This game blind-sided me. Don’t get me wrong; I knew it was coming out. It’s not as if the Wii U has an insurmountable pile of exclusives to keep track of, so a unique entry is always on the radar for Nintendo’s current console. What surprised me was that what may very well be my personal Game of the Year happened to be a Wii U exclusive. It’s not without its fair share of problems though, especially towards the end of the game, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.
Quite frankly, the game is marvelous to behold from a distance. The sheer scope of Xenoblade Chronicles X is astonishing, and it only gets more impressive the more it reveals. To be clear, this is no masterpiece of fidelity. The character models could be at home on an early last generation console game at best, but there’s a good reason for that – there are no loading screens as you explore the world, including transitioning to and from the hub-world.
To give context to the scale, I’d say it’s equal to that of The Witcher 3, if not larger, in terms of map size, and traversal is far more enjoyable once you’ve acquired the flight schematic for your Skells (giant, custom robots for you to jump in and control). In fact, travelling feels good from the very beginning of Xenoblade Chronicles X as your character can jump tremendous lengths and heights with no end to their stamina. They’d get a platinum medal in the Long Jump were they not, you know, fictional.
Add to that the variety of the different continents with random weather events that can impact your stats, such as the heavy rain in Primordia or the sandstorms in Oblivia. It’s not that the regions are fresh in terms of concept, but the execution is fantastic.
Then there’s the wildlife. My God. The first time you lay eyes on the dinosaur-like beasts that tower at perhaps 200 ft tall is mesmerising. Just knowing I could target this beast at the lowly level of 3, wait for it to twitch slightly and be wiped out made me appreciate what I was seeing, and also being mindful of my area-of-effect attacks…. most of the time.
I could speak more of the various awesome weapon designs, armour pieces and of course the Skells, but I feel like I need to get critical for a moment. For all of the brilliance in both art-style and scope, there are drawbacks. There’s an immense amount of pop-in, both texture-based and enemy-based, when travelling at high-speeds later in the game (pop-in is when things that should have been there when you arrived suddenly materialise on-screen without warning because the game couldn’t handle you approaching there that quickly – which can sometimes be an enemy that absolutely ruins you out of nowhere like a Randy Orton short video) but, to its credit in this case, there’s no actual slowdown. At least, none that I’d experienced.
It’s a visual nuisance more-so than a mechanical issue, and ultimately, I can live with that if it means I can fly over the world with my chubby Gundam-like mechs without interruption if I so desire. I’d choose function over fashion any day of the week, but they are still issues, no matter how surface level they may be.
I feel I don’t comment enough on the sounds in a game. It’s a thankless job to an extent, because if a sound engineer does their job right, you’ll never notice, but there are exceptions, and this time they come in the form of Xenoblade Chronicles’ cheesy, epic, sweeping soundscape. Don’t reach for the pitchforks just yet, because I love a bit of cheese, and if you’re ever going to tell me that the song that plays in New LA isn’t a smirk-inducing bit of cheddar, I’ll be convinced you played the game on mute. “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”. Play it. You’ll understand very quickly.
Yes, from the epic-yet-somewhat-soothing title screen theme to the rap during battles (not to be confused with a battle rap), it’s hard not to fall in love with the game’s soundtrack. I never got tired of it myself.
I’ll warn you now: this game is vast. There are so many things to do and this section is going to get a bit “wordy”. It’d be a disservice to leave out something for the sake of keeping it brief, so just know we’re about to get in-depth.
As per Japanese RPG tradition, Xenoblade Chronicles X involves an increasing cast of party members and, of course, yourself. There are four characters maximum in your party at once, and you’ll need to switch them in and out for certain side-missions. Your protagonist is silent, and you get to create them for yourself. The options aren’t vast, but you can make yourself look fairly unique given the rest of the character models.
Following that, you’ll notice you have two experience bars. These bars are blue and purple, representing Character level – an ongoing, typical level that governs your general stats and survivability – and Class level, governing your Arts (special attacks) and available weapons. You can change classes as you level up the previous one in the chain to its max (level 10). The original class splits in to three paths, each of which split in to two paths and each with one final progression.
