(Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)
I wasn’t a fan of Xenoblade Chronicles; a weird sentence to start a review with, sure, but for good reason. I’m not too sure why I didn’t like it. Perhaps it was for the reason that the original Chronicles didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be; a fantasy game with sci-fi elements, but mostly fantasy except for the parts where it wants to be sci-fi instead. I didn’t get it. Regardless, the popularity of Chronicles definitely got Nintendo’s attention, and they announced Xenoblade Chronicles X. I saw something different this time. I saw a sci-fi game without the odd side-by-side clash of fantasy, instead opting for blending both together in a rather interesting way.
Xenoblade Chronicles X takes place in the year 2054, when two alien races go to war near Earth. Just before Earth is completely destroyed, thousands of ships containing the populous of every major city evacuate and attempt to escape total annihilation. The White Whale is the ship containing the population of Los Angeles, along with a handful of other ships, manage to escape; however, the White Whale crash lands on an unknown planet known as Mira, after one of the alien species finds the White Whale and attempts to destroy it.
This is where you, the player, come in. After having a rough landing, the White Whale is torn to pieces on arrival, leaving only the shell of a former city to rebuild itself with its surviving crew. Your avatar is awoken from their stasis and meet Elma, a member of BLADE, and are guided to New Los Angeles, where you eventually join the BLADE task force.
Needless to say, this is about as sci-fi as it gets. A strange alien race thinks that the human race is a scourge upon the universe and tries to completely annihiliate them. Bad guys are bad, and there’s constantly a grey line between surviving and ensuring that you don’t make more enemies along the way. These bad guys remain an enigma for a short time, and when you finally do trod upon them, they immediately do a bad thing; it’s simple, but it adds its own complexities through some universe-building lore, and it’s very interesting.
For instance, in New Los Angeles, there is a tower with a number on it that is slowly decreasing as the story progresses; this is actually the power supply for the Lifehold, a section of the White Whale that has every survivor in stasis pods. When that number hits zero, everyone in the Lifehold will perish. Why is this bad? Well, you and everyone you meet are actually a type of android called Mimeosomes; a safety measure made to protect Earth’s citizens, which are controlled by the real people in the Lifehold. In short, Mimeosomes can be replaced and repaired, but the person controlling them cannot.
So with an important goal, you set off to explore the vast planet of Mira, and let me say this bluntly: Mira is huge. Simply put, I’ve never seen an open-world game with such a huge world that you could explore from the start, and you’ll be exploring a lot of it. There are five regions to explore as well, all with their own unique geography, weather patterns, creatures, and so on. Basically, no two regions are the same, and that makes the reward of being able to explore them all the better.
It takes some time to get to that point, though. In fact, that’s a common theme of Xenoblade Chronicles X; patience is rewarded with really cool things, and at a more deliberately slow rate than most RPGs. More often than not, you’ll be fighting one enemy at a time, because fighting a large group of three or four at once is incredibly dangerous, and will get you killed. Thankfully, having your entire party fall in battle is very weakly penalized; no game over screen, just a quick teleport to a safe location. Which is fantastic, because on occasion, you’ll be fighting creatures at-level when a monster at least five times higher level than you appears out of nowhere and completely wipes the floor with you. That’s also a common trend in Xenoblade Chronicles X: Biting off way more than you can chew without really even trying. There are many ways that you can get completely wiped out simply because you walked into an adjacent sector, which you will do quite often once you start trying to plant data probes all over the region.
Planting data probes is incredibly important to do, though; especially at the start. In each region, there are many points on the map where you can place a data probe, and all of them connect to their closest neighbor probe. You can set the type of data probe whenever you want; there are probes that give you extra resources. For instance, you can change the probe to a Mining Probe and increase the amount of Miranium (a valuable resource) you can get. The benefit of these probes improves if you chain multiples of the same probe, as well, ensuring that you have to strategically place probes to fully optimize the resources you may need in the future.
These resources help go into many things. Upgrading gear and most importantly, the many store brands you’ll add to New LA as you progress through the story. Gear is important as well, though, and there are plenty of options to match your playstyle. In fact, the amount is overwhelming, from buffs to increase your critical hit damage to buffs that give you benefits when the weather changes.
Fighting a myriad of the local wildlife and completing missions gives you experience points, which can increase your class rank and your overall level. Hitting Rank 10 on a class will unlock different branches in a rather robust class-tree. There is a class for every playstyle; I went with Partisan Eagle, a ranged class. There are classes for melee-based play, and even support-based classes that focus on giving buffs. At the start, you can only select Drifter, but from there, you can build how you like.
Compound this with Battle Points, which you get by defeating enemies, “surveying” Mira and finding landmarks, and completing missions. These can go into your Arts and Skills, both of which get stronger the more you level them up. You’ll unlock new skills as you gain higher levels, and Arts by increasing your class rank. The amount of improvements you can do are slightly restricted, but you can improve this with the gear you collect and equip. Increasing your BLADE Rank allows you to perform more complex Field Actions, which can grant some useful gear or special Data Probes.
