MetalFRO's Blog

Posted on Feb 9th 2020 at 01:00:00 PM by (MetalFRO)
Posted under Xenoblade Chronicles X, Monolith Soft, Nintendo, Wii U, JRPG, MMO, science fiction

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Image shamelessly linked from Nintendo UK

I'm not a big RPG guy, but I've enjoyed a few over the years. I always struggle to finish them, once I start, however. Notoriously, I started Final Fantasy VII a number of times, between when I bought it in 1999, and when I finally beat it well over a decade later. I played through the main story of Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete on the PlayStation, but my characters weren't leveled up enough to run the gauntlet of the epilogue. A decade plus later, I played through it again on PSP, and finally did just that. And I've started Final Fantasy Legend for GameBoy more than once, intending to finish it. One of these days, I'll actually do that.

I wanted to get Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii, but slept on the preorder, so I missed out on the special red controller, and a first print run of the game. After that, the price skyrocketed, and I didn't expect to ever be able to play it. Thankfully, GameStop commissioned a second print run, since it was their exclusive, and I was able to obtain one. I didn't get terribly far, but it's a beautiful game with an amazing soundtrack, and I had fun with what I played. When its sequel came out, despite wanting to finish the first game before diving in, I couldn't resist, and bought Xenoblade Chronicles X. I put the original aside, and dove headfirst into the new game, marveling at the amazing graphics, immersive, expansive world, and all the cool stuff the game offered the player. I put about 80 hours into it. Then, the Nintendo Switch dropped.

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Screenshot shamelessly linked from GameReactor.
This game has beautiful locations, and amazing wildlife to look at. And of course, to fight.

I've already regaled my tale of being consumed by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and that story is better told elsewhere. But The Wii U became stagnant, having been overtaken by Nintendo's new console. And then the announcement of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 happened, and again, I was starry eyed. But I was determined to finish that previous game. Still, I continued to leave it unfinished, languishing in the backlog, and atop my pile of shame, due to my attachment to the game, and the sheer amount of time I'd dedicated to something unfinished. One day, I would come back to it, and finally finish it off. Sadly, that day is not today.

That's not a slight against the game, however. It's more a self-deprecating statement of reality. Xenoblade Chronicles X is an immense game, full of more things to do than you could possibly complete. When I started it back up again a few weeks ago, intent on finally finishing it, I got sucked right back in, and have put another 20+ hours into it since returning. It's still a gorgeous game, and quite possibly the best looking game on the Wii U. The soundtrack, while not as strong and cohesive as the original, is an interesting blend of styles, reflecting the Earth that the game's cast of characters were forced to leave behind, and is pretty modern, for a JRPG. The story isn't as strong as the previous game, either, but part of that is due to the game's more open structure. It's far less linear, and because you get to choose your character, you are, by necessity, a largely silent protagonist.

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Image shamelessly linked from MMORPG.
Xenoblade Chronicles X has an incredibly deep combat system. If you like that sort of thing, you're in for a treat.

The reason that the time for me to finally beat XCX is not today is simply this: I'm not great at RPGs. I have muddled my way through the game, grinding and brute forcing my way through some areas where I was probably under-powered.  I imagine I would have had less trouble completing certain missions if I had simply leveled up more, early on. I found that out recently, as I had taken on some missions that required me to take on some formidable enemies, and only after grinding out 5 or 6 levels, was I able to complete those tasks without much fuss. This is common with a lot of RPGs, so I don't consider it a fault, but more, my lack of understanding about when and where to grind organically, versus just doing so arbitrarily, because I know I'll need to be leveled up later.

I enjoy the battle system in the game, even though I still don't fully understand it. It's heavily layered, with an emphasis on picking the right combination of weapons, and the accompanying combat "arts" that allow you to use them to perform special attacks. It's an evolution of Squaresoft's Active Time Battle system, from their Final Fantasy series, where your party members auto-attack an enemy, once engaged, and you can partially direct their actions, while also selecting different "arts" to perform during battle, either to buff yourself or a team member, de-buff an enemy, or execute an attack. Certain attacks or arts will sometimes cause a status change to an enemy that makes them more vulnerable, such as the "Topple" effect, that will allow you to get the upper hand. You can chain some of these status-changing attacks together, to help keep enemies occupied, and there's the Overdrive system as well, where you can increase the power and effectiveness of your arts. This requires TP, or Tension Points, which is another system unto itself. Oh, and did I mention that your party members will execute attacks more in sync with you, as you build "affinity" with them, by completing missions throughout the game? If you like games with deep systems, this will be right up your alley. I haven't even touched on the data probes or mining, which comes in to play as well.

