Xenoblade Chronicles X – Sorta Review
I’ve been pondering for quite a while what to actually say about this game. It’s been two months since I finished it.
Xenoblade Chronicles X devoured nearly four weeks of my life. The in-game playtime counter sits at 350+ hours. How do I collect my thoughts on the game that essentially swallowed all of January for me?
Let’s start with the succinct version: This game is great. It has some issues with a clunky interface and confusing menus, and honestly a myriad of other little niggling things, but in spite of all of that, because of all the things it gets right, I had an amazing time.
I will do my best to avoid big spoilers, but I do have to mention some things that happen in order to explain my thoughts on why I love the game so much. So if you have a Wii U and want to go in blind, just get the game. I fully believe it’s one of the Wii U’s must-have titles.
With that out of the way, here’s the plot set-up: When two alien forces clash above Earth’s orbit, the planet is destroyed in the process. Having had advanced warning of this conflict drawing near, the various nations of Earth had come together to build a fleet of Ark ships to set out into space in search of new homes to ensure the human race lives on. Unfortunately they just barely manage to get the ships ready by the time the aliens arrive, and have to launch while the battle is raging. A lot of the Ark ships don’t make it.
One of the ones that escape is the White Whale, launched out of Los Angeles. Two years of travel pass, with no suitable planet to land on being discovered. Suddenly the White Whale is under attack, as one of the alien factions has caught up to them, intent on wiping out any trace of humanity. The battle quickly goes bad for the White Whale, and they find themselves crash-landing on a planet they weren’t even aware was there before the battle. The ship breaks apart during atmospheric entry due to the damage it suffered, and the only piece that survives largely intact is the population pod, essentially a small city meant to give them a starting point on whatever new planet they settled on.
It crash-lands into the ground, but thanks to the foresight of equipping the pod with dampening gel no further major damage is incurred. And so life in New Los Angeles gets off to a rocky start on the alien planet Mira, for what might be the very last survivors of the human race.
You finally get into the game a few months later, as Elma discovers your lifepod and revives you from hibernation. Elma is one of the main characters of the game, and will be a constant companion through the main story missions. The main task is: recover any salvageable bits of the White Whale, especially the Lifehold Core, before the enemy finds them.
Though before that you get to create your character! Since the previous Xenoblade Chronicles had established characters, I really wasn’t expecting such an in-depth character creator. I must have spent somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes before I finally arrived at this:
To be honest, the game has about as much in common with the previous Xenoblade Chronicles as your average Final Fantasy game has with any other Final Fantasy game. Maybe even less. The general mechanics for combat, interaction, and moving around are the same, but otherwise it’s a completely different setting, different characters, unrelated story, etc. I do hope this one gets a direct sequel though, because so many mysteries were left unsolved.
In terms of how it plays, it’s an open-world RPG. Like if Skyrim was set on an alien planet, and let you have a four-person party. And gave you mechs that turns into vehicles. And later installed flight modules. Unfortunately the mechs do not transform into aircraft, they just get big jet-packs. More on those later.
As for the combat, I think the closest analogy would be a more action-focused MMORPG. The battles are real-time, you can see the enemies wandering around ( no random encounters ), and you select abilities that all have cooldowns. The abilities are divided into four rough categories. Melee attacks, ranged attacks, debuffs, and buffs/healing. Each character carries both a ranged weapon and a melee weapon, the type of which depends on their class. As they level up, they get more abilities to choose from to put on the action bar, and those can also be levelled up with Action Points. Don’t worry, the game eases you into it.
The abilities are tied to one of your weapons, and as you have that weapon equipped, the abilities tied to that weapon will charge up, and if they charge fully before you use them, they get some bonus effect. There’s also the matter of affinity combos. Occasionally one of your team-mates will call for you to use an ability from one of the four categories, which will make all relevant abilities you have off cooldown light up for a short while, and if you hit one of them in that time you will use a boosted version of that ability, and gain a bit of affinity score with that character.
I might just be making you more confused now. I basically just figured it out slowly as I went along, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There will always be some easy enemies to practice on if you feel the need. I do want to briefly mention that while combat on foot and combat in skells ( the game’s term for the mechs, stemming from exo-skell-eton ) is essentially the same mechanically, skell combat is much more about brute force, while foot combat is more about management. There’s not a lot of healing abilities for a skell, for instance.
