Xenoblade Chronicles X Review
Imagine exploring a rocky landscape in search of a monster that has a bounty tied to its name. You see this peculiar critter off in the distance with three of its other friends relaxing by a lake. Excited by this discovery, you and your party members rush on over to dispose of them quickly. After all, they're five levels below you so there's nothing to worry about, right? As you hastily close in with your weapons drawn, you unknowingly run over a strange lump on the ground which belonged to a huge slumbering turtle-like creature who is easily out of your league. It takes one look at your puny party and swipes one of its arms across your body immediately disposing of you.
Welcome to the planet of Mira, your new home in the gigantic world of Xenoblade Chronicles X.
Produced by Monolith Soft, Xenoblade Chronicles X is the latest iteration in the long-lasting franchise from Xenogears on the Playstation 1, the Xenosaga trilogy on the Playstation 2, and Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii. Make no mistake though, Xenoblade Chronicles X is not a direct sequel to its predecessor; it merely has slight references and nods to previous games in the series. Thus, new players interested in diving into the latest installment shouldn't be worried about being lost in its story.
Xenoblade Chronicles X kicks off its dire premise with the destruction of Earth - humanity was unfortunately caught in the middle of two warring alien factions and Earth just happened to be the middle of their battlefield. Humans attempted to flee their world through ships, but a large portion of them were caught in the crossfire. One vessel, the White Whale, managed to successfully escape with what was left of the entire human race.
Naturally, the problems don't end there. One of the alien factions went after the White Whale which resulted in the ship crash landing into a completely foreign planet - Mira.
Players are greeted with a robust character creation screen to develop their own avatar. A plethora of options are available ranging from hairstyles, colors, tattoos/markings, voices, and the list goes on. There's enough here for players to truly make their character stand out from the rest It is worth noting that the bust slider in the original version of Xenoblade Chronicles X over in Japan has been removed.
I personally wasn't affected too much by this change, but I deeply understand the concerns of others who are disappointed at this change. Still, the character creator is impressive nonetheless and if there's any point in time players wish to alter their appearance, the completion of a certain sidequest opens that option up.
The prologue of Xenoblade Chronicles X is truly a breathtaking experience; it presents a sense of scope not found in many other games. Upon being discovered by one of the game's main characters, Elma, and after being led through a set of basic tutorials, a cutscene occurs that shows this brief, but special, moment of what you're really getting into. Xenoblade Chronicles X is home to a living, breathing world; it contains a diverse amount of landmasses inhabited by creatures of all shapes and sizes on land, air, and water. Some are friendly and some are always pissed off.
Before diving any deeper into this colossal game, I want to point out that the game doesn't directly spell out every little system to players. It makes a passing remark saying to read the in-game manual for more details, but that's usually ignored by most people. Reading that manual helps tremendously; it sheds light on many mechanics in the game that aren't outright explained.
While this may seem like an odd decision to not outright breakdown several details of the game directly to players, I welcome it because it pushes players to the meat of the game more quickly. I do acknowledge that there could've been a better way to encourage readers to take a look at the in-game manual though.
Xenoblade Chronicles X's initial chapters build the foundation of where you, the player, fit into its world. Though it is a bit of a slow grind to get through, it is deliberate in its presentation; it wants players to feel that they're going to be part of something much larger than themselves and gives small tastes of what's to come.
Enter New Los Angeles, the city inside the White Whale that housed what remains of the human race. Encapsulated inside an open dome, New LA serves as the spine of the game. It'll be the place to travel back to when it comes to upgrading gear, accepting new quests, progressing the story, and so forth. In order to protect New LA's citizens and survey the planet of Mira effectively, the military faction of BLADE was formed.
BLADE is divided up into eight divisions that specifically focus on core tasks to build a new civilization for humans on Mira. Pathfinders deal with scouting unexplored territory, Outfitters dwell in expanding R&D for New LA, Mediators act as an unbiased third party for disputes between citizens, and such. For the most part, this aspect of Xenoblade Chronicles X factors into the game's asynchronous online system which I'll expand upon later.
