Xenoblade Chronicles X – Wii U

Xenoblade Chronicles X is a game I’ve been waiting years for. After the amazingly epic Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii, any mention of what Monolift Soft were up to next, set my pulse racing. And so after long wait, a seemingly even longer download Xenoblade Chronicles X has finally landed.

While the original was a critical darling, it could so easily have passed most of you by, what with it being a very late release on the Wii and the 3DS port was cordoned off solely to the NEW 3DS. If you’re unfamiliar with the Xenoblade series then don’t worry, Xenoblade Chronicles X has little to do with the original in terms of story. You can go into this game without playing the Wii game at all, although you will be missing out on something great. Think of it more like a Final Fantasy or Tales of sequel, where they share the similar name, but on the whole are not connected.

So where does one start with Xenoblade Chronicles X? Well considering it’s such a massive game with so many things to talk about, it’s difficult to say. Let’s go step by step from the beginning. The story of Xenoblade Chronicles X begins with the account of the Earth being caught in the crossfire of two warring alien species, unable to find any other solution, the people of Earth resort to fleeing to the stars. Unfortunately, only a few evacuation ships survive the escape. The White Whale is the ship you escaped on, however 2 years into its journey to find a new home it is forced to crash land on the mysterious planet known as Mira.

You take the role of a silent protagonist, a highly customisable avatar rescued by Elma an elite solider in BLADE. BLADE are the protectors of the human survivors in this new, mysterious, yet highly precarious environment.

It’s not long before you’re brought up to date with the situation at hand and introduced to various new faces, including Lin, a young spunky 13-year old genius mechanic. New LA, as the surviving city is called, has been stranded on Mira for two months before your awakening. The population have been working tirelessly together to bring some sort of order and normality.

With the situation becoming more and more perilous, with original supplies running low, it’s at this point you’re given the opportunity to join the BLADES along with Elma to try and find the Lifehold, a valuable piece of the ship that contains the majority of the survivors from Earth. The race is on however as the energy supply is dwindling fast.

A lot of my worry was that the story of X would take more of a back seat than the original which was a massive reason for loving it. Don’t be fooled. There’s still a good story to enjoy. X has an unusual method of story progression as you need to complete some requirements in order to trigger the next story points which are divided into chapters. In order to progress the story you are encouraged to explore the environment and survey the planet. It’s a nice way for you to see the world and admire what the game world truly has to offer.

As the story is divided into segments, often with you doing side-quests or generally exploring in between, it genuinely feels like time is passing between the story pieces, as though it’s a slowly developing event like it’s supposed to be. I won’t say too much regarding the story as I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s safe to say I really enjoyed it once it got going.

There are plenty of cut-scenes throughout the game and while I did enjoy them, this is where the silent protagonist hurt the experience. Seeing them standing there awkwardly silent, occasionally making a multiple choice question, but without any actual character to them is a little disappointing and a missed opportunity. A few sort lines of dialogue during cut-scenes would have been nice, even basic things like “Okay”, “Sure”, “What?” and so on, could have worked well if spliced into places where appropriate. It’s a small complaint but it could have gone a long way.

The world of Mira is vast. It’s one of the biggest open worlds that I’ve ever played in and it’s definitely one of the most spectacular. Each of the five continents offers beautiful and uniquely distinct environments and being an open world, you’re free to traverse anywhere, anytime.

My favourite of the continents is Noctilum, a deep forest environment that seems to have about a dozen unique environments within itself. The whole world is beautiful to look at and the developers know this, including “scenic spots” to discover from various vantage points.

Each area feels like it’s alive, like there’s a real ecosystem going on. As you’re wandering the vast plains you’ll come across many creatures of all shapes and sizes. You will encounter enemies of wide ranging levels, even right from the beginning, many of which you’ll have no hope of fighting against.  Manoeuvring the landscape to avoid trouble is an interesting take on the exploration, especially when you pass a rather nasty herd of monsters knowing that one day in the future you’ll be powerful enough to take them on.

A small consequence of this, of course, is it’s often easy to find yourself in trouble you never wanted. You’ll be wandering around and admiring the environment, trying undercover a new area and suddenly a level 65 monster will happen into your path and wipe you out instantly. Thankfully X retains the original games marvellous respawning system, where practically nothing is lost should this happen to you.

Talking of power, one of the big selling points of Xenoblade Chronicles X is the giant mechs (known as Skells) you get to control and fly across the continent in. It takes a long while before you finally get your hands on these beast, the excuse being they are expensive and scarce resource with a long licensing period before you are trusted with one. It’s a long build up before you get one (20 hours for me, which I think is fast in comparison to what others may experience depending on how many side-quest you do up to that point.

You don’t even get to fly it straight away, much to my original confusion; indeed you are only given the quest to unlock the flight module another 20 hours down the line. But once you have it, flying around is a magical experience. It opens up this massive world even more than it was before, now that you’re able to reach as high as you want.

Monolift Soft really wanted to make this element of the game special. Even when you do get your hands on them, they can be a little restrictive. They’re expensive. The use fuel. And if you accidentally break one with no insurance on it, be get your bank balance prepared. Considering all the dangers that lurk behind every corner of Mira, this is pretty easy to do.

Saying that though, they are powerhouses. Having a full squad of Skells grants you enough power to punch over your weight, and you can actually stand a chance against some of the giant enemies that roam the landscapes.