You can equip seven different pieces of gear: A melee weapon, ranged weapon, head gear, torso gear, two arm pieces, and pants. On top of that, you can put other gear on to change the overall look of your character without sacrificing the better stats of gear you want to use. There are a plethora of gear abilities, as mentioned before, and you can upgrade the strength of those, as well, using materials gathered from slaying the local wildlife. You can also find better gear from defeating enemies, but more on that later.
This gear customization also applies to Skells, a mech suit that you unlock a long while into the game. You can upgrade it just as you can with your Ground Gear. This allows you and your group to fight larger, more dangerous enemies, but if your Skell gets disabled or runs out of fuel, then you’ll need to pay in order to repair it, which is costly. Skells can hover in the air to fly, or turn into a vehicle to help you move across the land quickly, a very useful weapon when you finally get it.
Exploring Mira is dangerous, and eventually you will have to fight in order to survive. Combat is real-time, focusing entirely on the timed use of Arts to succeed in battle. You can lock onto specific body parts of various enemies to gain an advantage, either by disabling specific attacks or causing heavy damage in one large chunk. Every so often, when a condition is met, it’ll trigger a Soul Voice. The color of the callout specifies what Art you need to use in order to get an advantage in battle, like starting a battle with an Art, or if your HP falls below 30%. These can be customized to however you prefer, for any party member you have in your group.
As for party members, there are plenty of characters that you’ll meet along the way. There are 17 characters in total that you can pick to put into your three open slots, allowing a party of four. 12 of these characters are optional, and can be acquired through Affinity Missions tied to them. Every character has several of these, and for the most part, they are optional; except for the five main characters, where they are off and on required. These missions will give you some extra backstory about the journey to Mira and their personal endeavors on the way. It’s mostly lore here and there to fully cement a timeline, and occasionally adds some character building elements, but not much.
At least until you see the Affinity Chart. The picture above is barely complete, but you should be able to see that the entire series of events leading up to, and beyond, the destruction of Earth is very robust and full of individual characters. Each one has a relationship with a different character, some have their own mission lines that add more to their affinity with one another. Towards the end of the game, completing missions from the bounty board and exploring New LA will grant you additional lines to add to this massive web. It’s incredibly impressive, all things considered, and it’s also optional. You don’t have to meet and greet everyone, or complete tasks for them.
There are hundreds of missions available as you progress through the main scenario, and if you’re looking for more to do, then the online play comes into mind. Upon loading into the game, you can join a random online “lobby” or a lobby your friend is playing in. After some time, you will get a series of Group Missions that ask everyone in that lobby to complete a specific task; finding an item through exploration, or defeating a specific type of enemy, for instance. After completing these tasks, you will unlock a special mission that you can play with other players online for special rewards. In my experience, the online was pretty flawless, and there is a sense of co-operation when fighting in a group. You can, of course, play offline and enjoy the game without the constant alerts appearing on your screen.
Xenoblade Chronicles X, before it launched, released multiple Data Packs on the Nintendo eShop for people to download, claiming to improve your loading times. And it does, at the expense of taking 16GB of your system memory to install all four packs. I installed all four packs, and I’m more than glad I did, because the loading times are incredibly short for the effort. The initial load (that is, before reaching the title screen) is about 30 seconds, but every loading screen after that is 5-10 seconds.
This applies to everything, especially fast travel, making any semblance of worry that would come from teleporting to a different region very minimal. The framerate is also impressive, maintaining a consistent framerate at all times: A solid 60FPS. However, there are moments where monsters simply phase into existence; sometimes right near you.
As for how the game looks, well simply put, this is easily one of the best-looking games on the Wii U. The world design is alien, yet familiar; keeping a very clean blend of a natural-looking environment, but making the entire area complex and unnatural, allowing the world to feel strange and uncanny. Throw in the random weather effects and day/night cycle, and you get a world that is picture-worthy.
As for the music, it’s a mix of genres, ultimately being full of action-filled and dramatic music. However, the most notable are the battle tracks that have singing or rapping in them, which are so cheesy that they are simply amazing. The field music changes whether it’s day or night, which is really pleasant. Many of the tracks are good listens outside of the game, so feel free to check them out when you can.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a game that no RPG fan should pass on. It’s a very clean game with plenty of content to find and places to explore. As someone who wasn’t a fan of the original Xenoblade Chronicles, I had a blast with this, and it certainly survived the hype it built when it was first revealed. The customization is very open and robust, allowing for anyone to find their perfect style of play.
However, be sure to install the data packs to fully optimize the game, unless you get it digitally. It takes up a lot of space, but the reduced loading is a wonderful thing to have. Also, take your time and really explore the world; there’s a lot to see, and all of it is beautiful. Even the hilarious battle music.