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Image shamelessly linked from Gaming Age.
Once you level up enough to unlock the ability to use giant mech suits, called Skells, this game opens up all the more.

There's a ton of stuff to do in this game. There are hundreds of missions you can complete. Some you can complete on your own, with a party of your choosing. Some are "affinity" missions, to help you build relationships with your party, or other NPCs. Some missions can be played online, with other players, and are exclusive to that forum. Some missions you'll pick up organically, as you talk to people in New LA (the city that acts as the hub to the new world humanity is attempting to colonize). You'll also get missions from alien races you encounter throughout your exploration, as you build relations between humanity and various "xeno" species.

And then there are the main story missions you get from Commander Vandham, which take you through the main plotline of the game. In a nutshell, Earth was destroyed in a skirmish between 2 alien races, and only a fraction of humanity managed to escape in a ship. Everyone's in stasis, though, and the bodies everyone is running around with, called Mimeosomes, are just manufactured shells that can access your consciousness, through a connection to the Life Hold, which houses all the humans. Your main objective, throughout the game, is to locate where on planet Mira this Life Hold has crashed, so it can be secured, brought back to New LA, and everyone returned to their original bodies. The mimeosome angle works well, and makes for a good explanation as to how you can come right back to life after losing a battle, since the fake body can just be repaired or replaced with another. As you progress through the main story, however,  you find that not everything is as it seems.

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Image shamelessly linked from Stripes.
This game has some truly breathtaking vistas, and the world of Mira, some incredible ruins and architecture.

If I had to levy any criticisms against the game, I can think of 2 things that come to mind. First and foremost, there are so many systems in the game it can be utterly overwhelming. There are people who dig that, who enjoy the whole min/max approach, getting into the nitty gritty details of each little mechanic in a game. That's fine for those folks, but I'm a middle-aged man with not enough time to play all the games on my shelves, let alone, the sheer amount of time it takes to properly learn all the systems in this game. Thankfully, I've seen my way through most of the game without getting too deep into any one of them, so it's more forgiving than some games. The absolute depth is there, if you want to explore it, but isn't as necessary as it may be in other games. I just wish I had a better understanding of the systems at play, and especially how some of them interact with one another, so I could better leverage those advantages.

My second criticism is probably more of a "me" problem than a true critique of the game, but the sheer amount of content available in the game is also overwhelming, almost to the point where I have choice paralysis. Do I do this mission, or that mission? Do I go hunting for a particular indigen (the term for animals on Mira), or go help a fellow member of BLADE with their menial task? Do I take on a story mission, and hope I'm leveled up enough to do it, or do I take on an Affinity mission, and then get stuck with that series of tasks, and unable to find the one person I need to talk to, in order to advance the game? I do appreciate that there's so much to do, and that, outside of the story missions, there's no real linearity, other than not being powerful enough to advance into new areas. It's just a lot to take in, and it can be hard to decide what to do, at times. Again, it's probably more my own issue, than a flaw of the game, but I thought it was worth mentioning. For some, this may be a draw.

"Don't Worry" is the music you hear when you're flying in your Skell. Once you unlock the ability
to do so, you'll probably hear it quite a bit, but that's okay, because it's catchy and infectious.

There are some minor gripes I can mention as well, such as the weird pop-in that happens from time to time, the repetition of some of the music tracks a little too much, the over-use of the "Nopon as food" running joke throughout the game, and a few other things, but on the whole, it's a great experience. Monolith made great use of the Wii U game pad here, without it being gimmicky. The story idea, of humanity relocating to a different planet, and trying to survive the threats on an alien world is cool, and I feel like they do a good job of trying to keep up the tension of the story, and urgency of your core mission throughout the game, even if you can be endlessly sidetracked by other tasks and missions. I had 80+ hours into the game already, and coming back to it, I'm well over 100 hours total, and counting. I was hoping to be finished with the game before writing this article, but it wasn't to be. Instead, I'll just say that this is probably the last Wii U-exclusive masterpiece, and that anyone who owns the console, and has even a passing interest in RPGs, should give it a look. Monolith has already said they don't plan to bring it to the Switch, so it's likely to stay locked onto Nintendo's beautiful little failed experiment of a console. That's a shame, because it's a grand adventure, worth your time to explore. Here's hoping at least some of you have, and take, that opportunity.

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I want to agree with you so badly, but ultimately I just found the narrative to be do dis-interesting that I gave up this game. I've been a huge Xeno fan since Xenogears onward and it's a personal black stain on my gaming record that I havn't beaten this game when I've spent so much time with each other incarnation of the series. It is gorgeous though I can't deny that.

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