Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review
Developer: Monolith Soft
Release Date: December 1st, 2017
(Mostly spoiler free section of the story review. This section will contain some minor spoilers from the first chapter of the story.)
The World Of Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes place in the world of Alrest. Alrest is a world devoid of land. In fact, it is just a world of clouds on a massive ocean. In the center of that world is a great tree called Yggdrasil but is more commonly known as The World Tree. A legend speaks of a massive continent at the top of the tree called Elysium where the progenitor of all life known as the “The Architect” resides. According to the legend, The Architect created giant, sentient landmasses known as the titans to give the people and animals of Alrest a place to live.
I won’t tell you exactly how many titans there are, but I will say that there are more than five. Unlike the first Xenoblade where you traveled on two massive gods with different parts of the bodies having entirely unique regions and climates, the bodies of the titans in 2 tend to be more consistent. However, each titan in general has its own unique designs and qualities generally tied into currents state of the particular titan’s health and its age. Some are lush with life while others are at the ends of their lifespans. Those titans have become desolate and the people residing there desperate. As the titans die out, people lose their places to live. It is only a matter of time until the titans all go extinct and all land-based life with it.
Blades and Drivers
In the world of Alrest, there is a special kind of sentient weapon called a Blade which comes to life from a crystal after resonating with certain kinds of people called Drivers. In order to resonate with one of these “core crystals”, a person must have “potential”. A person like this coming into contact with an unused core crystal awakens it, and they bond. From that point on, the Driver can summon the blade into battle and is empowered by it with special weapons and abilities. While in battle, the blade connects to their driver through a line of energy and use that to empower their driver. A person doesn’t know if they have potential until they attempt bonding with a core crystal, and the effects upon a person without this is devastating. At the end of the Driver’s lifespan, the Blade is returned to their core crystal with their memories wiped clean until a new Driver resonates with them and the cycle starts all over again.
There is a legend of a unique blade called the Aegis. Most Blades have blue core crystals, but the Aegis stands out with its emerald core crystal. The Aegis is sought after because of the legends if its immense power. With the titans dying out and wars brewing, that power is deemed necessary. The Aegis and its Driver live under constant danger as they are targeted by powerful enemies at every corner.
Our Story’s Protagonist
The protagonist of this story is a young scavenger named Rex whose job is to travel the cloud sea looking for sunken treasures. He gets from place to place on the back of his companion: a mid-sized titan named Azurda whom Rex endearingly calls Gramps. Rex is very responsible for his age sending the money he makes back to his village, but he doesn’t make much from his salvaging business. However, that all changes when he gets a big job from the leader of the trade guild he is based out of. Without a second thought he takes the job, and his life is changed forever.
In Depth Discussion
The story in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 unfolds absolutely brilliantly. I have always found that the best stories are those that employ the mechanic of foreshadowing well, and Xenoblade does this extremely well. Throughout the entire first chapter you will find dozens of instances of foreshadowing giving small hints towards events which will unfold throughout the game and characters you will meet. It was something I could really appreciate when I started a new game, and I found myself suddenly appreciating many things which I just glossed over my first time around.
I loved how the game was simply so full of completely animated and voice acted cut scenes. This may be standard nowadays, but with many of the RPGs I played in the Gamecube and Wii eras, cut scenes had been sparse. It is not so in this game. I felt like I was getting to watch a lengthy and well-thought-out scene at the perfect frequency. It kept me engaged even at times when the gameplay started to get uneventful and wanting to carry on to see what would happen next.
There are so many cut scenes in this game that it is easy to forget details from earlier ones. One feature this games has to deal with that which I absolutely loved was the Events Theater. In the events theater, you can select from every single one of the cut scenes in the game and rewatch them at your own leisure. You can even change the time of day and weather effects seen during the scenes. This feature was incredibly useful, and I would love to see it in many other games in the future. I can’t show you a picture of it though because every single thumbnail image from it would be a spoiler.
The story is broken up into chapters, and each one has an epic and often very emotional conclusion. There will be times that the story will make you laugh, and other times it will make you cry. This game deals with heavy issues such as death and betrayal, and it is full of twists. Some of the twists were cliché, but some others were genuinely surprising.
I was completely enthralled by the story. I just could not bring myself to put the game down even as several new games were coming out which I needed to play for reviews. I couldn’t put it down. I literally played this game at every single chance I got. That is just how strong the story was. I couldn’t wait to see where it would go and how it would end up.
