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Xenoblade Chronicles 2 review

December 23rd, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

I didn’t think I’d actually finish this game. I didn’t finish the first Xenoblade Chronicles (because I kinda got tired of it a bit past the halfway point), I didn’t finish Xenoblade X (because it sucked), and I figured this would continue that tradition. You know what it is? It’s the Switch. The ability to not HAVE to play it on my TV or PC means I could play it more, and multi-task more easily.

So I was somewhat excited for this one, the announcement in January came as a surprise, and the fact that it was announced for this year was also pretty surprising (though less so in subsequent interviews where the game was said to be in development alongside Xenoblade X). People didn’t believe it would make a 2017 release but here we are. So it’s basically the last big game this year.
So let’s check it out see if it’s good. I’ve organized this review slightly differently from usual to address all I want to.

Note: This review was written before the latest patch was released, I don’t know if it fixes some of the things I’ll talk about.

Other note: This review is fucking long. Here’s a link to the overall thoughts.

Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo
Date of Release: December 1st 2017
Platform: Switch
Genre: Action-based Console-style RPG

Rated T for Teen

Presentation

The game features a world of extremely giant beasts wandering around a planet covered in a sea that’s made of clouds. These giant creatures called titans are really cool. You get to visit several of them in the game, and each has different topographical features. Where one might have mountains and plains, the other might be covered in factories and vents and stuff, or be a network of caves within a giant whale. There’s different colors, plants and wildlife in each of them, they’re all quite fun to explore. The monsters are a bit on the generic side IMO, but they don’t tend to look bad. There’s some pretty cool designs here and there, but a lot of it is wildlife inspired by real wildlife, so basically animals with some extra design bits to them. The character design is basically what you’d expect from a JRPG. Younger anime-ish characters with absolutely ridiculous clothing, or ridiculous proportions, or both. I really enjoy the designs, clearly all the character designers had a lot of fun making these characters. A weird thing as far as Rare Blades (more on those later) is that they have a 2D drawing of them from the person who designed them, but they’re all drawn in different styles (which makes sense since they were designed by different people), which makes them kinda clash with each other. Their 3D models all fit fine though.

Also the music’s good. It tends to feel epic and like you’re on an adventure of sorts. I’m bad on talking about music though so let’s move on to voice acting… It’s pretty darn british. There’s actually a lot of different accents for the characters. Nia is more on the welsh side of things, for example. There’s a few that aren’t quite as british too. As far as the quality of the voice acting… Eh. It’s not terrible, they need to emote more, but I got used to it and by the end I didn’t really have a problem with it. There’s just moment where the animation has them screaming but they really aren’t.

Overall I very much enjoy how the game looks and sounds… with some exceptions.

Technical issues

So the presentation is great and all on the design side. Same can’t always be said about the technical quality. The game is a bit of a mess when it comes to all sorts of things here. The most obvious one is the texture quality. I’d say that it’s bad when you zoom into it, but you barely need to zoom at all. You can count the pixels on the textures from a decent distance. It’s just laughable how bad they are. Thankfully the camera tends to be zoomed out a lot, but still.

Loading is also a weird thing. The loading times themselves? Great, very fast. Fast traveling to anywhere takes 5 to 10 seconds at most. Great. But sometimes the graphics don’t load immediately. More often than not you’ll appear in an area with colored polygons with no textures and/or invisible objects. Then it takes a few more seconds to load everything else. Sometimes that even happens during in-engine cutscenes when said cutscenes transition to different areas. It’s kinda ridiculous.

Handheld mode… In general it looks fine, just like playing it docked. The low texture quality is still there, as is the odd loading issue, but otherwise, it’s fine… Except when it randomly decides not to be. See, to maintain a “smooth” framerate in handheld mode (I mean, it’s 30fps, which is fine for an RPG), it has a dynamic resolution in handheld mode. That means that, when too many effects and particles and stuff happen at once, the resolution goes down so that you can keep playing at the 30fps. It’s generally okay, but there’s some segments where the resolution DROOOOOOOPS. And by drops, I mean sub 400p. Not good, but it tends to be for a short moment. There’s one scene where I’m pretty sure it dropped to around 200p, the game was just a mess of giant pixels. Not a great look. The anti-aliasing also seems to not function in handheld mode, but it’s not too bad anyways.

