Wii U finally has a system-selling RPG and after spending the past two weeks almost exclusively playing it, I've now completed Xenoblade Chronicles X. I'm a huge fan of all things Xeno but does this installment live up to its predecessors?
Xenoblade Chronicles X begins with the planet Earth caught up in the middle of an alien war. Believe it or not, it then explodes as a result. However, some humans escape via space arks. One such ark crash-lands on a planet named Mira where the entire adventure ahead takes place. The survivors settle in a city called New Los Angeles which is made of the ark's wreckage. You control a character that you create and as you explore the planet, meet plenty of unique characters, and uncover more of the intriguing story; your mind will be blown by how expansive it all is. Most of the cast (both heroes and villains) are complex enough to have you constantly question their motives. This dynamic makes every scene all the more exciting but your enthusiasm may slowly deflate as you approach the end. Without giving too much away, the most disappointing aspect of the story is the fact that the plot brings up more questions than answers which will probably make you feel unsatisfied after you see everything unfold.
On a positive note, the main storyline is only a part of the equation. Meeting characters from different alien races, learning the history behind each citizen of NLA, seeing relationships grow and dissolve, and dealing with the occasional traitor or criminal adds so many layers of depth to the overall story. The majority of the gameplay consists of side-quests where you interact with citizens and perform tasks for them in order to earn rewards. These quests range from basic objectives like defeating a certain enemy or delivering an item to a character, to more complicated scenarios that require many steps to accomplish. Obviously, the simple tasks aren't usually immersive but complex missions can feature surprisingly deep story sequences. They'll make you laugh and perhaps even cry but one thing's for sure; this is the only game that I've played where mere side-missions hold this much weight. That being said, missions start to get repetitive once you've progressed significantly because you'll begin to see the same patterns in the objectives over and over again.
Graphically, Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of the best looking Wii U games that I've ever laid eyes on. The environments are unimaginably enormous. Sometimes it's difficult not to just stop playing and admire the view. Once you remember that everything in sight can be traversed, you'll gladly snap out of it and start exploring again. The character models look close to the ones featured in Xenosaga with their anime-style renders. I found this to be a fantastic choice as it allows characters to show off their unique personalities with ease. The only problem I have with the visuals is that you can frequently witness the Wii U struggling to keep up with the massive world. Watching textures pop in and characters materialize out of thin air often took me out of the experience but gazing upon the beautiful scenery always sucked me back in. Because of this, any flaws in the visuals are easily forgiven.
Things get a little iffier when it comes to sound. The included soundtrack by anime composer Hiroyuki Sawano is eclectic and very well done... for the most part. Musical themes during story scenes and boss battles can really intensify the drama while down-tempo selections provide a relaxed atmosphere. However, a couple of tracks got on my nerves. The most notable of which is the theme that plays in New Los Angeles. As soon as I hear the obnoxiously loud and monotonous snare drum kick in, I know to hit the mute button since nothing but awful gravelly scatting and uninspired guitar hooks will soon enter my ears. Another issue I have is when vocal tunes clash with dialogue because this tends to drown it out. The sound effects are also wishy-washy. For example, footsteps from different characters generally all sound the same. In the end, these issues are disappointing but not game-breaking.
Xenoblade Chronicles X's battle system is very similar to Wii's Xenoblade Chronicles. Basically, your characters automatically attack while you activate various special moves and perform simple quick time events. These events involve tapping a button with as perfect timing as you can. Although they were also in Xenoblade Chronicles, the ones here have varying speeds so they're much trickier to pull off. Anyway, you also have the option to issue commands to other characters, use special items, or just run away if the odds aren't in your favour.
Halfway through the journey, you gain the ability to pilot mechs that are known as Skells. These make combat much easier to deal with so it's tempting to rely on them almost exclusively. It's also great fun travelling in one since they move so much faster than human legs. On top of this, they gain the ability of flight at one point which opens up the world even further.
Optimizing your party to become a force to be reckoned with can be quite a time consuming endeavor because the level of depth is astounding. Not only do you choose your party members and try to equip them with the best gear; you can also assign augments to gear, rearrange and level up each character's skills, switch and master various classes, and even grow relationships between party members. Additionally, most of these components apply to Skells as well. The most immersive aspect of customization comes in the form of strategically placing Data Probes throughout Mira's five continents. Doing so regularly rewards you with healthy amounts of Miranium (a mined resource) and money. Making small adjustments to maximize profits is a very satisfying feat.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a great RPG that makes investing in a Wii U a no-brainer for fans of the genre. Even though I personally prefer Wii's Xeno adventure, I can't deny how awe-inspiring of a journey this was. It definitely has its flaws yet the overall experience is one that any RPG fan should take part in at least once in their life.
- + Unique premise with an intriguing story
- + Beautiful scenery and fantastic soundtrack
- + Satisfying combat system combines perfectly with deep customization options
- - Inconclusive plot fails to provide closure
- - Some songs get obnoxious and intrusive
- - Missions eventually become repetitive since they mostly involve the same activities