Once players officially join a division of BLADE and gather their initial party members, the world of Xenoblade Chronicles X truly opens up and oh what a world there is to explore indeed.
There are five main regions in the game, but each of them are absolutely immense in size and in content. They individually consist of completely different environments ranging from the grassy green landscape of Primordia to the lava-filled hostile land of Cauldros and the lush forests of Noctilum. Each carry their own set of indigenous species though a handful of them are just reskins of one another.
A day-night cycle and weather system throughout all of Mira keeps environments visually interesting. There are moments where I just flat-out stop traveling and gaze at the night sky of the sky above me. It's a visual treat that I'd like to elaborate more on later.
An enormous game like this requires a substantial fast-travel system and thankfully, Xenoblade Chronicles X contains one of the most elaborate, well thought-out fast travel systems in a video game.
Surveying Mira is no small task and humanity must utilize its natural resources to fit their own need to survive. This is where the game's expansive Probe System comes in. Think of it as a sci-fi cartography unit that functions as a method to not only chart out this alien planet, but also to provide players with extra benefits in the form of resources, revenue, or combat modifiers.
How this works lies in one of the best ways I've seen the Wii U Gamepad put to use. The screen on the Gamepad acts as the game's world map. Even though there's a mini-map at the right hand corner of the big-screen, it's only useful for what's in the immediate vicinity of character. Thus, the Gamepad's screen gives a much better sense of where the character is inside Mira.
The Gamepad's map is divided up into little hexagons, much like what you may find in modern real-time strategy games, with several spots having a peculiar three-pronged design. These indicate that those regions contain a marker for Probes to be planted into. Each Probe a player sets down serves as a fast-travel spot. Simply tap that region on the Gamepad and select to travel to it to fast-travel! Several key regions discovered and each district of New LA also serve as fast travel locations so there's no shortage of places to fast-travel to if a quest demands you to journey to a certain far-off location.
Basic Probes (the ones players initially install onto new Probe markers) can be swapped in for other more specialized Probes obtained from quest rewards, story missions, or debris (acting as treasure chests) throughout the world. Mining Probes focus on digging up Miranium, a natural resource in Mira used for various functions, and Research Probes concentrate on generating Credits, the in-game currency for purchasing stuff from the shop. Other Probe types, like Booster and Replicator Probes, enhance the effect of any Probe locations connected to them. Additionally, three or more of the same type of Probe linked together will grant an additional bonus to its effect.
Several Probe locations are more suited for Mining Probes while others will flourish when Research Probes are placed on them. A handful of locations can better assist a character in combat when a Ranged or Melee Attack Probe is set on top of it. Intelligent placement of Probes all throughout Mira is the key to generating a huge amount of Miranium and Credits efficiently. It's a system that's quite intuitive to use and pushes players to think about their income in a different way from most RPGs.
Combat in Xenoblade Chronicles X borrows a lot of elements from Xenoblade Chronicles, but fleshes them out in an alternative manner. All enemies can be seen as you explore and engaging combat is a two-way street - either you take the initiative or aggressive monsters will. Targeting a nearby foe will bring up the combat HUD but actual engagement doesn't start until the first attack is thrown out. Aggressive enemies have icons that indicate whether they respond to seeing you, hearing you, or both.
Battles are carried out in real-time and players can switch between their ranged and melee weapons on the fly. Basic attacks will come out automatically as long as the enemy is in range. Special abilities, known as Arts, can be used at any time as long as that Art is off its cool-down. Up to eight Arts can be equipped at once; they're displayed on a bar once the combat HUD comes into view.
Numerous types of Arts come into play when players are deciding what batch of abilities to equip onto their own characters and party members. Standard attack Arts that utilize an equipped ranged or melee weapon are present along with several buffs, debuffs, and auras. Some Arts may deal additional damage if the player uses them to hit the side or back of an enemy, while others may be used again immediately if the player allows their cool-down cycle repeat two to three times.