Watching the characters develop was incredibly satisfying, and I really grew to care about them. Even one individual who I absolutely hated when the character was first introduced. This character put me through a lot of trouble when they were first introduced, and I just felt incredibly annoyed by them. However, after the character joined me, they slowly grew on me and became one of my favorites among the cast. Each character experiences a great amount of growth as you progress and see more about what motivates them, how they deal with the turmoil they experience and what set them on their journeys in the place.
This game is truly an example of what it means to realize the concept of a console-level RPG on the go. Never before have I experienced such a deep and emotional story in a game while laying in bed or while on the road. And that is how I ended up playing most of this game, and it felt great to take advantage of the Switch’s main feature to play it.
Another point to note is that all three of the Xenoblade Chronicles games have standalone stories. You are not required in any way to play Xenoblade 1 or X before you play this game to understand the story.
(This part of the review contains spoilers going all the way until the end of the game. Do not read from here on unless you have completed the story or don’t care about spoilers. I will further elaborate upon some things mentioned in the first part if this story review.)
If you are reading this portion of the review, then I will assume that you have already completed the story. As such, I won’t spend too much time detailing what happens in the story. Instead, I will be focusing on the effect that story has on the characters, its impact on me and some powerful concepts I found within.
A New Perspective On The Beginning
I immediately started the game over after beating it the first time. I found myself so enthralled with the game by its conclusion that I was looking forward to beating it so I could begin anew with all my collective experience. I am so incredibly pleased with how my second experience is shaping up.
There is an astounding amount of foreshadowing in the first chapter that I simply didn’t appreciate my first time around. All the talk of Rex’s home and Corrine. Chairman Bana’s mention of the artificial blades project in Mor Ardain. Knowing about Nia’s backstory when Malos mentions it as well as knowing about all the members of Torna. Hearing vaguely about Addam when they find his crest. How Malos and Jin knew Azurda and vice versa. The first chapter has somewhat slow gameplay thanks to your limited abilities, but the storytelling is absolutely top notch.
Oh, Shellhead, How I Loathed Thee
Each one of the characters faces some kind of trauma which they must overcome, and each one adds to the complexity of their personality. Even good ol’ Shellhead. I hated him so much when he was first introduced.
I kept myself fairly unleveled my first time through since I didn’t really get the new battle system and didn’t enjoy it much at first. Then, when I ran into Zeke on Uraya, he absolutely throttled me repeatedly. And it was the same when I found him on the Leftherian Archipelago. At that time, I had Morág in my party. When she left my party, I only had Rex and Nia left and didn’t realize that there was an option to add another character. It just looked like I had to deal with the fight using only two characters. Oh boy, that was a tough one. After all that trouble, I just didn’t like him at all. I realize that my struggle against him was entirely my fault, but it still hampered my opinion of him.
After he ended up joining my party, I enjoyed finding out about how he had suffered through an exile from his homeland as well as his deep connection with his blade, Pandoria. Zeke ends up being transformed from a powerful simpleton who always just ends up defeating himself through his wild antics to being a strong, guiding hand for Rex who has a powerful sense of morality and justice. At the end, when he tells Rex that a man must know when to let go of someone he loves, it really shows Zeke’s maturity and worldly experience. The way he calmly handled the situation even as the world tree was falling apart around them when faced with Pneuma’s apparent sacrifice sealed my respect for the character.
Morág The Inquisitor
I loved Morág. I didn’t care for her name much, but I did get how it was derived from the Titan she was from: Mor Ardain. Morág filled the role of being a strong female character who wasn’t sexualized in any way, and I really appreciated that. She made a very nice contrast to almost all of the female blades and Nia’s flesh eater form. I am not criticizing the artistic choice to have sexualized characters as I do appreciate all art. I’d also be lying if I claimed to not enjoy seeing sexy female characters. However, it is also necessary to have some relief from it as well.
One comparison I like to draw with Morág is that she is similar to Celes from Final Fantasy 6 or Beatrix from Final Fantasy 9. She is a powerful member of the opposing army who is apparently an enemy when she is introduced. However, over time, your goals end up aligning and she joins you. I have always enjoyed this story trope, and I really enjoyed seeing it here as well.
