The original Xenoblade Chronicles was not only the best Wii RPG, but one of the best RPGs of the last generation of consoles. Does Xenoblade Chronicles X set a similar high standard?
Developer: Monolith Soft, Nintendo SPD
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: December 4th
Sadly, Nintendo home consoles and rpgs don’t go hand in hand like they used to. In fact, I can’t really remember a Nintendo home console having a strong rpg library since the heydays of the Super NES. But that is why when a big RPG gets released on a Nintendo home console, you pay attention, because it’s usually well worth your time. Any of the tremendous Paper Mario games for example.
And the Wii was no different. It only had a handful of rpgs, but at least a couple of them were arguably the best ones of the last generation. Xenoblade Chronicles was deservedly highly praised for breathing new life into the Japanese RPG genre in particular with a great story, fantastic characters and a steady pace that actually made a 100 hour rpg go surprisingly quick. So you would hope the follow up on the Wii U, Xenoblade Chronicles X, really the only RPG of note on there to date, would reach the same highs and continue to set the bar for Japanese RPGs as we know them. Unfortunately, unlike it’s predecessor, Xenoblade Chronicles X leans heavily on some of the worst aspects of both the JRPG and the MMO genres it draws inspiration from.
I believe in rpgs you don’t necessarily need a great story. But if you don’t have a great story, you better have great characters you can be invested in. Xenoblade Chronicles X fails this on both counts unfortunately. Humanity is forced off Earth by two vastly superior warring factions where Earth just seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of the few ships to escape, The White Whale, crashes on a strange but livable alien planet. So what’s left of humanity basically has to try and live on this planet, which they have named Mira. Ok, that’s enough of a set up, that could be interesting, building relations with indigenous cultures, etc.
But instead what we get are super cheesy villains straight out of a bad anime that want to eradicate humanity because they want to. There isn’t really any other motivation given. Granted, I’m not all the way through the game (just finished chapter 8 of 12), but their motivations make no sense and it’s a really unnecessary layer to this story. It feels like something practically ripped out of Power Rangers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rita Repulsa turns out to be the real villain of the game.
But as I said before, that might not matter so much if the cast were remotely interesting. The hero is the dreaded silent protagonist. Doesn’t say a word, has no character arc AND HAS AMNESIA. How do you even do that in an rpg now? I’m sure it’s leading up to some big story twist near the end (because it always does), but it’s such a tired trope that unless it’s really turned on it’s head in a clever way no one will care. And unlike Xenoblade Chronicles, which had a mostly fantastic supporting cast, Xenoblade Chronicles X is filled with mostly one note characters who don’t even get enough attention to really develop. You have to main teammates, Elma & Lin, who have no personality beyond “Elma is tough and Lin likes to cook”.
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Then there’s Tatsu, a member of an indigenous race called the Nopon. He literally is there to seemingly fill the annoying furry creature requirement nearly every JRPG seems to have. Aside from giving you the ability to track destinations in quests (and it’s an item he gives you, you can do it without him), he serves no purpose other than a terrible attempt at comedic relief. Xenoblade Chronicles had a similarly annoying furry creature named Riki, but the trade-off was that he was one of your most valuable party members. You have a myriad of other characters you can team up with on various missions, but they are spread so thin (there’s nearly 20), it’s impossible to for them to develop much as characters. I never developed a preference for any particular characters. Whoever I could grab would work.
One of Xenoblade Chronicle‘s strongest aspects was it’s battle system. Basically taken from an MMO template, you had various techniques that had cool down periods. Your teammates were A.I. controlled, but pretty capable of taking care of themselves. While this system largely returns in Xenoblade Chronicles X, it’s bogged down by lots of bad additions to the formula.
Key of these is healing. There are no items to use for healing and only a few select techniques to heal yourself. What you can cast, even powered up, doesn’t help much and the best ones use a large amount of TP, which you only gain through regular attacks, and that takes a long time to build in the heat of a battle. The other method is a prompt that appears where you must hit the “B” button at the right time. It’s not really explained how this works, so you are kind of at the mercy of when you have done whatever is the right thing to make this prompt appear. Why they couldn’t just have healing techniques that are worthwhile and have a regular cooldown is a mystery.
There are the usual crafting systems for equipment you see in nearly every RPG these days (hell nearly every video game), the unique thing about Xenoblade Chronicles X is that you “invest” minerals you mine into companies to unlock new gear. It’s a welcome twist on a very tired mechanic.
Then there are the “Skells” aka mechs. These are the big addition to Xenoblade Chronicles X‘s combat from the previous game. While technically optional, Skells are vital suits you can fight enemies in and reach areas you otherwise couldn’t. Some enemies you would have to be massively over-leveled to fight on foot what you can take on in a properly equipped Skell. But you don’t get Skells for a long, long time and I think it’s to the detriment of the game. The earliest you can possibly acquire them is after chapter 6, which is at minimum 30 hours in. I honestly didn’t get my first Skell until right before Chapter 8, mostly because you still have to go through a quest which I kid you not, involves running around a continent and finding 3 of a super rare squash (among other things) that took me hours to find. You know, because getting through more than half the game wasn’t enough to earn those.
