The final system seller of the year is almost here!
Whenever Nintendo releases a new system, I buy it. While I have no problem being critical of their games (I think Mario Odyssey is merely a good game and not an amazing game), I am nonetheless the perfect consumer that they have molded me to be. But in a universe where I am capable of exhibiting the self control necessary to not buy Nintendo systems on launch day, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 would have likely been the game I’d have bought a Switch for. Don’t get me wrong: I think Breath of the Wild is one of the most important games of the past decade, but I could play it on Wii U. Splatoon 2, Arms, Mario + Rabbids, all fine games but not system sellers. Even Mario Odyssey is fun, but I wouldn’t have bought a system for it. The Xenoblade series however, that’ll do it. I consider the original Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X to be two of the finest JRPGs ever made. I bought a New 3DS XL purely to have a good excuse to play through the original Xenoblade again. What I’m trying to get across is that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has a lot to live up to for me. While I feared that a shorter development time paired with a reused engine would result in more of a rehash than a full sequel, what I’ve seen so far is one of the freshest follow-ups I’ve played in a long time.
As expected the world itself is absolutely beautiful. Each continent is itself a giant creature roaming a sea of clouds. Moving from a leg to the back to the head of one of these colossal life forms certainly brings me back to playing the original Xenoblade. The first major Titan you explore is presumably, intentionally similar to the early sections of the Bionis from the first game. The difference being that unlike the Bionis, this Titan is very much alive. Seeing what at first looks like a mountain twist and turn leading to the realization that it is in fact a head is unlike any video game world I’ve ever experienced. Additionally as you explore the Titans, absolutely no loading occurs unless you fast travel. The game looks amazing on the TV with sharp visuals and gorgeous colors. In handheld mode, the game does take a noticeable hit to resolution, but draw distance remains seemingly endless. It’s here that you’re able to appreciate that the Xenoblade Chronicles X engine has not aged a day and still presents a remarkably unified world.
The real changes in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 however, come in actual gameplay. Combat may look similar at a glance, but in reality it has been completely overhauled. Gone is the giant bar full of moves that filled the bottom of the screen in previous titles. Replacing it are two diamond shiped pallets on each side of the screen. These correspond to the directional buttons and face buttons. Your Blades are displayed on the left and your arts on the right. The upshot of this is that all of your options are only a button press away. You’ll never have to frantically scroll across a screen full of icons to hit the art that will take advantage of whatever brief debuff a teammate put on your enemy. On the other hand, this also gives the impression of very limited options. At any given time you’ll have no more than four arts available. Switching Blades allows you to bring in a different set of arts, but a cooldown is required between switching.
All of that flows into the overarching change in focus for Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s combat: it requires commitment. Unlike previous titles, your character will only attack while standing still. In addition, your basic auto attacks are grouped in three-part combos, which grow stronger with each successive hit. However, many of your arts receive a bonus from attacking from a certain position. This means that getting into position to use an art now requires you to not only stop attacking, but reset any auto attack sequence you may be in the middle of. Being deliberate in not only movement but when to move has a huge effect on the feel and flow of battle.
While at first I was quickly clicking through tutorial messages, I soon found many more new ideas than I had anticipated. The changes I spoke of are far from the only ones, but they clearly represent the new direction Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes as compared to its predecessors. Despite having spent many hundreds of hours deeply engaged in this franchise, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 feels like a very new game with lots for me to learn and master. I won’t speak on the story in this preview as I have no interest in potentially ruining anything for anyone. Suffice it to say that building up the will to hold off on moving on to the next story quest for long enough to write this preview was a serious challenge. With that being said I leave you now as I still have so much Xenoblade Chronicles 2 left to play.
A review copy of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was provided by Nintendo