Nia’s Backstory Really Made Who She Was
Nia was another character who I didn’t really care much for at the beginning of the game. She just came off as sort of selfish and annoying. She was bull headed, insulting and was just along for the ride. For a while, it wasn’t clear if she could be trusted due to her connection with Torna.
However, as the game progressed, she quickly became a wonderful supporting character. She made herself appear as described above so that she could hide the pain she felt within. Being one of the despised Flesh Eaters that were so universally loathed in this world, she hid her true nature away from everyone. In a way, this could have a real-world comparison drawn to the social stigma of being homosexual and how many people feel it necessary to hide away their true nature to avoid the criticism. It is the same for Flesh Eaters in the world of Xenoblade 2.
I loved that moment when Nia suddenly changed her form to heal Niall. I had no idea what was going on with her. When it was later revealed that she was indeed a flesh eater who was used to preserve the life of her former driver’s daughter, everything clicked. Nia’s elation to finally being able to reveal her true nature is sure to really resonate with the audience. Everyone has something they are hiding from the world and wish to get out in the open. This makes Nia incredibly relatable. Expressing her love for Rex was a little sudden and cliché, but that was perhaps another aspect of her character that made her feel real.
Tora, The Legendary Heropon You Are Not, But At Least You Have Poppi
I felt like in the end Tora was the character who experienced the least amount of growth. He started out dreaming to be a driver and really admired people who could do that. His admiration particularly ended up focusing on Rex and this carried throughout the whole story. He ended up becoming moral support for Rex and helped to show Rex that his actions has a positive effect on Tora by giving him something to aspire to. However, it didn’t feel Tora really found any meaning behind what he was doing. The story concluded with Tora still just questioning why he was there and what he was doing. I would have liked to of seen Tora find his own direction. Some true meaning to being a driver.
Poppi’s innocence made her one of the most lovable members of the cast. Her quirky reactions to everything, her inquisitive nature and the way she spoke in the Nopon way while having a human form made her a constant joy to be around. I especially loved how dry and mechanical her voice acting was when in contrast to the cute and energetic lines of dialogue she was giving.
Poppi’s growth particularly comes from the confliction she felt about having so much power that she came to fear herself. She was such a loving character and didn’t want to hurt any of her friends, but knowing that this could come to pass if she used too much of her power was too much for her to bear. She was willing to agree with Mythra to be destroyed if it looked like it would come to that. It showed how far she was willing to go in order to protect her friends and the world around her.
The final scene in the game was her voice actor really shone. Until this point, Poppi had mostly been lighthearted and the picture of innocence. As a result, Poppi’s facial reaction and how her voice cracked up when Pneuma asked her to not help Rex made it really hit home with me. That scene alone made Poppie one of my favorite characters in this game. I’ll elaborate further upon this scene later.
Pyra, Mythra and Pneuma
Pyra is an interesting character. Her design belies her true depth. When you see her, your first impression might be that she is nothing more than eye candy, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. She is bright and cheerful, but you can always see the terrible weight that is set upon her shoulders. She is a character with immense power and struggles with the history of the old Aegis War which haunts her. Pyra is essentially like a puzzle that you put together piece by piece as you progress through the story.
Of course, two key pieces to her puzzle are her alter egos with it even turning out that Pyra herself is an alter ego. I didn’t expect them at all, and I really enjoyed this aspect of her character. While all three of them have their own personalities, what they share is their history and their fates.
The philosophical question with these three characters is what happens to Pneuma at the end of the game? After all, Pneuma is the combination of both Pyra and Mythra. She retains the personality of both while being a person of her own. The true form of the Aegis, if you will. Since Pyra and Mythra become separated being at the end of the game, does that mean Pneuma is dead? After all, neither Pyra nor Mythra can become Pneuma on their own. If you think about it like that, the ending becomes very bittersweet indeed.
Rex: A Regular Good Guy
Rex is basically your average, stereotypical good guy protagonist. He just wants to help everyone and doesn’t want to kill even his worst enemies. He just wants to get them to change their ways even when their goals is worldly destruction. Honestly, he is sort of a boring, cut and dry character. He is full of emotion and does everything in his power, but that is what most protagonists are like.
