So far the holiday season hasn’t been very kind to Nintendo owners. Notable titles such as Star Fox Zero have been delayed into 2016, and the majority of the company’s limited releases have been disappointing at best. Thankfully, Nintendo fans still have a reason to be hopeful, as Monolith Soft’s highly anticipated role-playing game, Xenoblade Chronicles X, hasn’t seen a release yet in North America.
Thankfully for Nintendo Wii U owners, their hope hasn’t been misplaced, as Monolith Soft has created a very solid outing. The spiritual successor to 2012’s Xenoblade Chronicles absolutely succeeds in delivering even more of what fans loved on both the Wii and New 3DS. That said, there are quite a few shortcomings and missing features that keep Xenoblade Chronicles X from truly delivering on its potential.
Set in the year 2054, gamers are cast into a world where humanity was forced to leave Earth behind after the planet was destroyed in a war between alien races. Only a minuscule amount of the Earth’s population was able to escape, and the few that did crash landed on the planet Mira. Now civilization has begun to settle on the planet, setting base in a city called New Los Angeles, and players are tasked with learning more about this mysterious world.
It’s a pretty basic setup, but Monolith Soft manages to throw in enough twists to keep you invested in the story. One area where the game does seem like a step back from its predecessor, though, is that there isn’t an iconic hero in Xenoblade Chronicles X. There’s no one like Shulk that players can become invested in, as you instead create your own silent protagonist who seems out of place in cutscenes. This is just a minor qualm, though, as plenty of the secondary characters are interesting enough to keep you engaged.
After a few minutes of gameplay, players quickly join a group called BLADE. Despite the intimidating name, the organization runs New Los Angeles, and has a goal to progress humanity from just surviving to thriving on this new planet. In order to do your part, players will accept missions (that are conveniently posted on a bulletin board a la Monster Hunter) that will find them helping citizens, going on dozens of fetch quests, and fighting baddies. Since you can accept more than a dozen standard missions at any given time, there is never a dull moment in Mira.
Even if a mission only requires players to find items that are distributed throughout the environment, you will eventually run into some violent wildlife. The core battle system is very similar to Xenoblade Chronicles, which means that it largely plays like a MMO. The player will automatically attack, so you just have to worry about which special moves to use. All of these abilities have cooldown meters as well, so you can’t just spam attacks. The biggest difference in battles is that you now have both swords and guns to use.
Guns add a new dimension to the gameplay, allowing players to attack from a distance if they wish. While they are a welcome addition, they do expose the limitations of the battle system. There is no concept of cover in Xenoblade Chronicles X, so both players and enemies will shoot through objects such as walls and rocks as if they didn’t exist at all. This is incredibly disappointing, as some extra strategy would’ve made the battles more engaging than they are.
When players aren’t doing battle, they’ll likely be exploring Mira’s 5 continents. Each continent has its own theme (such as a desert or rainforest), and features plenty of areas to explore. In fact, each of the continents are so big that the game could have easily just focused on fleshing out one of the areas. Keep in mind that you’ll also have to fill out your map in a Ubisoft-style, as you plant data probes in designated locations. These locations can be difficult to find as well, especially on foot.
Thankfully, movement and exploration becomes much easier once players get their first Skell. Skells are the giant mechs that have been a focal point of the game’s marketing, and are a total game changer. After unlocking these mechs, players can suddenly fly across the gigantic world of Mira. Areas that took several minutes to traverse are now an afterthought. It’s impressive how much of a game changer Skells are, and it makes a huge impact, since you’ll have to play around 35 hours in order to unlock them.
While the blood, sweat, and tears needed to unlock the Skells are totally worth it, Xenoblade Chronicles X does have a bit of a progression issue. If you’re trying to mainline the story, then you’ll constantly run into enemies that are way too powerful to handle. While the game does sometimes offer up a temporary lower difficulty, there is still a lot of grinding that players will have to do in order to stay competitive in fights. Levelling up is a very slow process, and it can take hours of constant battles to go up a single level.
If you do get stuck, there are some online options to help out. For example, you can hire other players’ characters to help you out during missions (although some story missions don’t allow this). While it will cost a pretty penny, having a powerful partner tag along can make all the difference in losing or winning a battle. It should be noted that while you can tag up with other human controlled characters later on to complete online co-op missions, these are not the bulk of the game. If you’re expecting to play the game from beginning to end with buddies online, you’ll be severely disappointed.
If there has ever been a game that easily dismisses the silly complaint that the Wii U can’t produce visually stunning experiences, this is it. Due to the world’s massive scope, Xenoblade Chronicles X is able to constantly provide incredible views. I often found myself staring at the world — especially from high vantage points — in awe of how beautiful the wilderness was. Since every single continent offers up a different look, and new locations to gaze upon, I never found myself visually bored while exploring. Sure, there were plenty of creatures waiting to gobble me up, but there is an incredible sense of tranquility in the world of Mira.
Since the experience can be so impressive from a graphical standpoint, it makes the constant shortcomings all the more noticeable. Even with all of the game’s optional data packs downloaded (which equates to over 10+ gigabytes of data), I still experienced plenty of pop-in. It’s especially bad in New Los Angeles, as both cars and giant Skells will appear mere feet away from the player. It completely breaks the illusion, and it’s disappointing to see such a beautiful game tarnished. Other graphical downsides include being able to walk through enemy models as if they don’t exist, and a few terrible textures that would look bad in a PlayStation 2 game. Xenoblade Chronicles X has the uncanny ability to go from stunning to disappointing in a few short steps.
The graphical limitations are easy enough to overlook, especially as the core gameplay is so much fun, but it’s also indicative of the entire experience. It really seems like Monolith Soft was overly ambitious, and there are quite a few rough edges to be found. For example, despite boasting several different maps (both in-game and on the Wii U GamePad), players can’t do something as simple as set a waypoint for a location. As such, something basic like travelling around Mira ends up being more confusing than it should be. It’s these small annoyances, which manage to build up over time, that really takes away from the overall experience.
Despite never reaching its true potential, Xenoblade Chronicles X is still an amazing gaming accomplishment. No other game can provide such a huge world to explore, and one that is filled with variety throughout. If you’re willing to embark on the lengthy quest that can easily eat up over 100 hours, and can put up with some technical shortcomings, then Xenoblade Chronicles X is worth picking up. Just be ready to grind.
This review is based on the Nintendo Wii U exclusive, which we were provided with.
Despite being a bit too ambitious for its own good, Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of the most impressive Wii U titles ever released. While it may be rough around the edges, players are in for an enjoyable, albeit frustrating, time.