Preview: Xenoblade Chronicles X
Published by Jack Taylor November 20, 2015
We take an early look at the new biggest Japanese RPG the world has ever seen.
Anyone who's ever played Xenoblade Chronicles, whether on Wii or more recently on New Nintendo 3DS, will know how big the game is. It's no stretch to say that it's one of the biggest games Nintendo has published in a very long time, if ever, and that Monolith Soft has easily mastered the trade by this point. It should come as no surprise, then, that Xenoblade Chronicles X - the next big Wii U release - is even bigger. We'll be bringing you a massive review of the game closer to release, but before that, we wanted to provide some early thoughts from our first few hours with the game.
Taking place on the planet Mira following the destruction of Earth, the game starts you off with an introduction to the story of how and why that happened, and how the remains of the human race ended up on Mira. You're then provided with the opportunity to create your avatar, the person as whom you'll effectively be playing for the entire game. You've got plenty of options, from the face and body to the voice, and in a nice touch, the game also tells you who the voice actors are, so those of you who are in the know about your game and anime VAs will likely recognise a few names from the male and female lists.
Once you've done that, the game's prologue begins, as Elma - one of your main allies - finds you in a life pod in a small corner of the world. As with many others, the life pod crashed on Mira when the White Whale - the ship that ferried people away from the destruction of Earth - broke up in the planet's atmosphere. Due to the effects of amnesia, your avatar is clueless as to why the human race is on an unknown planet and has no recollection of the events on Earth, or of the White Whale. Focusing on the mission at hand, Elma escorts the avatar through to the main path home - a good time to learn some basic combat skills along the way, by battling some weak indigenous creatures, called indigens rather than the usual monsters, enemies, or just plain aliens.
It's not long before you're guided out of this little crevice, and once you get out into the open, it's time to prepare to have your breath well and truly taken away - the clouds part, the sun rises, and before you lies one of the most incredible opening shots to any game: miles upon miles of stunning terrain, with massively varied lands filled to the brim with all kinds of unique wildlife, from small boar-like buddies to titanic dinosaur-themed beasts. It's an incredible sight on an epic scale, and the most astounding thing about it: you can explore every single inch of it.
As the prologue continues, you'll make your way through Primordia - the first continent you encounter in the game - to the city of New Los Angeles, a home for the people of the White Whale, housed in a pod which crash-landed on Mira following an attack above its atmosphere. Before you get to New Los Angeles, you'll encounter a few different people, but mainly a wide array of indigens, some stronger than others. Your party members and the indigens will each have an assigned level, and your own party members will grow in level by defeating indigens and gaining experience. You'll quickly learn that, while many indigens are quite happy to mind their own business, some are hostile and will attack upon sight - bad when they're much stronger than you are.
There's already an awful lot here for fans of RPGs and Japanese RPGs to enjoy here, particularly fans of Xenoblade Chronicles - because while Xenoblade Chronicles X is obviously quite a bit like its predecessor, it's also different and improved upon in a number of ways. It features the same combat system, the same party system, the same sort of mechanics as far as enemies are concerned, and similarities in its affinity and itinerary works - but the combat is far more refined, the affinity chart for NPCs is considerably improved upon, and good grief, the locations are incredible. This is a massive game, in every conceivable way.
Unlike its predecessor, Xenoblade Chronicles X is split into chapters, and to this point we're a few chapters in and have no intentions of spoiling anything whatsoever. Prior to these is the prologue, which is worth experiencing in a single sitting due to the sheer scale of it all - the game's logo appears to mark the end of the prologue, its way of telling you that, no, you haven't even started to scratch the surface yet. It's no stretch to say that you get an idea very early on just how big this game is. It's entirely possible, in fact, that this is the largest game Nintendo and Monolith Soft have ever created. It's absolutely staggering.
Initially, the game will guide you through the first few chapters, giving you an opportunity to "follow the leader" for a little while until you eventually find your bearings. The world of Mira is so big that you will inevitably get lost, but so far we've been able to achieve course correction either by following the guidance arrows on the mini-map on the main screen or by somehow using the main map on the Wii U GamePad - which we'll go into more detail on in the review - either by checking the overworld map or by using "fast travel" to zip on over to a familiar location and trying again.
Once you've completed the first few chapters the game has to offer, you're given greater reign as to how you handle yourself and your actions. You'll be able to fully customise your party by selecting a number of key story characters to travel with you, while you can also select missions from people around New Los Angeles, or from a central hub from which you can take on multiple missions at once. In fact, once you're given this freedom, you won't be able to continue the story until certain conditions are met - for example, after this point, you need to survey a certain percentage of Primordia before you can take on the next story chapter, though there are other conditions you need to meet as well, like having certain party members with you.
There is an awful lot that you can do in Xenoblade Chronicles X, and it can be daunting at first. The game can certainly be enjoyed by anyone who likes RPGs, or any sort of long game that can back up its length with a damn good amount of content. The key point you need to remember going into Xenoblade Chronicles X is that it does require your full attention, if only for a short while at the beginning of the game. You need to read through the various in-game menus to understand exactly what everything means. You need to take part in a good few battles so that you can get a grasp on what attacks have different effects. You definitely need to read the digital manual, which often gets forgotten these days, but it carries with it a good amount of information which you'll almost definitely find useful - there aren't any to-hand tutorials like there were in Xenoblade Chronicles, but the manual will be able to answer the majority of your queries.
A benefit to all this is that the difficulty level in the game, at least early on, is really well-balanced, and that's great because it gives you that little extra time you need to get to grips with the finer aspects of the game. You don't have to worry about being slaughtered because you didn't know about a six-button combination that would have saved you and the entire planet along with - you can take it slow, partake in a few leisurely battles, enjoy the sights (and you will), and with a lot of parts of the game, you'll learn along the way. Difficult to understand? If you don't pay attention, yes. Difficult to actually play? Hell, no.
Our initial feelings about Xenoblade Chronicles X are immensely positive. Even after just a few hours, the game continues to impress in almost every aspect, backing up its considerable size with a hefty amount of high-quality content to boot, and not an empty bit of land in sight. We'll be providing our full review closer to the game's launch on 4 December, but for now, it's safe to say that it's unlike anything else on Wii U - an epic of epic proportions. We can't wait for the rest of it.