Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X
Published by Jack Taylor November 30, 2015
Spend a lifetime exploring the planet Mira in the most breathtaking game on Wii U.
Xenoblade Chronicles X has a lot to live up to. Following in the footsteps of Xenoblade Chronicles - arguably one of the greatest games on Wii - was never going to be easy, but you still felt that if anybody could do it, Monolith Soft certainly could. The team has been pivotal in building on what it started with the original game, which in itself was easily an epic 100-hour commitment, while trying to develop a completely new experience in the same breath. It seems almost impossible, but never underestimate the grit and determination of Nintendo and Monolith Soft: this game is just unbelievable.
Xenoblade Chronicles X takes place in our own universe, around the year 2056 AD, two years after the destruction of Earth during a war between two alien forces. Knowing that battle was to unfold, the Coalition government of Earth started preparing to ferry humanity into space on gigantic vessels in order to find a new homeland, or at the very least, to stay safe for as long as possible. The vast majority of these vessels were destroyed leaving the planet during the battle in 2054 AD, but one - the White Whale - made it through, venturing through space for two years before being attacked once again and crash-landing on Mira, an unknown planet with its own continents, landmarks, and indigenous species.
Once the introduction is over, you're invited to create your own avatar, who acts as the main protagonist throughout the story. There are plenty of options provided to you, so you can almost fully customise how your avatar looks and sounds, with voice actors listed for the various options, which is a really nice touch. Once that's done, the prologue begins, introducing you to the world of Mira and its indigenous species - indigens, for short - as well some of the characters you'll be spending your time with throughout the game. The prologue itself is on a grand scale, giving you the opportunity to try out your battle skills and collect some items along the way, before truly getting to grips with the massive world that sits right on your doorstep.
It doesn't take long for you to realise just how massive the world of Mira really is. The planet is made up of five continents - Primordia, Noctilum, Oblivia, Sylvalum, and Cauldros - each with wildly varied terrain and many different indigens to be found. The size of each continent is hugely impressive, given the fact that every inch of space has been utilised in some way, though don't worry if you get lost a little bit in larger areas, particularly Primordia the first time you set foot in it. There are a few ways of getting back on track, the most useful being the overworld map on the Wii U GamePad, giving you a full view of every region in the game. You can also set target points when undertaking certain missions, and not long into the game, you'll be able to use the Follow Ball to send out a ball of light to follow to your target. You can also use the brilliant "fast travel" system to jump to any landmark you've discovered, making it much easier to get around quickly.
Each continent is filled to the brim with wildlife, with a significant number of unique indigens roaming the world of Mira every hour of the day. Every indigen has a level, which indicates how strong they are compared to you and your party, as you'll level up by defeating enemies and gaining experience. Because of the nature of the game - if you're brave enough, you can access four of the five continents very early on - the indigens in each area will vary quite a bit in terms of their strength, but there's usually a good sense of progression in that, in terms of where you are with the story, you'll always be pretty evenly-matched with the indigens in whichever area you're meant to be. There'll still be more powerful critters wherever you go, and since some will attack you if they see or hear you, you'll always need to be on your guard - and never be frightened to run in the opposite direction if it's going to save your skin.
The battle mechanics in Xenoblade Chronicles X are very similar to those seen in Xenoblade Chronicles, though new players will still be able to get to grips with the system just by taking part in a few battles. Each character is equipped with two weapons - usually a gun and a blade of some description - and these can be used for either long-distance or melee attacks on enemies, as one will sometimes be more effective than the other depending on who or what you're fighting. Each character also has special attacks called Arts, which have more in-depth effects such as toppling an enemy or healing a party member; Arts can only be used once every so often as they need to recharge once used, so it's important not to go hell for leather on them or you'll run out of them for a short while. The key is to use them in combination, such as to topple an enemy before causing massive damage, which is beneficial in more significant battles.
There's a lot more to battling than just waving a gun or a sword about, though: as you gain experience, so too can your Arts, as you can use battle points to level them up and make them even stronger. You're also able to change your avatar's character class, in a nod to more traditional RPGs - different classes have unique benefits and affect the weapons you're able to use, so it's important to find the best fit for you on the battlefield. Your character class will level up too, rewarding you with new Arts to use in battle, so you also have control over which eight Arts you take with you into battle, giving you even more options when considering the perfect setup. It's involved, sure, but taking the time to figure out how it all works is certainly worth it in the long run.
Even with the core battle mechanics mastered, there's no time to rest on your laurels, as the game continues to provide new and exciting ways for you to experience Mira. Part way through the game, you'll be able to use the Overdrive function, which effectively enables you to go a little mad with your Arts for a change in order to deal damage quickly and consistently for a short time. Further into the game, you'll receive the ability to purchase and pilot a Skell, a land-based mech which will eventually also gain the ability to fly, and Skells have their own battle mechanics and Arts setups for you to play around with. It's clear why Monolith Soft chose to leave Skells until much later in the game, since you need that time in Mira to explore it on foot and really get a good idea of how magnificent it is.