In short, there are many classes that you can switch to and from freely without penalty, allowing you to choose an appropriate load-out for whatever missions take your fancy providing you’ve invested the time in to leveling them up. There’s also a B.L.A.D.E Level, (B.L.A.D.E is the name of your organisation) that progresses with all the actions you take and eventually results in granting you skills to investigate treasures in the world. Here’s a tip: Level up Mechanical first. The other two can wait.
Your primary goal is to find the lifehold units in the hopes of finding the core. These missions make up your Main Quests to progress the story. They’re driven by the narrative, so don’t worry about “finding” the life-hold so much as just heading to the mission marker. I won’t say how many there are, but I’ll say that, given how much there is to do and the side-quest completions required to progress some of the Main Quest, it felt like there was more than enough for me in regards to questing.
The side-quests are divided in to several tiers. There are affinity quests, designed to further a party member’s personal story or to acquire new allies or shops. Then there are people to speak to inside of NLA – usually with a brown-ish question mark above their heads. They can often result in unexpected rewards, or occasionally they might fall on the side of “Meh”. It’s a gamble, but they’re worth looking in to.
Then there are missions taken from the Mission Terminal. They more-often-than-not involve venturing out in to the world and collecting items or hunting “indigens” (the local wildlife). Occasionally they’ll also require you to speak to specific people or gather a resource called “Miranium”, which we’ll get to next. In my experience, it’s best to load up on as many of these missions (20) as you can carry at one time depending on where you’re headed. It’s also worth noting that the brown question-mark quests from local people in NLA also take up these mission slots, so choose wisely and commit if you really want to get them done.
But what if you didn’t want to do any of that? What if you just wanted to experience the world of Mira unrestricted. Well, I’d advise waiting until you’ve got your Skell at least, but if you just can’t wait, you can head out whenever you like. As stated before, loading screens only occur upon entering the B.L.A.D.E Barracks or between mission cut-scenes, so strolling from the city to the massive outside world is seamless, pop-in people and enemies aside. You’ll be doing this to increase your level by killing indigens – both character and class level – or planting data probes.
These data probes are indicated on the game-pad and, once placed, start providing a regular income of “Miranium” – a precious resource used for various important tasks (such as leveling up Arms Manufacturers or refueling your Skell) – and “Funds”, which is general money that you’ll use to purchase the weapons and Skells you’ve unlocked via your invested Miranium. These data probes also have their own kind of mini-game, as you have different kinds of probes you can place (for a fee). You can switch them at any time (for another fee) with a different probe and try to chain a combination for improved income.
Mining probes can obtain the listed precious resources over a data probe’s coverage as well as providing Miranium but lowering Funds. Storage probes increase the maximum amount of Miranium you can hold at one time. Research Probes can provide increased funds at the cost of some Miranium income, and there are several other probes that offer unique bonuses or enhance existing ones.
They also come in various levels of their own, i.e. Research Probe X will provide more Funds than Research Probe IV. The higher the rating, the greater the rake-in. Not only that, but each data probe area has a ranking that details what probe would be best suitable. For instance, if an area is rated a C for Production but an A for Revenue, you’ll most likely want to plant a Research Probe given its greater ability to provide Funds (Revenue). Regarding Research Probes, you’ll also want to take in to account “Sightseeing Spots Found”.
If an area has sight-seeing spots to be discovered, it’ll indicate that on the game-pad and those spots provide significantly increased Funds over areas without them. It’s all about weighing the pros and cons. It can seem complex at first, but spend a bit of time with it and you can maximise your profits on both resources.
