Nintendo isn’t always the go-to platform for epic stories. Outside of the Zelda series, which is first-party, and a few third-party ports of games handled better on other systems, Nintendo, and the Wii U in particular, haven’t had the best track record. All of that changed when Xenoblade Chronicles X hit the system last month.
The spiritual successor to the long-time Xeno series, last seen in the wonderful Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii and later the New 3DS, developer Monolithsoft reboots the series once again by taking players to an uninhabited world called Mira and humanity makes its final stand against a team of alien races seeking to wipe us out. Luckily, humanity has Skells on our side — huge, sleek battle mechs that take the fight to even the strongest enemies. This is the story of humanity’s greatest battle, wrapped up in one of the best JRPGs of 2015.
Xenoblade Chronicles X begins with an epic cinematic showing how the Earth was eradicated and how humanity sent one surviving ship, the White Whale, out into space to recolonize. The game truly begins when the player-created hero wakes up from a displaced pod and with the help of their soon-to-be commanding officer, Elma, makes his or her way to the new settlement, called New Los Angeles, or New L.A., to begin the tedious work exploring, protecting, and saving the remains of a once great species.
Much like Xenoblade Chronicles, XCX gives players a vast open world to explore. This world is teeming with wildlife that can be killed for XP and materials. The beauty here is that XCX treats the overworked play much like an MMO, with various creatures out and about, with varying degrees of level, so seeing a level one bug next a level 50 behemoth is not unheard of. It truly makes the player feel like they are part of this living, breathing world. And some of these posters are simply breathtaking to behold. There nothing like running across a grassy plains are toward a mountain, and suddenly the mountain moves, as it was never a rock formation at all, but a huge beast out drinking water from a lush lake.
Mira is made up of five distinct continents, including a desert, a lush jungle, snowy mountains and a volcanic area. This is in addition to New Los Angeles, which is a pretty big hub in and of itself, with four distinct regions, many levels, and nooks and crannies to explore for treasure, quests, and the like. I cannot stress huge huge this game world is — we’re talking Skyrim levels of wilderness and city to explore. It’s very impressive.
A huge part of the game is exploring and unlocking new areas by surveying and setting up probes. This fits in nicely with the greater narrative of colonizing and makes for some intense action when trying to get to a marked spot to set a probe while being hounded by a herd of enemies. Once the probe is set, fast travel to that location in unlocked, and in a world as big as Mira, fast travel is an absolute must.
As this is a JRPG, the player will spend a good portion of time grinding for levels. And this is important to the development of the character and the story. Of the game’s 12 chapters, after Chapter 5, the hand holding kind of ends and players are left to really sink or swim in Mira. There are also a handful of ally characters to unlock by doing affinity quests, bounty missions, and side quests (over 200 combined), and through the story missions. Eighteen allies, actually. And keeping them trained and ready for whenever they may be needed for a mission is paramount. Luckily, the story really pushes for only two of three to be used more than the others, so it never feels like the player is forced to take along an ally they don’t care for for the sake of moving the story forward. There are also support characters that tag along on the quests, like a talking potato named Tatsu, who is as annoying as you can expect from a JRPG.
Also after Chapter 5, the game picks up with the inclusion of the skells (you actually get a skell license in Chapter 6). This changes the game entirely as the player can now pilot one of the cool, transforming mechs that Xenoblade Chronicles X was built around. Skells can fly and transform into vehicles, and they are just amazing to look at on screen. Your skell can be upgraded and tinkered with, and you can even take out insurance policies on the vital parts for when they get damaged. This neat twist actually gives the illusion of ownership. It’s MY skell, and I want to protect my property.
Combat is handled much like the previous game, as the player essentially manages the attacks and powers as the characters duke it out on screen. Queuing up and stacking abilities with your allies, who call out what they are doing, giving the player audio clues as to what they must do to properly stack a massive attack, almost feels like a dance, and honestly, it never got old. From the first few minutes of my journey to the 40th hour, I was still enjoying the cadence of battling a foe. Different arts and skills can be used, and as classes are unlocked and maxed out in levels (10 levels each), the player grows from amnesiac pod survivor to heroic master of all things combat. It’s a nice progression. And there is a certain thrill when taking down a beast that is larger than your TV screen. Players can target specific regions of the enemies and take them out one by one, and using all four members of your squad becomes necessary to seal victory, especially later when the tougher enemies — both beasts and alien races bent on humanity’s destruction — take center stage.
The music and voice acting are both decent, with the overworked music taking center stage, though there are some songs that are played that feature some very generic tropes, like scat and rap and a terrible metal song. XCX works best with the sweeping orchestral movements of combat and world exploration. The voice acting is on par with other JRPGs, and the player character is always silent, save for grunts here and there during combat.
The sheer amount of customization in nearly all facets of Xenoblade Chronicles X would take thousands of words to explain, so I’ll just note that the menus are incredibly deep, and the outfits and armor pieces and weapons that can be found as loot, purchased, and even forged are ridiculous. And it’s cool to see the characters aesthetically change with the new armor pieces. The variety lends to create some really gorgeous avatars. I got a nice thrill when I crafted a new set of armor that made my character look like a true bad ass. There were many times that I could not believe I was playing a game this deep and this large on a Nintendo game system. And there are still so many things to discover that I can easily find another 100 hours lost just doing more and more.
Quests, grinding for levels and loot (there is an eventual level cap), and finding more of the many creatures that call Mira home all await post game, as well as some pseudo-MMO like elements, where the player community is allowed to mesh together and player-created avatars can be recruited into your party for a limited time, and there are some epic 32-player quests (think huge monster hunts) that happen, but it is done not on a server with all 32 players doing it together. It is a very strange and unique way to create an MMO-like experience, without actually creating a MMO game.
Xenoblade Chronicles X came out in the tail end of a calendar year that also featured Witcher III: Wild Hunt and Fallout 4, two AAA, and very epic role-playing games, and it actually held its own against the two critical darlings. With a vast open world to explore and discover, and epic story of humanity’s survival and last stand, and one of the deepest buffets of customization and skills ever, Xenoblade Chronicles X may very well be the biggest — and one of the best — games to grace the Nintendo Wii U. And as the NX waits in the shadows for its unveiling, this may be the last great Wii U game. But make no mistake. It is a great game.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is available now exclusively for the Nintendo Wii U system. This review is based off a review code provided by Nintendo.
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