You also have control over who is in your party, as there are a number of key NPCs who you can ask to join you as you go along. Everyone is based in the city of New Los Angeles, which humanity now calls home, and you're able to speak to these characters to get them to join your party for as long as you like. In some cases, they won't be able to, however; these cases are related to the missions you take on as you progress. Most missions are simple - defeat enemies, collect items, save someone from a grisly end - but others, such as affinity missions or the main story missions, will limit the people you can have with you, or require you to have certain people with you. Mostly, you'll need Elma and Lin with you, as these two women are your main allies throughout the game. Usually, if you're told that someone can't be in your party, it's because they'll be otherwise involved in the mission somehow. It's a really clever way of being able to involve regular characters in missions often, meaning that you can get to know them and build relationships with them even when they're not in your party.
Your party members won't be the only people you'll get to know, either. There are scores of people all around New Los Angeles who you'll meet and who might need your help at any time; unlike most NPCs, these characters are named, and will appear in your massive affinity chart once you've spoken to them. This chart will show their relationships with other people - whether they like them or not, essentially, and their opinions of them - and will change as you progress through the game. For instance, taking on a mission might result in some sort of event which changes the affinity between two or more people. You'll also find that, if you haven't yet met somebody that gets mentioned in conversation, they'll still be added to the affinity chart, although with a blank entry until you actually meet them.
Fans of Xenoblade Chronicles will definitely recognise a lot of the mechanics we've already mentioned, and even moreso when actually playing the game, but one of the most impressive things about Xenoblade Chronicles X is that it still has its own identity. It's different enough to its predecessor that it can easily stand on its own two feet, partly because it's just so much bigger, but also because while it does carry forward mechanics like battling and affinities, enough is completely different to warrant this being an individual title. In the same way that Xenoblade Chronicles was named to honour the Xeno series, this game was named to honour Xenoblade Chronicles, and it does a damn good job of doing that.
For fans of the original game, as we've mentioned, plenty has been done to significantly improve the experience. The affinity chart has been overhauled, since party members are now included and as-yet-unknown NPCs can be added, as previously noted. The item-based Collectopedia returns, granting you rewards for collecting items from each continent. Missions return in the same vein, though there's now a hub in New Los Angeles for you to pick and choose your missions from, alongside the usual scheme of getting them from other characters. Battles remain similar, but with new options to power up Arts during battle or aim for certain enemy appendages to deal massive damage more easily. There are also some lovely nods to the original game throughout, so keep an eye out for these - including a very interesting fact about the Nopon race which will really get you thinking.
Xenoblade Chronicles X also includes online functionality, giving players the choice to join a certain type of squad when starting a play session. Each squad includes up to 32 players, and each type of squad works differently. Squads will set you tasks as you play, such as to defeat a certain number of enemies or to collect items; by taking part in these tasks, you'll receive reward tickets, which you can use to purchase useful items to aid in your quest. You'll also see some of your fellow players' avatars hanging around Mira; while they're not controlled by the player, you can choose to add them to your party for a short while, which means they'll join you in battle as will the rest of your party. You can also use the in-game currency to effectively hire higher-levelled avatars for a period of time to further help you in battle. Depending on the squad you join, you might also get online mission requests from other players, letting you join an online party to complete them. The way all these squads are implemented is very interesting, and it adds another level to the game while taking nothing away from the core experience. It's definitely worth taking a look at each type of squad to see which will be best for you in the long run, or just for certain play sessions.
One aspect of Xenoblade Chronicles X which causes it to stand out from the crowd is its presentation: in short, it looks visually incredible. The graphics in this game are second to none, with each continent standing out from the rest; whether you're travelling the green fields of Primordia, the barren deserts of Oblivia, or the white ash landscapes of Sylvalum, every single piece of Mira is breathtaking. On top of that, the game's soundtrack is incredible, with epic orchestrated pieces beautifully complementing each location, and more modern sounds rightfully taking their place in New Los Angeles. A great deal also has to be said about the voice acting, which is impressive enough for the NPCs, but for the characters who are more pivotal to the story is something really special. Our only minor issue with any aspect of the game's presentation, really, is that the text might be a little small in some of the menus. That's pretty much it. It also has to be noted that the first time you're introduced to Primordia at the beginning of the game is one of the most spectacular pieces you'll ever see in a video game, and could easily be watched a thousand times over.
It seems fair to say that Xenoblade Chronicles X is the biggest game on Wii U, in every sense. By giving you a completion percentage, it fully intends to tell you how far you are from even thinking about finishing; there's a feeling from an early stage that this must take at least 100 hours to complete, and you'll soon learn that even that's a gross underestimation. The fantastic thing about the game is that it never slows down and it never starts to feel tired; it's always on the ball and ready to throw new and exciting missions and enemies at you. Just when you think you're done, something new crops up. It never puts you off and always leaves you wanting to jump in for more.
Our feelings following our preview were that, for all that Xenoblade Chronicles X can be an incredibly involved game which needs your undivided attention early on, the payoff is a sensible difficulty level and one hell of an experience. We'd push that sentiment more than ever now: while it might appear to be too involved for some, those who want to take the plunge - and we're hoping that'll be the vast majority of you - will find a truly inescapable experience waiting on the other side. From cover to cover, Xenoblade Chronicles X will steal days, if not weeks and months, of your life away from you, by guaranteeing such an enthralling vision that you'll never want it to stop. We're not really sure that it ever does, but one thing's for sure: you'll want to keep playing until you find out. This is an incredible and unmissable story which deserves mountains of attention.
The Nintendo Channel would like to thank Nintendo UK for providing a copy of Xenoblade Chronicles X.