Monday, January 22, 2018

Xenoblade 2 - Review


The Xenoblade series has a long and interesting history. Created by a man named Tetsuya Takahashi, the game's roots can actually be traced all the way back to Square (now Square-Enix), and Final Fantasy VII. Back then Takahashi had pitched an idea to Square, but rather than becoming a part of the Final Fantasy series, it was allowed to continue on as a game of it's own. This game became known as Xenogears, and it quickly gained a cult following. Still to this day it's considered one of the greatest PS1 JRPGs by many; however, rather than getting a sequel like most popular games, the series "continued on" in a unique way.

Rather than sticking with Square-Enix, Takahashi eventually left the company and formed Monolith Soft. Using ideas and themes originally created for Xenogears, the company went on to team up with Namco to develop the Xenosaga series, and once again found themselves with a cult classic on their hands. While the series itself was completed with three games, characters and ideas found in it continued to live on. Characters such as KOS-MOS became iconic, and would continue appearing in Monolith Soft games for years (with Namco's permission of course). However, Monolith did not stick with Namco in the long run, and eventually became a part of Nintendo.

Now under Nintendo, the game went on to develop multiple games, but their biggest stand out title was none other than their 3rd "Xeno" series -- a game called Xenoblade Chronicles. Originally under a different title, the game was given the Xeno name in honor of Takahashi's past work, and once again the game continued in a similar way. Using ideas and themes from their previous two series, Xenoblade was the Wii RPG that pushed the system to it's limits, and  set the stages for the future. It was a game that released to critical success in Japan, but sadly Nintendo refused to release it in the US (despite having an English translation that was released in the EU). It actually wasn't until fan projects such as Operation Rainfall came around that Nintendo really considered a US release, and when it finally happened copies of the game were limited, and it was sold at GameStop only. It was sadly a lesser known game, with a small release, and because of that only a handful of people were able to get a copy. Even with GameStop's second print the game was quite rare, and expensive. That is, until things finally changed.

With the release of the Wii U, Nintendo finally started pushing Xenoblade as one of their major IPs. A follow up titled "Xenoblade Chronicles X" (Cross) was released world wide for their struggling console, Shulk (the main character of the original) was added to the new Super Smash Bros game, the original release was put up on the Wii U eShop, and a port was released on the "New" 3DS. Around this time the series began gaining more attention in the US, the fan base began to grow, and Nintendo gave the go ahead for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to be developed for their upcoming Nintendo Switch. Which takes us to today.

While Xenoblade Chronicles X was sort of a "spiritual successor" that changed things up, and had more of a focus on a user created avatar and the online aspects, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is in fact the full on follow up to the original. It strips away the online to focus on a fully fleshed out single player story, it brings back a unique main character, and even returns to a similar setting to what we saw in 1. In short, it's the game Xenoblade fans have been waiting for. Or is it? And for the newcomers, is this a game worth checking out? Well that's what I'm hoping to answer for you today! This is my full review of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on the Nintendo Switch.

The Story of Titans:

Alrest, a world filled with Titans. Above a massive sea of clouds lies a world where humanity builds it's life on the backs of giants. These giants take many different animal like forms, and are large enough to hold entire cities and their populations. Each Titan, as they are called, swims around the Cloud Sea, and go about their life without a care in the world. However, things aren't as peaceful as they seem. As Titans are living beings, they too have a life span, and that is the cause of great alarm for the humans living on their backs. If a Titan were to die, their body falls into the Cloud Sea, and all those living on them will go with them. With more and more Titans dying all the time, humanity is running out of places to live, and thus some look to legends of the past as a way to save themselves. "Elysium." That is the name of a legendary land that is said to be the home of the world's creator. Legends have it that it is located at the top of the giant "World Tree" located in the center of the Cloud Sea.


The story itself revolves around a young boy by the name of Rex. Rex lives on the back of a smaller Titan, and works as a salvager diving into the Cloud Sea looking for treasures. Early on in the story, Rex accepts a job that not only changes his life forever, but also leads him on an adventure of legends. After forming a pact with a "Blade" known as Pyra, Rex makes a promise with her to take her to Elysium, and sets out on a grand adventure. Of course, things aren't quite as simple as they seem...

