Xenoblade Chronicles X is a JRPG with the ‘J’ in bold and underlined. It’s a massive game set in a sprawling world, but only the most dedicated players will be able to stay the course. Xenoblade has a lot to offer, but getting to the goods takes so long and requires you to jump through so many hoops, it doesn’t seem worth the effort.
We join the narrative as Earth is caught up in a battle between two warring alien factions. The planet is destroyed and a precious few escape in a spacecraft. A further battle causes your ship to crash land on a strange alien world; it’s here the game commences.
Your blank avatar — either male or female — is rescued and your first few hours see you learning the ropes of exploration, combat and quests. It’s an unfair comparison, but after spending so much time with Fallout 4, Xenoblade feels aggressively restrictive. While it’s touting itself as an open world, it’s really not. You can go anywhere and explore as you see fit, but missions are locked to character level and certain sections of the map are filled with creatures so tough, there’s no point in even trying until later.
The planet, Mira, has five distinct continents, of which four are available from the beginning. Each is filled with different monsters and a different landscape, with the number and variety of fauna being most impressive. There are always enemies to fight to help you level up and in typical JRPG fashion, you’ll be doing a lot of grinding just to get access to missions to further the story. It’s one of my most despised game mechanics and every time an arbitrary level restriction popped up it managed to suck all the fun out of my play.
Conversely, while the planet is densely populated and feels alive, the city of New Los Angeles feels dead. It’s packed with NPCs, but they barely interact with each other, let alone with your character. In general, the whole place is sterile and lifeless. The soundtrack in the city is equally as horrendous — my advice is to turn it down.
Thankfully, for all its restrictions and frustrations, playing Xenoblade is actually a lot of fun. Combat is a hybrid of turn-based and real-time and uses cooldown timers to control the use of abilities. While in combat, players can easily switch between melee and ranged weapons and combining these with abilities can result in devastating damage. Better still is that the NPC members of your party will coordinate attacks based on how you play. Figuring out massive combos and the best way to tackle each different enemy type is where the most enjoyment comes from. It also encourages using a variety of abilities and weapons, rather than simply spamming the same thing over and over.
Abilities come from the three main classes and twelve subclasses. You’re able to switch classes whenever you choose and the title actively encourages it. You will be starting from scratch each time, but a boosted levelling and unlocking rate means you’ll be getting new abilities and levelling up quicker so that you’re never really at a disadvantage. There’s a huge variety of different classes and fighting styles to choose from, so finding the one that suits your playstyle is simply a matter of experimentation. Considering how long and huge the title is, this shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s to be expected that an RPG is an investment of time and effort, but Xenoblade often felt like I was giving more than I was getting in return. In all of its promotion the giant mechs – known as Skells – featured prominently. What wasn’t revealed is that it takes at least 30 hours before you’re even in a position to acquire one. Piloting the Skell, totally transforms how you play and opens up battles that were previously impossible, but getting one takes so long and requires so much effort that by the time I got there I barely cared. In particular, the missions required to unlock your Skell license are a nightmare of the most boring persuasion. They are awesome when you get one and while they’re a game changer they’re not an instant win. The difficulty manages to maintain a pace that keeps up with you regardless of how advanced you are. This is a rare feat.
This is a gigantic JRPG that leans so heavily on the ‘J’ that players like myself, who enjoy freedom and games that don’t restrict their progress for the sake of it, will struggle to play. Genre fans will have already bought it and will scoff at my criticisms, so this review isn’t for them This is for the players on the fence. Xenoblade Chronicles X is a long hard slog with a few bright spots to keep you going. It gives the illusion of freedom while shackling the player at every turn. So, a classic JRPG.
Xenoblade Chronicles X was reviewed using retail copy on Wii U as provided by the publisher.
Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X