Taking my first steps onto the lush planet of Mira gave me a sense of awe that is only rivaled by the first time I gazed upon the massive gates of Jurassic Park swinging open to reveal the world of Steven Spielberg’s dino-masterpiece. Minutes into Xenoblade Chronicles X, I was thrust into a world populated by undiscovered wildlife, grassy knolls as far as the eye can see, and a beached ship that once prominently housed the future of mankind.
Xenoblade Chronicles‘ selling point may be the colossus Gundam-like mechs (they’re certainly badass), but what’s so special about this title is the realistic ecosystem, and the action-packed RPG mechanics that have translated well from Xenoblade Chronicles.
A tale of human survival
When a wretched alien clan lays claim to Earth, mankind must flee their home on an enormous ship (The White Whale) in hopes of stumbling upon a new place to lay down their roots. Unfortunately, even advanced technology is no match for these pesky alien lifeforms, and fending them off proves to be an issue for humans, even with mechs known as Skells (giant war machines) at their disposal.
This is when the crew must make an emergency crash landing on Mira–the backdrop for our adventure. Everything you’ll be doing from this point forward is about the survival of the species. The home base is the massive White Whale, which happens to include a city within its metallic shell, dubbed New Los Angeles. It’s a hub location where you’ll be able to accept missions, purchase items, and even deck out your barracks.
You join an elite force known as BLADE, whose sole purpose revolves around exploring the planet for resources and missing pieces of the ship. Danger lurks around every corner, and things unravel rather quickly so this task force becomes integral for what lays ahead.
There are many twists and turns throughout the long journey, and though some of the story-telling moments don’t have the emotional impact they were going for, there are still plenty of interesting moments that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. A lot of credit has to go to the game’s writing and dialogue, which is always witty. The tale is so gripping that you’ll inevitably forge a bond with your brave squad mates, Elma and Lin, and my favorite little fur-ball, Tatsu.
A world worth exploring
As I mentioned above, Mira is more than just a video game world with points of interest. Instead, it’s a land brimming with fascinating indigenous habitants, including its own ecosystem that includes a dynamic day and night cycle. And each cycle has its own unique challenge. Something as simple as crackling thunderstorms covering the skies creates an engrossing environment.
The reason I mentioned Jurassic Park earlier was because many of the residents of Mira are massive. There are different sized baddies that scale from human height all the way to dinosaur stature. You’ll be bumping into many of these special beasts on your quest.
Now, I’d be remiss not to mention the epic soundtrack which sets the tone for the whole game. It’s rare to have a soundtrack perfectly enhance the action on the screen, but fortunately that’s the case with Xenoblade. There are also a couple of kickass hip-hop inspired bangers that are refreshingly unique.
The art design is another strong suit for the title, and really complements the gorgeous scenery. Aside from a few expected jagged edges here and there, everything else looks fantastic, which is an impressive feat considering the fact that it’s running on the Wii U.
JRPG goodness with Skells
Monolith Soft and Nintendo have been hinting that this title would attempt to be a bit more like a Western RPG, but it’s not. This is full JRPG and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The gameplay and mechanics are basically the same as those from the beloved Xenoblade Chronicles–albeit with a few tweaks. The focus on skills, arts, gear, and classes add an impressive amount of customization so that you can create a warrior that’s unique to other players.
Combat is the same as it was in Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii U, with a few refinements, of course. You’ll have to micro-manage your special arts while your character continuously attacks. Chaining combos together and finding the right angles to attack will go a long way in assuring your success. Here’s the thing: this dynamic combat is thrilling and engaging.
I’d also like to mention that there’s a ton of content here. Outside of the main campaign (which can be completed in about 40 hours) there are plenty of side-quests, discoverable locations , and items to unlock. There is never a dull moment for our strapping heroes. You can also team up with other players online to take on different challenges. I unfortunately didn’t get much time with the online component since the community wasn’t as populated, but there’s so much to do in the game that I never felt like I needed the multiplayer. How you play though, is completely up to you. This package rivals even the gargantuan amount of content available in Fallout 4.
Now for the (mechanical) elephant in the room–the Skells. These massive war machines aren’t entrusted to any ol’ pilot, as you actually have work at getting one of these bipedal war instruments. You won’t be getting your hands on one until 20+ hours into your adventure. I know, you probably want to get your hands on one ASAP, but it’s even more special once you do get it, because it feels well deserved.
Even though it’s a hassle to wait, you’ll be so adept at surviving without the mech that it will only supplement your already learned skills once found. They’re hulking power houses that easily dispose of human-sized enemies, and give you a fighting chance against the larger beasts that once had you shaking in your boots. They can sometimes feel too clumsy, but are bad-ass pieces of machinery, nonetheless.
I felt like a Gundam Power Ranger in these things.
Not easily accessible, Gamepad magic, & load times
Alright, I understand this may come off as a bit nit-picky, but there’s so much information thrown your way as soon as you start playing that the game could most certainly do a more graceful job of introducing things such as arts, skills, and classes. There are so many intricacies to everything you do in the game, like gear choices and upgrades, that it quickly becomes overwhelming. Newbies beware.
Another nuisance was being forced to complete “affinity” missions to advance the story in between chapters. These are side quests, but they specifically help you grow bonds with other characters. I get that deviating from the main path is necessary in these games; I just don’t like being forced to stop the excitement of the campaign for anything. I want to see what happens, dammit!
Be warned, there are also some load times that can get out of hand if you don’t download the available patches. Just do yourself the favor of grabbing the patches if you are going the physical media route. Those going digital won’t have to worry as the improvements will already be included.
What actually did surprise me was the usefulness of the gamepad. All of the information you need will be displayed on the second screen, which shows important locations, missions, and an overlook of the world map. I know maps aren’t usually exciting, but having the gamepad most certainly made exploring the massive environment a much smoother experience.
Any other year, this could have easily been the best game of the year. Yes, that’s how good this game is. If you’re into RPGs (more specifically, JRPPGs), this is the cream of the crop. It’s certainly not perfect, but is one of the best in the genre. If you’re still on the fence, go buy this game. Enjoy the awe-inspiring landscape, and diverse habitants of Mira. It’s as good, if not better, than the games that have been getting all the hype this year.
- The massive, beautifully realized open world of Mira feels so alive with its own ecosystems and vistas that are worth exploring.
- RPG goodness that makes every second exciting.
- Customization options will make everyone’s experience unique.
- Interesting narrative with some twists and turns.
- Intricacies could be explained better so newcomers don’t get overwhelmed.
- Some won’t like waiting 20+ hours to pilot a Skell.
4.5 Burritos out 5 with a side of scrumptious guacamole.
This review was completed using a Wii U copy of Xenoblade Chronicles X provided by Nintendo. The game hits stores Friday, December 4 exclusively on the Wii U.