Say hello to the definitive RPG for Nintendo's home console.
Xenoblade Chronicles X has been on the radar of Wii U owners for the past few years. With the game finally being available to the public in Japan and the official release date announced for North America (December 4), information about the latest JRPG from Monolith Soft abounds. The Japanese gaming media has been pretty positive about the game as have been numerous fans across the internet who have really enjoyed what they’ve played. With the reputation of Xenoblade, X has a lot to prove. I can honestly say that after spending a considerable amount of time with and beating it, Monolith and Nintendo have something special here.
Unlike its predecessor, Xenoblade Chronicles X puts you in control of a completely customizable avatar that you name and adjust the appearance of. There are numerous options for customization, even outside of the deluge of settings for your character. As with the original Xenoblade Chronicles, equipping different gear alters the look of your player giving you even more options to personalize your avatar. While not related to visual elements of the game, the customization even extends to how to choose and respond to situations and conversations throughout the game that can effect NPC relationships. At first, it was a bit strange to have the avatar's muted response interrupt a free flowing conversation, but I found myself getting used to it over time.
An extremely deep battle system greets players right off the bat. Borrowing somewhat from its predecessor, X makes use of the Arts system. For the uninitiated, the system allows for free movement during battle and has players attack by scrolling through circular like orbs lined up on the bottom of the screen representing actions you can do. All the while, another system, called the Soul System, also comes into play. By listening to your party members and attacking specific parts of enemies or performing certain actions, you can dole out more damage or even heal your party members. The system is extremely complex and offers tons of customization. Mastering the battle system gives you a sense of empowerment and is an extremely enjoyable facet of the game. Alongside multiple classes to master and tons of different gear to obtain and craft, the battle system is fantastic and offers a lot of room for unique configurations.
Dolls, known as Skells in the English localized version of the game, are one of the main draws of the game. By now, it’s no secret that obtaining a Skell takes quite a bit of effort and time (for a more in depth look at that, be sure to check out my hands on preview here). Regardless, after getting one, the way you play the game changes. Even after acquiring your first Skell without the ability to fly, you are still able to reach tons of areas that you couldn’t before. By the time you have a flying version, you can pretty much go anywhere you want. Battles also take on a different feeling as your team, even with the inclusion of just one Skell, will be taking out enemies faster. While Skells do give you a greater sense of power, this is offset by Skell fuel, which limits how long you can use the mechs. For example, attacks during battles use fuel, as does flying around the game world. This makes it necessary to keep an eye on the fuel gauge at all times. This limitation helps bring a balance to the game where it could have easily gotten out of hand. As with nearly everything else in the game, you are also able to fully customize the equipment and appearance of you Skell. Without a doubt, Xenoblade X’s giant robots are one of the best, if not the best, aspects of the game.
The implementation of the GamePad might not be the most groundbreaking use of the touchscreen, but it definitely offers the best way to play X. Gamers also have the option to play through the game using the Wii U Pro controller, however the added functionality that the GamePad brings to the table is enough to make gamers forget about using the Pro. Having the map being constantly displayed is great as it prevents you from getting lost in the enormous world. Just the simple fact that it's always there keeps you from having to constantly delve into menus a dozen or so times during a play through. Other useful things can be done on the touch screen as well. After visiting and planting data probes in the game world (which you will be doing a lot of), you are able to upgrade them directly on the touch screen from anywhere in the game world. Fast travel spots are easily accessible and are just a touch away from sending you instantly to another location. Off TV is supported, however because you can’t easily access the map, using the feature can limit your experience. Off TV aside, playing with the Gamepad is extremely useful and a borderline necessary feature to help explore and navigate through this huge world.