On the other hand, Skills are a separate system from Arts that act as passive bonuses. Arts and Skills can be upgraded via Battle Points (BP) to further improve their effects and lower their cool-downs. BP is acquired from completing quests, exploring new areas, opening debris, and so on. It's virtually a limitless resource and players shouldn't shy away from spending them on Arts and Skills they find useful. In terms of what Arts and Skills a player can equip is connected to the game's extensive Class system.
Xenoblade Chronicles X features a branching Class system that dictates a player's Arts and Skills. In order to gain access to the full arsenal of those Arts and Skills, they must level up their current Class to the appropriate level. All players start off in the Drifter Class and after leveling that to its max level of 10, they have the option of choosing one of three Classes to specialize in - Striker, Commando, or Enforcer. Each of these three Classes split off in two more branches with each branch containing two more Classes with greater, more specialized Arts and Skills.
For example, the Commando Class carries Dual Guns and Dual Swords. It can rank up into either the Winged Viper or Partisan Eagle Class once it reaches max level. Players who choose the Winged Viper Class can further evolve into the final Class, the Full Metal Jaguar; this branch of Classes all utilize Dual Guns and Dual Swords. On the opposite side of the coin, players who choose the Partisan Eagle Class ditch Dual Guns and Dual Swords for a Sniper Rifle and Javelin as their primary arsenal. Partisan Eagles turn into Astral Crusaders and unlock more Arts and Skills for those weapons.
Luckily, players can switch to any unlocked Class at anytime; no decision is final or locked into place when choosing a Class. If Dual Guns and Dual Swords don't fit your play-style, switch to the Striker Class and see if you enjoy an Assault Rifle and Longsword combo more!
When a final Class has reached max level, players can use that weapon set on any Class they'd like. A branch's Skills will carry over with them; Arts can also be carried over as long as the appropriate weapon is equipped. When the Full Metal Jaguar's level is maxed for instance, players can use Dual Guns and Dual Swords on any Class. They can now use Skills exclusive to that branch on other Classes and utilize Dual Gun Arts or Dual Sword Arts on any Class as long as they have them equipped.
It's this freedom to fully customize your character's battle style that really makes the combat shine. Mixing and matching different Class Skills and Arts open up the door to a myriad of possibilities. Combat is not only carried out just with your people though - something much bigger is tossed into the mix.
Meet the Skell, a giant transforming robot that adds another huge element to Xenoblade Chronicles X.
Once a player obtains a Skell License, they gain the ability to freely pilot one of these glorious mechs around Mira and eventually obtain flight modules for these robots to fly all over the planet. I was truly blown away at how satisfying it was to finally receive my first Skell. It takes approximately 30-40 hours on average to get your first one and stack on another 10-20 hours to stick a flight module onto it.
Skells have a fair amount of customization options as well. Entire new Skell Frames can be purchased for a hefty price once players have reached the appropriate level requirements to pilot them. They can be outfitted with shields, ranged weapons, melee weapons, and other armaments on their arms, shoulders, hands, and even have a spare weapon storage which all serve as its Arts. Players can also choose to rename and recolor their Skells to enhance that feeling of ownership over these colossal hunks of iron.
Fighting in Skells plays out in a similar fashion as well, though players must be wary of the Skell Fuel gauge when inside a Skell. Naturally, Skell Fuel is expended any time a player is in the air but Arts also consume Skell Fuel as well. More powerful Skell Arts eat up more Fuel and the only way to recover Fuel is by exiting them and waiting for them to fill back up, spending 5000 Miranium to regain 3000 Skell Fuel, or use a consumable item that refuels them. Think of Skell Fuel like a multipurpose MP bar.
Two more additional systems spice up combat both on foot and on Skells - Soul Voices and Overdrive. Soul Voices are basically stat bonuses, buffs, debuffs, and other similar benefits that are automatically activated once a combat situation meets its criteria. Bonus damage may be awarded to you or other party members if a part of an enemy is eliminated or a certain buff activates if the player starts off a battle with a Ranged Art instead of an auto-attack.
