NS Review – Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)
Let’s be brutally honest, something disastrous would have had to happen for me to not enjoy Xenoblade Chronicles X. With it being made by the same team that brought us the joyously well-made original game, and supposedly having a much larger game world, I was almost guaranteed to love it. Now, a few years after its announcement, the game is finally here, so let’s have a little look at it.
The story of X (or the finite amount that I will say about it to avoid the copious plot spoilers) mostly centres around the beautifully realised planet of Mira. The Earth has been destroyed after being caught in the middle of an intergalactic war between two alien species and mankind has evacuated into the stars. Through a series of misfortunes, the portion of mankind that you follow crash land on Mira and our story begins. You are found by Elma (one of the primary characters) and then, after a thoroughly enjoyable and simple character creation tool, you take your first tentative steps on Mira.
A key story point that affects almost your entire gameplay experience is joining BLADE (essentially the militia), at which point you can decide which Division you wish to belong to. The eight divisions all perform different functions in New Los Angeles (NLA) and your Division will define what stat boosts you will give by being found online by other players, or what group you will join in the various online modes and quests. All of this is explained to you in full, so you don’t go in blind, and you can change at a later date but it may change your priorities in the game world.
There are problems with the story, as there always will be with games that are this large. The main one is with the characterisation. In less open-world RPGs, time and effort can be placed on making each character seem well-rounded and believable. X, however, suffers from having too many characters, which then causes each character to feel very one-dimensional as they don’t have the time put into them leading to a lack of real care about them and their individual fates from the player (although, I will give Monolith that the character called “L” is wonderfully written, if not particularly well-rounded). In this respect, X does collapse a little under its own ambition.
How the story plays out through the gameplay will feel very familiar to those that played the original game, but everything feels like a considerable advancement on it too. Beginning with the exploration, X feels like any other open world RPG, with the considerable exception that the world is huge (the press pack describes it as five times the size of the original game, which in itself was huge). You can run around, fighting creatures, running from others, collecting the little collectibles to fill your Collectopedia (which take the form of more-ish little gems littered everywhere) and generally poke around looking for areas and hidden caves. The maps are divided up into little hexagonal pieces all of which contain their own specific objective and items to find for the keen explorer.
Speaking of which, exploration in X is bolstered by the inclusion of “Miranium Deposit” sites, which allow you to place a probe that then reveals some of the information about the surrounding segments and then gives you a continual revenue as well. Needless to say that exploring does take some time (I’m personally close to 50 hours play time and I’m not even close to a quarter of the game explored), but the quick travel between key locations and probe sites stops the travel around Mira becoming laborious. This, believe me, is a godsend on some quests that involve large amounts of movement around the game world. Although, the Skell does make travel around Mira considerably quicker, but you don’t receive that until a considerable distance into the game’s story.
The battle system has involved considerably since the original game. The Arts system has remained, with standard attacks being performed automatically (when in range) and the Arts being mapped to icons along the bottom of the screen that can be activated when they are ready to use. The difference with the arts now is that they are multi-tiered in that if you wait a little longer you can activate a more powerful version of the same Art. This version may give a shorter cooldown for its next use, bolster its power, or give the player a buff, among many other effects. Furthermore, if the player activates an Art when an ally requests it (shown by the colour of the dialogue matching the Arts colour), you will activate a Soul Voice which gives a considerable boost to the Art. A large difference is the ability to equip two separate weapons to each character giving a more varied combat, especially given that you will learn different Arts for each weapon.
Which leads us to mentioning the Class system as this dramatically changes your gameplay and gives a unique play experience for each player. There is a tree-based Class system that allows you to change your Arts and weapons; for instance, the Commando Class gives the player twin guns and twin swords as their two weapons and focuses on offensive Arts as its basis, or the Striker Class gives the player an assault rifle and longsword and gives more well-rounded stats and Arts. The choice is entirely down to the player, and you will likely want to see them all before you settle into one Class.
