It took over a hundred hours, but my Xenoblade Chronicles 2 experience is over and done with. And what an experience it was — stellar on many accounts, with only a real couple sour spots left in my mind by the end. After worrying towards the beginning that this would be a disappointing sequel, Xenoblade 2 has proven it a capable successor to the original’s legacy.
Beyond the sky
My ultimate feelings on the story of Xenoblade 2 are about as complicated as the plot itself — to easily discern them without spoiling everything is nigh impossible, so I won’t dare to try. But there’s a lot going for it. Developments are interesting both emotionally and intellectually, and there’s no real moment beyond some of the eye-rolling anime bits early on that I can point to as out and out terrible. It was definitely complex — especially considering the sheer length of the game — but it was never convoluted; I never had trouble keeping track of what exactly was happening.
I’ve mentioned the game’s cast being great before, but I think some mention has to go to the game’s villains, particularly primary antagonist Jin. Not only do they get a very large amount of screen time, fleshing them out and developing their characters, but they manage to be some of the more intricate and intriguing baddies in RPGs of recent years. Coupled with some unique world-building and conflicting motivations, and it creates a conflict with some actual weight — even if it devolves a bit into philosophical pondering towards the end.
If there was one element of the plot that didn’t work, however, it was ironically what lies near the center of the entire story: Rex and Pyra’s relationship. While not the worst I’d ever seen, the two’s relationship doesn’t develop or grow nearly as much as it should have, and the romantic entanglements feel a tad hackneyed or even forced. While it feels like it should be the driving emotional force behind the plot — the game certainly treats it as such — I didn’t really feel the pathos within.
The game’s ending is a bit mixed, but has highlights. There’s a couple dangling threads, and the final scene made me more than a little ambivalent, but there is some solid resolution to a number of questions. Fans of the first Xenoblade will be rewarded with some great nuggets of relation, striking a fine balance between fan service and development. And the scene when you finally get to Elysium is truly memorable and evocative, still resonating in my mind as I type.
The never ending game
RPGs are generally long, and Xenoblade 2 is hardly an exception — despite doing maybe only half of the side quests I ended up with a clock of over a hundred hours, with plenty of postgame content left to cover. Almost all of that content is good though, and with a recent update patch — not to mention the promise of future DLC, including story content — this is a game overflowing with value.
One realization that hit me late into the game was how much replay value is added by the Blade system. Because your Blades are tied to particular Drivers, and you can’t exactly pick and choose which ones you get, your experiences will change on separate playthroughs. What was once Rex’s go-to Tank might end up on Nia the next time around, and considering the roughly 30 or so Rare Blades and five Drivers, that’s a huge amount of potential combinations. A single playthrough can churn out a disgusting amount of time already, but with the Blade system in place it seems you could satisfy yourself for hundreds of hours.
What’s important to stress is that XC2 not only has a lot of content, it’s good content. Some of it is the typical RPG quest busy work, yes, but there’s usually something interesting involving the world or your characters. The Blade quests are instrumental in fleshing out the Blades in your party that aren’t involved in the story, and can help make them more than just their character design. It’s one of those games where I can have fun just running around and exploring, despite the simple controls, and that speaks to how well-designed and vast the environments are.
Parting is such sweet sorrow
Few games have been as difficult to pin down my feelings on as Xenoblade Chronicles 2. There are certain parts that are unequivocally great: the area design, the soundtrack and the ebb and flow of the battle system. There are parts that I feel more mixed on, such as the sprawling nature of the plot or the occasionally lackluster “Anime” moments. But outside of a few really bad character designs, there’s nothing I truly detest.
It may not come across in the review, but I’ve thought long and hard on my feelings towards this game. I’ve paced around the house, mumbled to myself and considered the implications of what it’s trying to say, yet I still haven’t managed to fully parse how my thoughts. But I think that’s what’s beautiful, in a way — the fact that it’s evoked such thinking shows how much I cared, and how invested I was in what happened. To be bothered by the little details and ruminate on them is far better than to not care at all.
And that’s the kind of game Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is — it’s not the sort of experience you’ll burn through with wanton abandon, easily parsing every little thing or aspect of it. It’s not a tightly crafted game where you can proclaim every minute game design point as a stroke of genius, or a clean-cut RPG where the good, the bad and the stellar are immediately discernible. But it has something to say, and experiencing that is valuable in and of itself.
The first Xenoblade Chronicles was a renaissance painting: expertly composed, with so few faults and blemishes that it’s difficult to not call a masterpiece. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, on the other hand, is a postmodern drawing — out there, messy, and perhaps not always made like you would expect; and yet, you can’t help but feel something from it. Both are beautiful in their own way.
Unless you’re an avid hater of JRPGs or anime-styled games, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 should be strongly considered by any Switch owner, and it’s a must-have for aficionados of the genre. I can only hope that Monolith Soft continues this series, because it’s proven its pedigree with this title. And if a Xenoblade Chronicles 3 ever does spring forth, then I’ll be there on day one, ready to fight for the future all over again.Leave a Comment
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: December 1, 2017
Developer: Monolith Soft