Soul Voices are extensively customizable on a player's own Character while other party members come with their own preset ones. It's a means of communication in combat; color-coded dialogue boxes appear above a character's head when a Soul Voice criteria is met. Several Arts that share that same color will start flashing on the Arts bar. Executing that Art will activate a Soul Voice which sometimes results in a QTE to increase the effects of a Soul Voice. A heal triggered by a Soul Voice can heal up your party members more if a player is able to perform a well-timed QTE for example. Another benefit to executing QTEs well is building up Tension Points (TP).
The Tension mechanic is directly tied to the game's fast-paced Overdrive system. Under normal circumstances, TP seems like a limited resource because it takes 3000 TP to revive a fallen party member and 1000 TP to utilize an Art that requires TP all on top of a strict TP cap that is only increased by certain gear. Overdrive changes the rules a bit.
Entering Overdrive mode requires 3000 TP and serves as a burst-attack mode. Staying in it for an extended amount of time in ground combat all depends on how much and how fast a player can generate TP. A number will appear at the center of the Arts bar that serves as a multiplier stat for the Overdrive; the higher the number, the bigger the damage, and the lower the cool-downs of all of your Arts. Proper manipulation of an Overdrive build can result in ludicrous damage.
Skells also have an Overdrive mode though it's less fleshed out as its ground combat counterpart. While Skell Overdrive still provides bonus damage and faster cool-downs, it doesn't have a multiplier number and relies more on extending the time of it though activating multiple cockpit over one cycle of its time-counter based Overdrive. Under regular conditions, cockpit view is randomly activated upon using an Art and it instantly refreshes all of a Skell's Arts. The same randomness is present during a Skell Overdrive; it's not as fully realized as I would like it to be. Plus, the cockpit view inside a Skell is presented in a clumsy manner that doesn't mesh well with how exciting Skell combat usually is.
There is one more amusing element to Skells I'd like to mention. When a Skell reaches 0 HP, the player must manually eject it via the same QTE used in Soul Voices. If a player doesn't perfectly exit their Skell before it's destroyed, a Skell Insurance Ticket is consumed. If all of a Skell's Insurance Tickets are used up, the player must pay a severe amount of Credits to salvage their Skell or buy a new one. The only way to obtain a Skell Insurance Ticket is to retrieve one from the Division Spoils shop which offers tiers of goods relative to how many points a BLADE Division accumulated over a certain period of time.
The online elements to Xenoblade Chronicles X are an odd amalgamation of indirect interactions that can lead to a more direct traditional cooperative experience. After a few chapters into the story, players will be able to join one of three Squads when loading a game - squads that are single-player focused, multiplayer focused, or ones that have your friends in them. A Squad can consist of up to 32 players at a time and can choose to work toward a common goal.
At certain intervals, various Squad Tasks appear for a limited amount of time. These tasks are simplistic ranging from defeat a number of enemies belonging to a certain species to gathering a number of specific materials. Anyone in that Squad can choose to work towards this and their progress is counted for the whole entire Squad. Completion of these Tasks opens up a new Squad Mission for all the players inside the Squad and this is where players can group up together directly to take on instanced missions.
While I appreciate the great strides Monolith Soft have taken to craft a unique approach to incorporating a multiplayer mode, it seems a bit half-baked. There's no direct way to immediately play with friends in a timely manner unless all of you join a Squad that has several Squad Tasks done. Even then, you have to hope that not all the Squad Missions have been completed already since they're one-off missions that can't be selected if another group has already finished them. Plus, Squad Mission objectives are mostly waves of enemies coming after one another until a mission is completed. They're mediocre bite-sized quests that offer a way to play with others directly.
Even though the gameplay in Xenoblade Chronicles X excels, its story is more of a mixed bag. Veterans of the Xeno-series may be a bit taken back of the game's open-ended nature opposed to the traditional linear approach. Storytelling is one of the core strengths in the series, but Xenoblade Chronicles X seems to stumble in that aspect due to its fundamental design as an open-world game.
