Following up on the resounding success of Xenoblade Chronicles and the more recent spin-off Xenoblade Chronicles X, the second proper part of the story is now out for the Nintendo Switch. Even for the more hardened JRPG fans, there’s a lot to take in during the first few hours of this absolutely massive title, which is as daunting as it is rewarding. Piling you up with one-and-done tutorials means you’d better be taking notes so you miss nothing on your journey through the new world, searching for Elysium, the ultimate paradise for humanity to settle on.
As I’ve already stated, the first few hours of the game are really blink and you’ll miss it. You’ll be watching cutscenes and reading tutorials more than you’ll be actively playing, as the game loads you up with every bit of pertinent information you could possible require to navigate through the many details menu options and gameplay mechanics X2 has in store. It’s something that takes a lot of getting used to, even at the point I’ve got to I’m absolutely sure there’s something I’m missing or not doing, which is where the option to revisit these tutorials would come in very handy. Thankfully in 2017, we have the ability to use the internet to do this, but the option in game would have been nice. The many menu options are thankfully quite easy to use once you get the hang of them, though I would point out it does seem like there would be easier ways to do a lot of the things you are required to. Switching between screens seems like there are additional steps for what should be relatively simple actions. I could detail these further, but I’d be easier starting up a Wiki page for the game.
Aesthetically, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 shines. Characters are detailed and look great, the Titans that you inhabit throughout your quest are genuinely breathtaking and the environments are stunning to look and and explore. The sense of scale is wonderful, with the game panning across new environments to show you every inch of the world you’re free to explore. Every tree and blade of grass looks as though it’s meant to be there and as far in as I am, I’ve noticed no graphical glitching during exploration. During the battles this isn’t quite as good, with characters cutting into one another but given just how busy the screen can get during these encounters, it’s harder to notice. The music is fantastic, and is point perfect in adding to every scene. The same, however, cannot be said for the voice acting. I found myself relying on the subtitles rather than listen to the over-enthusiastic, often unbearable Rex. Many other characters fell into the extremely irritating range too, particularly the Nopon race and their nonsense broken English. It may have been intended as endearing but it annoyed me far too much.
The fact XC2 is a Switch title, much like Breath of the Wild or Skyrim before it, is remarkable. The amount of scale and detail in a massive open world is something quite astonishing. There are no unreasonable loading times and the volume of cut-scenes alone leave me baffled as to how it all fits onto the Switch cartridge. In docked mode, Xenoblades doesn’t look out of place when compared to anything on either the Xbox One or PS4, but it’s in tablet mode there is a slight struggle. While there isn’t any slow down, or real graphical drop since the game still runs 720p, although I wouldn’t say it fares as well as either Zelda or Skyrim in comparison. It’s by no means bowling shoe ugly, but it’s much easier to feel swamped when your in battles as different sub-menus and HP stats clutter the entire screen quickly. It’s far from unplayable, but to me it feels like the first Switch title that really benefits from being played on a big screen.
Despite these issues, the story and beautiful world to explore, alongside the fun combat make Xenoblade Chronicles 2 another great success for the Nintendo console. Despite maybe not being quite as polished as Breath of the Wild or as easy to pick up and play as Mario Odyssey, there’s a lot of gameplay here if you’re willing to put in the time. It’s unlikely to top any game of the year lists, but given the fact that aside from some wobbly voice acting, daunting menus and the fact tablet mode doesn’t look quite as good as I had hoped it would, this is still a fantastic RPG and if the combat and pacing of Fire Emblem doesn’t work for you; this is the game that you’ve likely been waiting for.
The good thing is that this is made up for with the combat. At first, the battles seem like they are taking place with limited input from yourself. With no experience of the Xenoblade games before this, I felt like I was merely spectating as the action took place. Without a turn-based mechanic, your character; Rex; swings at his foes automatically, finishing the weaker enemies without any need for you to push a button. This is rectified a few hours into the game, when you’re introduced to your Blade. Linked to your Driver character, your Blade grants you power and a weapon and suddenly, brings the combat in the game to life. Different Blades grant different abilities to you, so you’re able to experiment with them to see which works best for you. You can also switch between which character you control in battle so you can get the most out of each encounter. To the untrained eye, the combat in full flow is a mess of options and numbers, once you have an understanding of what these mean the battles are some of the most fun I’ve experienced in an RPG of any kind.