Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Monolith
Release Date: Dec. 1, 2017


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Switch Review - 'Xenoblade Chronicles 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Dec. 1, 2017 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

In the latest entry of the Xenoblade Chronicles series, a new hero seeks out Elysium on an immense journey through a brand-new world.

Buy Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Xenoblade was a bit of a surprise hit. The franchise has been around in some form since the days of the PlayStation 1, but beyond a few recurring ideas, each game had been its own beast. Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii seemed destined to fail because it was a niche JRPG that struggled to even get a North American release, but strong word of mouth led it to be a cult classic. Since then, the Xenoblade franchise has received a spin-off in the form of Xenoblade Chronicles X, an open-world take on the concept. While X had its fans, it wasn't a proper sequel. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a successful game that's in line with the original's mechanics perhaps isn't the sequel that fans were hoping for.

Xenoblade 2 takes place in the world of Alrest, which is a world in the skies. In a battle over the rapidly vanishing land, kingdoms use sentient living weapons called Blades. The story follows Rex, a young salvager who sets out to make his fortune. A chance encounter brings him in contact with a powerful Blade known as Pyra, who saves Rex's life. In exchange, he must bring her to Elysium, a peaceful place where humanity can live.

Taken on its own merits, Xenoblade 2 is a fine JRPG, but it suffers in comparison to the original game. The characters, setting and concepts all feel more standard, and while they're eventually fleshed out, they lack the instant gripping excitement of the Mechon attack and Shulk's quest for revenge. It's hard to separate Xenoblade 2 from its predecessor, which will possibly sour fans looking for something with a similar tone and style. Xenoblade 2 trends toward an anime-inspired style, with a lot of lowbrow humor and jokes, so a good chunk of it feels more akin to a Tales of game. There's a lot to like if you're willing to get past expectations, but that may be a tall order for those who loved Xenoblade for its strong opening and instantly compelling story.

The combat system is an evolution. The mechanics can roughly be described as a single-player MMO, not unlike Final Fantasy XII. You control one player character and have allies who fight alongside you. The focus is heavily on MMO-inspired mechanics, such as having a tank draw aggro, positional attacks, and a heavy focus on status effects. Each character has a variety of moves that can be combined for greater effect, including buffs, debuffs, and the Topple and Break mechanic from the original game.

Central to the game is the Blade system. Most characters have their own blade, but they can recruit new blades using special core crystals found throughout the game. Some of the blades are more generic, while others are special and have powerful abilities. You can equip multiple blades at once and swap between them mid-battle to change your available attacks and the attack elements. Blades allow players to chain together various special attacks to unleash even more potent combo abilities.

The Blade system is fun but works against what made the original Xenoblade tick. The original game had one of the most diverse and interesting sets of characters in an RPG, so playing as one over the other involved very different play styles. You can customize the characters so they don't feel entirely the same, but theydefinitely seem more homogenized.

New to Xenoblade 2 is the cooldown system. Your special attacks cool down as you auto-attack an enemy. Each attack requires a specific number of auto attacks to cool down, but as the game progresses, there are ways to reduce this number. In addition, auto attacks can be canceled by using Arts, which amplify the power of the attacks. Performing a cancel at the end of an auto-attack string amplifies that even further. You don't want to use abilities as soon as they come off cooldown because saving them for the right point in a combo can massively boost damage. On the other hand, holding them too long wastes precious attacks, so you're getting fewer Arts. Using these moves also powers your character's Special bar, which is used for powerful cinematic attacks.

Combat can be remarkably simple or brutally punishing, depending on how you're set up. There are lots of little ways to manipulate and customize characters, ranging from permanent stat increases to special equippable items that give passive buffs. Like the first Xenoblade game, there's a ton of mechanical depth if players take the time to explore the combat system. You can survive with the basic mechanics, but anyone who wants to take on optional bosses or defeat enemies at lower levels should get more familiar with the combat system.

Exploration follows the same basic style of the original Xenoblade. You explore huge areas full of collectibles, hidden areas, mobs, side-quests and various other things. It's worth noting that Xenoblade 2 follows in the footsteps of the original Xenoblade, not Xenoblade Chronicles X, so areas are relatively large but allow limited mobility. Most of what you'll be doing is ground-level exploration or exploring climbing routes and hidden grottoes. The fast-travel system is remarkably generous and allows you to warp to any major landmark, so backtracking for side-quests is simple and painless.

Xenoblade 2 amplifies the Xenoblade 1 problem of there being almost too much to do. The game has a ton of collectibles, side-quests, and other things to do, but the implementation is better in Xenoblade 2 because there are fewer side-quests and they feel more meaningful. Additionally, much of the bonus content is available via leveling up cities, purchasing shops, salvaging rare materials, collecting new blades, and so on. At the end of the day, there's so much content that it can feel exhausting.

By and large, Xenoblade 2 is a pretty good-looking game. The environments are bright and colorful, and the characters are charming and fun. The biggest visual problem is that the character designs aren't very good. There are some standouts here and there, but Rex and Pyra aren't very good designs. They're garish and weirdly dressed, and Pyra's absurd design contrasts so heavily with her character that it takes what should be charming scenes and makes them difficult to take seriously. The blades have a mix of designs from different artists, which gives them a rather disparate feel, but it means there are some really awesome designs — and some particularly awful ones. The original Xenoblade may have had some silly armor, but Xenoblade 2 is an example of excess detracting from the whole.

The overall soundtrack is pretty good but is also a step backward from the original game. There are some fantastic songs in the lineup, but it lacks the sheer excellence of "You Will Know Our Names." The voice acting is also a mixed bag. It's a big step up from Xenoblade X, with a mix of British and American voice acting, but it's all over the place. There are some awesome performances and some half-hearted ones, and the result lacks the charm of Xenoblade 1. It's also more cartoony to go with the rest of the game.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a solidly enjoyable JRPG that is hurt by not having the style of the original or the ambition of its spin-off. Genre fans will find a lot to like here, and those who enjoyed Xenoblade 1 for its exploration and gameplay will find Xenoblade 2 to be a worthy follow-up. Comparisons to the original are unavoidable, and Xenoblade 2 takes longer to warm up than the original, and it never reaches the same heights. Taken on its own merits, Xenoblade 2 is a fun JRPG with a ton of content, customization and gameplay that any genre fan will enjoy.

Score: 8.0/10

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