Again with the Xenoblades

Many, many years ago, there was a little-know game released on the Wii. That game was called Xenoblade. It released in both Japan and Europe to little fanfare, but really got noticed because Nintendo of America decided to pass on it until years later they finally caved to the pressure of a bunch of nerds on the internet and the slightly-renamed Xenoblade Chronicles became a pretty solid hit in North America. Personally, I loved the game. Maybe not one of my all-time favourites, but I liked it enough to buy the New 3DS port that came out a few years after.

Then in 2015, Xenoblade Chronicles X was released. It fine-tuned the combat system from the first game, cut down the amount of story (while retaining the completely insane twists), and gave you one massive, seamless world to explore. Most importantly, not only did it let you go wherever you wanted whenever you wanted, it let you do that while piloting giant flying mechs. Also, those giant flying mechs could be painted to look like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Basically what I’m saying here is that XCX is absolutely one of my favourite video games. But a lot of other people didn’t like it because it wasn’t focused on story. Weirdos. Go figure.

Despite having truly adored the first two games, I felt a sense of unease about Xenoblade Chronicles 2. As Nintendo revealed more and more about the game, it became clear that they were dialing back all the things that I felt made XCX more enjoyable than the original game. It was going to be more story-driven; the world would be divided between distinct areas again; no more flying mechs! As much as I liked XC1, there was no question that I liked XCX’s direction for the Xenoblade series a heck of a lot more.

But now XC2 has been out for two weeks, and I almost literally cannot stop playing it (I took a break to play a few hours of Yooka-Laylee). So I guess everything turned out for the best!

The thing about Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is that while it lost a lot of what I enjoyed about XCX, it does an amazing job of improving everything that was great about XC1. The combat system is significantly better, character customization is incredibly deep, the environments are a joy to explore, and the graphics are just… holy cow does this world ever look amazing! So yes, while I was wary of the game at first, it has absolutely won me over and carved out a place in my heart.

I want to say that the story is better too, and it was pretty good up until Chapter 4 when it decided to crank the “anime tropes” dial up to eleven.

XC2 is an incredibly complicated game, layered with systems upon systems that will turn your brain to mush if you try to figure them all out at once. Thankfully, the game does a really nice job of integrating features in slowly, so that you have time to learn about any given feature before the next one becomes a factor. And despite the overwhelming complexity, it all operates surprisingly smoothly. All the different combat systems flow together so nicely. I especially like how the Town Development system rewards you with not only better buying/selling prices, but fun little permanent character upgrades. It’s a very enticing reward for the low, low price of completing quests and talking to townsfolk. Much more satisfying than a handful of gold or some garbage item that you’d turn around and sell right away (though they still give those out as well).

As far as I can tell, one of the most controversial parts of XC2 so far is how you go about acquiring Blades. These are essentially your weapons, though they are personified with their own skills, element, and… weapon. You create new Blades by using core crystals, which come in common and rare varieties. Regardless of which kind you use, you’ll most often be getting generic robot-looking Common Blades who have generic personalities and little in the way of abilities. What you really want are the Rare Blades, each one uniquely designed and bursting with character and helpful skills. Sadly, they are actually very rare, and you might burn through dozens of crystals before you get one. Completionists hate the random aspect of it, but I actually quite like the idea that it makes every game somewhat unique. Almost like Pokémon, although they won’t change your battle strategy quite that much. The only truly frustrating part is when you need a specific skill but you can’t roll a Blade that knows it to save your life.

I have to say that there is one major (non mech-related) flaw with the game though: you can no longer play dress-up with your characters. LAME. What is the point of anything, if I can’t have Rex running around in boxer shorts? Both previous games have tons of clothing/armor options. The latest Zelda, Mario, and Pokémon games all give your characters massive wardrobes. Why did it get cut here?

Anyway, I am maybe halfway through the main plot of this massive game, and I can’t wait to spend every minute of my free time for the next few weeks really digging deep into it. Will I feel quite as positive about it by the end? Or will it lose its lustre two-thirds of the way through like many RPGs? Most importantly, will the story up the ante for stupidly wonderful/wonderfully stupid story twists? That’s what I really want to know. It’s like I always say: the dumber the better!


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