“Xenoblade Chronicles 2” is one of the most Japanese games I’ve played in a very long time. To both the fans and detractors of such a product, that should be all you need to know about XC2 to know if it’s for you.
Honestly I’d begun to think things had changed and evolved away from the hyper-anime tropes that popularized JRPGs in their PS2 heyday – and please, don’t affix any negative connotations to that statement; they had their market and I was indeed a part of it. So I felt strangely nostalgic rushing home to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 every day after work to get some more time in with my curious little party of misfits. As long as you’re open to the genre – and a 100+ hour investment – I think you will be equally as hooked.
In the original Xenoblade Chronicles our playspace was two sprawling titans, ancient beasts locked in an eternal clash that hosted entire worlds on their wide backs and broad shoulders. XC2 takes that same concept and blows it up tenfold. The first big chunk of the story takes place on a giant beast known as Gormott, an unbelievably massive deer-like entity that plays host to towns, lush wilderness and an entire (lethal) ecosystem. People are born on these giants and live out relatively peaceful lives atop their backs as they stride through the Cloud Sea. It’s just one of a handful of these living worlds, and they make up Xenoblade’s wonderfully compelling universe.
Playing as Rex, a salvager who dives into the clouds to earn his fortune, we’re soon embroiled in a typically dramatic JRPG storyline without too much prodding. There’s an ambiguously evil company looking to mess things up for everyone, peopled with greedy individuals who are out to make a quick buck or make a play for more important items than money, and Rex and a band of idealistic individuals set out to put an end to their heinous machinations whilst finding a new place to call home.
Despite the generic plot the game actually does a good job fleshing out the moving parts to a point where I genuinely cared about all of them. That’s saying a lot for a JRPG, especially one as questionably voiced as XC2. Upon booting it up I was greeted with a hodgepodge collection of English and Welsh voice acting that I initially found grating. Despite this I soldiered on with the English dub, despite the option for a Japanese language pack being available for free on the eShop, and grew to love nearly every member of the core cast. It’s a medley that never quite gels into one cohesive whole – and this actually goes for a lot of the game and its mechanics – but that doesn’t stop the disparate parts from being charming regardless.
At its worst, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a meaty, grindy, meat-grindery form of time wasting that can frustrate the impatient. When understood and given the time necessary to understand and master its mechanics, the game becomes a rabbit hole of addictive systems and fascinating loops that goes as deep as you want it to. It’s a wholly inappropriate game for the portable-friendly, pick-up-and-play Nintendo Switch, and also a title the console desperately needed.
Confused? Get used to that feeling – it’s something you’re going to have to embrace for the first ten hours of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Starting with some heavy exposition and hand-holding, XC2 is a game that takes its sweet time getting going, and even once you’re in the world proper you haven’t scratched the surface. Plenty of gameplay systems continue to blossom and evolve, even twenty or thirty hours into your adventure – but they’re introduced at such a leisurely clip that this deceptively deep game never overwhelms you. It’s a masterclass of tooltip pacing if nothing else.
Most of your time spent in game will be following story missions, chasing bad guys and exploring dungeons with a party of three Drivers and their sentient weapons, named Blades. These beings can be summoned, swapped out and bonded with over time, allowing for a deep battle system that relies on levelling up your trust with your weapons as much as it requires levelling up your actual levels. Battles begin as a mostly hands-off affair, allowing you to control the positioning of your avatar with the game doing most of the heavy lifting for you. Once it gets going, however, you’ll find yourself juggling various arts, combos, type effectiveness, specials and a host of other wrinkles that the combat system develops.
It’s really interesting stuff, and so dense and deep that I’ll never do it justice with a review – but there’s plenty to keep you on your toes with the bigger fights. Central to it all, however, is the Blade summoning mechanic that allows you to get new weapons and companions by rolling a dice and pulling for rares. If what I said made something tingle in you, know that you’re not alone: this is my jam. I’m a sucker for the thrill of randomly doled out prizes, and XC2 fulfils this fetish with aplomb. Knowing that a rare or legendary Blade drop might give me the (literal) edge in a fight with a high level beasty roaming outside the town walls is a rush that kept me coming back to the game.
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