I’ve long-awaited my shot at the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 review. After my first dance with Xenoblade Chronicles X(review) – known to a few as my all-time favourite game – I knew I’d found something special in this series. Though much of what made X great remains, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 pays the price for its ambitious scope all too often.
The streamlined combat system, constant pop-in textures, sound distortions, poor localisation and hard crashes that cost me ten hours of progress weren’t quite enough to make me dislike this new entry, but they sure as hell took a good whack at it.
There’s a lot to love about Xenoblade Chronicles 2. From its scope, art direction and impeccable soundtrack to the message its latter half of the story conveys. That said, it’s held back by so many issues that it’s utterly tormenting to attempt to recommend it to others. This game requires patience. Along with an unnatural amount of forgiveness. Monolith Soft have developed a great game but it feels as if Nintendo forgot to put it through its paces.
All that said, the Nintendo Switch is now the proud home of an epic Japanese role-playing game with a density that’s hard to rival. A perfect game to play in handheld mode when grinding out the tedious side-activities before transferring back to the dock for the story moments. If you’d like to know more, read on for our full review.
Review Side Quest
What should Monolith Soft develop next? A new IP or a Sequel to X?
Let me know what you think! Get in the Disqus or Facebook Comments at the end of the review. And please share this so other gamers can get involved.
How does Xenoblade Chronicles 2 play?
I’ve spent one hundred and fifty (150) hours with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. In that time, I’ve come to appreciate the mixture of tactical and action combat – a streamlined version of what I’ve experienced in their previous game – and wrestled with the tedious side-quests and salvaging side activities.
I’ve been destroyed by wildlife five-times my own level, only to breathe a sigh of relief upon realising that there’s no penalty for death. The sights, the sounds, the highs and the lows; I’ve dabbled in much of what Xenoblade 2 has to offer. But if you’re new to Xenoblade, let’s take a brief aside to explain what Xenoblade Chronicles 2 asks of the player moment-to-moment.
As Rex (or any of Rex’s companions), players will explore the world of Alrest in their quest for the sacred land of “Elysium”. The game takes place across multiple unique landscapes, each with its share of passive and hostile wildlife. Battles will be frequent and often lengthy, especially in the beginning. Tutorials comes flying at your pretty fast and paying attention to them is vital, as they can’t be found again once they’ve been seen.
Back to the battles themselves, up to six participants can be on-screen at any time – three “Drivers” and three “Blades”. Drivers (like Rex) bond with Blades (like Pyra) to utilise special weapons and techniques.
Commonly referred to as Blade Arts, but the combat gets much deeper than that. Each driver can bond with multiple blades (save for Tora) and up to three can be assigned to battle with their Driver. As such, players can stack the benefits of a single role type (Tank TNK, Healer HLR or Attack ATK) for higher bonuses or spread themselves out for more versatility.
Ultimately, the end goal is to defeat your opponents using your Driver and their Blades and continue on your adventure, managing many cooldown timers along the way.
Salvaging and the Side Stuff
Outside of combat, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will have players picking up items in the field a fair bit, exploring the vast, intriguing open lands of multiple Titans and perhaps diving in to the Cloud Sea beneath them to gather salvage materials for various city-developing benefits.
Though it may sound like a cop-out, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 definitely has to be experienced to grasp the insurmountable depth it has. Especially when it’s so keen on hiding the information the player after explaining it once.
An extra menu icon with past tutorials and a damn Bestiary would do wonders for the game’s quality of life however.
Blades are are born in to the world via Driver’s potential resonating with their Core Crystal. There are three main types of Core Crystal in Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Common, Rare and Legendary. Supposedly, Rare and Legendary crystals have a higher chance of birthing “rare” blades with unique abilities, designs and five affinity levels. In actuality, I’ve received more rare blades from the common crystals. I’m fairly certain the mathematics are off somewhere in there. I don’t believe I got a single rare Blade from the Legendary crystals I used.
Regardless, this is how a Driver gets more blades to choose from. Though the common blades will quickly become replaced by the rare ones, relegating the common blades to the Merc Missions for mode-specific bonuses in that scenario.
The first time you see the cut-scene of a blade being born, it’s pretty damn cool. But by the fiftieth, you begin to wish you do a fast-open of at least the Common crystals. The lengthy scene has resulted in my stash of 99 out of 99 Common Crystals just sitting in my inventory because it’s not worth the time investment to open them at all.
Odd Progression Choices and Systems
By completing quests and defeating monsters, Rex and his friends will level up. Drivers gain experience points, weapon points and skill points (EXP, WP and SP respectively). That’s three systems for each individual. But each system is so shallow that it could have easily been condensed in to one single system with far more value to the player.
In truth, the major advancements come in the form of the Blades and their core chips / affinity levels. It’s a lot to keep track of.