The world of Xenoblade Chronicles X is vast. I’ve spent over 40 hours on the game, and there are still two continents I haven’t even touched. The world of Mira looks gorgeous and runs pretty seamlessly no matter how much seems to be going on. And there aren’t really an restrictions. If you see a place, odds are you can get there somehow. Adding to this is the mostly incredible soundtrack. I found the track for your New Los Angeles, your home city, to be kind of silly, but it never gets tiring sprinting along while the music plays for Oblivia or Noctilum, two of the continents you explore. And the battle music, especially the J-pop track that plays while you are fighting Tyrants (the games’ version of super hard bosses) is always a blast to listen to.
And yet while the world is wondrous and gorgeous, the wildlife makes it feel just a bit hollow. Maybe I’ve been too spoiled by Western RPGs, but when you have a game where the vast world is teeming with wildlife and they don’t interact with anything really except to maybe attack you, it just loses it sense of wonder a little.
you still have to go through a quest which I kid you not, involves running around a continent and finding 3 of a super rare squash (among other things) that took me hours to find. You know, because getting through more than half the game wasn’t enough to earn those.
The other issue I have is that I feel while the game encourages exploration, it often punishes you harshly for wandering off the beaten path (and sometimes even staying on the beaten path). Mira is filled with dangerous creatures, but many of them are level 50s and 60s mixed in with much lower level characters. Granted, some of these are ones that will just ignore you if you leave them alone, but many will kill you dead if go anywhere near them.
And for the sake of exploration (story quests nearly all require you to explore a certain percentage of a particular continent before tackling them) you can’t just completely avoid them, it doesn’t work. Granted, like many Jrpgs, ultimately you could just grind enemies until you are powerful enough to take on just about anybody, but that kind of defeats the purpose. I often resulted into hiring high-level characters to help me against powerful enemies, but in many quests they limit your party to only a few select people (usually yourself, Elma, Lin and one other character) so that’s not an option that often.
There’s also a whole online component to Xenoblade Chronicles that is not well-explained and as of right now I don’t have access to some of. You join one of three squads each time you play, but the differences seem minimal at best. There’s mention of multi-player features such as world boss battles, but the servers are not active as of yet, so I have no idea what these are like.
So if it sounds like I absolutely loathe Xenoblade Chronicles X, I don’t. I’m just disappointed. After the previous game, how could you not be with this effort? It didn’t have to set the bar like it’s predecessor, but it also didn’t have to take so many steps backwards and rely on literally the worst and most tired tropes you see in both JRPGs and MMOs. Hell, the same game with a new cast would’ve been a better result, that’s been what the Tales series has been doing for years.
If you are a Wii U owner desperately seeking a meaty game that will take tens of hours, there’s a solid game under the myriad frustrations here you will most likely enjoy. Hell, I enjoy it overall, I wouldn’t have put this much time into it if I didn’t really enjoy the best parts of the game. But it’s hard to solidly recommend if you have another console, which provides myriad options of open-world games more worth your time with better stories and characters and less frustrating hindrances to just enjoying the worlds they offer. Heck, it might be better just to go through the original Xenoblade Chronicles again and relive the joy of that game (which you can of course do on a Wii U). What we have here is a decent game in a year of really amazing ones, and that just doesn’t cut it. I will update this review when I actually finish the game and get some time with the online aspect, but I honestly don’t see that or the last 3 chapters changing my mind.
Upon (finally) finishing the game, there are several things Xenoblade Chronicles X does incredibly well. Though lacking a good solid reliable way to heal your party, the combat is fun, challenging, and never really feels unfair if you are properly leveled and equipped. It can be very cheesy at times, but overall I loved the music. Although I don’t feel the monsters actually interact with each other like they should, Mira is a fantastically huge world that’s amazing to explore (especially when you get Skells and the flight modules).
But Xenoblade Chronicles X‘s high positives are severely weighed down by some really bad negatives, most of which can be simply fixed. Story missions are gated by awful MMO fetch quest missions, the party management system is inexcusably abysmal (and somewhat useless since two particular characters have to be in your party 99% of the time), many missions have little to no guidance as to how you are even supposed to proceed. Most systems are explained poorly or not at all. Even using your Skells is horribly gated because they have limited fuel that can take a lot of resources and time to re-fill, not to mention they can be destroyed and are extremely expensive to replace (and you don’t get to fly them until near the end of the story content).
The story itself is just awful ridiculous unnecessary twist after awful ridiculous unnecessary twists involving characters that are so one note and in some cases so annoying you couldn’t possibly care about them. This makes it extremely hard to recommend if you own any consoles other than a Wii U and just want a good open world game. This is possibly the hardest time I’ve ever had deciding the score for a game, because while I had fun overall, the frustrating and poorly implemented parts just make it impossible to give a solid recommendation. Xenoblade Chronicles X would fare poorly in any year, but in a year that was filled with high-quality open world games, I can’t find much of a reason you should play it beyond you just really need a 100+ hour time sink and you’ve gone through everything else.
A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.