The Backs of Titans:

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a large scale open world RPG. Although the game world is limited to the backs of each Titan you visit, these Titans are NOT small by any means. These creatures are huge, and as a result the game world itself is just as big. Rather than taking place in linear hallways, or on world maps like in most JRPGs, Xenoblade allows you to go just about anywhere you can see, and just about whenever you want. If you see a mountain in the distance, you can run to it. If you see a lake below, you can swim in it. The game's world is all about freedom, and because of that it is packed full of things to explore. Of course this is similar to what was seen in the previous two games as well, but this time things are a bit different.


While Xenoblade 1's world, which was set on the back of a giant, had to be broken up between areas and loading screens, Xenoblade 2 is completely seamless like in Xenoblade X. While you do have to warp to different Titans (as they are beasts of their own), there is nothing to break up towns, caves, dungeons, or the many open field areas along the way. Wild animals and monsters also roam the world, and sometimes things will change based on the weather, or time of day. Different creatures may be out during the night, and during the Cloud Sea's high tide some different areas may be accessible. All of this helps the world feel more alive, and encourages you to explore and to try and reach areas you might've thought were inaccessible. Mix in the fact that you can change the time of day with the press of a button, and you have a world that you have complete control over, without having to spend hours waiting. Of course all of this also applies to the towns and towns people as well, as different NPCs may walk the streets during the day, while at night many of them will be sleeping. Although Xenoblade 1 also used a similar system, thankfully Xenoblade 2 simplified it, and made it easier to find the NPCs by keeping them isolated to specific areas.

Towns and Development:

Unlike Xenoblade 1 (which only had a handful of towns) and Xenoblade X (which only had a single city) Xenoblade 2 puts a huge focus on it's towns and cities. This time around each town area is quite massive, and they are filled with NPCs and shops. While some of these NPCs are simply there to talk to and learn more about the world from, others will offer side quests, and some will offer special mercenary missions. While it may not seem like much at first, interacting with these NPCs, completing side quests and side stories, and even buying from the shops will help the towns grow. As towns grow and advance, different useful items will appear in the shops, and eventually you'll even gain the ability to "buy" the stores themselves. Doing so unlocks special perks and abilities for Rex and his friends, and they become quite useful. Developing towns in this way will also unlock more side quests and missions later on down the line, and doing these will really help you down the line. It's a unique system, and something that'll be working in the background as you play through normally.

Blades and the Battle System:

Just like the previous two, X2 plays out completely in real time, with monsters and enemies walking around the world. Some will attack you on sight, others will only attack you if you attack them (or their friends) first, and others will be completely over powered and simply destroy you whenever they feel like it. This set up makes you consider when you should fight, and when you should run, and often you'll find yourself taking indirect paths to reach your destination. Once you get into a fight however, things are a bit different from what fans may be used to.

In the world of Xenoblade 2, a thing called a "Blade" exists. While Pyra is the first Blade Rex himself gains the use of, she is not the only blade in the game. In fact, there are hundreds! By killing enemies, opening chests, and completing quests you can obtain an object called a "Core Crystal." These crystals are basically loot boxes, and opening them will give you a random Blade character. These Blades can then be matched up with the human who opened their crystal, and will become their weapon. Although blades themselves do not fight, their weapon type is summoned by the human, and their skills go along with them. For example, Pyra is a fire based sword user, which will cause Rex to use a sword when she's set as the "main" Blade. On the right side of the screen four hot key attacks appear (each set to the four face buttons), and they can be used once their bars have been filled up. These attack "bars" are filled up by your character's auto attack landing a hit on the enemy, but the process can be sped up. While Rex, and other party members, will have their own set auto attack patterns, you do have some control over it.


Rather than simply waiting for a full auto attack combo (which is slower), simply tapping the analog stick will cancel the auto attack and start over from hit one. The first hit is much faster (and almost instant), and can be used to quickly fill your attack bars to max to use your skills. However, doing this does have a trade off, as the following hits in a combo do in fact do more damage. Auto attack hit 2 does more damage than 1, and hit 3 does more damage than 2. In short, waiting for the full combo does do a lot more damage, but using the first hit can build your attack skills fast. Which also come into play with the combos.

