Developed by Monolith Soft, and published by Nintendo, Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U is a fantastic open world JRPG designed with a grand scale in mind. Awe-inspiring visuals and a good combat system all but make up for the underdeveloped story. Xenoblade Chronicles X gets several things right, and several things wrong. What is right, works really well, and what isn’t, well, doesn’t.
Firstly, Xenoblade is a huge open world. Throughout the game, you will traverse five continents spread out across the planet Mira, as you collect items, complete missions, and hunt monsters. Each region is completely different from the last, as they range from lush, green fields, to a ruin-laden desert. While each region boasts their very own style of flora, fauna, and family of creatures, one cannot help but see the same sort of animals pop up constantly, if only changed slightly in color or features. This helps you prepare for battle, knowing what each monster’s weakness is, but also gets just a bit boring. Mira is a constant joy to look at, despite this small criticism. I found myself several times, simply standing in one spot listening to the wind in the weeds, or watching a level 92 dinosaur creature mosey through the lower-level animals to the nearest watering hole for a drink. The scope of the world is fleshed out nicely in Xenoblade, leaving you to gawk at a thousand-foot-tall ruin, a mountain looming overhead, or an enemy towering 100 feet over you. I felt like I was constantly looking up, but that’s alright, because there was always something to look at. While most things in the massive open world look fairly detailed and up-to-date from afar, graphically speaking, textures blur wen you get up close. I understand sacrificing some for the better good, and the grander scope, but I felt a strong disconnect when I approached a beautifully crafted platform, rock, or rhino-like creature, only to have the pixels flatten out to an unrecognizable degree.
Traversing the world is loads of fun, albeit rather difficult in the beginning. On foot, Mira is a savage world, full of baddies to annihilate you before you even see them. Exploring can be frustrating, also, because, while you may be able to see where you want to go, you can’t get there on foot. Luckily, nearly half way through the game, you receive a mech suit (called a “Skell”) that will allot you better defense, and a boosted jump. This jump boost allows you to reach places before unseen, but also teases you with now visible platforms and areas which you will only be able to reach with the (even later earned) flight ability. Yes, you can fly…eventually. It’s just as fun as it sounds, too. Initially, forcing me to wait to pilot a skell was very irritating. However, it gave me a chance to really get the combat system down while on foot, and made me feel like I was truly earning the privilege to pilot one of the fantastic suits.
Combat is a very involved beast in Xenoblade. Throughout the game, you earn “battle points” which can be used to upgrade “arts”. Arts are simply skills you use in battle. While working together with your party and initiating proper commands via button prompts, arts can be used to aggro an enemy, take advantage of critical hit chances, bind enemies in force fields, or heal party members (this one is very important, as there are no healing items to be used in battle.) As you max out your arts, you’ll find some that you like, and some that you don’t. All of which, after learning, can be swapped out and leveled up as you see fit.
Regardless of how good the world looks, and how much fun it is to traverse, it does get a bit tiresome running back and forth for various quests. For example, a great many side missions involve the typical “fetch quest”, forcing you to go to one side of the map, kill or collect something, then bring you back to the original side for a couple of lines of dialogue. This is exceptionally aggravating with story missions, as they require you to travel and complete side missions each time before continuing the campaign. This does bring a bit more disconnect to the story, and would more so, had they not included fast travel (this can be used anytime to visit places you’ve discovered via the gamepad) into the mix.
The story, itself, is rather lacking. It’s nothing very original, as we’ve seen similar scenarios used before, and the dialogue is very cheesy in parts. I did feel for a couple of the characters, but not enough to really care what happened to them in the end. One place the story fell flat for me was the constant use of one lame joke. The characters, Lin mainly, threatened to cook Tatsu, a potato looking creature, many times throughout the campaign. It wasn’t very amusing at first, and by the end of the 100 hours, it got downright irritating. The story, otherwise, is pretty simple: Earth was destroyed by an alien war. Before it was blown away, however, an enormous ship with millions of people aboard managed to escape, only to crash land on the planet Mira, leaving many people unaccounted for. Rebuilding their civilization with a settlement called, “NLA” or New Los Angeles as the central hub, your job is to travel the world, collect specimens and resources, as well as plant data probes (to be used to locate the missing parts of the ship and mine minerals and resources).
Multiplayer plays a bit part in Xenoblade this time around, too. Players can team up online to battle enemies and collect gear, as well as complete squad tasks. It can get rather enthralling if you have the correct balance of players available; however, I could only get the server to stay connected for short bursts, forcing me to play the majority of the game offline. If no real person is available to battle alongside you, you do always have the option of scouting avatars for a limited amount of time. These avatars can be found throughout the world, with a friendly greeting, and a full list of stats to consider.
The music of Xenoblade is charming at first, and very reminiscent of early 90s games in parts. However, some tracks do get a bit daunting as they are played repeatedly without a break. If the tracks were to be broken up and shuffled, there would be no issue, as they are genuinely good. I would just like a break sometimes. The sounds of the game, though, are spot on. Running, swimming, and jumping all sound very lifelike, as do the many movements of the world’s creatures. An issue I had with the sound, was that it could not be adjusted through any settings options. The music, although repetitive, could have been much more tolerable, had I been able to turn it down during dialogue and story cinemas. Thankfully, the option to turn on subtitles was available, as I would not have known any story details otherwise.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a good game, filled with hours and hours of things to behold, do, and explore. While the music can be somewhat overwhelming, and the dialogue a bit stereotypical of science fiction themes, the gameplay and visuals are enough to bring you in for the long haul. By far, the best looking game on the Wii U, XCX will keep you busy for a long time.