He questions his path one time and nearly gives up, but that isn’t enough to set him apart. All things considered, I would have rather seen him do something completely deplorable either by accident or out of desperation, but we never really get that. The closest that we get was when he left Pyra to Malos, but even in that case he thought he was doing it for her own good. That wasn’t even done in cowardice. It was just done in ignorance, and he just ended up right back onto his original path.
Rex Confronting His Selfishness
I liked how just before meeting the Architect, Rex is forced to confront his selfishness and the danger he put the entirety of Alrest in by recklessly pursuing a place of legend with no proof of its reality. He did it with the best of intentions and only wanted to help everyone he could the entire way through. But, it is true that had their journey not yielded fruit, he would have indeed been responsible for massive loss of life. He single-mindedly pushed forward without really considering his companions much, and that had negative impacts on all of them.
Many games of this sort wouldn’t tackle this concept of what consequences can come from stereotypical good-guy behavior. I was glad to see Xenoblade do so. Unfortunately, not much came of these revelations in the end. It didn’t affect any of their characters. It is just sort of an, “Oh, yeah,” moment. I would have liked to see that scene really have some deep impact on everyone, but it just isn’t really brought up again since it happens just before the end of the game.
I have been mostly critical of Rex thus far, but that is only because I wished to have seen more from him. He is a very likable character. I love the emotional struggles he goes through as he realizes through the story that despite having the power of the Aegis, he can’t save many people along the way. I just wished that he could have been faced with some critical dilemma such as being forced to kill one of his enemies. I would have found his conviction to try to change Malos and Jin without killing them to be more believable if he had blood on his hands so to speak.
The Blades’ Curse Of Immortality
How would you deal with the idea that your life is tied directly to that of another? If they die, your existence is doomed to be erased temporarily. Then, you are stuck coming back to life completely deprived of all your memories when someone else finds you. You may even have to come back to be used by the people that killed your previous master while completely unaware of what happened. Are you even still yourself, or have you been molded into someone completely different across the many generations?
This was a fascinating take on the concept of immortality. I don’t believe I have ever seen any other story approach it in quite this way. I enjoyed seeing how the blades dealt with the pressure of knowing their own fate. Some of them kept journals while others, such as Pandoria, took extreme measures to keep their drivers alive. How desperate one must be to literally take a part of themselves to keep another person alive as well as for the sake of retaining their own sense of self.
Of Gods and Men
Klaus, a.k.a “The Architect”, is a cursed character. A man with grand delusions of becoming a god actually achieves his goal with the help of the Conduit. Then he gets to play god by using technology to create and guide the development of life on a new version of his planet. Afterwards, he had to spend countless generations watching his new version of the world descend into the same kind of madness that his original world experienced. It begs the question: Should man get to play God? What cost did his arrogance come at and did anything positive come from it?
It was true that an all-consuming war had been taking place at the time when Klaus activated the conduit, but doing so directly resulted in every single person other than him dying. His entire civilization was wiped clean and the world was covered by a cloud sea of his design. This one man attempted the recreate the entire world in his own perfect image but ultimately came to despair as he realized his attempts had ultimately failed. One can only imagine the kind of relief that he felt once Rex and company arrived at his doorstep. Finally, after all those long years at the darkest moment of his long existence he had found someone who was actually capable of realizing his dream.
A Powerful Conclusion
I loved the ending of this game. It was very touching. The way that Poppi reacted when Pyra asked her to not help Rex literally brought me to tears, and that very rarely happens to me from games or movies. Poppie’s voice actor really sold me on it. Her facial expressions matched her voice so precisely and perfectly conveyed the sadness and conflicted emotions she felt. It is immediately clear that Pyra is prepared to sacrifice herself for the sake of the group and the world, and that sets the tone for the rest of the ending. I am not ashamed to admit that the finale of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 brought me to tears three times, and that very rarely happens to me from such media. For example, one of the only movies that made me cry was Old Yeller.
The only part of the finale that disappointed me was how Pyra and Mythra came back to life. It was a nice and happy ending after feeling sad since the final scene started playing, but it completely downplayed the importance of their sacrifice. It took a very powerful and memorable ending and made it somewhat cliché. The only thing that will justify this ending for me is if the story DLC coming out later this year takes place in the post game. Pyra and Mythra are very important to the battle system, and many people won’t want to play further without her. As such, she would be important for that.
One other point to make here is that while this is a happy ending for Rex, Pyra and Mythra, it is sort of a sad ending for Nia. The way it was set up through the whole ending scene was that Rex and Nia would end up together, but now that path is very likely closed to Nia.