Also some of the animation during “conversation” cutscenes is crappy. There’s actual cutscenes with proper animation going on and those are great, but the cutscenes that are just the characters standing around and talking are… well, first, pretty boring, but second, very badly animated if anything other than moving their mouths and heads needs to happen. The characters get really robotic, unnatural movements then.

Do these issues affect the game negatively? Not heavily. But they have to be mentioned nonetheless. They are a bother but at least the game functions most of the time.

(This doesn’t really fit here, but I did get one side-quest in the early game that doesn’t actually work, I believe the newest patch fixes it)

Story

I won’t spoil anything, just the basics. You play as Rex, a young teenage salvager in the world of Alrest. In this world there’s a sea made of clouds, and people live on top of really giant monsters called Titans, who have forests, plains, mountains, cave and villages on top of/inside them. As part of his salvager job (where he would usually go down into the cloud sea and find stuff to sell back), he is hired to help a group of Drivers (people who have bonded with “Blades”, basically a being that provides weapons and power-ups to Drivers) to bring up a sunk ship and find something, that being the Aegis, a super powerful Blade that saved the world 500 years ago. Rex ends up becoming the Driver of the Aegis, Pyra. He promises to bring her to the top of the World Tree, which is said to lead to Elysium. So he joins up with other Drivers, fights against some others, and travels the world to find a way to get there.

There’s a lot more to it, but I don’t wanna go into any detail. I do actually enjoy most of the main characters, even some of the less important ones that I thought would just be played up as a joke like Poppi do happen to have some depth and character development to them. It’s not even really a cliché story. It uses clichés and tropes, sure, but it’s pretty unique. The ending is nice though there’s a few elements that are just a little bit confusing.

My only real complaint is how it’s told. It just BLASTS you with cutscenes. You end a chapter, and it may be nearly an hour until you get to play again. The last chapter is especially egregious in the amount and lengths of its cutscenes. Lots of cutscenes are just characters standing around and talking, it’s especially heavy on the exposition. And it’s also heavy on repeating the same flashback a million times for no reason. Not that all the cutscenes are bad, there’s a good amount that are actually very entertaining. But it’s kinda the exception. It also loves to do the “win a battle in gameplay but lose it in the following cutscene” thing, which is definitely an annoyance.

Gameplay

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is an RPG similar to the previous 2 games in the series. It does feature a revamped fighting system, but it’s still real-time combat with a selection of skills that have cooldown. The flow is pretty simple. You always have an active main quest, with a compass that tells you which direction the next objective it is, but it’s also a set of different open worlds so you can explore as you want, find NPCs that will give you sidequests, gather materials and items, find hidden areas, and kinda do what you want. The game also features a fast travel mechanic, which you can use anytime, anywhere. Regardless of what the story says too. “Hey we have 3 hours to stop this thing before everyone dies” or whatever? Just go do side-quests. Heck, the game has a time system (which you can completely manipulate to your liking), but just going to the area the game asks would take more than 3 hours on the in-game clock, so it’s very arbitrary. Anyways, let’s talk about the gameplay in a few separate sections.

Combat

The game uses real-time combat, as mentioned above. Drawing your weapons and getting close an enemy makes your character attack them automatically, at a specific rate, for a 3-attack combo that repeats afterwards. Kinda-glitch I found on my own though, is that if you cancel the attack animation at any moment after any hit by moving even slightly in any direction, you restart your attacks from the first auto-attack. You can use that to attack quicker, or to just repeat the usually-faster (but weaker) first hit in the auto-combo. Note that the other 2 characters in your active party will do whatever they want (except use specials), but will rarely be detrimental.

On the bottom-right of the screen there’s 4 icons for skills, related to the four face buttons. Those are stronger attacks, but they have cooldown. Skills depend on weapon type, which changes if you equip different Blades. Cooldown is based on hitting things with your auto-attack. Hitting with the attacks from the B, X and Y skills increases the meter for your A button, which is going to be your currently-equipped Blade’s special attack. After doing any of the skills, if you pretty the next skill at a good timing you increase the power of the skill and increase the meter for the special faster. Each blade has 3 or 4 levels of special attacks (the higher it is the stronger). On the bottom-left of the screen you see your 3 currently-equipped blades, and you can switch between them. You can also do the timing thing to increase your special meter and keep comboing skills between characters.

Some skills cause status effects. The most important one may be Break, as it opens the ability to use the “Topple” effect, which makes an enemy fall on its ass. Some states enable enemies to be launched in the air, and “smash” attacks deal extra damage to launched enemies. There’s also some more standard stuff you can do like poison.