The most bizarre choice the game makes, however, is the distribution of experience. Battles reward players with experience points immediately, but many of the more bountiful side-activities go in to a Bonus Exp bank. Players have to sleep at an Inn in order to utilise the Bonus Exp. A ridiculous decision to rival all other ridiculous decisions, but ultimately trivial.
Each blade belongs to a weapon group. This weapon group determines the Driver’s usable battle abilities when linked to said Blade. Blades can equip core chips to raise their damage output, block rate, critical hit rate. All, some or both. Standard stuff really. Like equipping a new sword to a character.
Now, the Affinity Board is the most important aspect of a Blade’s progression. The best blades (rare ones) have five affinity levels. It appears as a wedge of nodes. Each node details what the player character has to do to unlock the ability on said node. Anything from “Eat Pyra’s favourite food” using the Pouch system to “Pull off Chain Attacks” three times.
It details the tasks fairly well and is the best example of progression in the game. The Drivers themselves have a condensed version, giving slightly more unique benefits, such as being able to use your “B” move immediately when heading in to battle rather than waiting for the cooldown finish.
Progression Conclusion to the Confusion
Above all else, it’s just unnecessarily convoluted. It’s not “hard”, it’s just messy and a chore to deal. I spent very little time experimenting with my Blades because their progression systems made it a net-loss to start developing new Blades from scratch. Though the Merc Missions can help with that, they too eat up far too much time and keep your blades out of reach for the duration.
We’ll get in to Merc Missions later in the review, just know that the progression systems aren’t what I’d call smooth or elegant, but they get the job done well enough. Thankfully, the combat is satisfying enough to offset the progression grievance.
Between battling and gathering, players can look forward to hours upon hours of content. Not all of it’s enjoyable, mind you. When my game crashed and lost ten hours of side-quest and city development progress, I was zero-percent inclined to return to what I’d lost. It’s a whole lot of busy work that benefits player with quality of life improvements in the end, but I can’t imagine enduring that tedium again.
Presentation and Graphics
This is arguably the most contentious of our categories for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. On the one hand, the world of Alrest is a beautiful, unique and vibrant place the transcends the typical tropes found in most JRPG games.
Yes, there’s a forest area and the like, but the sheer amount of detail and level design is phenomenal. Their actual locations, too, are unusual, taking place on the backs of gigantic beings known as Titans. Some even take place inside of the living, breathing beasts! And they’re all so diverse even if the initial pitch sounds typical. Truly, the world of Alrest is a great example of top-tier art direction.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for many of the character models overall. Though their designs are indeed fairly unique, their quality varies greatly. Busty, half-exposed heroines are the norm in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and I’m sure a fine-tooth comb was ran over those models, but some characters seem largely out of place. Particularly the bit players of the game’s antagonist group – Mikhail and Patroka.
Though their quality overall is questionable. The game seems like a mixture of brand new designs and returning create-a-characters from Xenoblade Chronicles X. Occasionally, these designs clash. The results are jarring if you’re paying as close attention as I was.
Presentation: Music to My Ears
If there’s an aspect of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 that is almost immune from criticism on my end, it’s the soundtrack. Whether it’s the soothing acoustic guitar twang of the Torigoth at Night theme or the brass-bellowing, upbeat intensity of Mor Ardain’s “Roaming the Wastes” music.
Every theme that crossed my path was memorable and enchanting in some way. I’d buy the soundtrack in a heartbeat.
Presentation: The Dub.
As we’re already on the subject of sound, we have to talk about the dub. Thanks to Jason Schreier’s review, I found out that Nintendo of Europe handled the localisation rather than the Treehouse team. That’d explain the familiarity I had with Rex’s accent, as well as how cringe-worthy the dialogue and some of the line-reads could be.
There are moments within which Al Weaver’s northern accent works for the young, optimistic Rex. It’s in the quieter sections with less of a focus on the lip-movement of the characters. But the dialogue itself barely goes beyond decent, and often times dwells in the sewers of despair just begging for a swift death.
Unfortunately, though Rex can have his moments and Azurda is voiced well by Sean Barret – with a sincere and soft delivery befitting an age-old Titan – the cast generally fail to deliver the dialogue convincingly.
There are awkward pauses between lines, terrible attempts at expressing emotion in many scenes, and don’t even get me started on Rex’s more intense moments. As somebody that appreciates dubs, and I’m all for less-common actors getting their shots, I could barely tolerate Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s English dub and, as most of my time has been spent pre-release, English is all I’ve had access to. The Japanese dub was Day One DLC.
I’m laying a lot of the blame seemingly at the actors here but, in truth, the attempts fall flat across the board so much that I’m more inclined to point the finger at Nintendo of Europe. At an ADR that perhaps didn’t care if that entire dialogue tree was butchered. Or perhaps they didn’t have the resources needed.
