Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)

Monolith Soft’s endless ambition delivers another brilliant RPG as innovative as it is beautiful.

By Andy Hoover. Posted 01/13/2016 09:00 1 Comment     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
A gorgeous, thrilling world ripe for exploration; a compelling narrative with likeable characters; possibly the best RPG battle systems ever devised; hundreds of hours of quality; addictive content; a fantastic and innovative soundtrack
Poison Mushroom for...
Some songs might annoy; fetch quests need more guidance in such a large world; complexity of mechanics might put off some; visuals don't hold up as well up close

Anyone who has heard even the slightest bit of buzz about Xenoblade Chronicles X could tell you the game is big, but I am here to attest that said buzz is an understatement. To attempt an all inclusive review of it would be a foolish endeavor, not only because the massive amount of content and complex, interwoven series of systems would take many thousands of words to thoroughly describe, but also because there is a much better way to spend the time it would take you to read it; namely, actually playing the game. I’ll do my best to sum up why X is such a good game, but if you have even a slight inkling that this game might be for you, then stop reading and start playing it now, because every minute counts when you’re talking about a game that is about to consume hundreds of hours of your time.

Despite sharing much of its name with Xenoblade Chronicles for Wii, X is largely its own game. Those who played its predecessor will likely recognize quite a few shared elements in the battle system, as well as the general sense of grand ambition, but beyond that Monolith Soft has created something new, bigger, and arguably better. From the very start, it is evident that X tells a brand new story in a completely different world. Millions flee Earth as the planet is caught, and ultimately destroyed in the crossfire of an intergalactic war between forces beyond human comprehension. One ship that managed to escape, the White Whale, spends several years on the run, but the mysterious foe eventually catches up and shoots it down over the mysterious planet of Mira, where the survivors must piece together what little resources they have and find away to rebuild human society on a world as dangerous as it is beautiful.

The ensuing journey weaves a compelling tale. X is less character driven than the original Xenoblade, instead focusing on the overarching story of mankind’s struggle to survive in an alien world. This broader focus arguably makes X’s narrative inferior, but it is still exceptionally good; most characters are still given great moments to shine, the wider scope allows for the examination of more ideas and themes, and the central story still has plenty of emotional moments alongside some truly fantastic twists. Of course, it also helps that the writing is excellent and the voice acting, while not as good its bigger brother, is well above average. One thing I personally found surprising is that certain JRPG and anime tropes I usually found annoying were actually well executed. I’ve seen several reviews that disagree with me on this matter, but I quite enjoyed the ubiquitous adorable mascot character, Tatsu, and the running gag about how everyone wanted to eat him. It’s also worth mentioning that the story, especially taking into account the side quests, goes a lot of places you probably wouldn’t have expected, which really helps flesh out the world and characters in thoroughly interesting ways.

In terms of gameplay and mechanics, X is easily one of the most ambitious JRPGs I have ever seen. Yes, the genre has long interwoven battles, character progression, and exploration into singular experiences, but X does it all in such a masterful way. At first glance it all seems more complex, but every system feeds into the other facets of the game in such a way that no moment ever feels wasted. Of course, it also helps that most of the game’s mechanics are just so enjoyable. The mere act of exploration in X is exhilarating and really could have been a game all by itself. It’s nice to gain resources and experience by traversing the world, but the visual spectacle is more than enough of a reason to examine every nook and cranny of Mira.

Now is as good a time as any to heap praise upon the artistic majesty of X. You can say all you want about Wii U’s processing power, but that doesn’t change the fact that Monolith Soft has crafted one of the most gorgeous games ever made. Sure, some of the textures could stand to be better and the facial animations on the characters are stiff, but once you widen your view none of that matters. No matter where you look there is something amazing to behold: mysterious flora and fauna, majestic rock formations, and some things that are so alien and borderline indescribable, but still beautiful. Better yet, none of it is just set dressing because it is all accessible. If you see it then you can touch it, though it might take you several dozen hours to get there thanks to the developer’s decision not to gift your giant robots, known as Skells, with the power of flight until late in the game. Once again, this is something that some have complained about, but I feel it just made the reward all the more meaningful, and let’s not forget that there is no shortage of things to see and do– even limited terrestrial transportation.

