Years in the making, Xenoblade Chronicles X finally lands on the Nintendo Wii U console. With a visually stunning backdrop and battle mechanics that permeate the surroundings so beautifully, the JRPG is a timeless classic made for franchise fans.
Developed by the renowned Japanese company Monolith Soft and directed by Tetsuya Takahashi, Xenoblade Chronicles X is an intensely enjoyable but highly complex action RPG. Pitched as the spiritual successor to Xenoblade Chronicles for Wii and New Nintendo 3DS, players will be placed in the year 2054 on planet Mira to discover and explore its six distinct locations. Following the battle between two alien races that caused Earth’s destruction, American civilians evacuated on to the interstellar ark known as the White Whale. Yet due to an intergalactic battle with the alien race, the White Whale’s doom is sealed and crashes, spreading debris far and wide over Mira. In the six months after, Earth’s evacuees establish New Los Angeles, living and breathing alongside the planet’s monsters – or indigens as they are more widely known – and the Nopon race.
As a complete beginner to the franchise, Xenoblade Chronicles X is somewhat difficult to get to grips with. The JRPG feels similar to a beautiful blend of Capcom’s Monster Hunter series and James Cameron’s Academy award-winning Avatar, with its focus on arts and skills for battle mechanics than traditional button-pressing play. The sheer size and scope of X’s gameplay is absolutely staggering, perhaps even intimidating, for newcomers and fans alike that it’s easy to lose all sense of time and your bearings when in Mira. While there are numerous moments to be lost for words when looking over at the highly detailed and huge monsters that roam the planet, Xenoblade Chronicles X is almost like wading through mud.
From running through Primordia, Noctilum and Oblivia in the beginning, clawing your way through the amount of customisation and upgrade menus available, to surveying the land through data probe placement, it’s more than a little daunting. Simply put, both new and veteran players will need to dip in to the game’s instruction manual repeatedly to learn its complexities and incredible depth. And that’s not to say X is off-putting for those new to the series, in fact, it’s far from it. It just requires patience, effort, and a willingness to face niggling frustrations due to its lack of comprehensive explanations.
First and foremost, Xenoblade Chronicles X focuses on your customisable avatar and two other main characters, Elma and Lin, alongside an adorable dancing Nopon named Tatsu. Aside from slight adjustments to the game’s avatar customisation, including the removal of a breast slider from the Western version, players will find plenty of opportunity to stylise a character to their liking. Though, pre-made avatar faces in a game so intrinsically detailed will no doubt be a sore spot to fans of the series. Once your avatar is complete, players will be launched into the wonderfully immersive storyline and follow commander Elma to NLA in a three-chapter jaunt in learning the game’s basics.
However, if you want to progress through X’s main storyline quickly, you’ll be in for a sharp surprise. All story chapters require players to hit certain levels, location survey rates and complete affinity quests before embarking on the next mission. While this is a fantastic way to explore Mira, as well as gain closer connections to the game’s well-voiced and three-dimensional characters, it’s also a little mundane. Tirelessly running through segments of the GamePad’s map to install the next data probe on a Frontier Nav site – primarily to increase the location’s survey rate and add to your miranium and revenue levels – can be a real chore.
After 28 hours of traversing the landscape on foot, seamless as it is with the map’s grateful fast travel mechanic, I’ve still yet to score my Skell, which is arguably the most intoxicating part of the game and one that I unfortunately cannot comment on. Those gigantic hulking masses of metal taunt players with every step you take in NLA, but it really is just a matter of time until we can get our hands on one and revel between the metallic sheets to take on bigger monsters and travel greater distances. For now, I can only imagine the satisfaction of controlling a skell will be akin to the smell of a home-cooked Sunday roast on a winter’s day; utterly to die for.
As expected in a traditional RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles X displays an extensive levelling and upgrade system to really get your teeth into. Once you’ve passed the game’s beginning chapters, you can then select a weapon class, ranging in various offensive and defensive strategies, and choose from up to eight divisions. These eight divisions play a specific part in X’s online gameplay as well, giving player’s the chance to work towards a common goal in squad missions and division spoils, alongside boosting daily rankings and providing other in-game rewards. There’s a strong sense of community in X with its online missions, yet it’s never intrusive, allowing players to experience the storyline at their own pace.
Working towards increasing your BLADE level – the game’s acronym for Builders of the Legacy After the Destruction of Earth – is one of your main goals in X. Depending on which division you choose, performing certain in-game actions will increase your BLADE level, which then unlocks new exploration abilities out in the field by improving your mechanical, archaeological and biological skills. With the game focusing heavily on exploration, you’ll find music is a key part of X’s feel. Luckily, the mix of rock, rap and ballad tones are rich and invigorating for play, though they may turn a little stale after 30 plus hours.
Keeping to X’s rhythm is the fantastic array of weapons, gear, art palettes and skill sets on offer. Battling against huge indigens is as wonderful as that delicious salty or sweet snack you’ve hidden in your desk drawer, forgotten about, and then found a week later. It’s an ultimate score, especially when there are so many varieties to battle. By using your art palette at the bottom of the game screen, you can unleash superb attacks that range from a flame whip to a lightning burst shot. With stat buff and debuffs to use, players can team up to slay an enemy with strategy in mind. And while skills can be equipped, upgraded, and take effect automatically, arts need a little more love. Reaching new class ranks will unlock new arts and are easily switched around in the upgrade menu. Complex, perhaps, but it’s a system RPG fans will adore.
With affinity missions and side quests seen as another strand to X’s core gameplay, there’s plenty of character development to witness. One of the many side mission highlights players will experience is the moment Tatsu – the friendly, jiggling Nopon – is reunited with his mother. It’s a touching and adorable sequence; one that is echoed throughout Mira and helps to keep the game electric and in motion, even through its level grinding parts. Other missions can be found in NLA’s administrative hub and are categorised into social, gathering and bounty quests – once accepted they will be listed under the missions tab on your start screen.
Sadly, one of Xenoblade Chronicles X’s main flaws resides with its mission explanations. Gathering quests can be nigh on impossible if you’re not clued up on the game’s enemies, surroundings and item drops. Partaking in fruitless searching in an enormous map can be terribly frustrating, particularly if it’s part of an affinity quest and you’re locked into it – just like storyline mode. It’s in these moments, when you are running or swimming through barren wastelands with nothing but indigens and scenic plants at your side, that the game presents its difficulties. Couple that with storyline side quests that aren’t marked on your GamePad map screen and are only labelled with question marks within the on-screen mini map, it can really test your patience.
But we must give credit where credit is due as Monolith Soft has utilised the GamePad superbly. Using this as your in-game communication device, you can fast travel, change data probes, and switch fluidly from one map screen to another with a choice of segment or terrain view. However, X is enjoyed the most on a HD TV screen, a Wii U Pro Controller for longer play sessions and the GamePad by your side. Since the game relies heavily on exploration and map usage, off-TV play is a firm no-go zone. Besides, X’s stunning visuals were meant for HD screens.
Having merely scratched the surface of Xenoblade Chronicles X and its world, the sheer scale of gameplay is enough to satiate any franchise fans’ appetite. And while the game has sore spots, its visual and storytelling depth will keep you playing for days, weeks and months on end.
8 / 10
*Please bear in mind that this review and its score may change overtime due to the size of the game.