Doing a special puts a certain elemental effect on the target. A fire special will give the “Heat” state, for example (these states stay for a limited amount of time, which you can see with a meter above the HP). That does very little at first, this is the first-level elemental effect. When an enemy is, say, under “Heat”, a level 2 fire special (and I think a level 2 water special) will cause another, stronger elemental effect which will be followed by an extra attack for additional damage. Then if you do a valid elemental level 3 special when the enemy is at a second-level elemental state, you get an even stronger additional attack. Note that, to make this easier, you are actually the one that has control over when the CPU-controlled allies use their own specials, so you can set combos up yourself to do this.

Also the specials activate a kind of QTE. A circle appears and you must press the button when another circle is in it. Getting it in the brighter area is better. You get similar QTEs when salvaging. I tend to hate QTEs, but these are a much better implementation than most, since there’s an actual reason for them to exist (the possibility of more damage, or better rewards in salvages).
As far as healing, this game has NO items you can use in or even out of battle. Instead certain attacks have a chance to spawn HP potions. Touch one to collect it and restore HP to all your characters. Some weapon types also specifically have healing skills. This definitely streamlines the game, but it does make combat a bit more active since you need to make sure you’re able to keep your team healed up. Also switching to certain Blades with specific passive skills during combat may heal your party as well. Outside of battle you just heal back up super quick.

Not counting a few later-game things, the last big element of combat is chain attacks. There’s a meter at the top of the screen for your party that has 3 segments. When all 3 segments are full you can use a chain attack on the enemy you’re currently targeting. This will make each of your characters in turn use one of their level 1 specials with at least 300% damage bonuses. Seems simple enough. However, sometimes (I honestly don’t know what determines that) there’s gonna be one or more elemental icons under the target’s HP. This icon will break a bit for each attack that hits it, however the icon will burst in one shot if you hit the enemy with the weakness of that elemental icon. If you do burst one of the icons you will get a second “turn” where you do level 2 specials for each of your characters at an even higher percentage of damage bonus. Then if the enemy has 2 of these icons and you manage to break both, it’s time for level 3 specials from each of your characters at even more damage bonuses. This is the best way to deal lots of damage, but it’s also pretty weird to do. The party meter used for this is also actually used to revive fallen party members. If the character you control dies then another character can revive you, HOWEVER if the meter doesn’t have one segment you’re done. Thankfully dying isn’t a huge problem in this game, you just get back to a previous checkpoint. No losing hours of gameplay if you make a mistake.

One thing I will say about battles is that enemies have just insane amounts of HP. Whatever enemies that are around your level at any time will probably take a couple minutes to kill, no matter how weak they look. I did note ways to deal massive damage, but I gotta say it’s pretty sad to see “150000” pop up when you do a level 3 elemental attack thing and enemy’s life bar only going down a very small chunk is pretty annoying.

Something else that’s annoying with combat is that battles do actually take place in the open world itself. So you might be a level 15 party fighting a pack of, say, level 14 enemies in the open, and suddenly a level 85 beast will just be walking around and start engaging with you. There’s really nothing you can do about that. It’s incredibly annoying.

There’s a couple things/precisions I didn’t mention here (like the affinity thing with the Blades, which I don’t understand anyways), but I do think the combat is compelling, if a bit too repetitive. But it remains challenging enough for the most part so I’m fine with it. It’s a bit streamlined compared to the other Xenoblade games, but it’s a good streamlining.

Leveling, Blades, Sidequests and other stuff

So this game has a lot of little systems as far as leveling/powering up. The main one is obviously normal levels. Kill enemies, get EXP, get enough EXP to level up. This increases your stats. One weird thing this game does, however, is bonus EXP. This is given to you for sidequests, mercenary quests, exploration, and probably other things. This is how you’ll get a good amount of your EXP, surprisingly. This bonus EXP is only given when you sleep at an inn. Since inns are otherwise useless (you can decide what time of day it is at any time, and you auto-heal) outside of moving the height of the cloud sea on certain titans, you might not think about doing that.