The Brilliantly Wonderful Music
I was astonished by how well the soundtrack was put together for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Every single area of the game had its own music, and that music changed depending on whether it was day or night. All of the music coalesced perfectly. It always drew me into the game and I just loved every single second of it. There wasn’t a single song in the game while I disliked. I frequently found myself humming various songs from the soundtrack while going about my daily life.
Rather than spending a lot of time talking about all of the songs, I am just going to let you listen to one of the most amazing songs I experienced in the entire game. This one literally made my jaw drop, and I couldn’t do anything as I just sat there for 20 minutes being enveloped by the lovely tunes emanating from this game.
The Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda
The music of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was composed by Yasunori Mitsuda. As he said in an article on nintendo.com that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was the biggest and most challenging project he had ever worked on. He said, “Musicians from all over the world were involved, such as a chorus from Slovakia, an orchestra from Japan, vocal songs sung by Ms. Jen Bird, who came all the way from England, and finally the Irish chorus group ANÚNA.” Frankly, with so many people involved in the creation of this soundtrack, it is no wonder that it turned out so wonderfully.
The rest of Mitsuda-san’s article can be read here. Some of Yasunori Mitsuda’s previous works include soundtracks in Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Mario Party, Xenogears and the Xenosaga series.
The English Voice Acting
My default is to immediately turn on Japanese voices when I play JRPGs if I have the option. However, for the sake of this review, I played through the entire game using the English voices. Overall, the English voice acting was pretty decent. The first thing you notice if you are not familiar with the Xenoblade series is that the main games in the series generally use British accents. That has become the style of the series. Sometimes the accents are so strong that they feel almost forced particularly in the case of Nia. At times it sounds almost like she is speaking from the base of her throat.
Another thing that stood out to me was how Pyra spoke. Far too frequently, she pauses in mid sentence. I’m not sure if the reason was to try to lip sync her voice a little better, but it frankly was not worth the trade off. It often just comes off feeling awkward.
Some of the characters had somewhat odd voices. Particularly some of the side characters such as the Ardainian soldiers. They became incredibly annoying very, very quickly when battling against them. They just repeat the same phrases over and over again in very over the top tones. They made me turn down the voices during battles just because of how annoying they were. Especially when there are several of them on the screen at once.
I love the writing for the Nopon. When they speak, it is in broken English generally cutting out key pieces of grammar. Then, when they refer to others with a title such as grandfather or father, they tend to alter the words. For example, they call their grandfather “grampypon” and their fathers as “dadapon”. I really enjoyed the effort that went into writing these characters. They have a unique feel to them and are fun to listen to.
There are many rare blades in this game, so I was impressed with how much each one is fleshed out. They have a lot of interactions the main cast which you will hear after battles. I enjoyed some of the random and unexpected lines of dialogue depending on the combination of characters who were being used in battles.
English Voices or Japanese Voices: Which To Listen To
On the Western version of the game, you will have the option to listen to the dialogue in either English or Japanese. Unfortunately, the Japanese version of the game does not have that option. If you plan to buy the Japanese version of this game, you will not be able to change the dialogue to English. That may not affect many people reading this review, but we do get some traffic from Japan.
I had mixed feelings on the voice acting in both languages. My first file was in English, but I have played the game for 20 hours in Japanese as well for my second file. There were some characters whose voices I preferred in English such as Tora and Azurda. In English, Azurda’s voice is that of a wise old man, but in Japanese, it is just a annoying and sounds like the actor is screeching with every word. Tora’s English voice isn’t necessarily great, but I really didn’t like his high-pitched child’s voice in Japanese.
However, other characters sounded a lot better in Japanese. For example, Rex’s voice itself was fine for the look of the character, but his actor tended to just sound like he was giving monotone speeches in most instances. This was especially bad when Rex’s character was clearly emotional and screaming based on his animations, but his voice was completely mismatched to the intensity of the scenarios. When your face is strained and you are in a state of heightened emotions, your voice should not be flat like you are speaking from a pedestal.
Another character who I found to sound better in Japanese was Pyra. As mentioned before, in English, Pyra’s voice actor had a tendency to pause awkwardly mid-sentence far too frequently, but this doesn’t happen at all in Japanese.