Attack skills in X2 are similar to in the past, as some of the skills depend on the position you are standing in to be more effective, but attack canceling also plays a role in it. If you use an attack skill the moment your auto attack lands, the following hit will greatly boost the special bar for your Blade, and allow you to pull off their special much sooner. These specials are massive elemental attacks chained to the "A" button, and can be used to create Blade combos. They come in four different stages, depending on how much you let your special bar charge up, and can be a life saver in battle.

As Blades come with different weapon types and elements, the game allows you to equip up to three on a single character at any time, and it encourages you to try to use as many elements as possible. When a Blade uses it's special attack of any level, it'll actually leave that elemental effect on whatever it hit. For example Pyra will hit an enemy with a fire based special, and leave it in a "fire" state. At the top right of the screen a list of special attacks will appear, and it'll show you how to do them by showing the element needed. This is the Blade Combo system. So, while Pyra will start the combo by inflicting an enemy with fire, the Blade Combo list may show that the "wind" element is needed to do a volcanic tornado attack. Simply switch to a Blade with wind, build up it's special to the required level, and use it. Although there are MANY possible Blade combos, the game always tells you how to do them, so thankfully you don't have to worry about learning them. You can also command your party members to use their specials by hitting the L and R buttons, and a message will pop up on screen to tell you exactly what using their special will do. Again, it's a simple system that only sounds more complex than it really is. (And once again it's great for doing massive damage.)

Blade Upgrades, Skills, Stories, and More:

While Blades are technically equipment, they are also characters of their own. Although the game has many "generic" Blades for you to use, there are also unique ones. These characters sometimes come along from the main story, but many of them are drawn from Core Crystals just like the random common ones. This means these characters are in fact rare, and can take some time to get if you're not lucky. On top of that, you do have to choose which character will open the Core Crystal as well. If Rex opens a Core Crystal, it'll be bound to him, and can only be used by him. Of course you can find rare items that allow you to pass one Blade over to another character, but in general it's best to equally distribute Blades between all humans.

Once you have Blades (rare or non rare) on your characters, then you instantly gain access to all of their features. Each blade has an equipment slot where you can equip them with different weapons (which can be bought in stores or found), and they also have two accessory slots just as human characters do. Blade accessories have to be upgraded to use however, but thankfully this is a simple process. Simply feed the accessory the required amount of material (which can be gathered, dropped by enemies, etc), and it unlocks for use. These accessories come in a wide verity, and can both provide extra status boosts, or even give your Blades extra abilities.


Besides using weapons and accessories to upgrade your Blade, each also has a full affinity chart to work through. These charts are semi-spider webbed in shape, and have different nodes for you to unlock. Each node is either a stat boost or skill to unlock, and they each have some sort of requirement. For example, one character might learn a gathering mastery ability that makes it so you gather more items, and the requirement to unlock it might be to gather ten times. Simply pick up ten items, and that skill will be unlocked (assuming you have the Blade equip that is). Of course some skills require battles as well, while others may only unlock after finishing specific quests. Often these quests are unique Blade character quests, and they'll provide you with more story as you work through them. Of course human characters have their own affinity charts as well, but their skills are simply unlocked by spending skill points on them.

Mercenary Missions:

After you have your Blades ready and have started to develop towns, a mercenary system comes into play. These Blade focused missions are unlocked as you develop towns, but some of them are unlocked by talking to NPCs. Once these missions are unlocked, you're free to take them on as you see fit.

The basics of a Mercenary Mission are as follows. You first select a town/area you want to undertake a mission in, you select a mission from the list, and then you're asked to select Blades that meet the requirements for it. As there are a wide verity of Blade elements, weapons, and forms, it's a good idea to have as many different Blades as possible. While one Mercenary Mission may require you to use humanoid female Blades, another might want a specific weapon or element. On the other hand it's also possible a mission will ask for multiple requirements so it's best to have a Blade that fits more than one. If a mission asks for a fire based unit, and a male unit, it's a good idea to use a fire type male if possible. You only have six slots to fill each mission, so you're limited on how many Blades you can choose to fill the mission requirements.