While all of your party members have set classes that you cannot change, you are free to change your own class. You do have to level up your base class to rank 10 before you can start picking specialisations, and the same goes for unlocking further classes. Once I had maxed out one branch on the class tree, I tended to switch over to levelling a different one, and then switch back to my favourite one for the really serious fights.
There is a difference between character level and class rank though. Max character level is 60, while classes have a max rank of 10 for the protagonist, and 20 for other party members ( since their class is fixed, I suppose ). Getting new class ranks unlocks new abilities and perks, while character level just makes you stronger and lets you equip better gear. Sorry, I’m making things sound complicated again.
The game allows for so much customisation, which is part of why I got so absorbed. There’s loads of weapons and clothes with different looks, you can pick colours and load-outs for your skells, you can re-paint and re-style your room in the barracks, you can set cosmetic gear to be different from your equipped gear, and more. I only wish it was possible to save more than one set of cosmetic gear for rapid switching.
Another big part of the appeal is just that Mira feels like such an awesome place to explore. Even on foot your character can just sprint endlessly and jump quite high, so you can always try to get up to places it might not look like you’re supposed to. You can always try to get to anywhere you can see. The only thing potentially stopping you is if some high-level monsters are in the area, and even then it might be possible to get around them. Not every creature you see will be automatically hostile towards you, so you can sometimes just walk into an area filled with high-level creatures and they won’t even look at you.
The big draw of Mira for me is that it genuinely feels like an alien world, with creatures very unlike what we’d see here on Earth. It really stokes the explorer in me. I think I counted at least four different species of sky whale!
This expands greatly when you get your skell. Even before it can fly, it can jump really high. At which point my question when seeing mountains and tall structures and such was “can I climb this?” Often the answer was yes.
In a way, getting the flight module was almost a little disappointing, since that took all the challenge out of getting around.
When I first got the skell, I spent like an hour just driving around, enjoying the speed and sense of freedom. I might have also spent like 5 minutes just transforming the skells back and forth between vehicle and mech mode, because I thought the animations looked cool. You can quick-transform if you’re moving when you hit the transform button, but if you’re standing still, you get to see the whole animation play out.
The skells can also look vastly different depending on what weapons you mount on them. I actually thought it really neat how the weapons were always visible, and seeing how they were arranged when they became vehicles. Like the first time I tried mounting a super-weapon.
Unfortunately it was just a low-level prototype I’d been given, so it wasn’t actually useful at the time, but it looked cool.
I got even more in love with the game once we started rescuing various alien races and inviting them to come with us in New LA. A lot of bad things were happening on Mira courtesy of our enemies the Ganglion, and the story can quite dark at times, so finding other alien races to befriend just gave the whole thing a positive twist for me. Working out our differences and figuring out how to live together in spite of our differences in culture and biology, and discovering new and exciting ways we can benefit from our different skillsets and technologies, and cooperate for a brighter future… I just loved all of that.
But there was one alien in particular I did not like. In the least. Tatsu. Fucking Tatsu. The first friendly ( for lack of a better term ) alien you encounter/rescue, and he becomes one of the main story characters. He is so fucking annoying and useless, oh my gods. Who at Monolith Soft thought he was a good idea? Who? It’s just… mind-boggling. We have to put up with this little fucker, the least cute and most annoying Nopon on the entire planet, who keeps making awful comments and bad decisions. I would have traded him for any other alien to act as our little “sidekick”. Preferably a Ma-non, but any other Nopon would do as well. I wish Lin had actually cooked the little asshole.
I mean, there are other aliens I really wanted dead or gone, but they were among the villains, not among our allies.
There is one more thing I want to bring up before I wrap things up. I was not much of a fan of the soundtrack overall, but there were a couple of tracks that really stood out to me. For one, there’s Don’t Worry, the theme that plays whenever you’re flying around with your skell. A nice, uplifting track. The other is the track that plays whenever you battle a Tyrant. Tyrants are basically XCX‘s version of elite mobs: beefed up versions of regular enemies that often have one or more extra abilities. Some of them have a unique look, and some a very high level ( I’ve seen up to level 97 ). That track is named Uncontrollable, and I listen to it a lot.
And that’s Xenoblade Chronicles X. I do still have some post-main-story stuff I can do, and I might get around to that after clearing out other stuff I want to do. Mira is a very curious world, and I want to try to uncover more of its mysteries. The main story wrapped up well in terms of what it was doing, but a lot of questions regarding the nature of Mira have been left hanging, possibly for a sequel, which I truly hope they get to make. Just… get rid of Tatsu, please. And try to improve the UI.