Review – Xenoblade Chronicles X

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Xenoblade Chronicles X is a game of grand, ambitious scale above all else. Immense, world ending space wars, grandiose robots clashing with ferocious monoliths and a series of continents that feel more a part of a consistent world than perhaps any JRPG before it. The planet Mira is a single world, and it’s one I have already lost countless hours exploring, rarely losing my sense of wonder.

X tells the story of a near future earth caught in the crossfire when two unimaginably advanced races happen to clash. With the Earth destroyed, the last remnants of humanity attempt to escape to the stars, eventually crashing onto the surface of the largely unexplored planet Mira.

While the plot in Xenoblade X is somewhat predictable at times, with the writing occasionally poor, these moments of predictability or poor writing are spread out incredibly thinly over a huge adventure, such that in the grand scale of my time with the game, I rarely found myself dwelling on any negatives.

It’s also worth noting that Xenoblade X’s narrative is largely separate from that of the original Xenoblade Chronicles. There is absolutely no need for you to have played that game first.

Oh, and the lack of dialogue from your player created protagonist pissed me off no end. Seriously, that is one change I did not like. Force me into a single voice if you must for each gender, but give my protagonist some spoken lines please MonolithSoft.

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The mix of different types, sizes and levels of creatures that inhabit each area of the world instantly gave the landscape a sense of reality, like it was a proper living ecosystem. You’ve got low level crab monsters  defended by their high level parents on the shoreline, giant herbivores towering above sheepish miniature predators, domesticated animals living beside vicious monsters.

This mix of differing levels and styles of creature in every environment did a lot to establish each area as a living place, but also to ensure no matter when in the game you return to an area, there will always be a new threat poses or challenge presented for you.

Combat in Xenoblade X remains almost entirely unchanged from the original Xenoblade Chronicles. You control one character member in your party, who will auto attack any targeted enemy if in range. You have a set of skills on cooldown timers which can be activated at any time, but are often most effective when used in conjunction with each other, with other players skills, or from tactical positions.

If the combat in Xenoblade chronicles was not your cup of tea, this won’t be either. If you liked it before, you likely will now. If you’ve not played Xenoblade Chronicles, but have an opinion on MMO combat featuring cooldown timers, that’ll likely give you a good idea how you’ll feel about X.

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While the world of Mira may not always be the most visually impressive world in video games from a raw horsepower perspective, with minor texture pop in and resolution dips as sacrifices along the way, this is more than made up for in the sheer scope of Xenoblade X’s world. Draw distances are damn impressive, with fast travel options across the world featuring little to no load times at all. Tap a location on your map, straight away you’re there, with the huge map entirely loaded in ready for you.

Over the game’s five separate huge continents, all of which can be explored at will from right near the start of the game, I found myself constantly amazed at how seamless the world of Mira was. I once flew right across a continent, landed in a major city, wandered the city, before flying to the far side of the continent without a single load to be seen.

The soundtrack to Xenoblade Chronicles X also really helps lend to this sense of scale. A memorable mix of grand sweeping JRPG battle themes, J-Pop and cheesy anime intro style rock anthems full of overly melodramatic angsty lyrics about how grand out adventure was blended together to create a world of equal parts technological marvel and untamed nature.

Seriously, the soundtrack was rather amazing. I usually cringe at battle themes with lyrics, but something about the on the nose nature of the game kicking off singing “Lost on a distant world, we’re on a whole different planet” made me smile uncontrollably.

Xenoblade X’s scope can initially be a little daunting to tackle, as a huge amount of depth of systems is thrown at you with little to no explanation. Lots of important mechanics are poorly explained, or not explained at all in some cases.

Simply put, Xenoblade X does not hold your hand in the slightest.

While thematically I get the reasons for this, it’s a big scary world and the cast of characters themselves know very little of how the world around them works. You have to work out how the world operates through experience, and work your way through to earn mastery of your surroundings.

Still, in practice this does make the opening hours of the game somewhat impenetrable. Once you overcome this initial wall the game opens up considerably, but there was certainly a while where I felt uninformed about how to survive my adventures.

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Right, let’s talk a little about Skells, those badass Gundam looking robots you’ve seen hyped up in all the marketting for this game.

Skells are awesome, but you won’t get them until almost thirty hours into the main plot, and even then you have to pass a tedious and needlessly drawn out set of exam quests to get your license. The game is awesome enough that you won’t be upset about not having them, but it is worth noting you buried in the game they are.

Skells are honestly just pretty badass. They cost a lot of valuable resources to produce, and seeing one destroyed in combat is a serious blow, but very little compares to the sense of power they quickly bestow upon the player. Suddenly all those gigantic monsters that completely out-levelled you are a challenge you can tackle, if still a difficult challenge in themselves.

The fact that even with Skells unlocked, monsters in every area pose a threat to you is a testament to the quality of X’s design. No matter how strong you get, you’ll never be over-leveled for an area. There’s always a new monster that sees you as a threat and aggros. You’re never the strongest thing in an area.

Oh, and eventually being able to soar around Mira is one of the most impressive things I have experienced this year in a video game.

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Ultimately, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a JRPG focused on scope above all else, and in that regard it completely succeeds. Mira is a world I have put upwards of 80 hours into exploring, but that still feels full to the brim with challenges to overcome and secrets to uncover. Every time I felt like X had peaked, it found a way to introduce some new element that made the entire experience feel fresh and new again.

Even though there’s occasional issues with predictable narrative, poor dialogue and fetch quests, these issues were so thinly spread across my experience that they never stayed on my mind for very long.

Seriously, Xenoblade Chroniceles X is amazing. If you own a Wii U, you owe it to yourself as a core gamer to give it a look.