Once you've chosen your team of Blades to send out, missions will then continue on in real time. If a mission takes an hour to complete, then it'll take an hour. If it takes twenty minutes, then it takes twenty minutes. There's nothing you can do about this time limit after you've sent your team out, but there is something you can do before it starts. By using more Blades that meet the requirements, you can actually shave time off of what is listed. In other words, if a mission asks for two fire types to be used, choosing six fire types instead will make them work faster. This is another reason you want to meet as many requirements as possible with your characters, but honestly in the long run it wont matter too much. This is a VERY long game, and it's entirely possible to finish all Mercenary Missions before you even beat the main story. At that point you can send characters out on already finished missions, and rake in the free cash and bonus exp each time they return. Eventually you unlock the ability to send out more than one team as well, so the process isn't as slow as it may sound.

Outside of exp, money, and items, Mercenary Missions also fulfill requirements for affinity charts, so you can unlock skills for Blades without actually going through their charts.

Poppi:

Early on in the game a special Blade becomes unlocked. This is Poppi, a robotic artificial Blade. Although she's not a "real" Blade, she functions like one in most ways. However, this is not fully the case.

While Poppi can equip weapons and unlock skills like the other, the rest of her abilities are parts that are unique to her. She's a fully customization character who can be changed up anytime you see fit. Her elemental type can be altered, her role in battle can be changed (she's an amazing Tank however), she can have multiple perks and special skills installed, and later on things happen with her that makes her even more unique. Sadly I can't explain what that is due to spoilers, but bottom line is, she's an amazingly strong character that you have full control over. Sadly, this can be somewhat of a grind.


Tiger Tiger is a classic style arcade game you must play to unlock new parts and upgrade points for Poppi. The game has you diving under the ocean to pick up treasure and crystals, all while dodging enemies and other objects along the way. Once you reach the bottom and pick up the big treasure chest, you must then make it back to the top of the stage. Getting hit will cause you to drop items you've picked up, and a forced scrolling screen keeps you from taking your time. At the end of the game you'll be rewarded points to spend on upgrades, but you can also gain parts from the treasure boxes as well. Later stages in this game reward you with better parts, but earlier stages are easier, and make it more likely that you'll complete a "perfect run." (A run where you collect all crystals and boxes without being hit.) Considering upgrade parts can also be bought with the same points used to level Poppi, playing through earlier levels can be faster, and more reliable than hoping for random drops. Even so, it's still a grind either way.

Considering this is the only way to upgrade Poppi, it's possible many people will ignore it. Although she is one of the best characters in the game, Xenoblade 2 does offer you other options, so you're not forced to stick with her or her upgrade game.

Salvaging:

The final main aspect of the gameplay comes in the form of salvaging. By buying special items and going to salvage points, Rex (or one of his friends) can dive off the cliff and hunt for treasure. This plays out as a quick time event where you must press specific buttons, and depending on how well you do, you'll get better or worse treasure. While salvaging is used for some side quests throughout the game, the main use of this is to actually build your bank account. Special shops in each town will allow you to trade in sets of items for a large sum, and all of these items are gained from salvaging. At first this might seem like a pointless extra feature you'll only use from time to time, but by the end of the game it is how you become rich. Also sometimes hidden blades or bosses can be found this way, so there is a reason to try it out in different locations.

The Good and the Bad:

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a massive game. The story alone can take well over 80 to 90 hours to complete, but that playtime can easily be doubled (or tippled) if you set out to complete all side stories and side quests. On top of that, the music is great, the cell shaded anime graphic style looks nice, the world is nice and big and open, and the story is really interesting. Those who have played a Xeno game (any of the series) before may already know what to expect out of this type of game, but it is still filled with plenty of plot twists even fans wouldn't see coming. In short, it's a really good game, and possibly one of the best JRPGs out there. Of course, that doesn't mean it is perfect.


On the flip side the game can be a bit confusing at first.There's a lot going on, and the game is constantly throwing something new at you. Honestly it isn't as bad as it seems, but that doesn't stop the first ten or so hours from throwing non stop information at you that you may not fully understand. Sadly you can't review these tutorials either, unless you go to a shop and buy the information from them. (Yes, there is a shop that sells tutorials.) The Poppi mini game can be annoying as well, and, while not a bad point, not everyone may appreciate the game's style or anime style jokes scattered throughout the story. The game doesn't go too overboard with it, but such things do happen from time to time. Sadly some of the side quests tend to be annoying fetch quests as well, but thankfully there is only a small fraction of these compared to the previous two entries in the series.

Overall, Xenoblade 2 is an amazing game, and one Nintendo Switch owners should really check out. Sure, it isn't perfect, but it does come pretty close.


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