But there’s several other things to talk about in this game. Each character other than Tora can equip up to 3 Blades at once. Blades have 3 ways to power up. Chips are basically new weapons, which have different amounts of attack power, chance to block attacks and critical hit rate. All chips are usable by all Blades which is nice. Next there’s Auxiliary Cores, which you have to refine at a store, then each blade can equip between one and 3 of them. Those provide stat boosts of some sort, may it be defense against certain things, stronger specials, better crits, and a pile of other stuff. Then finally there’s the affinity chart. As you play with a certain Blade or send them on mercenary missions, you unlock stuff in this chart. The chart has 5 levels, and to unlock something at a higher level the node of the lower level needs to be unlocked (plus each level in the node starts locked). Most of the things in the affinity chart are either field skills to gain items from collection spots, or passive skills for battle. Each node will have some requirement to be unlocked. Sometimes it’s just battling, sometimes it’s using specific pouch items, sometimes it’s sidequests. These do unlock really useful abilities in general.

Then the Drivers themselves have 2 other ways to power up. Killing enemies gives you 3 types of points actually. EXP, WP (Weapon Points) and SP (Skill Points). SP is used in something similar to the affinity chart on Blades. You have a chart with nodes in it, and you use skill points to unlock skills. Some of these are super useful like having skills at the start of battles without having to charge them with auto-attacks, some are extra healing, some are stat boosts. Then there’s WP, which are gained separately for each weapon type, I believe as you use them. These can be used to power up the attacks for that weapon. Plus each weapon type actually has 4 attacks, so you can switch some of them around. The last thing to talk about with characters is their pouch. There’s items that go specifically in pouches in different categories. Those items give you temporary power up in various things like better HP recovery, affinity boosts (not sure what that really does) and probably other things. I barely used them except if I needed to for an affinity chart.

Sidequests are found by talking to NPCs with blue question mark icons over their heads. Sidequests tend to kinda suck but that’s par for the course. Most end up being about going to specific spots or gathering certain items or talking to other NPCs. Sometimes it’s fighting a specific unique monster or something. It’s not always fun, but it is lots of extra content. Due to fast travel, a lot of these are fairly trivial, though some do require finding hidden areas. One thing the first Xenoblade did that was nice with sidequests was to automatically complete them when you had what you needed. Here you do have to get back to the quest-giver (and he’ll probably give you more shit to do). A bit of a downgrade, though fast travel helps.

Blades are found using Core Crystals. You randomly get those from breaking things in the environment (some which require specific field skills, some from rare blades). Blades come in 3 categories: Attack, Healer and Tank. Then there’s common Blades and rare Blades. Common blades all basically look the same. There’s different rarities so some common blades are better than others. Rare Blades though look completely different as each is a unique design, each made by different designers. These are the ones you’ll have to use, because common blades are shit. Rare Blades, other than looking cool, always have full affinity charts (commons don’t) and better stats and field skills. Which Blade you get from almost any core is random (some have set Blades). To increase the chance of getting rare Blades you can increase your luck or use boosters. Boosters increase “idea” stats that you get for leveling Blades. Stuff like Truth, Compassion and Justice (and a fourth one I forgot). Not REALLY sure what those do. Once a Blade is awakened they’re stuck to the Driver that woke it up, but there’s an item that exists that you can use to attach them to another. The problem with Blades is really just that you can’t bulk open up the core crystals, so you do it one at a time and you need to do a LOT as you play the game. It’s a long time-waster.

Also Tora, one of the main characters, doesn’t use normal Blades. He uses Poppi, an artificial Blade he built. She’s powered up differently because WHY NOT! You power her up by using items and points that you get from playing an arcade game in Tora’s house. I’m not even gonna get into that, but the game, Tiger! Tiger!, is kinda fun. Nothing really remarkable but it’s well-designed.

Overall

It took me 70 hours to get to the end (some hours were spend with the game turned on but me not playing, to complete merc missions, so let’s say 65 hours of actual gameplay). I didn’t do all the sidequests though I did a lot, and as far as level goes I was barely strong enough to beat the final boss (3-4 levels lower might have been too low, I could barely handle the normal monsters in the area). There’s still stuff for me to do if I want to, so I figure if you want to do everything you’ve got over a hundred hours in front of you.

The game is definitely fun, when the pacing isn’t crap. Fighting is simple but still fun, the leveling and party-building has some cool elements, the story is good even though there’s too many long cutscenes, and the exploration is interesting, with lots of stuff to do. It does a lot of cool things, but it also has a lot of elements that could use some polish. Opening up core crystals is too long, for example. And having to go see the NPC after finishing a side-quest is also annoying, in the first one that didn’t have to happen.

Overall a very good game, with some issues.

Also I never did get the KOS-MOS rare Blade. The game gets REALLY stingy about giving you rare blades near the end.

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