Differences Between Japanese and English Script
One thing to be aware of is that if you are going to turn on the Japanese voices that the English subtitles do not follow the Japanese script at all. The English subtitles are based entirely off of the English script which can at times deviate drastically from what is being said in Japanese. They are generally on the same track, but you should be aware that the words you are reading are often not quite what is being said. This is particularly true with the Nopon.
As I previously mentioned, in English the Nopon speak in broken English while twisting many words to include “pon” at the end, and they say “meh” a lot. However, in Japanese, the Nopon and Poppi simply speak normally except for added the syllable “mo” to the end of the majority of their sentences. There is actually nothing unusual about the way they talk except for ending their sentences with “mo”. As a result, the subtitles are drastically wrong for these characters.
If you can understand spoken Japanese to any degree, then this will come off as incredibly weird. I found myself wishing that Monolith Soft had gone to the effort to rewrite the subtitles to suit that Japanese script for people playing with Japanese audio simply for the sake of consistency. I understand why they did not since they had apparently not even planned on including the Japanese audio until the last minute because of the fact that the Japanese audio was added as a free DLC.
Battles Become a Cacophony of Noise
Everything mentioned above is forgivable. All of it is stuff that you will get used to while playing and you won’t really notice it. However, the only real problem with the audio comes in battles. You will at any one time have six characters involved in battles, and they all have a tendency to begin saying different things at the same time. This becomes compounded even worse when there are enemies on the screen who speak as well. It gets to the point that you can’t even understand what any of them are saying. It just becomes garbled noise after a while. It is possible to turn down the voices while in game. That helps a lot during battles, but it also turns down voices during normal interactions between the characters when not in cut scenes.
If there is anything the Xenoblade series is known for, it is having environments designed to dwarf the players through an incredible sense of scale. That is something which Xenoblade 2 achieves remarkably well. The game employs a wonderful art direction that is always an absolute joy to look at.
The concept of sentient landscapes leaves the developers of the Xenoblade games with a lot of room for interpretation. This results in some of the most unique environments that I have ever seen in a game. Because all of these titans are living creatures, the formation of their environments adhere to the contours of their forms as opposed to the standard design of landscapes simply being stretches of land with mountains and canyons here or there. As a result, the places you will explore in this game never cease to amaze in their imaginative and unique designs.
Wonderful Art Direction
Every aspect of this game feels organic and cohesive. The graphical style perfectly complements the design of the characters and the world around them. The world is completely full of realistic details while retaining a bright color scheme which perfectly complements the anime style design of the characters. There isn’t the sense that the characters do not fit into the world such as in Xenoblade X. Also, the characters have more lively animations than what was found in the first Xenoblade resulting in characters who maintain their anime design while being more believable individuals.
The character design particularly in the case of the rare blades is phenomenal. There are currently 38 rare blades to be discovered, and each one has a wonderfully unique design. I’m not going to show you any pictures specifically because half of the fun is discovering them as you play.
Pop In While Exploring
Xenoblade Chronicles X was notorious for its pop in. As you ran around the hub city, places, people and large machinery would pop in frequently and in a very obvious way. For Xenoblade 2, I found that while present it was not nearly so noticeable. It would seem that most elements of the landscape load in while they are still far enough away that you aren’t going to be paying attention to those areas, and the grass loads in just gradually enough that I only noticed it when I was actively looking for pop in.
Enemies Are Solid Masses
I do not know if this was fixed in the Western Version of Xenoblade Chronicles X, but I owned the Japanese version of the game and there was one technical concession the devs made which bothered me to no end. That was how when you would approach an enemy, you would simply walk right through them. Whenever I would completely clip through an enemy, it broke my immersion with the game. Thankfully, this is not the case in Xenoblade 2.
Environmental Shadows Are Stationary and lighting in areas is fixed.
This was something that I particularly noticed in Xenoblade X, and it appears that this has been retained for Xenoblade 2. As you can see in the above three images, regardless of the time of day shadows will remain in place. They are just sort of painted on. They only disappear at the dead of night. There don’t appear to be very many dynamic shadows in this game at all. Light cast from attacks will highlight enemies or places nearby, but do not expect to see advanced lighting in this game at all.
Speaking of which, as you exit from buildings or enter areas with altered light, the screen will change by gradients, but the quality and intensity of the light does not change gradually at all as you transition areas. Thankfully, the light does look pretty good outside as the day goes through its phases, but you still should not expect anything special regarding shadows.
