I did not like Xenoblade Chronicles. I didn’t like the over-the-top English voice acting, I didn’t care about the characters or plot and I really disliked the MMO style auto-combat with special attacks littering the bottom of the screen and cooldown timers. I did really try to like that game but out of the project rainfall games that I really should have played more before my copies were lost to storage purgatory, Pandora’s Tower was the one that most interested me. Fast Forward to the days of the Wii U, specifically April of 2015, and we have the launch of Xenoblade Chronicles X which was a game that I liked a lot more thanks to a cast that better matched what I liked, a Japanese vocal track, a story I liked a lot more and, giant freaking robots which kept me progressing as the plot turned out to not be something that I ended up liking. Xenoblade Chronicles X turned out to be the first Xeno-Anything game that I played until the end of its narrative (and even a little bit more past that), and even though I hated where the story went it was still a game that I mostly enjoyed: a solid 6/10 if I believed in numerically ranking video games. A mere two and a half years later, The Nintendo Switch rampaged across the globe stealing the hearts, minds and, money of fans and somehow Nintendo delivered on its promise to launch Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on the plucky little platform before 2018 and indeed before Christmas of 2017! I wouldn’t get my copy until February of 2018 but what did I think of this game? Well I played through it twice, back-to-back and am only know writing about what I think about it so let that color your expectations. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum but as this is a story driven JRPG, I will have to spoil some things.
(Polyamory would likely end 90% of all Harem Anime but it would also likely change them into something better)
Despite being called Xenoblade Chronicles 2, this isn’t a direct sequel to the Wii game or the Wii U game but there are a lot of similar motifs and set pieces. Like with Xenoblade Chronicles, XC2 is set on a world where continents are their own living entities known as ‘Titans’ although unlike the Wii game, there is no living Bionis or Mechonis but there are a bunch of other Titans that you travel to such as Argentum, Uraya, Genbu, and Mor Ardain. What exactly the Titans are and how they came to be are eventually explained as the plot unfolds but in practical terms, these are just the provinces in which towns are built and quests take place. What separates each of the titans is the vast and difficult to explain Cloud Sea, which appears to be exactly what it is: a literal sea of clouds with tides and everything. It’s possible to ‘swim’ in the cloud sea but it’s not possible to jump off of Titan A and swim to Titan B. Each Titan you visit offers up its own unique type of landscape: Gormott is a vast, idyllic field with some trees, Uraya is the Cave level but with underwater lakes that are the envy of all masked, French murderers, Mor Ardain is the desert level featuring Midgar from Final Fantasy VII, etc. In the very center of the map (I assume. We don’t have a lot of perspective when it comes to North, South, East or West here) is The World Tree, a massive tree-like thing that stretches up into the sky and is clearly visible all over the world. No matter which Titan you’re on. Part of what kept me playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for nearly 200 hours is how much there is to see in each of these areas and it’s clear that Monolith have a knack at crafting beautiful game worlds if you weren’t convinced by their earlier works.
The plot of Xenoblade 2 centers around the fact that Titans are dying off at a higher rate than they’re being born so naturally, wars are about to break out between some of the larger powers. You start out playing as Rex, a salvager who is offered the job of a lifetime by a mysterious group of anime archetypes to salvage an ancient ship, almost certainly of doom. During that mission, we meet and awaken Pyra who asks Rex to take her to Elysium which Rex agrees to since he kind of owes her one for reasons that I don’t want to spoil but which are very, very anime. Pyra being awoken is considered a massive global event which attracts the attention of all kinds of people who Rex will meet on his globe trotting journey to Elysium. The plot is broken up into 10 chapters and as the story unfolds we learn more about the history of each civilization living on their respective Titan and where they stand on the current political stage. We also learn more about each of the core party members and temporary party members but it would be weird if we didn’t. If you missed something or particularly like a scene, it’s possible to re-watch events (be they main story events or character specific events) by using the event theater on the main menu. As I may have let on, I enjoyed this story overall but there are instances where the fast travel mechanic of the game undermines certain events. As for the characters, I feel like they’re all mostly effective and nuanced and there isn’t a character who I would say is unnecessary like Final Fantasy IX’s Amarant. The only other complaint about the story I have is that there are two points of no return but one of them really isn’t telegraphed. It’s possible to be locked out of certain side quests and merc missions when it triggers but it’s easy enough to either reload a save or run through the rest of the game and get back to those missions on a future playthrough since both points of no return happen quite late in the game.
I’ve referred to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as my favorite harem anime previously and I think that’s the best way I’ll be able to segway into a discussion about the characters. Rex is just a snot-nosed kid who makes a living diving into the cloud sea and salvaging relics he finds there. He’s a pretty effective player-insert character since he’s learning a lot about the world and Blades along with the player. Aside from him the main (mostly) permanent cast of party members (known as Drivers) are Nia, Tora, Morag and, Zeke von Ginbu. There are a couple of temporary party members but I don’t want to dwell on them here, I’ll just say that I like one of them and really like the other one. Nia is a character you meet early in the game who starts out as an annoying little sister type of character to Rex. Tora is a Nopon which is essentially just a fuzzy ball with a mohawk. He’s the one non-humanoid party member and he’s presented as being incredibly intelligent if a little bit perverted. Morag and Zeke are presented as very powerful adversaries but once they join up they’re basically Rex’s friends for the rest of the game. Morag is a no nonsense type; quite strong and just as stoic but there are a few lighter scenes involving her. Zeke on the other hand is the butt of a lot of physical humor up until he joins Rex. Once a new party member joins Rex, you can chose to control them instead of Rex but ultimately I found that it really doesn’t matter who I’m controlling in battle though thanks to how Blades work in this game.
