There is nothing quite like flying hundreds of feet in the sky alongside enormous dinosaur-like creatures, or blasting through a Ganglion base, seizing control of their local resources. In fact, many of the best moment’s in Monolithsoft’s latest title, Xenoblade Chronicles X, stem from the giant fighting robots that make these scenario’s possible, “Skells.” However, it takes roughly thirty hours of gameplay to reach these glorious mechs, and even longer to unlock their full capabilities. Much of Xenoblade Chronicles X is like this. From its intricate and deep class system, to its resource gathering and management, everything takes time in Xenoblade Chronicles X, and a lot of it.
You begin Xenoblade Chronicles X as a created character woken up in a Lifepod, a small piece of spaceship debris that was scattered around the planet Mira during an emergency crash. You’re quickly told that Earth no longer exists, and was destroyed as collateral damage in a war between two unknown Alien races. As one of the last surviving humans, you become a member of BLADE, an organization dedicated to the preservation and safety of all humankind.
Despite its semi-unique premise, and a few surprising twists later on, Xenoblade Chronicles X peters out on narrative after its opening cutscene. If I’m being honest, the rest of the story wasn’t interesting enough to even commit to memory. Hell, my created character was more interesting than anyone that I met in the game, too. The relationships between these cardboard cutouts are even more one-dimensional. Two characters, throughout my entire 70 hour playthrough, never once deviated from their, “I want to eat him because he looks like food,” shtick. Barely a joke the first time, it gets old very fast.
Story pacing itself is also skewed due to each in-game chapter requiring prerequisites to initiate. These can be anything from completing a certain side quest, to raising your completion rating in a specific area. While playing the game normally can generally complete these prerequisites without you realizing it, some of the more demanding ones can halt your game progression completely, potentially for hours if you weren’t properly prepared. Many of the side quests you find throughout the game can also do the same, as you are unable to abandon them, or start another quest (Including a story quest) in its place until they’re complete.
Even with its lazy story and characters, ambition is the keyword when it comes to gameplay, and it shows. Much like Monolithsoft’s previous title, Xenoblade Chronicles, the game features a very western style of CRPG gameplay, similar to a modern MMORPG. Your characters use an auto-attack for base damage, while you scroll through various abilities you can assign yourself. What sets Xenoblade Chronicles X apart is its use of a class system. I’ve never seen anything more deserving of the “Totally rad,” sentiment than the class names in Xenoblade Chronicles X. With classes like Full Metal Jaguar, or Samurai Gunner, you almost just want to pick one based on the name alone. Each class is based on two weapons; a melee weapon and a ranged weapon. The aforementioned Full Metal Jaguar, for example, uses dual swords and dual guns. This combination, coupled with the individual weapon skills, creates a very DPS focused character. However, once you fully level one of the highest classes, you unlock the use of that classes weapons, and abilities, in any other class, which allows for some really fun mix and matching. So, you could take a maxed out Full Metal Jaguar’s dual guns, and combine them with the Partisan Eagle’s spear skills, if you wanted. Unfortunately, it takes a really long time to max out classes. So, it pays to plan ahead for what you want to do, otherwise you may not get to play as what you wanted by the end game.
A huge focus of Xenoblade Chronicles X is also resource gathering. Aside from random loot and drops, your main resource is Miranium, an ore mined on Mira that can be used to purchase a variety of beneficial services for your character like item slots, or upgrading stores to sell better equipment. You collect Miranium by placing mining probes in predetermined locations. Beyond that, you can chain different types of probes using a management screen on the Wii U’s gamepad that will boost the effects, increasing your revenue per collection. In addition to miranium, this is also the easiest way to get money, and various other ores. Unfortunately, these other ores are the biggest source of progression halting I’ve personally had. When a side quest requires an ore to complete, no matter how well you set up your mining operation, you are relying an RNG to supply you with the item you need. Early on, I had to leave my game on overnight in order to complete a quest, and even then, I woke up to discover I’d only received two or the specific ore when I needed five. In addition to these ores, the random loot you can collect on the field is also a source of frustration for many quests. It can take anywhere from minutes to hours of running around an area collecting little blue lights in order to discover a specific item. It’s not necessarily a terrible system, as it allows you to collect items before you may even need them, allowing for some quests to complete instantly. But, at moments where you don’t have enough of something to move on, it can really put a damper on any amount of fun you may have been having.
Finally, the Skell. It’s no secret that Skells are the best part of Xenoblade Chronicles X. When you first unlock one, it’s almost like playing a completely new game. Just simply moving around is completely different now. Each stride a Skell takes feels like twenty from a normal character. They even transform into vehicles to move even faster. As an aside, the vehicle transformation animation is one of the most beautifully crafted animations I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s so deliberate and perfect. At a certain level, you can start handing off different models of Skells to party members to create an entire group of them to help decimate the countryside of Mira. And, yeah. You do decimate it. Combat changes to incorporate the now 8-ish weapons you have equipped. Rather than using skills, you just fire off whatever is equipped in each slot. No longer are you just swinging a sword, but becoming a whirling dervish of beam saber, grenade launching, and machine gun destruction. Then they slap a jet on your back and tell you that you can fly. If it isn’t obvious, Skell gameplay is about everything my ten-year-old-anime-fan self ever wanted in a video game. Even if it took forever to unlock, I felt like every moment was completely worth it.
Unfortunately, I imagine there are plenty of people who won’t feel the same as me. With its poor pacing, flat, one-dimensional characters and story, and it’s potentially horrendous loot-based progress gating, Xenoblade Chronicles X may not be for everyone. Is it worth playing to get to the end game? In my opinion, absolutely. But, the ride is a frustrating one, filled with slow moments, and few, though grand, redeeming qualities. If you’re looking for awesome western-style gameplay in a giant and unique open world with deep character progression and a badass robot to play with, than look nowhere else. If you’re looking for a more traditional JRPG with a great, meaningful story, similar to previous entries into the Xeno- series, than you will most likely be disappointed in Xenoblade Chronicles X.
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