Resolution Issues in Handheld Mode
Resolution issues are probably what you have heard most about this game’s visual fidelity. The game maintains a fairly solid 720p in docked mode, but as previously reported by Digital Foundry, there is a tendency for the resolution to drop even as low as sub 480p while in handheld mode.
People will tell you that you should only play this game in docked mode because of the drastic resolution drops in handheld mode, but I am here to tell you that it is perfectly playable in handheld mode with a low resolution or not. I have played the game for over 120 hours almost exclusively in handheld mode. Would a lockd 720p for handheld mode be nice? Definitely. Will I be docking points from this game’s Visuals and Performance rating because of it? Absolutely. Is this game impossible to enjoy with a low resolution? Absolutely not. Trust me, if you want to play it on the go or simply don’t have the docked option, then you will get used to it. You just stop noticing it after a while.
With that said, the worst of the resolution issues occur when you are in wide-open spaces with a lot going on. There are some titans who are a little less busy visually and somewhat more enclosed areas in the game, and it looks absolutely phenomenal in those places. Also, the cut scenes maintain a proper 720p, so you can look forward to a high quality visual experience during those. One other trick I found to making the game look better in handheld mode was to zoom the camera in as close to Rex as I could. With the camera zoomed in, the resolution looked fine even in the bigger areas.
A JRPG First and Foremost
This game is 100% a classic JRPG. It has all of the elements that you would expect; a detailed world to explore; over-the-top characters; a great story dealing with good vs. evil; a deep battle system that is turn based at its core.
One of the first things I noticed about this game was how much the camera could be manipulated. You can alter it to almost any level relative to your character, and it doesn’t auto-correct itself very much. I found it to be very enjoyable to have the camera placed right behind Rex’s back in a position similar to the camera in Resident Evil 4.
I even found that you could set the camera to a bird’s eye view or even into a mock first person view. That is achieved by simply moving the camera in all the way to Rex’s body then positioning it around his head. By doing so, the camera responded exactly as I would expect from a first person view and it looked great. However, it isn’t true first person, so Rex’s body will occasionally clip into view particularly while in battle.
You will find that there are several things to interact with on the map. First off are collection points. These may seem unimportant at first because they just provide some seemingly useless collectible items. However, these are fairly important because these items can be used to refine special kinds of stat-boosting equipment as well as occasionally being needed to complete side quests.
You might notice that your blades have a special kind of skill called Field Skills. These are used to navigate or interact with certain parts of the environment in a way very similar to HMs in the Pokemon franchise. These field skill interaction points will show you the level that a skill must be at to activate it. These can be leveled up in your blades’ affinity charts by performing certain tasks. The skill level of each blade you have currently equipped will be combined, and the skill will be activated if the total level reaches or exceeds the required number.
However, there is one problem with this. Later on in the game you will have access to dozens of blades all with different field skills. There will be numerous locations that you will begin to encounter that require very specific and high-level field skill sets to activate. Once you begin to find these at a high rate, you will end up spending a lot of time navigating the menus as you equip different blades. It can get rather cumbersome and annoying. This felt like it could have been refined much more before the game came out. It simply isn’t much fun needing to constantly manage your equipped blades just to activate these skills.
The Battle System
The battle system comes off at first as being slow. It just feels like you spend a lot of time waiting for auto-attacks to transpire so that you may use your special attacks. However, this is something which most definitely becomes resolved as you progress through the game and unlock more abilities in battle. Once you have even the ability to equip a second blade, battling becomes much faster and more immersive. There are even ways to manipulate it so that you can quickly and smoothly activate attacks even with just one character.
It also feels at first like you don’t have much control over your party members. While that is true to an extent, it won’t be long before you are able to select certain attacks from them and you will feel like you are constantly in control of your entire party. These attacks build upon each other and finish with a highly stylish final attack that is unique to each blade. It is really quite a brilliant set up after you have mastered it. Once you can utilize this, the battle system becomes extremely dynamic and cinematic.
I have written an additional article to accompany this review in which I detail everything I learned about the battle system and how to utilize it to its fullest potential. If you check that out, you will learn ways to cancel out your attacks in a very efficient manner. You can find that tutorial here.