As I mentioned earlier, the battle mechanics are probably the part of the game that is most similar to its predecessor, but it also happens to have been greatly expanded. The core gameplay is actually almost identical; you are free to move about as you want, but your attacks are limited by range as well as cooldown times, whether it be for your regular auto attack of special skills, known as arts, which include damaging attacks, buffs for your allies, debuffs for your foes, and various combinations. This concept is expanded by giving every character both long-ranged and close-ranged weapons, as well as arts that can be switched upon on the fly. And then another layer gets added once the aforementioned Skells show up, because donning them in battle them adds another layer of weapons and arts, only on a much larger scale. But wait, there’s more; because X lets you freely change your main character’s class, you can further mix and match your character’s weapons, arts, and play style to a phenomenal degree. In short, X takes one of the best JRPG battle systems ever devised and somehow makes it better.

Taking advantage of these options does require a great deal of time and resources, but X does a fantastic job of making it so achievable. Exploring the world creates a constant stream of income, both in terms of money and other resources, so you rarely ever feel compelled to simply grind for hours in fights with average baddies. Instead, you can focus on clearing out quests, gathering resources, or hunting down especially tough foes, known as Tyrants, all the while knowing that no matter what you do, you are being rewarded for your time spent in the world. Oh, and you will have to spend a lot of time in Mira, because the late game gear is incredibly expensive and/or requires large quantities of hard to come by resources.

Thankfully, there is one tool that makes the end game goodies more attainable, and that’s the interesting multiplayer and online functions. When connected online, you get access to missions specifically designed for earning certain types of resources, materials, and experience. You have the option to tackle any of them by yourself with your usual in-game party, but some give you the option to team up with other players, and a few I would argue are but impossible without the help of real humans. Unfortunately the systems for communicating with your fellow players are somewhat limited in normal Nintendo form, but the objectives are generally straightforward enough (kill everything that moves) that I rarely ran into strategic problems. Another nice touch is the ability to recruit other people’s player characters into your party for the single player adventures as well as share your character, which further brings in even more loot for yourself.

Surprisingly enough, the most contentious aspect of the game may very well prove to be its soundtrack. Most songs, I assume, will likely be considered fantastic by just about everybody. Each of Mira’s five continents have unique musical themes to match their diverse visual designs, with the otherworldly jungles of Noctilum providing an especially awe-inspiring audio-visual experience. However, some of the tracks go in a direction that’s distinctly more rock or pop, up to and including lyrics. Personally, I felt these tracks were well composed and helped lend to the unique feel of the game, but I can easily see how others would disagree. That being said, I would easily rank the soundtrack as one of the best not just this year or even on Wii U, but in recent history as well.

As you have no doubt noticed, there hasn’t been too much to really complain about with X aside from a few areas that more or less come down to personal taste. While this observation is quite accurate, there is one thing that does need to be noted: fetch quests. That’s right, just like pretty much every RPG ever made, X has plenty of quests that boil down to nothing more than collecting a certain number of certain items, but that process is made all the more annoying thanks in no small part to the massive size of Mira and the relative lack of direction the game gives in most of these quests. Thankfully, this sort of objective pops up quite rarely in X’s main and side quests and is mostly relegated to one-off missions that can easily be skipped without feeling like you’re really missing something. As for when they do occur smack dab in the middle of the better conduct, well, let’s just say that sometimes it’s okay to put your gamer pride aside and use a wonderful little tool called Google.

With more than one hundred hours clocked, I can confidently say that Xenoblade Chronicles X is not a perfect game but, oddly enough, it is better for it. Monolith Soft has proven itself as one of the premier RPG developers in the world and could no doubt have made a game that was technically more “perfect,” but I feel that would have resulted in a less ambitious game. One could nitpick X by finding how one system isn’t as well explained as another or how one mechanic might be somewhat repetitive or even how one song might be annoying, but to focus on such foibles is to miss the forest through the trees. When you put all the elements together, all the little issues seem to melt away into an exhilarating, possibly even addictive experience. If video games are a means for wish fulfillment then Xenoblade Chronicles X is easily among the best games in recent years, because it makes the mere act of stepping into its world a joyous experience. Like I said earlier, if X were about nothing more than exploring a world devoid of story, battles, and systems it would still be easy to recommend, but the fact it tells a worthwhile tale, constantly rewards your time, effort, and curiosity, and features one of greatest battles systems ever created just makes it all the better. In other words, pick up Xenoblade Chronicles X and clear your schedule, because you have a whole new world to explore.

One Response to “Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)”

  • 0 points

    I’m glad I picked it up, and that it has reviewed well. I am actually still finishing up the first game on 3DS, as I don’t want to break the seal on the Wii version. But, can’t wait to try this one out. It looks impressive.

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