If you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles then you’ll feel very familiar with the battle system present here. Aside from a few small changes, they’re very much the same thing. You control one character in a pseudo-real time battle where you can run around as much as you please when engaged with most enemies. You can scroll through targets with the shoulder buttons all the while you are auto-attacking with simple attacks.

What you can do is choose which Arts to use in the battle. Arts act as special attacks, sometimes they are more powerful, inflict ailments on the enemy, can boost your own stats or heal you. With Arts at your disposal, you really have to learn which Arts interact with each other. Usually the Arts for each class are connected to each other and if used after each other can result in what could be described as a combo. An example would be:

First use an Art to stagger your enemy, and then use the Art that will “topple” them as a result of the stagger. After they recover you will probably be the target of their attacks due to raising the Aggro, at this point you can use the Art that’s effective against enemies targeting you. This may be a melee attack so after that you can use and Art the more powerful after using a melee based Art.

It sounds longwinded, but that’s how it is. Once you’ve mastered the qualities of the Arts you’ve learned, you will be more capable and effective in battle. To add to the depth of the combat, the previously mentioned classes are fairly unique from each other, even if they are basically reusing tropes of classic RPG games. You have the standard all-out attacker, the defensive juggernaut, the support/healer and so on. They do feel different too and while switching is allowed, I’d highly recommend not switching them after you’ve been playing a while. While you still retain your level, switching classes makes you almost start from square one Arts-wise. I decided to try for a change after about 30 hours of gameplay, but I felt so useless in battle after the change, I had to switch back.

In battle you can switch between two weapons, a long ranged firearm and a short ranged melee weapon. You can switch between them on the fly in battle and they each offer something different tactically, depending on which arts you use. I really like this addition as you’re constantly switching between weapons since each of them have a cool down period between attacks.

Some elements have been taken away such the vision and combo attacks, which personally I’m rather happy with as there was just about enough going on as it is.

Xenoblade Chronicles X is absolutely packed. I’ve been writing for well over a thousand words and yet I’ve barely even scratched the surface of things in the game. It’s monstrous, overwhelming and yet totally engrossing with all the things it has to offer.

Things such as weapon augments, collectables, probes that you use to mine miranium and survey the world, affinity missions which you use to bond with your team mates and even acquire new members, the online squad missions, class ranks, skills. There’s just so much in Xenoblade Chronicles X. And the best thing about it is that it’s not even really that deep. Its just there’s a lot of it. There’s always something you can be doing.

The music is suitably epic. Lots of heavy drum pounds, drawn out grand notes, choir vocals mixed with a lot of electronic elements make it a soundtrack for the modern age. After listening to every song on the soundtrack is nice to hear there is plenty of variety in the songs. It’s a mix between heavy metal, rap and club dance music, with other things along the way.

There are lots of different instruments for practically every track, giving lots of layers. There’s even plenty of vocal tracks, including a rather controversial battle theme with rapping. I’ll admit, as soon as the rapping kicked in I did groan a little, but as the song develops and the more you hear it, the more likable it is. I love how cheesy the whole soundtrack as a whole is.

Speaking of the vocal tracks, I’d definitely say they are my favourite part of the soundtrack. While the soundtrack overall is great, I think many of the songs blend together too much despite the bizarre genre mixes, and are not particularly distinct from each other, the vocal arrangements however, help to make them a lot more unique. Paralleling the mix between races and cultures of the game, many of the songs are sung in different languages; Japanese, English and German (something which the director Tetsuya Takahashi seems to be a fan of if you’re aware of his previous work).

Graphically it is stunning at least for this console. It’s hard to believe the Wii U can handle such an ambitiously vast game, and look great doing it. It’s outrageous they tried, it’s even more outrageous they pulled it off.  The environments are wonderful, the lighting and water effects really enhance this living, breathing world. One down side is that there is plenty of pop up.

The weakest aspect of the visuals is definitely the characters models, now, I’m not saying they’re bad, they just stick out as the least visually appealing thing in the game. In a very realised and believable world, their anime style is a little strange and out of place, even then they look like they could use a little more detail on them.

While I absolutely adore this game, it’s not perfect. My main issue is with the inability to get out of affinity missions so you can’t progress the main story. I was stuck trying to get one blue tentacle from a monster that appears in a specific place only at night time. The drop is rare and it just wouldn’t come for me. So I was waiting around the whole time, unable to do anything until I could get it. I hadn’t played online at that point so I couldn’t buy the thing I needed. I couldn’t advance time (like you can in the original) so all in all it was a real drag just doing it.

As a whole, material collection can be more of a hassle than it could be. If they are scattered around the ground, they can be incredibly rare sometimes and even finding the right portion of the map they might spawn it can be impossible to know without looking it up. Materials gained from enemies can be just as frustrating as stated in the previous account. First you have to find where the animal likes to hang out, and then guess which part of the body may be holding that particular part. You can lock on to specific appendages and destroy them first, which seems to help, but in spite of that it can be a time consuming and chore like. Every time I took on a mission that involved materials I prayed and hoped I already had it in my inventory.

Overall, Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of the best and essential experiences one can have on the Wii U, or on any console for that matter. It’s a game so big and vast it will last you hundreds of hours without you feeling bored. Aside from the occasionally irksome material collection missions I feel like I could play this game until my Wii U wore out. It’s escapism at it’s finest, truly taking you to another life in another world. This review has taken awhile, solely because of how much I adored this game. Definitely the best game of 2015.

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