Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Preview: Tidus, is that you?


But seriously -- who wears pants like that?

After just six hours with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – and never played any other titles in the Xeno – franchise, I’m hooked. In fact, the easiest way for me to describe the game is as a Nintendo-ified Final Fantasy X.

Players command Rex, a cross between Kingdom Hearts’ Sora and FFX’s Tidus (and with a fashion sense to match) in the sci-fi/fantasy fusion of Alrest, a planet with hardly any real landmasses. While Rex is introduced as a scavenger who makes his living upon Alrest’s sea of clouds, he’s quickly thereafter thrown into the world of Drivers and Blades, warriors and the beings who power them.

Driver Rex’s main Blade is Pyra, a mysterious woman who fuels elemental attacks and chains combos together with other Drivers and their Blades. What could easily become a confusing combat system is explained thoroughly – almost to the point of excess – with many, many cutscenes and tutorials. Essentially, the Driver is the one leading the charge, drawing his or her weapon and automatically attacking foes that you lock-on and target. Staying close to your Blade helps them bond and strengthens attacks.

With each successful blow, the Driver’s main special moves charge; from our playthrough, it looks like a Driver has three main specials, or Arts, at his or her command, alongside an Art that’s attached to the Blade. Arts are initiated with the press of a button, though extra damage is dealt with correct positioning – some moves are best attacking a foe from behind and others, from the site. The Blade’s Art is truly unleashed after a quick-time button press (boo), but the damage it causes is worth the timed tediousness.

Player movement is important not only to position yourself for a damaging attack, but to avoid the blows of enemies and to pick up items like HP potions that drop mid-battle. As you move your character around, its auto-attack deactivates, so in difficult battles you’re engaged in a dance of attacking and dodging. That said, in regular battles, the auto-attack means you can almost put the Switch down and let things simply play out.

Visually, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 seems to be a bit all over the place. Detailed characters sometimes look stilted thanks to clunky animations, and picturesque vistas are either crisp and detailed or murky and muddled. The inconsistent nature of the game’s visuals means it sometimes looks better on TV and other times in handheld mode. Occasional framerate drops plague handheld, though they’re not too devastating and infrequent.

Our preview gave us the chance to investigate a couple different regions, and each diverse and full of its own character (and baddies). While touted as an open-world game, the parts we’ve experienced have been relatively linear; I hope things truly open up as I progress.

While cutscenes could have used a trim here and there, the story of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – or, at least, the story that we’ve engaged with so far – is deep, lore-filled and packed with mystery. If nothing else, the characters’ Irish and Welsh accents go a long way to keeping you watching along (though I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t skipped a couple along to get back to fighting).

This is certainly one to keep an eye out for, especially if, like me, you’re a JRPG fan who’s given Xenoblade on Wii and Wii U a miss.