Having said ALL of that just on the map exploration, and there’s more, towards the end-game, Funds become increasingly difficult to get, to the point of being frustrating. Trying to afford my Level 50 Skell had me in tears of boredom knowing it would definitely be worth it, but I’ll have to fast travel around unless I want to do mindless fetch quests waiting for the timed income to tick over. There are highly rewarding quests after the Main Quest-line is complete, but you really might want to take in a Level 50 Skell to the final chapter. It can be brutal, and nonetheless, the Funds are a grind. Miranium? Not so much. Miranium is well-balanced.
Whilst planting data probes to open up Fast Travel locations will be your main goal as you traverse Mira, you’ll also come across treasures. These treasures are divided in to Mechanical, Biological and Archaeological discoveries. You’ll need to increase your B.L.A.D.E level to gain the skills to discover all of these, not to mention some data probes require higher Mechnical skills to place (hence why I advised increasing it first above).
You’ll be given a seemingly arbitrary choice at the beginning of the game as to which division you’ll be a part of. Choose Prospectors. They are top of the leader-boards with their points and get access to the best division daily spoils. Just a bit of friendly advice from me. You’ll want those Salvage Tickets. Get planting those Data Probes to get contributing!
The combat in Xenoblade Chronicles X is the perfect fusion of action and active-time. Using the class system, you might engage the enemy with a damage-dealing Full Metal Jaguar class, dual-wielding blades and guns, or perhaps you’d rather face your foe with a photon saber and and beam-shooting Psycho Launcher guns as you buff your allies. You arts are all on cooldowns and your characters auto-attack between your use of abilities. You’ll learn to chain certain skills together or apply an aura to yourself to improve your preferred approach.
I found myself relying on the Duelist’s Defensive Stance to recover HP (Health Points) whilst waiting for my TP (Technique Points) to recover via artful use of Arts and the general auto-attack. You can target individual parts of most enemies to cut off a skill of theirs as well as having a chance to acquire a special item at the end of the battle. Above all else, the battle transition is the most impressive part of it, because you just run up, target the enemy and attack without any kind of interruption. The only break up is if you earn any items after the battle ends. Otherwise, you’ll carry on as if nothing ever happened. It’s so freeing to not be held to battle transitions, I love that it lets me get in, win and get out. Or die. I wasn’t always the B.L.A.D.E I am today after all.
Some enemies will attack you in the field. They’ll be easy to spot with a red eye by their level to indicate “attacks on sight” and a red lightning bolt to indicate “attacks upon hearing”. Some wildlife is passive, some will attack you for either transgression. It’s all very well thought out. Even passive, giant indigens will damage you by accident if you’re in their path.
There are shops back in New LA that you’ll upgrade to gain access to better weapons and armour. You’ll also unlock new vendors through quests, though the game doesn’t do a great job of telling you what quests are meaningful and what ones aren’t. I understand some of you enjoy that “wonder and wander” style, but I’d have appreciated a bit more clarity in the more important side-quests. Going back to the shops themselves, your weapons and armour have a vast array of additional abilities and slots you can modify. There’s a LOT of room for customisation on your party alone, and whilst no one load-out will necessarily get you killed, it’d be wise to look in to what differently abilities do. A process that should be easier than it is. Nevertheless, I love the great deal of choice made available to me in this game, it could just do with a little more in-your-face information.
However, despite the ridiculous amount of game-play we’ve covered here today, nothing, and I mean NOTHING compares to using Skells. Eventually you’ll get access to your first Skell. It won’t seem all that great. Don’t worry. Purchase a Heavy Skell. To my knowledge, there are no drawbacks outside of higher fuel consumption. If you cover your Miranium gains well, you’ll be fine. Pick up a G-Buster weapon for your Skell and watch as enemies 20 levels above you become feasible to defeat. Now, one Skell is great. Fantastic even.
What could be better than one Skell? Oh that’s right! FOUR Skells.