The Game is Very Unforgiving if You Die in Battle
Some games try to help you out if you die. They might auto-save for you frequently and return you to the point just before you died. This game does the exact opposite. Should you die, you will be returned to the most recent quick travel point you had visited. On top of that, every single enemy is returned to life forcing you to rebattle all of them.
The only way to restart from just before a difficult battle is to save before entering it. Then, if you die, you must exit the game entirely then reload it. Needless to say, this is far too much trouble, and it is generally more efficient to simply battle all the enemies again. I feel the reason they did this was to force players to grind while they get back to that difficult battle. While that might help a little, I frequently found myself just wishing that I would reload right before the enemy which killed me.
Quick Travel is Very Valuable in This Game
It is a time consuming task to explore these massive titans. Because of the nature of their designs conforming to the physical features of the titans there are many places which can only be reached by traveling in one specific route. I generally have a rule in open world games such as Breath of the Wild or Skyrim that I only quick travel if I have a quest to turn in simply because there are so many ways to reach the same destination. You could literally go in a random direction and eventually end up where you wanted to be. However, the nature of the world design for Xenoblade makes it feel less like an open world and more like a grand sandbox.
The result of this was that I felt less tempted to simply run around the world to reach my destinations. The scope and design as absolutely phenomenal, but in the end quick travel simply served me better in most cases. Fortunately, this game has incredible loading times. Using fast travel requires only 8 seconds at any point. They made one concession to make this possible, though. The place you are traveling to will have all of its key facets loaded, but some buildings, people, creatures and other stage elements will pop in during the first few seconds after the game loads the new area. This may bother you if you would prefer having the entire area fully loaded when you drop in, but it doesn’t affect the actual game play negatively. I didn’t have any instances of loading into the floor or anything like that for example. I personally prefer the faster loading times simply because it means that I can get back to the game itself quicker.
The First Titan is Easy to Get Lost On
Almost everyone who plays this game ends up getting lost at one point or another. Often, your quest will end up taking you to very specific locations. However, the titans are massive and often these locations require that you take a specific path to reach. There isn’t a very useful map or guiding system to help players find out how to reach these locations.
At the top of your screen will be a compass showing the general direction and distance to your goal. However, that is how to get there as the crow flies. Most of the time, if you just try making a beeline there, you will find that you can’t actually reach to place you need to be at because you didn’t take the correct path.
There is one small and easily overlooked detail that helps a little bit, though. By the marker on your compass showing you where to go is a small arrow that will be pointing up or down. That shows you if you need to increase or decrease your elevation. I found that if you follow the marker then just look for paths leading up or down, most of the time I was able to reach the goal with no problem.
The one silver lining to this is that after the first two major titans, the areas become much easier to follow. Even on the second titan, there was only one spot that I got lost on and that one was my fault. I had no problem at all with getting lost after that.
Uninspired Side Quests
There are numerous side quests to find and do in this game. The rewards make them very worthwhile to complete. The items you get are generally unimpressive, but the experience gained is what makes them worth the trouble. Unfortunately, the side quests are just not engaging or entertaining at all. Most of them are fetch quests or quests where you need to save someone. It also felt like there was no effort whatsoever put into writing them. Your characters just express the same lines of dialogue for every side quest and these often don’t feel like they had any connection to what was being expressed by the person asking for help.
The side quests in general were one of the lowest points of this game for me. As a whole, they detracted from the overall experience. This game is at its best when you follow the main story. About the only thing the side quests are good for is allowing you to gain experience and to power up your blades.
With such a deep story, a huge world to explore and over 100 hours of gameplay, the price tag of $60 is completely justified for the base game. There is enough content here that you will not run out of stuff to do, and the game is easily replayable for a second time. Currently, there is not a new game+ feature even though one is rumored to be in the works, but it is great to start the game over again because there are so many features in this game that you may miss many of them your first time through.
I must dock the game a few points on its value simply because we don’t know at this point just how extensive the DLC will be. $30 is a lot to ask for DLC, and its value will be riding on just how worthwhile the story element of the DLC is. We know that the DLC will include some new side quests, rare blades and a challenge mode, but the story pack will be the true determining factor regarding the value of the DLC.
Amazing and Emotional Story
Deep and Cinematic Battle System
Fantastic Art Design
Wonderful Cast of Characters
Resolution Drops Fairly Low In Handheld Mode
Bland Side Quests