Finally, the online features of X, which are robust but completely unobtrusive. Whenever you load the game up, you chose which online squad you wish to join, one of them being the squad that wishes to complete the main story. There are four main functions of the online component. Firstly, your division will have a Squad Mission that will be listed on the bottom-right of the screen, which will be defeating a certain number of various creatures within a time limit. Secondly, there are missions that can be embarked upon with a team of up to four players that can be recruited for or the player can be requested to join. Thirdly, you can find other online players littered throughout the game world that you can either recruit or request certain boosts from (based on their Division in BLADE). Fourth is the BLADE Reports, which were not active during the review period, but seem to be messages that can be sent over Miiverse to other players (I will return to this and edit it once I have had a play around with this feature).
What I meant earlier about unobtrusive is really the perfect way to describe the online features, because pretty much all of them can be ignored. The Squad Mission info is always in the same place on the screen so soon, if you don’t wish to participate, you can completely ignore it being there. Also, the activities of, and requests from, other players appear in tiny text boxes in the top -left of the screen. You can get as involved with the online component as you wish, and it doesn’t take anything away from the game if you don’t wish to do any of it.
The gameplay is not without its faults, however, and my main one is with the pacing of the game in general. The story mode, as you progress, locks itself behind walls of requirements that need to be met in order to progress. Some of these I understand, such as level caps and requirements for taking / not taking particular characters. However, I find it personally very agitating that some of these requirements involve the player being forced to complete certain side quests in order to continue. Bringing these side quests in as compulsory just leaves me wondering that if they were supposed to be played, why were they not main quests?
Secondly, creature placement in this game is incredibly unfair. Whereas (and I hate using this but it’s a good comparison) the original title slowly incremented the creature level as you progressed and placed more powerful ones off the main course through the game to promote later exploration, or to challenge the player to change their tact. X places powerful creatures everywhere, which yes makes Mira feel more real as its own ecosystem, but means that there are occasions when getting to your objective means panicked sprinting through large areas of creatures that can destroy you in a single blow. It’s very frustrating to have made your way a considerable portion of the map towards your objective only to be knocked back because of an over-levelled creature that dropped down from the ceiling and slaughtered you.
This. Game. Is. Beautiful. There’s no other way of putting it. Mira is a beautifully realised open-world with breathtaking vistas that outclass almost any that I have seen before. The first section, Primordia, is your typical run-of-the-mill opening “field” area, but even that contains mountains, lakes, beaches, and a marvellous array of plant and animal life. The return of the day/night cycle gives the player the opportunity to see all areas in day and night, giving them individual characteristics and weather during each (and the sunsets are stunning). The music is an incredible triumph, as it manages to achieve the feat of remaining entirely relevant to us (hip-hop and rock influence) whilst maintaining a theme and feel of being completely ethereal. Once again this falls into the day/night cycle too with the night tracks being softer remixes of the more active day themes. Also, the user interface is wonderful, both simple and futuristic. The mini-map in the top right of the screen giving just enough information for immediate actions and the map on the GamePad being very in depth allowing forward planning.
The only issue I have with aesthetics is the player models. Body wise they are incredible, and the option to change their appearances dramatically with armour has led to some beautiful armour styles that look simultaneously medieval and futuristic. However, their faces look a bit odd. The lip-sync of the dialogue doesn’t match up with the audio and they generally don’t live up to the splendour that is the rest of the game. This being said, the voiceover is of a fantastic standard, both believable and utterly absurd.
Right, so, that all being said, should you play Xenoblade Chronicles X? Yes. In fact, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. If you enjoy the JRPG genre, or enjoyed the original, this is a phenomenal game to add to your collection. It is not without its flaws, but the overall experience and sheer value for money more than make up for these problems. Monolith have done the impossible, they have created a game that is (in almost every way) better than its predecessor and one that is a completely essential Wii U title.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is released this Friday, 4th December for Wii U in both retail (in a standard and limited edition) and on Nintendo Wii U eShop.