Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Score

Pros

  • Huge and beautiful world
  • Deep yet accessible combat
  • Plenty of stuff to do
  • Nia is bloody lush
  • Amazing soundtrack

Cons

  • Easy to be overwhelmed in the opening hours
  • Inconsistent localisation
  • Performance problems in certain areas

Key Features

  • Review Price: £39.99
  • Developer: Monolith Soft
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Genre: JRPG

Available exclusively on Nintendo Switch on December 1

The Nintendo Switch has had a fantastic opening year. In less than 12 months we’ve seen several potential masterpieces grace the system, including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. This streak is almost unimaginable, showing a company that’s back on form and ready to make gaming history.

Now, it’s closing the year with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a magnificent JRPG in terms of scope and ambition. But does it live up to its beloved predecessors? We’re happy to report that it does – but not without a blemish or two.

Pre-order Xenoblade Chronicles 2 from Amazon UK

Alrest is a world made up of multiple flying creatures known as Titans. These beasts are so gargantuan that people call them home, establishing empires atop the backs of monsters above the clouds.

The world of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is beautiful, showcasing a range of artistic influences ranging from Ghost in the Shell to Studio Ghibli. It’s a smorgasbord of anime brilliance that really shines on the Switch. Aside from a few performance issues, it works competently in both portable and docked mode.

Rex is a young scavenger who calls Alrest home, making a living by trading scrap with the Argentum Trade Guild from the sea below the clouds. He’s an impressionable little scamp, so when a mercenary group comes calling with a generous offer, he can’t help but accept.

After being dragged upon a sunken ship he comes across Pyra, an ancient living weapon known as the Aegis. Once capable of destroying the entire world, superpowers across Alrest are determined to hunt her down before a similar cataclysm occurs. 

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Rex and Pyra have other ideas, seeking out a mythical land known as Elysium that’s said to exist within The World Tree, a monolithic structure that looms over the entirety of Alrest.

Xenoblade tells a compelling tale with a great cast of characters, but seldom tries anything wholly original in the narrative department. Fortunately, its charming cast is a treat, with my personal favourite being Nia, a catgirl with a sensational Welsh accent. She wouldn’t sound out of place in Gavin and Stacey, and steals nearly every scene in which she’s in.

Nia also happens to be a Driver, a warrior capable of summoning Blades through the use of Core Crystals. Blades are living things, emotions and all, but are bound to their Drivers until the very last breath. Once death greets them they can be resurrected, but their memories will be lost forever.

This element of morality is an interesting concept, and is explored to some degree in Xenoblade with surprising finesse. Blades are the lifeblood of Alrest, existing alongside humanity as objects considered expendable. It’s like Blade Runner eloped with Final Fantasy, using familiar tropes to its advantage.

Beyond this and the usual saving-the-world malarkey, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a relatively pedestrian JRPG. However, considering how much filler past titles had to contend with, this is far from a bad thing. The whole affair is exceptionally paced, complimented by a forgiving fast-travel system that allowed me to tackle side-quests and other goodies almost whenever I liked. No more repeating boss battles over and over, with no means of escape!

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The majority of my time in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was spent exploring the uncompromising world of Alrest, plus clobbering any monsters brave enough to start something. Much like the story, combat revolves around Drivers and Blades working together to support each-other. Pairing together the right combo with special abilities and buffs is crucial to success.

There’s a rhythmic element too, as performing arts right after auto-attacks can net you extra damage and loot! It’s a shame that Monolith Soft doesn’t do the greatest job of explaining its systems in the opening hours.

Mechanics essential to performing combos that unlock further abilities in the Affinity System –Xenoblade’s equivalent of a skill tree – are brushed aside in small text boxes that are easy to forget. There’s also no noticeable way to revisit these tutorials in-game, thanks to a user interface that’s shockingly barebones. I get the impression that Monolith Soft hoped to remedy bloated criticisms from past efforts, but swerved a little too far in the opposite direction.

It took almost 20 hours of playtime to finally find my footing among Xenoblade Chronicle 2’s repertoire of systems. The process of awakening rare Blades required me to harvest specific materials, tackle side-quests and upgrade existing relationships. It’s a fun, satisfying system that feels wonderful, but some players may be disheartened by how long it takes for things to truly come alive.

After 40 hours I’m still itching to revisit past locations and push even further. There’s so much here, and hardened JRPG fans will love finding every single Blade there is. 

If you’re not looking to unlock rare goodies and are content with the main cast, Xenoblade doesn’t really punish you for that. Aside from a few troubling boss battles, fighting in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 isn’t too difficult – at least as far as the main story is concerned.

Experience can be earned through so many ventures that my party was always growing stronger, surpassing or at least matching each new threat. Of course, there are still goliaths that can one-shot you into oblivion.

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The main quest is daunting in itself, but that’s only part of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Each major settlement has its own select set of quests that can be tackled yourself or with an outsourced mercenary group – Blades that can be sent out via a dedicated menu.

The bond between characters can be enhanced through heart-to-heart encounters. These are neat skits scattered across the world that expand on backstories or simply throw Rex and friends into silly situations. It’s an adorable pleasure, and a welcome reward for exploration.

All of these are neatly written excursions that flesh out the world of Alrest, yet also serve to highlight an inconsistent localisation effort with which I maintain a love/hate relationship.

Dialogue and voice-acting is a mixed bag, maintaining the quirky cheese of past titles but also failing to convey a sense of drama I could take seriously. Rex is particularly bad, never conveying emotion without feeling like he’s clumsily reading off a script. Pyra, Nia and other party members fare much better, owning monologues with ease when the situation calls for it.

It’s difficult to love but even harder to hate, although purists can remedy this with the free Japanese voice pack coming at launch.

Verdict

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is an excellent JRPG with a truly extravagant open world begging to be explored. Its in-depth battle system and impressively paced narrative help to deliver a smooth experience, despite its massive run-time.

Pre-order Xenoblade Chronicles 2 from Amazon UK

The Nintendo Switch has yet another jewel in its exclusive library, cementing itself as a system never to be underestimated. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Alrest is calling.

Score

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