There was a moment, around the two-hour mark, where I felt genuinely worried about Xenoblade Chronicles 2. After months spent eagerly anticipating this Switch exclusive RPG, it only took a bit of time with its plodding prologue to quickly make me question whether this was really the epic adventure that I’d been promised.
Where developer Monolith’s previous games immediately threw players into the action, the latest Xenoblade starts in a far more sedated fashion. After hurriedly introducing us to peppy protagonist Rex and briefly educating players about the cloud-coated world of Alrest, our hero is swiftly placed on a tight leash.
After the epic scope of the rest of the series, this felt immediately jarring. Instead of being able to explore the kind of breath-taking landscapes the series is known for, the first few hours of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 see players talking to NPCs before diving into dull and simplistic battles. In fact, an early quest demanded that I play a game of hide and seek before I was allowed to progress to the main mission, ( yes, seriously). Unsurprisingly, my high hopes for this long-awaited Switch RPG drastically started to dwindle.
Thankfully though, there’s much more to this ambitious adventure than its tedious opening suggests. Once the game begins proper (around the two-and-a-half-hour mark), the story not only goes to some brilliantly insane places, but Xenoblade Chronicles 2 also starts to blossom into a wonderfully expansive adventure.
Breath Of The Mild
Just like with the Wii’s Xenoblade Chronicles and its Wii U pseudo-sequel — Xenoblade Chronicles X — Monolith’s latest is at its best when it lets players roam freely across massive and dangerous locales.
After getting used to the drab greys and browns of an early town, story events (that we won’t spoil) see players suddenly thrust into a massive, open plain. With a sea of luscious green flooding your retinas, running across this prehistoric-looking landscape feels instantly reminiscent of Nintendo’s other majestic Switch RPG, The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.
While it’s not quite as expansive as Link’s latest, there’s still a refreshing amount of freedom afforded to players here. With an entire ecosystem’s worth of giant beasts roaming around happily, it’s completely up to players whether they choose to explore every nook and cranny, carry on to the main objective or just take down all the dinosaur-esque creatures in sight. For the record, I totally did the latter.
If you’re new to the series, combat in Xenoblade plays out less like a typical JRPG, and more how you’d expect it to in an MMO. Here, targeting an enemy immediately initiates an auto attack. This means that it’s up to players to move their hero’s in real time in order to avoid enemy blows and successfully lineup their special abilities known as Arts.
The Art(s) Of Battle
Yet, while the game’s combat system initially appears to be painfully simplistic, during my six hour play through, the layers of complexity slowly start to pile up.
As the game’s narrative begins to unfold, our hero Rex joins forces with an anthropomorphic Blade known as Pyra. While he wields her as a sword in battle, weirdly, she also fights beside him in humanoid form. Tethered to Rex in battle and granting him special powers, she is one of many Blades that players can equip and use to change the tide of battle. As you’d expect, each Blade adds something unique to each party. As well as kitting out and leveling up Rex, players are also encouraged to constantly juggle different Blades and advance party members
If you couldn’t tell already, that was the final giveaway that this is a game that was made in Japan.
Like with previous Xenoblade games, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a hell of a lot going on here. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 borrows elements from old school JRPGs and MMOs once again, and is a game that’s made up of a large web of intricately connected systems. While the constant introduction of new game mechanics feels incredibly daunting initially, its Xenoblade’s complexity that helps give players so much freedom.
Just like in the vastly addictive online games that Monolith has taken inspiration from, here, players are also free to rack up as many quests as they like and complete them whenever they want. Thanks to a handy fast travel system, it feels great to hop between worlds as you please, making it easy to break up the monotony of your current quest line if you fancy a change of pace.
After the opening’s constant back and forth between swallowing heavy-handed exposition and running basic errands, it was a massive relief to see the developer suddenly loosen its vice-like grip on players. While I had a few issues with the game’s map and objective marker system, overall, I quickly found myself warming to Nintendo’s ambitious Switch RPG.
Speaking of the Switch, how does this ambitious RPG play on Nintendo’s new hybrid console? Well, visually, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is (largely) up there with the best on the platform. Once your console is docked, each richly rendered environment really pops on the TV, showing the true majesty and scale of this beautifully designed world. Unfortunately, playing on handheld sees the game’s impressive production values take a bit of a hit. While it’s great to play a game like this on the go, busier sections often see the resolution and textures descend into a blurry mess, with occasional slow down and pop in rearing it’s ugly head during more frantic battles. Still, it’s impressive to play such a large-scale RPG on the go regardless.
So, How Is Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Shaping Up?
For those of you curious about this Switch RPG but feeling a bit intimidated by the giant “2” in the game’s title, this is actually an entirely self-contained sequel. With developer Monolith Software taking the same bizarre approach to continuity as Square do with Final Fantasy, this story revolves around an entirely new cast of characters in a completely original setting.
It’s a good thing Monolith opted for this more accesible strategy too, because as the first major JRPG on the platform, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is shaping up to be another jewel in the Switch’s crown. While it’s certainly not perfect, it seems as though the latest Xenoblade takes the heartfelt story of the Wii original while keeping the complex systems of its Wii U sequel intact.
It may not be getting the attention of Nintendo’s other first party releases, but make no mistake, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is looking to be a Switch game that’s worth paying attention to.