The best thing about my Xenoblade Chronicles 2 preview playthrough was its length – long enough to understand the game, but not long enough to be turned off by it.
Six hours in, I was enamoured with the world of Alrest, a land enveloped in a sea of cloud — a literal sea of cloud, it should be pointed out. Playing as hero Rex, I slowly delved into the Alrest and its abundance of cumulus, learning of its inhabitants and the roles they play. Key to all of this are Drivers and their Blades, who make up the core of Chronicles 2’s gameplay, matching a living weapon with its (equally living) wielder, forming a bond of trust that grows with each battle waged.
So far, so good.
I compared Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to Final Fantasy X early on, and that notion grew with each hour played. Blades are mystical beings with mysteries that constantly revolve around them, and a great number of Chronicles 2’s lengthy (read: LENGTHY) cutscenes toy with that sense of unknown. Those mysteries and that sense of exploration are a delight to experience and prove to be most rewarding.
Exploration aside, combat is a major part of the JRPG. Drivers can collect multiple Blades and level them up alongside themselves. Each Blade is unique, and therefore, so too are the attacks a Driver can launch when equipped. Drivers have specials, or Arts, at their command, alongside one that’s attached to the Blade that’s equipped. Epic loot drops are used to become more and more lethal.
Arts are initiated with the press of a button, though extra damage is dealt with correct positioning – you’ll be rewarded with critical damage when striking from behind or the side, depending on the move. The Blade’s Art is sadly unleashed after a quick-time button press and they can be chained with other moves for maximum damage.
While a certain amount of strategy is involved to walk away victorious, normal attacks are automatically performed. This ultimately means that you’re left standing around and watching quite a bit, waiting for your Arts to power up. If you move to position your character for a critical attack, the auto-attacks stop; you’ll do more damage with your hands off the controls.
It’s these types of little subtleties that best detail Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s issues.
Visually, things are a bit of a mess, from characters with clunky animations to environments that are inconsistent; beautiful in one area and muddy and lacking depth the next. It’s quite strange – sometimes, game’s visuals benefit from the teeny tiny handheld screen, and other times from TV mode. The former play mode suffers from occasional framerate drops, though they’re relatively infrequent.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s biggest flaw is the way it can elicit extreme boredom. I’m aware we’re talking of a JRPG here, but everything about the core game is a grind — cutscenes that stretch for seemingly no reason, quests that require a ton of money that you don’t have and endless amounts of side quests that are required to level up your characters. These moments are enough to make you want to put the game down and play something like Super Mario Odyssey instead.
A good way to summarise Chronicles 2’s frustrations is in a sequence relatively early on in the game. After getting used to managing battles in a party of fighters, you’re stripped of those allies and have to go it alone. Level scaling doesn’t adjust for this change, so engagements that you could manage in a group become almost impossible solo. The only option is to grind, grind, grind… and while the game’s world and characters are very interesting, generic hands-off battles and hollow side quests are not.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 isn’t a bad game by any means, but it’s one that only die-hard JRPG fans will love. I dumped dozens of hours into this, spending most of those wishing I could be Bayek of Siwa or just plain ol’ Mario instead. Whereas I originally thought this would lead me to track down and play other iterations in the popular franchise, I’m already happy to move on. Be mindful of your own preferences and engage accordingly.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was reviewed using a promotional code on Nintendo Switch, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.