(If your Anime Harem doesn't include Zeke then I'm afriad you're incorrect)
Each of those characters derive their power from Blades, characters in their own right with side-plots and motivations and even their own designers and voice actors. Each party character and certain NPCs have their own unique Blade who we learn about as the story progresses and depending on which blade we’re talking about, has the potential to make me weep like a newborn baby. I didn’t unlock all of the Blades thanks mostly to the fact that unlocking new Blades is heavily reliant on luck and RNG mechanics that I simply didn’t want to have to deal with. Basically, you chose a party member who isn’t Tora, hand them either a common, rare or legendary Core Crystal, use a booster to make one of four stats dominant, and hope that you get a rare Blade instead of a rank 1 or 2 Blade. I only really missed out on about 10 unique Blades and my main criticism is how most of them are humanoid. What I love in Fantasy and Sci-Fi and Sci-Fantasy RPGs is when I’m allowed to build up a party with lots and lots of non-humans but here it feels like I’m playing with a bunch of cosplayers and maybe a Siberian Tiger or a very large frog. Despite the oversaturation of humanoid blades and characters though I do appreciate the fact that a lot of Blades were designed by different artists other than the lead character designer. Masatsugu Saito did some great work here of course but other artists who worked to create Blades for this game include Taiki (Digimon World), Kouji Ogata (Boogiepop Phantom(Manga)) and, Tetsuya Nomura (Final Hearts and Kingdom Fantasy). The only thing I don’t really like about characters in this game is the English voice casting. I understand that cheesy UK accents are kind of a big thing when it comes to the Xenblade brand at this point but I switched the voices over to Japanese as soon as I was able to.
The gameplay for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is centered around MMO style combat, wherein a party of up to three Drivers using one Blade each auto-attacks an enemy until their abilities are ready to be used. Once an ability is used, a cooldown timer begins which, once it runs out, allows you to use that ability again. Changing up your Blades also starts a cool-down timer which determines when you can re-summon the Blade you started out with, thus limiting quick summon-backsies. Through combat and defeating certain enemies, Blades are able to develop their abilities and unlock new ones. The key thing to keep in mind is that Blades can use field skills which affect the world around you either by opening chests, creating bridges or, opening doors and there are several instances where you must match or exceed a skill check to continue your progress through either the main game or whichever side quest you’re currently working through. If you need a somewhat different and potentially more expedient way of strengthening your Blades, Merc Missions open up during Chapter 3. Merc Missions are missions chosen within a menu, Blades you want to send out on them are chosen on a menu and in order to complete those missions Blades with certain skills must be chosen. There is a submenu of extra skills that, if the Blades you’ve chosen are proficient in them, can cut the projected mission times significantly. That’s the annoying thing about Merc Missions, once you’ve sent out your Blades on one of them, they’re unavailable until they return from an unseen, unplayable mission that could take as long as two hours. Not two in-game hours but two real hours that can only pass while you’re playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
Since Xenoblade Chronicles 2 launched, one of the Blades has been the subject to scrutiny and criticism by concerned fans. Risa Ebata created two blades for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, one of them isn’t worth mentioning because I have nothing interesting to say about her and the other is Ursula, a cute little girl with a huge polar bear that has humanoid feet. Large animals with people-feet isn’t my issue though, its a set of merc missions specifically for her. In order to fully develop Ursula you need to complete the Bearing her Soul side quest. It starts with talking to an NPC in Torigoth, meeting a Nopon after that scene then going to Argentum to follow up. The Nopon (Tipitapi) explains that he can make Ursula famous if she trains her voice, and her stage presence (looks and soul). To update these three stats, you need to collect Look, Vocal and, Soul vouchers by completing three new Merc Missions.The missions MUST include Ursula and finishing each of the missions grants one of the three vouchers. After reaching certain milestones (5 of each, 10 of each, 25 of each, e tc), talking to Tipitapi will show you if those stats have increased and new Merc Missions that Ursula must be present in to complete will unlock. Some of these Merc Missions grant more than one type of voucher and others unlock more than one of a specific voucher. By the time you’ve collected 70 of each voucher, Merc Missions that pay out 3 of one of them per completion of a Merc Mission will unlock. I’m going to go so far as to call this the absolute worst side quest in any RPG I’ve ever played since so much of it is just waiting for timers to expire and the final reward is a more developed healing type character when I could just use one of the other Healers who develop more easily and with similar results.
