Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – A Diamond In The Rough

I don’t think many gamer’s expected the switch to have a sweeping JRPG in the first 12 month. Heck, I don’t think many gamer’s expected Monolith Soft to have a new entry in the highly esteemed Xenoblade series so soon after X. Yet here we are – not even 12 months in Switches life – grand RPG in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is out in the wild for Swith owners top play. The third entry of the series and a direct sequel to the original, does Xenoblade Chronicles 2 meet the high standards of it’s predecessor or does it sink to the depth of the cloud sea? Continue reading to find out.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 offers a refreshing tale of boy meets girl with clear concise goal laid out to motivate players to play until the end. The story entails a young boy Rex and a blade Pyra and a journey to Elysium. While the narrative is simple in premise, there is a number of overarching conflicts that provide plenty of drama and entertainment for the player. Two warring nations, a nihilistic terrorist organization and a dying world provides plenty of engagement and twists. The story isn’t as strong as the original – however – it is far better than X. I think where Xenoblade Chronicles 2 ultimately succeeds is the world building and character development. Alrest and the cloud sea is a fascinating place with the inhabitants, titans and the interaction of blades provides a distinct flavor from your usual generic worlds. Once I got passed the voice acting, I found the characters endearing. While some may fall into cliche archetypes – the usual happy-go-luck boy and the obligatory tsundere –  it’s the growth, relationships and bonds forged across the adventure make it a very satisfying tale in my honest opinion.

A stark departure from X, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 fashions a more linear progression and world design than of Mira. New area’s open as you progress through the game and the story has no deviant branches. As a result the game is more focused and refined when compared to X. Looking back, while X did featured a true open world, unfortunately the story and pacing suffered as a consequence. This is not the case in 2. Objectives and goals are clearly defined in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Once I got into the grove, It was difficult to put the game down and I always felt progress was being made every play session. The same couldn’t be said to the previous title. In X, most of the time you are aimlessly wondering and with lots of traversing. The linearity works greatly in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 favor as the game feels more refined and streamlined.

Unfortunately, there are a number of pacing issues the mire the overall experience. Firstly, the first hours of the game is riddle with tutorials after tutorial. In this case, the tutorials are a necessary evil needed to introduce and carefully explain the number of complicated gameplay systems. There is a lot of things to take in and it can be a daunting to wrap your head around everything, but the game does admirable job in teaching the core systems. I had to exercise to persevere through the tutorial until the game lets your hand go. Baffingly, the developers often places frustrating roadblocks that prevent story progress unless you have the required field skill level. The problem is that these roadblocks feel randomly and carelessly thrown in without any thought or purpose. I can vividly recall my frustration in one part of the game. I was chugging along in a cave only to be hampered by a roadblock with a ridiculous field skill requirement. I had to drop everything and leave the cave to get the requirements to proceed again. Regrettably, these stop and start moments are prevalent in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and are rather irritating.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 shines in its combat. The combat, is in my opinion, a refined evolution of the original. Developer has cleverly gotten rid of the scroll UI and has assigned arts to face buttons and Auto-attacks no longer perform during movement. As a result, player involvement (in terms of movement and button pressing) has been lessened to a degree so that strategy becomes the forefront of the players thought. The pleasure of the combat is how well each system interconnects with each other which provides a number of tactical options. In combat, it is important to build affinity by maintaining a strong connection between blade and driver to improve efficiency of arts. Performing the right combination of Art can lead to a driver combo. Performing the right combination of specials will lead to a powerful blade combo’s. And having performed several blade combo’s on an enemy sets your team up to perform a devastating burst attack during a chain combo. The combat is multidimensional and versatile, providing numerous tactical options to the player and offering a pleasurable cerebral experience.

I like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 appeals to the inner Pokemon fan. The game features a generous amount of blades which are sentient beings that come with a respective weapon and accompany drivers during battle. A large portion are generic with cookie-cutter designs with different class, typing and stats. On the other side of spectrum, the rarest blades feature the best designs, stats, skills and affinity growth. It goes without saying, obtaining Rare blades are of the upmost important. I love the thrill of awakening a rare blade from a core crystals. However, the hunt for rare can be a frustrating experience as the lottery is greatly skewed against you. Sometimes I would go through dozens of rare and legendary core crystals to only get a handful of rare blades. With that said, I quite like the implementation of blades in Xenoblade chronicles as it provides a number customization options to you. Drivers can serve a multiple roles depending what blades they take into battle. For example, you can go for a jack-of-all trade by selecting an attack blade, tank blade and a healer. Not to mention,the nuances that blade contribute to the combat such as driver combo’s, blade combo’s and element advantages.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 introduces a few ideas that help to offset the grinding pitfalls that plague the RPG genre. Making a return from previous titles of the series, experience points can earned from completing optional side-quests. It’s a better alternative than grinding for hours, battling  the same monsters over and over again to level up – however – it does have it’s flaw. Perhaps the most glaring is that the side-quest are – for the lack of better words – boring. The vast majority are simple fetch quests very much in line with retrieving a certain item, defeating a certain monster or collecting the right amount of resources. Besides the experience point and the bonus item given upon completion, there isn’t an incentive to complete side-quests as they are not engaging. The entire system would benefited from rabbit-hole story quests, unique monster encounters and even rare blade rewards to incentivize players to participate in sidequests. However, I did appreciate the implementation of bonus exp which can be exchanged to level up drivers when staying at the in-game inn. I also found that inclusion of Merc mission helpful in earning residual experience points while out completing the main quest.  The original made a name for itself by streamlining RPG ridding itself of the superfluous aspects of traditional JRPGS, and I do appreciate that a similar effort was made here.

Despite all my indifference with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 I still absolute loved my time with the game. It has endearing charm to it and once you go past its flaw you will be enthralled in an epic adventure. I have invested over 150 hours into the game which should serve as a testimony on how much I enjoy my time with the game. Ultimately my prevailing message to the reader that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a diamond in the rough. A game with so many positive qualities and experience which is unfortunately held back by a lack of refinement and polish. It may not reach the same lofty heights of the original, but it is worthy to join your Switch collection.