run, jump and swim around the environment while running into enemies way too powerful for you. The collection points are also back and with a new feature that is tied into the skills of your blade. There are certain blades that can allow you to find more objects at these points or help with traversing the environment. Dromarch’s Botany ability can give you more plant material while Pyra’s flames can burn objects in your path. These also require upgrading by fulfilling the various quests on the skill tree which can range from battle challenges to environment tasks.
A new feature you unlock in chapter 4 is the Merc Guild missions where you can send off your blades to go and perform tasks. Blades are gotten through a Gatcha mechanic so you are guaranteed to have many you never use, so this a good way of making them feel less useless. While at first you can only send one team out at a time, the higher you raise your Mercenary Rank the more missions you can multi-task. Each mission can be found by talking to people or by upgrading each of the main towns in the game. This is an improvement I really enjoyed. The first Xenoblade had an area called Colony Six that you could improve as the game went on by doing side-quests and helping villagers. This unlocked special gear and cheaper shops. Now in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, every town is Colony Six and anything you do can affect the town’s rating which feels rewarding.
Overall the gameplay is different enough that it’s hard to call it an improvement or not. There are certainly some missing features outside of combat but there are also improved and new features that take their place. It feels refreshing, but if you were a fan of one of these missing ideas I can understand being upset over its disappearance.
I already talked at length about the voice acting so I don’t want to bring it up again. As for the rest of the music though, it is spot on. Some of the original composers of Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is back and you can tell. There are times when I can hear an echo of Guar Plains or You Will Know our Names, and it fills me with nostalgia. While I thought Sawano’s music fit the sci-fi, futuristic setting of X, the classic style of music suits a fantasy adventure like this one. I haven’t heard a single track I don’t like.
Now to move from the ears to the eyes let’s bring up character models again. Monolith isn’t exactly known for their great human character models. The first game looked like their faces were painted on and in X everyone looked like a doll. Super Smash Bros. so far has the best model for a Xenoblade character and I think that will continue. 2’s models aren’t bad at all and I think the anime-ish style works quite well for this game. Characters are allowed to express a lot more here than in previous games and apart from the lip syncing and some questionable animation and clipping, everything looks fine. However the quality of some textures are low, and this applies to the environment as well. From a distance everything looks stunning but zoom in and it almost feels like an old game simply upscaled. I doubt this was the case and was done primarily due to compression and other cut-backs to fit the game on a cartridge.
This cartridge space does actually present a few issues. I applaud them for not requiring an additional download to simply play the game but by compressing it as much as they did you begin to notice some problems. Loading times can take a while in this game, nowhere near Sonic 06 levels but after the seamless transitions of X it becomes apparent. Granted X had an additional download as an option in order to have that seamlessness but Xenoblade 2 currently doesn’t seem to be offering the same thing. If they do then I would take this back and recommend downloading that patch.
There are also occasional frame rate issues when there is too much on screen and a noticeable drop in screen quality at some areas, even while docked. I am not very savvy when it comes to this kind of information so you might want to see what Digital Foundry have to say, but even I could notice drops below 720p.
On the more positive side of things, the artwork for this game is great and the HUD is clean and stylish. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 uses a bunch of guest artists and features their artwork in the game, so when you see artwork of Malos or Jin they look straight out of a Final Fantasy game thanks to Nomura’s unique art style. I like that, and a lovely Blade Record allows you to view artwork of all the rare blades and see who designed them. It’s a shame that only the 5-star blades are actually unique. Most of the blades you get in this game are super generic with only minor differences due to the variety of weapons they can wield. But you get so many common weapons you start get sick of them in the end, at least I did.
Before I get to my conclusion I want to mention a thought that was in the back of my mind while playing this, and something I alluded to early in this video. A lot of people expected Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to get delayed but Nintendo stuck to their guns and got it out which is great. But, I think there are parts of this game that feel rushed as a result. Issues I have with some early scenes and the problem of lip syncing, something I don’t remember being an issue in all the other games, are likely because of this. The lack of certain features and overall less side-quests are also a factor in this and if the game ends up being shorter than the others I won’t be surprised. The biggest issue with a rushed game though are the glitches. I had a few glitches in my playthrough of Xenoblade 2, some funny, some interesting and thankfully none game-breaking (although the game did crash on me at one point). For example, I had one glitch where after a cutscene ended, rather than go to the load screen the game stuck on the scene I was in and stood still. I couldn’t move and what made it funny was that Rex had despawned and another Pyra was in his place and she was clipping through a soldier which looked bizarre. I thought the game froze but eventually it all went back to normal. Another glitch I had was accidentally getting into a fight with a unique monster through a wall. He was at the end of a maze that I wasn’t able to reach yet but by using an AoE attack I accidentally triggered the fight and we fought each other through the wall which was amusing (until I lost). However I could easily trigger this glitch whenever I wanted.
I don’t think the game is bad for being rushed, and maybe it wasn’t and I’m just looking for excuses, but it certainly feels like it at times.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 sends Nintendo off with a bang in 2017, joining the likes of Zelda and Mario as big, open-world, must have adventures. I am still impressed that they got this game running on the Switch, even if they had to make some cut-backs to do it. The gameplay feels fresh but also familiar to veteran players with plenty of new additions to fill in the void of removed content. And, so far, the story has been wonderful. Each chapter so far has captivated and intrigued me. Each of the characters has been likeable and a blast to use, even with some questionable voice acting, and all the Blades are well designed. Except for Pyra’s shorts because those are barely even hot pants. I mean seriously, I’m ok with some fan service designs now and again if they are tactful but those look mad uncomfortable. While I might find Pyra’s choice of clothes confusing, you can trust me that with this game as a whole I was really feeling it.