Xenoblade Chronicles X features a stunning fully realized sci-if world packed with detail. Developer Monolith Soft shows that not only can you have a visually appealing world on the Wii U, but also that this world can be brought to life with minimal load times. The look of human character models might be not appeal to everyone, but the designs of the creatures and aliens are outstanding. Gear, weapons and Skells are all extremely detailed and look great. The continents all feature very different terrain giving them each a unique visual feel. Volcanoes, prairies, mountains, beaches, deserts, floating gigantic rocks in the sky - there are a ton of great looking places to visit. There are also tons of tunnels and caves hidden all around the world for you to explore. Out of all of the locations in the game, only one of the continents was less technically impressive than the others - the desert area known as Oblivia. The ground and mountainside had a tendency to have somewhat muddy textures. Looking past this, Oblivia is full of buried ruins which peek up out of the ground and mysterious caverns giving it a mysterious vibe. It would be easy to write an entire novel detailing the world and environments of X. (*Note* I am playing the disc based version of X with one of the four data performance packs installed on my Wii U. For optimal performance, the digital version or having all of the data packs installed is suggested.)
The music is just the icing on the cake as the great soundtrack really helps to tie game together. The majority of the tunes in the game feature grand, orchestral pieces that really help to give X an epic feel. Situational music, such as smoothly transitioning into different tunes while engaging in battle or switching to a special track for exploring caves, might not be anything new in video games, but fit nicely into the overall experience. There were only a few stinkers in the soundtrack (I wasn’t particularly fond of the tracks used in New Los Angeles), but overall fans of the genre or good music will be satisfied.
To match the sci-if world that was crafted visually, the team at Monolith tried to match the awesome visual aesthetics with an engaging story. While there are some bumps along the way that fall into typical anime/JRPG territory ( i.e., "Hey guys, I have amnesia!"), there are some interesting characters and races in the world as well as understandable motives for key characters. Voice acting is used abundantly throughout the game and does a pretty good job at getting across the personality of each character. Even in situations when there isn’t spoken dialog, such as some of the side quests, conversations still have a good flow and are funny or serious when they need to be. It probably won’t win any awards or anything, but it will keep you entertained throughout the dozens of hours of gameplay that X has to offer.
Online functionality, while not necessary to play and enjoy Xenoblade Chronicles X, is a welcome addition that really enhances the game overall. X makes use of what is touted as a “loosely connected” online experience. Before the start of the game, you have the ability to join a squad that is made up of up to 32 other people playing at the same time as you. Each squad is given a variety of missions, such as to kill a certain number of monsters or collect a certain number of items throughout the game world. Participation is all up to you, and even if you don’t help at all when your squad clears a mission, you will still see the spoils of victory. This loose connectivity with other players doesn’t end there. Players are also able to scout NPC versions of players to join their parties and can purchase or sell items. Of course, there is an option to play with four other players directly on special quests to defeat monsters (ala Monster Hunter), but the real meat of the online is found in the unobtrusive passive online system. To get the most out of X, playing with a connected console is a must!
Most of my time with X has been really enjoyable, however, there were a few minor annoyances that popped up here and there. The chief complaint I had has to do with progression in the game’s story. After each mission, you are often tasked with required quests in order to be able to continue on in the story. Although some of these can be tackled in an hour or so, others will have gamers playing upwards of half a dozen hours or more (depending on the level of your characters, general skill at the game, etc.). This allows players to get deeper into the world and lore of X, but at the same time almost takes away from discovering the world in a more natural way. Typically as I was going through these kind of situations (for example, unlocking a certain percentage of search completion on a continent), I was just ready to move on. However, looking back shortly thereafter, it would feel satisfying to have explored or to have done what was required of me to proceed. This isn’t really anything new to the genre, but it can be a bit draining for those that want to see what’s next in the story.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a sensational game that will keep gamers busy for hours on end. Going into the game, gamers should be well aware that X does have a few flaws, namely the required side quests between story missions and a few graphical hiccups here and there. While these can be a bit annoying, getting past them is easy thanks to the engaging battle system, fantastic visuals and smartly implemented online system. X has a ton of content, even apart from the story, that will keep players busy for a long time. On my first play through of the game, it took me over 80 hours before I saw the end credits, and that was without delving super deep into any of the optional side quests. X is one of the deepest, most complex games that can be found on Wii U and you owe it to yourself to check it out.