Xenoblade Chronicles X | Principal Platforms: Wii U | Developer: Monolith Soft, Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: RPG | Year: 2015
Even the barest taste of Xenoblade Chronicles X is enough to leave you feeling outgunned and overwhelmed. Such is this RPG’s scope, there’s no way to give a proper analysis without sinking in many hours of gameplay, so expect this journal entry to be more of a first impressions piece than a detailed review.
Although its Western release came in December 2015, for all intents and purposes, Xenoblade feels like the Wii U’s most important game of 2016. Today’s consoles seem to thrive on their exclusives and this mammoth JRPG, that features a gameplay experience akin to that of any massively multiplayer title, is perhaps the biggest exclusive that the Wii U will ever have.
As the sequel to the fan favourite Xenoblade Chronicles on the Nintendo Wii, this sequel subtitled X (“cross”) dials up the scale in every way it can. The open world environments are massive and the overall graphical presentation bests almost every other video game that the Wii U currently has to its name.
Planet Mira is an alien world not totally dissimilar to Avatar’s Pandora and it’s split into multiple zones that each come with their own biome and flavour of wildlife. Creature design is equally impressive; you’ll meet many bizarre and powerful critters that range from tiny armadillo thingies to gigantic dinosaurs with a sci-fi twist.
Indeed, first impressions seem to channel Monster Hunter (a game I find to be quite insufferable), but in comparison Xenoblade Chronicles X does actually want you to learn and appreciate its design. An online FAQ may be essential to your long-term enjoyment, but it’s not something that you need to worry about in the beginning. The game’s digital manual is very thorough and there are many tutorial missions and an initially lax death penalty to help ease you in.
However, this isn’t to say that Xenoblade is completely transparent on everything that matters. The game can be unclear on many important aspects including stats, classes, and its massively overproduced HUD. The first several hours of play will be confusing and it will take as many hours to fully appreciate everything the game has to offer, so don’t go in expecting a quick dabble.
Xenoblade is a slow starter and it’s a foible that extends to the game’s story (at least in the beginning). In a tale that’s been told a million times before, humanity narrowly dodges their alien invasion extinction event by launching colony ships into deep space. It’s out of one such survival pod that your character emerges. With amnesia.
Don’t expect the rest of the game to make up for that lack of originality either. A bloated approach to character statistics, zany mascots, and inappropriate female swimsuits are the order of the day here and it’s all dressed up in a twee anime aesthetic that often seems at odds with the more detailed landscapes that make up the key attraction.
There are some fairly likeable characters though. It’s commendable that the game devotes time to developing them and the voice acting isn’t half bad either. It’s just a shame that the cutscenes are so bland. Your character is a nodding mute for all non combat encounters and the dialogue fails to engage when it’s just your cohorts harping on about duty and survival and whatever else.
Actually playing Xenoblade Chronicles X is a bit more interesting as it’s not the sort of RPG that you would expect to see on the Wii U. Granted you need to download over 10GB of data packs in order to experience smooth loading times, but Planet Mira is still a delightful place to look upon and its vibrant ecosystem is a minor miracle when you consider the hardware on which it was achieved.
Whether this vast environment has many interesting things to do within it is something that remains to be seen (as I only played a mere 15 hours myself), but the early game exploration phase does have its moments. The hexagonal map that makes up each plane on Mira is home to many secrets and as part of an armed survey team, it will be your mission to uncover them.
Installing probes in fixed hexes will reveal data on the surrounding area and each one can be upgraded to provide a stream of money, minerals, or combat bonuses. You can also scavenge resources directly by picking up glowing item orbs and by interacting with ruined machinery or dig sites. Every defeated enemy drops some sort of crafting material too and later you’ll use these components to develop more advanced equipment and weapons.
So far, so MMORPG. But there are a few interesting flourishes to be seen in combat, like the attack orders that your NPC buddies occasionally shout out. If you manage to activate the correct power in response you’ll gain a nifty damage bonus not to mention a cool slow motion effect that helps grab your attention during an otherwise standard firefight.
What’s less welcome is how the user interface dominates your entire viewing space. The area that remains free from status bars, nav points, or other clutter is laughably small and fighting only makes things worse with all those damage indicators and particle effects flying about the place. If you value your sanity then don’t even think about trying off-TV play with this one!
Xenoblade makes a good effort to incorporate the Wii U Gamepad in other ways though. You can find many statistics and fast travel options on the second display, but what’s really nice is how you can view the hexagonal maps of places you’ve already been. You can micromanage any probes you’ve already set down and plan routes to new locations you intend to visit later which is quite handy when you consider the amount of travelling you’ll be doing.
If you’re serious about really chartering Mira then you’ll need access to a Skell; the hulking robot suits that form the chunk of Xenoblade’s late game appeal. Some may balk at the 30+ hours needed in order to pilot one of these steel behemoths, but they no doubt form a desirable milestone reward for those who are willing to invest the time and won’t negate the sense of scale that you got from travelling Mira on foot.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is not a game that I expected to see through to the end. There’s no getting away from the grind inherent in games like this, and the MMORPG sensibilities of its grander design is never something I will be a big fan of.
For a player with the right mindset though, Xenoblade is a going to be a clear winner. The online multiplayer seems rife with potential and in terms of content alone, fans will find themselves busy from now until doomsday trying to see every square inch of what Planet Mira has to offer.
Now if only Civilization: Beyond Earth could have been this adventurous…