One thing is for sure: despite some very brief, believable moments, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 deserved better than the localisation treatment it received.
A brief shout out to Patroka for having the worst line-reads and expressions of any character I’ve ever heard of in my life. Patroka is god awful in every conceivable way. Followed closely by Mikhail and perhaps Nia, due to her inability to go full-anime when the game calls for it.
If I never hear the combined weak-sauce that is Al Weaver and Skye Bennett say “Burning Sword” again, I’ll be somewhat content.
Presentation: Major Technical Issues
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has unforgivable technical problems in the form of hard crashes back to the Nintendo Switch’s home page. No details given. No discernible signs of the end being nigh. Just an error out and hopefully you’ve saved recently.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has a single mode. That being its story. Essentially, boy meets girl and goes on an adventure. Of course, it’s much deeper than that.
The world of Alrest is a sea of clouds (aptly named the Cloud Sea) filled with giant beasts known as Titans. Upon said Titans live the humans alongside Blades – life-forms born of Core Crystals – and various other forms of life. Rex, a young salvaging expert, spends his days hunting for treasure, living alone on the back of the small Titan Azurda.
During one of their many trips to Argentum – a hub for trade – Rex is tasked with assisting a group in the salvaging of a wrecked ship. There, Rex would embark on a journey to Elysium and become the Driver of Pyra; a legendary Blade.
That’s as non-spoilery as I can get. Really, despite the poor dub, it’s absolutely a story worth seeing with some intriguing moral questions laced throughout its second half.
Outside of the Story: The Side Stuff
When Rex is trying to get Pyra to Elysium, players will likely encountering tedious seven-step side-quests with no end in sight. I exaggerate, but there are some side-quests that forced my palm to my forehead and made me question my own sanity for loving this game like I do.
Short of that, there’s the quick-time event-based salvaging mini game. Using canisters purchased from specific stores, Rex can dive at salvage points across the world for treasure that can be sold in towns. Eventually, salvaging becomes key to the city development system.
Developing the world’s towns (up to five stars) allows players to purchase all of the goods at a local shop, followed by the deed to the store. Deeds offer quality of life benefits that I’ve mentioned before, such as extra gold from battles or faster run speed in the field. A worthwhile investment if you plan to spend a long time in Alrest.
Rare enemies appear across the world. Some of them are integral to certain blades’ affinity board progression. More importantly though, they’re fun to fight. If only the blades could learn new moves, it’d be much more interesting, but mastering the chain combination timing of your abilities to maximise the affinity bonuses leading to special attacks is very rewarding.
I love using the Break – Topple – Launch – Smash chain and the A.I of your team is typically pretty good when assisting in these high damage combinations moves. Mix those physical states in with the elemental special attacks of your blades leading up to one massive charge attack if you follow a chain through three in a row, you’ll find the combat is much deeper than it initially appears.
Fights can take a long time if you don’t engage with the aforementioned mechanics, and we’ve already covered how the game doesn’t like to repeat itself, so it’s important to pay attention to the tutorials once again. The deeper you get in to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the more satisfying the combat becomes in my opinion.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a gorgeous game from afar. Its scope is a marvel to behold, the load times are incredibly short between fast travel points, the art design is praiseworthy and the soundtrack an undeniable masterpiece. Sadly, its myriad of performance and localisation issues make it hard to recommend outside of its already-avid fan base.
I see a world where Xenoblade is as beloved as Final Fantasy in its prime. The best of what it has to offer more than deserves it. But right now, all I want is a port of Xenoblade Chronicles X to my Switch so I can return to a game I enjoyed a great deal more.
Gamers who should…
If you have a lot of time on your hands and want a methodical, rewarding combat system in a huge world filled with content, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 could be for you. But patience is a must when it comes to its bloated progression systems, jarring texture pop-ins and grating English dub. Luckily for you, you can now start your game in Japanese! Lucky devils.
Even with the English dub downfall though, I believe the story is worth experiencing. It’s quite the spectacle.
Gamers who probably shouldn’t…
If you’re the type that wants instant gratification, chances are you won’t find it hear. If you can’t tolerate obvious imperfections in favour of the bigger picture, also give it a miss. And if you really love English dubs of anime – and this game is certainly anime in nature – you’ll find very little to love here.
If you played Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U, 2 will feel very familiar, though simplified by comparison. I can’t speak to the original Xenoblade Chronicles but there are no games quite like these in my opinion. It’s a decent jumping-in point for people with a Nintendo Switch.
|The Good||The Bad||The Bugs|
|Vast, epic world.||Terrible localisation||Texture Pop-in|
|Engaging story||Awful map design||Cutscene sound distortion|
|Rewarding combat||One-time Tutorials||Hard crashes|
|That soundtrack!||Plagued by tech issues||Patroka|