Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review – Best JRPG of the Year?
Xenoblade Chronicles 2December 1st, 2017
This first year of Switch releases has been insane. Just factoring in Zelda and Mario alone it’s been a good year, but when you consider the other titles Nintendo put into the line up this year, it just might be the best first year for a console, well, ever. And for most of the year, I’ve been saying that all I really need for the line up to be complete is a big RPG. Sure, Skyrim took the edge off my cravings for a while, but I’ve played it before. I needed something brand new. So thank goodness for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, because now I can’t help but think the Switch has one big release for every genre, so no matter what I fancy doing on a long car or plane journey, I’ll have something to satisfy.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a big - and I mean big - anime-style JRPG that means business. Here you’re gonna find yourself running across massive beasts known as Titans, and the continents of this world literally rest upon their backs. You play as Rex, a salvager who dives into the ruins on the old world for treasures, who soon gets tangled up in typical JRPG business, and finds himself with the fate of the world seemingly resting upon his shoulders.
The setting of the world of Alrest, with landmasses and ships both incorporating the Titan creatures, is a majestic and wondrous one. In the original Xenoblade Chronicles, being able to look upwards and see the body of the giant you live upon was a truly awe-inspiring sight, and now in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, looking up and around to see the head of a giant creature slowly swaying as the beast walks - well, it’s stunning, simply put. The world has a dynamic feel to it too, as the tide of the cloud sea rises and falls, revealing - or concealing - areas for you to visit, or even changing the environment and the creatures you can find there. It’s not actually dynamic, sadly, and instead just changes when you’ve stayed at an inn, but this small degree of control over the tides is nice. A game this big really needs a better map system, though.
The main cast is a fun bunch too, and I can’t help but appreciate the distinctly British voice acting. Not everyone has an accent from the British Isles, but they do when it counts. I can already see this being a divisive inclusion since many already complained about the original Xenoblade Chronicles’ choice of voice actors, but it almost feels like a staple of the series now and adds the varied personalities of the characters. Characters like Rex, Tora and Nia, along with their Blades Pyra, Poppi and Dromarch make for a fun and likable cast, with more characters and Blades joining you throughout your quest.
Blades are essentially your weapons, but also have personalities of their own, and you can gather much more than just the one you start out with. Using Core Crystals you can earn new blades, in a random gacha-esque system which sees you throwing some material in with the Core Crystal, and getting a blade out the other end, but it’s hard to predict the kind of blade you get. Rarer crystals and materials will end up with a rarer blade, naturally. Sadly, only the first blade for each character has any real personality, with others you gather just there for the battle system.
In battle, blades act as support units, giving their drivers accuracy boosts, agility boosts and more. You really don’t need to worry about them, and you can instead focus on the fight. It works similarly to how the original Xenoblade did, with your character auto-attacking while in range, and slowly building up gauges to use arts. The arts work similarly to the original too, with certain moves doing extra damage from the side or behind, and with unique status afflictions being stacked atop one another. You can inflict Break, allowing another member of your party to inflict Topple, and from there another character can inflict Launch, with each tier of affliction allowing you to do more damage while your opponent is incapacitated. It’s a complicated system to start with, but soon slots into place and your team seem much more attentive when it comes to using the right status afflictions at the right times.
The only downside I personally have with the battle system is the fact that you stop auto-attacking while moving. As mentioned, many moves will do more damage depending on what position you’re in, but with auto-attacking only possible when stood still, it means you have to be that much more aware of your positioning in advance. Honestly, it’s a minor thing, but I can’t help but feel it’s a small change that makes battles a little bit more frustrating in practice. Another small but noticeable change is your movement speed in battle - it’s slow. Very slow. Again, awkward for positioning yourself for certain attacks, and even worse when health potions get thrown about the battlefield, and walking over to pick them up just takes far too long.
One of the only negatives I have with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, is how certain quests ask for specific items that can only be found in specific areas, with little to no information on where that area actually is. On the one hand, it encourages you to explore the titans and find every nook and cranny, but on the other hand, if you want to make progress with the main storyline, running around the world in hopes you’ll randomly run across the area you need to find is a frustrating practice. In one instance, I completed every side quest an area had available but still hadn’t found the location I was looking for, and resorted to asking another reviewer.
But luckily, exploring that world is a pleasure, with some help thanks to some incredible sights and an equally amazing soundtrack. Just as in other Xenoblade Chronicles titles, you’ll be exploring the world and avoiding massive, terrifying creatures (you definitely don’t want to fight a level 90 optional boss when you first start the game, despite him being easily discoverable in the overworld) that really help make the world feel, well, real. The soundtrack is an obvious homage to the original Xenoblade, too; gone are the contemporary beats of Hiroyuki Sawano that rocked Xenoblade Chronicles X, and instead there are some obvious homages to the original game, with orchestral tracks accompanying your running across the wide open fields, more somber tunes in the claustrophobic areas, and a rocking electric guitar kicking in when battles begin. The soundtrack here is truly great, though it borders on plagiarism of the original’s soundtrack, rather than a homage.
That last note essentially sums up any problems Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has - whereas Xenoblade Chronicles X was a step away from JRPG conventions and was something entirely new, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is deliberately old school and deliberately evocative of that first game, perhaps to a fault. The fact is, X will always feel like a truly unique game, while Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will always have a point of comparison. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, per se, but I feel many moments from XC2 will be less memorable as a result.
Still, negative things to say about Xenoblade Chronicles 2 are few and far between. This is a massive JRPG with a good cast of characters and plenty to love about the setting, story and world. There are some minor performance issues in places - entering a crowded city scene, for example - but these are fairly rare, will probably be patched, and certainly never impacted my experience with the game. It’s a shame that the game can look fairly blurry on the Switch’s handheld screen, with details obscured by the lower resolution, but it’s still a great game to play and looks wonderful when docked. It’s a wonderful experience, at home or on the go.
Review code provided by the publisher. You may purchase the game on Amazon.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is an essential JRPG for fans of the genre. If you own a Switch and have enjoyed JRPGs in the past, then you should get it, absolutely. In a year which had games like Tales of Berseria and Persona 5, it just might be the best JRPG of 2017, and that’s saying something.
- Massive world to explore
- Stunning vistas
- Great soundtrack
- Likeable cast
- British voices will be divisive
- Some obscure or complicated quests that aren't explained well