Xenoblade Chronicles X makes a handful of strong first impressions. A setup that feels like the first episode of a sci-fi anime, the jaw-dropping vistas overlooking one of gaming’s largest open worlds, and a complex style of combat and character advancement generally reserved for MMORPGs; this risky assortment of extreme ideas hits hard in Xenoblade’s early hours. Honestly, it’s a recipe for an overwhelming, convoluted mess. Yet somehow, ten hours in, I find myself with clear objectives, a fairly organized quest log, and tons of reasons to keep playing.

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Before I talk story, I should disclose this: I have a soft spot for anime and Japanese storytelling. There’s something about the absurd and imaginative plots and stereotypical casts of characters that I can’t get enough of. So when I suggest that X’s intro and setup feel like getting into a new anime series, I don’t mean it lightly. In the first hour you’ll witness galactic warfare, see the near-end of humanity, meet a rag tag cast of heroes, and be tantalized by the mech suits, or Skell, that you know you’ll get to pilot at some point. And what other ingredient do you need to set the stage for any Japanese sci-fi epic? A crazy soundtrack that blends grand, sweeping orchestrations with bluegrass and hip-hop.

The premise of X is surprisingly simple, for a JRPG. Suffice it to say that humanity is evicted from Earth and what’s left of it is forced to start over on an unknown, uncharted planet. We got lucky, though, because what a gorgeous planet it is. Mira, as we alien humans have come to call it, is brimming with gravity-defying rock formations, colossal alien lifeforms, and breathtaking scenery literally everywhere you look. That’s all within the first few hours, and the first of five massive continents that make up the game’s huge world. I find myself stopping at least a few times an hour to admire some random picturesque view. I’m in constant awe that the Wii U is capable of these stunning visuals, and moreso that they’re delivered at a consistently rock-solid framerate.

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Enough about aesthetics, let’s talk gameplay. This is where many RPGs of this scale tend to lose me, no matter how gorgeous or inviting their worlds might be. X lifts its pseudo-realtime combat from games like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV, blending direct character control with dice rolls and hotbars full of skills. If you missed the original Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii and New 3DS, it’ll take some time to learn the rhythm of the series’ combat. The game doesn’t expect too much from you early on, though, and there’s plenty of low-stakes battles to ease you into the mechanics. I was actually surprised at how well the game doles out its combat rules without burying a new player under mountains of explanation and options.

I can’t quite say the same about the game’s sense of progression. Within the first five hours you’ll be faced with many decisions, such as which division of public service you want to join, the class you’ll start putting skill points into, and the field proficiencies you’ll use when you go out exploring. On top of that there’s the entire party’s equipment to juggle, relationships to foster, and a cartography and mining infrastructure that you’ll single-handedly assemble. Most of this is explained well enough to follow if you’re paying attention, but at a point it does start to feel overwhelming. For some players all of this micro-management is a dream come true, there’s much more to do than just level your party and kill the bad guys. If it sounds daunting, though, don’t worry too much, as so far it doesn’t feel like stressing about every detail of these systems is vital to enjoying the game. I’ve been somewhat casually juggling all of my pioneering duties and nothing has blown up yet.

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One thing I’m a bit apprehensive of is the mission structure, an unfortunate clichè among open world games. Side quests in X come in all the typical flavors: fetch, gather, kill, etc. Ten hours into the game, they’re perfectly acceptable excuses to explore every inch of this beautiful planet, and they’ve been diverse enough to keep me seeking them out. But in a game that’s purportedly hundreds of hours long (should you choose to partake in all that it has to offer) some of these basic activities are likely going to get very, very repetitive. I’m hoping that the dramatic changes of scenery that Mira holds, and the far more interesting main story missions, are enough to keep things from getting tired.

You probably already know if this is your kind of game or not; it wears its inspirations and style right on its sleeve. But if you have any question of the game’s quality, polish or depth, I think I can safely put those queries to bed. Xenoblade Chronicles X looks and runs beautifully, has the makings of a massive sci-fi epic, and offers more depth of character advancement than any RPG in recent memory. I suppose I’ll find out in a hundred hours or so if these early experiences hold true until the end.

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Written by Brittin Shauers

Brittin literally grew up with Link, Mario and Samus. These three characters and their worlds collectively capture everything that he loves about video games.

Brittin Shauers