Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Switch Review

2017 was an amazing year for games, but for Nintendo, it had been a smashing year. One they were surely hoping for after what happened with the Wii U and its poor acceptance in the market (the Switch has already hit 10 million sales at 9 months, only 5 million short of Wii U total sales). Nintendo has been releasing a steady stream of great games for both Switch and 3DS throughout 2017, and now with 2017 done, Nintendo delivered one final huge game for Switch owners to jump into with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. With a return to focus on story, this is looked upon as a follow up to the first title that was on the Wii, rather than the Wii U title, Xenoblade Chronicles X, as the latter had tuned itself more to exploration, rather than story, something fans didn’t seem to fully agree with, so for them, it’s good news that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 refocuses on story.

This sequel delivers a whole new set of characters placed in the new world of Alrest, where land no longer exists, instead, it is all covered by an endless sea of clouds. The only places where people can live are on titans, who act as the last remaining areas of solid ground for anyone to call their home. It seems that over time titans have been dying out for unknown reasons, meaning that at some point in the future land will begin to vanish and civilisation will collapse.

The focus of the story is on Rex, a young man who scavengers the ocean beneath the clouds for lost treasure to sell for cash, most of which he sends back to his home village to help them. The story quickly throws Rex into an exciting proposition when he is offered plenty of cash to take a job to help a small group of Drivers – people who have the power to control blades, weaponize life forms that offer power and abilities to their driver – to find a lost ship that hosts something known as Aegis, a legendary weapon. Things happen and Rex finds himself tied to a new friend, Pyra, who asks Rex to help her get to Elysium, a fable paradise above the World Tree that sits in the middle of the sea of clouds, which was supposedly the home for people a long time ago. The game follows Rex and Prya’s journey to the World Tree, but it’s not an easy adventure, as the duo are wanted by many people who wish to take Pyra and use her powers for their own evil deeds.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is certainly jammed with many tropes associated with anime, especially the shonen genre, but it makes you want to stick with it to see what wildness unfolds. The boy and girl teaming together to save the world isn’t exactly inventive either, but it does try to make up with it as the story goes on, moving to more serious themes about relationships and death. What makes up for the familiarity in the story is that the characters are the highlight, all covering varying degrees of personalities. Rex is the the young lad who believes in all that is good and wishes to be the person who can bring that goodness to everyone, thinks he can save everyone through the power of his blade, while Nia, a female who is a Gormotti, a race who share feline characteristics, keeps Rex’s reality more grounded. There are many more characters who make their mark known in the game, including the blades that are attached to them, and overall, I feel the characters are more the gear that make the game click rather than the quality of the story, which can have its up and down moments over the course of its 65 hour tale, with many side content able to add an extra 50 plus hours on top of that.

One thing I would like to address before moving on is the character visuals. There were a lot of questions after the first reveal, with people commenting that the graphics were pushed too much towards the cel-shaded anime style, with characters and their faces being too large or horrible looking. Seeing the game in action, though, should kill a few of the negatives, as the stronger anime aesthetics look lovely in motion and during cinematic scenes. There is still the question as to why Rex has such strange pants, but the pants design is one of the very few negatives to take away from a decent looking game, especially when running through some of the world’s locations that are easily as an important part of the game as its characters.

And those worlds are huge. It’s a game that is certainly sticking close to the design of the previous titles, offering large, imaginative open lands to explore that are enriched by the concept of living movable giants – being able to see the Titan’s parts moving in the background adds the mystical element to each location. This time around, the world is more split into segments, no longer having the continuation of land that was seen in the last two games, due to the idea that the this sea of clouds now splits the world, each one offering an environmental theme that makes the world feel more disjointed than the natural occurrence seen when travelling on Bionis in Xenoblade Chronicles. That said, each habitable Titan is no slouch in offering vast amounts of land to walk around while discovering many hidden secrets stashed deep in every corner of a Titan’s landmass.

It’s just a shame that the user interface for the mini map isn’t well developed to help such exploration, it’s something Xenoblade Chronicles X did right, but here, it’s like the developers forgot all about that and delivered such a poor attempt for a map. A patch did hit that allowed another zoomed out state, but it’s still not ideal. There is suppose to be another update coming that will bring even more help in regards to the map, so maybe this will become a none issue, but during my playthrough, it was a big oversight to offer a map that I can’t even move around the screen to find exactly where my highlighted quest is – the directional arrow is direct, which doesn’t help with complex areas with lots of pathways and elevation that block the way.