(I love her but she's by far my most problematic fav)
For the most part, it did get somewhat easy to conclude that quests and side-quests are broken up into one of a few specific types. There are missions where you must meet and talk to an NPC after travelling a new area. There are missions where you must find and kill certain (or a certain) enemy threat. There are missions where you must find a treasure and return to the quest giver and finally, there are missions that are a mix of the above. Some of those mission types mentioned above are lengthened by the need to either salvage or complete a Merc Mission which tacks on anywhere from an extra minute to an extra hour of waiting around, maybe doing another side quest. Some of the side quests that require you to find someone will have you follow a glowing trail but it’s kinda undone by the fact that there’s always a marker showing you where you need to go at the top of the screen. I’m going to clumsily segway into another point and it’s the HUD (or Heads Up Display): Unlike games like Breath of the Wild, there isn’t an option to turn off things like character icons, waypoint markers, the Blade Switch/ Current Objecting things on the bottom corners of the screen or the time of day marker at the top right of the screen. The map can be toggled on, off, large or, larger by clicking the left control stick. The overall play area isn’t cluttered but it would be nice to have an option to completely clear everything off of the screen.
If you don’t feel like taking on any specific quests though, you can always salvage. Salvaging is a mechanic whereby Rex jumps into the Cloud Sea at specific points on most maps marked by a large hook. When Rex surfaces, he’ll surface with at least five random items and up to three chests. Each item has a ranking and much like certain MMOs I could name, the rarity of each item is marked by a color (white being common, orange/gold being rare). The chests are also designed differently depending on how awesome and rare their treasures may be, with simple stone-like chests holding more common goods and white/gold chests which are guaranteed to hold some rare items and high amounts of gold. There’s also a chance that Rex will come up from the Cloud Sea with a monster that, no matter what its level is in relation to yours, will always want to fight. Early in the game, I found that a great place to grind for levels was in the north of Argentum (Maelstrom) since it was easy to salvage up decent treasure and a high-ish level monster that was easy enough to kill with a full party, even with a low level team. The main factor that determines what Rex pulls up during salvaging runs is what type of cylinder you use when you initiate a Salvaging run: Normal, Silver, Gold and Premium which can all be purchased from vendors in any given town. They’re not all available from the beginning of the game but they all become available as you progress in the story, with some being offered early as rewards for completing certain side quests or opening certain hard-to-find treasure chests. There’s also a three-prompt mini game which doesn’t seem to have a lot of influence over what items or how many items you salvage up since I’ve found some pretty significant hauls without going through with the button prompts. If anything, it’s a bit more rewarding to ignore the prompts since we get to see Rex fall awkwardly into the Cloud Sea. Certain Blades have a skill called ‘Salvage Mastery’ which, when activated, seem to boost your chances of finding more or better chests so it’s worth it to change around which Blades you have equipped before you decide to go salvaging, even if you’re only planning on slavaging once or twice.
I really don’t want to go into spoilers too much so here are just a few more things to note about Xenoblade Chronicles 2. A Nopon is used as a somewhat major antagonist early in the plot. There are a lot of anime tropes used in the story and in certain cutscenes of the game such as the phrase ‘don’t take it personal kid’ and a character being stabbing in the back by a katana-wielding person who just teleported...and it was played straight. There is a hot springs scene, there are transformations, mecha figure into the plot but you don’t pilot any. There are instances where deaths are meant to illicit a serious response but then later on in the game, something happens which, if you do even a small amount of scrutinizing, you find that the events meant to be happening are...well, not. It gets a little difficult to tell when you’re supposed to take the games word for it as to whether or not there are stakes or not. Despite the instances of tonal dissonance, the final chapter of the game and the last few scenes effected me in the same way that the finale of Final Fantasy IX effected me and to be absolutely blunt what I mean is, this game made me cry at the end, both times I beat the game! One final, minor complaint I have against Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is how there’s only one save slot. It’s not a massive complaint since death in the game isn’t really punished at all: you don’t lose EXP, Money, Time, you don’t even have to re-watch cutscenes. Starting a New Game Plus keeps things like unique bosses dead, it keeps your Blades leveled up to the point that they were leveled up in your previous playthrough, you keep your money too and it unlocks the ability to possibly summon new Blades from Core Crystals.
2018 has been the year that I could have caught up on games from 2017 and while I did do that, I wound up playing a pair of hundred-plus hour RPGs twice in a row. No wonder it’s already past mid-May! Between Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Persona 5, I liked the combat and the way you got new Demons in Persona 5 a bit more but I liked the plot and characters of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 a bit more than Persona 5. I spent less than 200 hours playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 but I feel like if I was completely set on 100% completion I would still be playing and not writing up me feelings on the game. I can see myself playing this again, probably before Persona 5, if only because of how awesome it is to just utilize the Switch (my other home consoles need to be plugged in when I want to use them do to space constraints I have to deal with at the moment). This game reminds me a lot of Knights of the Old Republic in that it’s a style of game I don’t usually enjoy but which I couldn’t stop playing through multiple playthroughs because of the story that’s being told. I’d absolutely recommend Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to anyone who owns a Switch but I would understand if the abundance of anime motifs might turn some people away. Sure you can skip the cutscenes but...dude, c’mon it’s a story-driven game. C’mon dude.