Story Missions are brief affairs that move the plot forward, but don't offer any real substance. One of these can simply be playing a cutscene, heading to a location, fighting a boss, and the chapter would be over with. There are definitely a few outstanding Story Missions with action-packed cutscenes but once again, these aim for style over substance.
Each Story Mission carries certain mandatory requirements before accepting them which breaks up the flow even more. It's understandable to motivate players to explore a certain percentage of a region and completing several key quests before moving on with the story, but it just boils down to inconsistency in presentation.
My biggest gripe with the story in Xenoblade Chronicles X is how most of the cast seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Only Elma and Lin, another main character, are required for a huge amount of missions on a normal basis. Thus, they're the only ones who have a huge amount of relative characterization. Other characters do interact with one another on occasion, but it often feels imbalanced and in some ways, unnatural.
These problems are highlighted even further when your own avatar, a silent amnesiac, is hardly story relevant outside of serving as an exposition passageway to the player. The only time your character speaks is when it's time to spout lines in combat.
Your avatar does get the occasional dialogue choice to choose how you want to respond to a situation in certain cutscenes, but these only illicit alternative vocal responses from a character. They do tend to be amusingly goofy, but there are some key decisions during some quests that can determine the fate of several NPCs.
The actual content of the main plot of the game also feels a bit barebones. Several intriguing themes of existentialism, politics, and humanism are touched upon in endearing ways, but ultimately it's a tale of survival from multiple perspectives and beliefs. Several of the antagonists felt a bit too flat and one-dimensional for me though. Nonetheless, everything comes together in a surprising, delightful way when the grand finale hits.
I do want to note that retry attempts on the final boss are some of the worst design decisions I've seen in a game. Delving more into that would be leaping into spoiler territory but I do want to clearly convey that.
To supplement the disappointing content in story missions, Xenoblade Chronicles X contains a humongous amount of various quests. Basic Quests can be accepted from a quest board that range from typical gathering quests to killing a number of regular mobs or special enemies called Tyrants. Some quests come from several NPCs that start a series of quests that tell tales of the everyday struggle in New LA
Be warned that some of these chains of quests get rather dark. It was a shocking surprise, but I was genuinely blown away that the game explored concepts of discrimination, segregation, and outright dehumanization in these quests. This was probably one of my unexpected favorite things about Xenoblade Chronicles X because it was presented maturely both in tone and in execution.
Still, there are many light-hearted comedic moments in the game. Lin's constant teasing of Tatsu, a resident creature from the Nopon race in Mira, turning into a meal seemed to always put a smile on my face.
One major qualm I have with the quest design lies in any objective that asks you to gather materials. Only a few of these quests mark the general area of where they could be found, but the majority of them simply say that it's located inside a certain region and of course, where they actually are inside these big regions is either guesswork or referring to a guide. It's a frustrating, archaic mechanic that seems out-of-place for a game that presents progressive elements for the genre.
Some of this problem is off-set by a Reward Ticket shop that contains a materials of all rarities, but it doesn't include all of them much to my dismay.
Characters also have their own unique quests known as Affinity Quests. Just like in Xenoblade Chronicles, this game has an Affinity Chart system that keeps track of the relationships of many NPCs along with your character's Affinity to other party members. Reaching a certain Affinity level with a character can start quests that revolve around them, which helps alleviate their lack of characterization in the main storyline a bit.
Heart-to-Heart Events with characters assist in getting to know that character even more, but it seems so sectioned off from other parts of the game. If these events were somehow integrated into the main storyline, it would make these characters feel a lot more significant rather than an afterthought. Outside of Elma and Lin, there's really no depth to most party members unless players specifically pursue these Affinity Quests and Heart-to-Heart Events.
What really separates Xenoblade Chronicles X from most other RPGs is its outlandishly unique music score. Composed by Hiroyuki Sawano (Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Kill la Kill, Attack on Titan), the soundtrack contains a wide array of songs from his grand, orchestral style down to urban tunes. It's not a soundtrack that everyone will love, but it gives the game a lot of personality and even enhances the emotional mood of relatively trivial cutscenes and exchanges.