With such big lands to explore this ultimately means many enemies to fight. This sequel continues the tradition of throwing in enemies of various sizes and strength. Players will meet creatures that will be easily beatable, while others might be 60 levels ahead of the characters – a number is clearly given above every monster that is walking around Alrest – which should be stayed clear of unless you want to see Rex and the gang meet a swift death. The previous titles managed this concept of no level scaling rather well, but in this sequel, it felt a little more annoying, due to how well enemies seem to be able to spot Rex. One of the first big areas of the game, where a mission is given to get to a village on the other side of a large open field, actually ended up with me dying around seven or eight times, simply due to the fact that a giant level 80 ape, or that level 83 bird, kept walking into my battles and killing me. It was a little frustrating, causing me to take a very unnatural route to get to the destination to avoid this constant death cycle. Death itself isn’t something to worry about much in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, since all it does is put the player back at the last checkpoint save – you do not lose anything else, so all experience gained since the last save is still kept in tact, a beautiful thing that stopped the annoyance of dying from high level monsters.

Combat has kept the same MMO RPG elements, where once engaged in a fight, Rex will auto attack with his basic combo, while other team members are controlled by the AI. There has been an evolution added to the mechanics with to the inclusion of blades. These entities determine what weapon their driver is using, along with the four special attacks attached. As a character keeps attacking with their basic attack each special move is building up energy that can be activated once it is filled. It’s often pointed that using blade cancel buffs these blade moves, a feature activated when hitting one of the face buttons at the end of a hit, more so on the last hit of the auto attack. This is where the bulk of the player interaction comes in, along with the moving to take in account that some of the blade moves do more damage at the side or at the back of enemies, or the activation of friendly combatant blade skills, all enabling elemental combos for bigger damage. Blades and their roles (tank, attack, healer) are important to make use of, because if players do no get accustom to using blade cancels and their blade’s special moves, then battles can end up taking longer than needed against even the most basic of enemy.

Most party members can equip up to three blades at once, which the player can switch between freely outside of battle to make use of their out of battles skills (resource gathering, lock-picking, etc.), but in battle, require a cooldown to finish before being able to switch. Each party member will have their default blade that is based on the story, but other blades can be assigned to them through the use of unlocking core crystals. Think of it as similar to a loot box in other games, but without all the money grabbing going on from publishers. Basically, core crystals are loot drops that can be used by a driver to gain a new blade that will be loyal to them. It’s down to luck what blade pops out of the crystal when it hatches, a lot are generic, but the more powerful ones have their own collection page to let players know how many of the rare ones they have found. I did find it a little annoying that some of the best blades are locked down by chance, but crystals do drop fairly often and only the common blades can be duplicated, meaning all rare blades are unique, so no need to panic about having a wasted rare crystal give you something you already own.

Fighting and exploring takes up a lot of time in this RPG, especially if you are a completist who wants to finish all the side quests, find all the collectibles, rare blades and salvage points, level up town development by purchasing deeds to the stores, complete mercenary missions with spare blades, giving them the chance to level up outside of battle, and other many other things to do. It’s a huge game, which should put to bed any worries people might have had with its length, due to the game being announced and out in such a short time. And if you aren’t a person who is into all that side stuff, it’s all optional content that does not have to invoked if people just want to playthrough the story.

I have already mentioned that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a decent looking, colourful game, which is spoilt due to aliasing issues from running at 720p when docked and some frame rate inconsistencies. In portable mode, the resolution is dropped significantly, and while the small screen does help, it still isn’t as nice as other games running on handheld mode, showing a smudged presentation spoiling its image quality and detail. I had no problems playing the game on the go, though – it makes for a good game to spend time in battles during train journeys – but image enthusiasts might want to keep this one docked if they are wanting to take in the full presentation.

On the audio side, the British voices come back in full swing, giving the game a distinct audio delivery over most of the American dubbed titles. I don’t think the quality of the voice cast is quite as good as Xenoblade Chronicles – there’s a few none key characters that feel flat, but I enjoyed the main cast mostly. There is always Japanese to go back to if you don’t like what you hear. Soundtrack is a step up from Xenoblade Chronicles X, but still doesn’t contain as much memorable music as the Wii game. I think the battle theme will stay with you, along with a few other tracks, but going up against Xenoblade Chronicles‘ original soundtrack isn’t an easy feat.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is overall mostly a quality RPG that has charm and character, while making up for some of the lacking aspects of Xenoblade Chronicles X, but small issues stop it from hitting the heights of Xenoblade Chronicles, sitting in between the two games in this trio series. It retains all the great stuff about exploring beautiful and large unique areas, but forgot to take in the advancements made in map design from Xenoblade Chronicles X. It does take a while to find its feet, but once it starts going and you click with the combat, it’s an RPG that engulfs you in its long, amusing adventure for many hours, one that finished up Nintendo’s 2017 with another great Switch game.

8 out of 10