Register a Skell to every Party Member and dispose of the volatile indigens for the benefits of leveling up both your character AND your current class. Skells are a great way to grind levels, and the grind is fun because of the freedom you’re given in the battle transitions. However, your Skell is currently on the ground. It transforms in to a vehicle upon pressing the dash button, which looks cool but handles terribly, but outside of that, it doesn’t seem like much beyond its combat capabilities. Enter the Flying mechanic! Eventually you’ll be given the opportunity to undergo some quests for a Flight Module. Once complete, all Skells gain the ability to fly, and my word is it faster than anything. Travelling Mira is a breeze once you can fly. Couple that with the generous amount of fast travel locations and you’ve got a recipe for me playing this game for 155 hours. Fuel is consumed quite quickly whilst in the air though, no matter what speed you’re moving at, or even if you’re stationary. Keep an eye on it.
Lastly, there’s the Overdrive ability. Once you’ve hit 3000 TP in battle, you can activate Overdrive (once unlocked via the Story) which will speed up the cooldowns of your abilities to a blinding speed and allow them to reach higher tiers of their skills, dealing more damage or providing more bonuses. Skillful use of this ability can have you using unlimited Overdrives in Ground Combat or dealing immense damage inside of your Skells.
In case you couldn’t tell, outside of the Funds grind, I am in love with this game. If I could marry a Skell, we’d already have little android babies running around the B.L.A.D.E Barracks, annoying Elma and Lin. I honestly think the gameplay is as near to perfect as I’ve ever experienced. It could do with a better healing class as I found keeping my allies alive pretty difficult against tougher enemies, but minor grievances become nothing in the face of Armored Core meets Final Fantasy if Final Fantasy didn’t meander off a cliff.
As I don’t feel there were any particular issues with the story, you can consider this somewhat spoiler-free. Just to get you up to speed, the game begins with the invasion of Earth courtesy of a mysterious alien army. Humanity is forced to retreat, but as far as we know, only one ship escapes: the White Whale. Having been tracked down by the alien threat, the White Whale is forced to crash land on a nearby planet known as “Mira”, having saved their final city – “New Los Angeles (NLA)” – through use of a force-field. Your created character has been located by Elma, a highly skilled soldier of NLA, and thus, your story begins.
Or, not so much your story. In fact, whilst you’re not exactly left out in the cold during conversations, your character is pretty inconsequential to the over-arching plot. Instead, the focus weighs heavily on Elma and company. Thankfully, these characters are all pretty interesting. Undertaking side-quests adds greatly to the depth of this cast of hopefuls and it’s only missing some stellar graphical prowess to make it truly engaging.
Although the main “enemy” didn’t quite have the impact I’d have liked in the end, a group of their subordinates did. The Wrathion intrigued me from their very introduction. Predictable though their sub-plot may have been, it provided a parallel for Humanity’s plight in the game.
There are set pieces that I enjoyed a great deal. It’s not that this is a unique tale in regards to science fiction, but the way they present it made me care for the people in my party and about the fate of NLA. The weakest element is your own character. You’re often asked for your input on situations that are meaningless and interrupt the natural flow of the scene. Particularly with such talented voice actors on board (one of which you choose for your main character in the creation screen), it’s a shame to see them go under-utilised and how easily you could fade in to the background and have almost nothing change.
Ultimately, the meat of the story is held within the main quests, and they can be surprisingly difficult if you’re not prepared. The recommended level is not the level I’d ever recommend and I strongly advise you find a decent grind spot, because accepting a main quest prevents you from accepting any others (same applies to official side quests too i.e. affinity missions) and if you get caught in a mission you can’t complete, you might end up frustrated and giving up on this diamond in the rough.
I’ve already gone on forever and I could do that forever more, but if there ever were a game to own the Wii U for, it’s Xenoblade Chronicles X. The franchise potential is immense if every game is as well-done as this one is. I’d like smoother visual transitions with less pop-in, but not at the expense of the freedom that makes this game so appealing. This has everything you could possibly want from a game. Its scope can be intimidating at first, and it’s definitely not a casual experience, but if you’re looking for one of the most in-depth, hardcore adventures you’ve ever had, get a Wii U. I still can’t believe I’m saying that.
Game: Xenoblade Chronicles X
Review Format: Wii U