Nintendo’s year has been one for the books, a comeback if I’ve ever seen one, and a story I’m happy that doesn’t have an ending in the mix for some time. The Nintendo Switch has seen a lineup of first-party and third-party developers bring the hybrid console to new and exciting places, with games like Arms and Splatoon 2, and Doom and Skyrim and Rocket League making new homes for themselves.
I’d say Xenoblade Chronicles 2 belongs on the Nintendo Switch, the original was only released on Wii, and even getting that title over here in the West was a bit of a spectacle, but in the end, we saw it twice, on the Wii and then the New Nintendo 3DS.
Following the trend of other series like Final Fantasy or the Tales series, each game in the Xenoblade series features self-contained stories, original characters, conflicts and battle systems. The story begins with Rex, a young salvager who is also a Driver. If you’re wondering, a Driver works together with Blades, living weapons that only work when awakened by the Drivers in Alrest, the world of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Rex is discovered to be a Driver and even awakens Pyra, a Blade who is also known as the Aegis, someone who wields power to destroy the world. Soon after, Rex and Pyra are on the run from a group called Torna, they seek to wield the Aegis for their own plans.
Alrest is a massive place, where everyone lives on islands known as Titans, these are massive creatures that roam a sea of clouds. What’s interesting about these Titans, to me, is the longer I played, the more I wanted to explore each one. The Titans are vast, varied and exciting to explore the deeper you get into the game. Alrest is full of vistas that take your breath away – every time I came across one on a Titan I’d pause and take it in, seeing is believing in this case, there is so much detail it’s hard not to stop and stare.
The art aesthetic in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is unlike the previous games. Instead, each character looks like they were plucked from an anime. This was done according to the developers, to make their characters feel more alive. I’d say it worked, as Rex especially, emotes well, something I did notice was much more rigid in the original Xenoblade. Pyra too is likable, and the two of them come off as generic looking characters end up being truly standout characters.
Xenoblade 2’s story does a good job, for the most part, providing a great cast of characters full of life, it’s the rest of the narrative that takes a hit, and the filler quests offer little of note. The pacing was good and kept a good rhythm, but the number of fetch quests and monster hunting quests feel archaic by today’s standard.
A high note is also the voice acting, it’s good and reminds me how good a game can be when the voice cast is properly selected for their parts. I thoroughly enjoyed Rex’s accent, for one, and if this isn’t your cup of tea, you can download the Japanese language pack at launch to swap for the original voices.
I don’t want to go too far into the review without mentioning how wonderful the music is. There is this feeling that comes over me, it sweeps you off your feet and pulls you right into the game, energizing you during a battle, winds you down during a quiet scene and makes you laugh during a particularly funny moment. A solid voice-cast elevates the experience; however, certain characters deliver some cringe-inducing moments that pull you out of the narrative at times, reducing the tempo during particular scenes.
Interestingly, what I thought and what happened were different things. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 feeds the player tutorials at a decent pace and offers enough to keep you going until the next tutorial arrives and the gameplay gets deeper, hinting a greatness and offering it new things at a steady pace. Learn them well because if you want to at any point want to brush up on the many mechanics of the game, you need to pony up cash to purchase them.
Combat in Xenoblade Chronicles is different from the previous games. Each battle has three Drivers and each one of three can equip three Blades to use in combat and switch them on the fly. Blades are capable of many things, some can heal and some can attack enemies. Attacking is done automatically, and special moves build to leash special moves which deal more damage to the enemy with contextual attacks. Combat can get confusing, and at first, it was, but the tutorials are provided at the opportune time and reveal a bit more, coming together into something special. Rex and his party can all equip Blades, each being able to equip three Blades at a time during encounters, and there are many to collect.
There’s definite learning curve to combat that comes off as cruel, but it never is. Instead, you pick yourself after a tough defeat and come back when you’re ready and equipped to overcome your obstacle. Learning the ins and outs of the battle system is key to survival and progression, and it’s only learning your strengths and enemy weaknesses, do you understand how the system works.
An issue I noticed that threw me off was just how poorly the game ran in large open areas. The environments are vast, sweeping and beautiful, but the framerate starts to dip when you’re exploring the caves, the plains and while docked. I noticed less frequent dips when I was playing in handheld mode, often during a lunch break, I would play without any frequent drops.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a phenomenal RPG full of life with a wonderful mix of combat, story, and characters. Over a playthrough of 50 hours, across a beautiful world, rich in detail and amazement I found myself continuously smiling when I didn’t get lost because of the lack of a decent minimap, outside of this issue, this is exactly what I want when I sit down to play a videogame. A true sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles in so many ways, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 captures what made the first game great and makes it better.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]