Lots of vocal songs assembled were simply amazing to me, especially the ones of a Skell in fight and doing battle with a Tyrant. In a game of this magnitude, it's inevitable for tracks to feel repetitive but I definitely adore the music in Xenoblade Chronicles X. The audio mixing does seem sketchy at times though; there where brief moments for me in which the vocal songs overtook spoken dialogue.
I found the localization work on Xenoblade Chronicles X to be excellent for the most part. Though no dual-audio option was present like in Xenoblade Chronicles, the English voice-work was pretty solid. The main characters deliver great performances, but some of the side characters can do sound a bit off. Lip-sync issues are abundant, but not enough to ruin the experience.
Most importantly, I want to mention the astounding work that Monolith Soft has put into the visuals of Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U. It's utterly gorgeous and the art design is truly a treat for the eyes. The scope of the game easily competes with some of the other biggest games on the market and carefully crafting the geomorphology of Mira gives each region in Xenoblade Chronicles X its own personality in a sense.
While the landscapes are stunning as ever, the character models come off a bit stiff. Most of them look somewhat fine when they're still, but their animations do come off a bit sluggish especially when cutscenes close in on them. Still, it is nice to see that all the equipped gear I have on them being present in cutscenes which adds an indirect source of humor personally.
The design of the Skells are also strikingly beautiful with elegant animations put into their vehicular transformations and vice versa. Piloting one drove home a sense of appropriate weight for the Light, Medium, and Heavy types of Skells. It never felt as if a Light Skell moved in a lethargic manner or a Heavy Skell operated in an agile way. This sense of heaviness when moving these giant robots felt great.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is huge in every sense of the word, but it is immediately noticeable that it had to make great technical sacrifices to realize its whole entire world. Pop-in is a major issue in the game and many things, whether it be enemies, NPCs, or objects, don't populate immediately. There were a handful of times I couldn't locate a quest NPC because they hadn't loaded in yet.
A severe lack of anti-aliasing is also a technical setback that leads to jaggy edges around everything in the game. It wasn't enough to dampen how much I enjoyed it, but it's hard not to notice.
Framerate inconsistency also plagues the game albeit only a few spots. It runs at a stable 30FPS for the most part, but it does dip heavily when there's a lot of things going on in the screen.
Another unusual technical limitation is that there's no collision detection with moving cars inside New LA. They'll just clip right through you and your party members but detection is present on stationary vehicles. Once again, the technical compromises aren't a problem on their own, but it does stack up in an irritating way.
Nintendo offers free Data Packs for the game to shorten the load times on the physical disc version of the game, but it does not remedy the problem. The digital version of Xenoblade Chronicles X comes with all the Data Packs integrated already.
Furthermore the HUD of the game, especially in combat, is very busy. As an unfortunate consequence, the text in the game is fairly small in an attempt to display everything at once. I usually have to play the game close to my TV screen to read what a quest needs. Xenoblade Chronicles X does support playing it on the Wii U Gamepad and the text is even more tiny on that. Plus, switching between the map view the Gamepad offers with the game itself was cumbersome and not my ideal way to play it.
Players can choose to disable parts of the HUD or even the whole thing entirely leading to some fantastic photographic opportunities.
There's still a handful of elements in Xenoblade Chronicles X that are worth noting, including being able to upgrade Arms Manufacturers to expand the inventory and quality of shops, and a crafting system to develop new weapons, gear and even Skells. Players can also choose an alternative set of Fashion Gear to display on their character to keep their useful gear's stats intact while looking stylish in scenes and in battle.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of the most ambitious games ever made. It easily earns a crowning achievement in what it manages to do on the Wii U. Even though I'm 100+ hours in, there's still so much to do after the main story is done. There's always more to do in this game and even though it feels overwhelming at first, players will find themselves lost in the world of Mira if they're willing to invest a massive amount of time into it.
Xenoblade Chronicles X has its share of faults and is a vast departure from the formula that Xeno-games are known for, but it also brings an amazingly large adventure for RPG fans on the Wii U.
It's this planet. There's something about this planet...