If you’ve been playing your Nintendo Switch as much as I have, you’re probably already eagerly awaiting any new epic RPG that comes out. We’ve had Breath of the Wild, we got Skyrim, and Disgaea 5, but for many JRPG fans, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will be the first really exciting release on the Switch. And I’m here to say that it’s been worth the wait for the follow up to the Wii’s original classic. This is our Xenoblade Chronicles 2 review for the Nintendo Switch.
If you didn’t play the original XC, or its offshoot for the Wii U, you don’t need to worry about following a story from those games. The tale of Rex and Pyra is completely separate from the other Xenoblade games from Monolith Soft (makers of Baten Kaitos, one of the Gamecube’s true gems). But here’s hoping Nintendo sees reason and re-releases both digitally to the Switch (because by all accounts they’re excellent games).
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a massive, time-consuming, sweeping RPG with huge open worlds to explore called Titans. Think of them as living, floating islands in an endless sky sea. Rex, our main character, begins the game on the back of a smaller such titan whom he calls Gramps. Basically a surrogate father, the two are inseparable and work together to salvage things from the cloud sea. One day, they’re given a massive job to salvage for a mercenary group - and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Rex finds himself quickly thrust into the middle of a worldwide plot of politics, magic, intrigue. As one does.
Our first impressions from GameSpace
I won’t spoil how it happens, but Rex finds himself joined to the blade known as Pyra, the Aegis, a legendary blade that’s been thought lost for centuries. Blades are essentially living weapons, and to wield one as a Driver, you must be attuned to do so. No one is more surprised than Rex when Pyra chooses him, but the two slowly form a strong bond over the course of the game. Though, and this will be the only time I comment on it, Pyra is built like an adult film star rather than a game-leading heroine and it’s a little distracting. At least the jiggle effects are barely noticeable and she’s mostly clothed. I’m no prude, but when Anime-styled games veer too close to Hentai, I tend to roll my eyes and it becomes hard to take the game’s otherwise stellar content seriously.
And there is a LOT of content. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is one of those games that you could power through the main story in around 40-60 hours, but chances are you’ll spend closer to 100 hours due to all the other content and activities. The Titans you visit are massive, winding labyrinths where monsters roam, treasures lie, and side quests abound. Some of those side quests are far from interesting, but many are and most come with great rewards. There are also dozens of additional blades to find and equip, as well as big open world side bosses to defeat and pillage. I’ve been plowing through the story as much as I can, to get the review done, and even I know I’ll be playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for weeks more still.
It’s also worth noting that XC2 is a complex RPG. There are loads of systems layered within systems, wrapped inside of items, and built on top of each other. This is a game that will still be giving you tutorial guides more than ten hours into the adventure. That’s not to say it feels like a tutorial, far from it. Once the basics are taught in the opening minutes, XC2 is happy to let you wander and figure things out as you go. Monolith Soft puts up plenty of tutorial text, but only when it’s necessary.
And it often is necessary. Combat is multi-layered, though at first it seems fairly mundane or passive. Rex auto-attacks targets in-range, while your teammates do their own thing with relatively smart AI. Healers heal, tanks hold aggro, etc. The blades you equip your party with determine their roles, and each blade has three skill attacks that charge up as you auto-attack. Using them at the right time, along with their effects like knockdown, stun, freeze, etc can create combo opportunities for the entire party. A long drawn out fight can be made quick and easy with a little planning and attention to your party’s makeup. You don’t need twitch skills to play XC2 either, as combat plays more like a tab-targeted MMO or FFXII, for that matter. But you do need pay attention, and if you time your button presses just right it can make your skills even more effective.
There were times when playing that I felt fights could drag on too long, even if I thought I was doing everything right. It wasn’t on story-based bosses, or open world rare monsters, but sometimes just random fights in the open world. If there’s one thing wrong with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, it’s pacing. The game often goes through bouts of quick action, then slogging exposition or boring “find where the next quest target is”. I don’t think this was to artificially drag on the length of the game, but it sometimes felt that way. There are even literal fetch quests that block progress of the main story, which hit a little too close to home for this MMORPG veteran.
Voice work is another touch and go spot with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Some, like Rex and Pyra, Nia and Dromarch are exquisite. Others, like Tora and Poppi, can just go mute anytime, thanks. I’d kill for an option to silence specific VO tracks. At least you can adjust combat VO volume, which is crucial because it’s repetitive and grating for just about all actors.
In the end though, the annoyances I find in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 don’t outshine what a great JRPG it is. If you’re not a fan of the aesthetic, you might not be able to stomach XC2, but if like me you love series like Tales of, Final Fantasy, and pretty much anything Monolith Soft has made, you’re in for a real treat. There is a bunch of paid DLC planned for the next year too, which can make an already robust and lengthy game even longer. Consider this one recommended.
SCORE: 8.5 / 10
- Sweeping, massive world
- Great, if somewhat cliche story
- Excellent combat
- Loads of side quests to while away hours
- Tons of Blades to collect
- Extremely repetitive combat voice over
- Annoying English VO on some characters
- Some fights drag on far too long
- Some side missions are a chore