75 and a half hours.

I spent 75 and a half hours on a journey.  A journey through a land called Alrest, with a colorful cast of characters taken straight out of an anime.  All in the hopes of eventually taking a woman named Pyra to a land called Elysium.  It didn’t start as a journey to save the world or anything.  It was simply a boy called Rex trying to take a girl named Pyra to where she was born.  And it was amazing.

As of late, JRPGs by and large have not been able to hold my attention.  The turn based combat in most of them bores me anymore, the trite anime fantasy worlds feel the same over and over again or feel like they copy older games, and the “save the world with the help of a chosen one!” plotlines that are still used in the genre feel tired and dull.  Thankfully, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is none of these things.  In fact, the best way I can really describe it is this: a JRPG in Tone, Storytelling, and Characters, but a Western Styled Open World Action RPG in mechanics and playstyle.

I wasn’t sure if I would fall in love with this game either, but over the course of my journey, I found myself pretty much liking everyone.  Tora and his odd way of speaking.  Poppi and her sass towards her “Masterpon” and childlike nature.  Zeke and his completely insane catchphrases (He is the ZEKEANATOR ya see).  Morag and her no nonsense attitude and maturity.  And even Rex, with his weird obsession with saving everyone, even the villains, from their own anger and hatred.

This is my review of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.  A game that, to me, is something a bit special, a bit silly, and has a whole lotta heart.

VISUALS

The anime influence is clear from the get go with the design and style of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.  Everything is bright, colorful, and stylized from the costumes that Rex and company wear to the NPCs that populate the world to the enemy designs.  However, speaking of enemies, there is a lot of pallete swapping going on, with types looking basically the same (all Bunnits look the same but might be carrying different items in their tails, for instance) and there is a VERY clear line between the costumes and designs of the main cast and characters and generic NPCs.  Basically, if someone has an actual outfit that pops, they are a main character vs the NPCs who all wear the same sort of clothes based on the region you are in.  It can be a tiny bit jarring at times, because Rex and company (and the rest of the supporting cast) look so vastly different from literally EVERYONE ELSE.

The world design is also something I want to mention.  Each Titan Landmass looks visually distinct from the others.  Gormott for example is a big lush island, with a swamp, rolling plains, mountains, and a massive tree.  Mor Ardain however is a desolate rocky Titan, with a ton of industrial machinery and mining equipment lying down.  My favorite, however, is Uraya, which is otherworldly (as you would expect given where the people of Uraya live) with a ton of pools and strange plants laid out in steppes.  The Leftharian Archipelago is also a treat, with distinct islands connected by long pathways over the Cloud Sea which gives you some stunning vistas to experience.

Performance wise, most of the time the game works great in Docked mode on the Switch, although some areas like Gormott can have FPS drops and stutters if there is a lot going on, or if the day night cycle shifts making the shadows change.  However, there is a noticeable drop in quality the instant you try to go into handheld mode and I personally would avoid doing so.  I tried for a bit and just couldn’t handle it.

AUDIO

I love the music in this game.  Each area has its own theme, and they all are stellar tracks.  Of note, Uraya (again) as well as the final areas of the game are my personal favorites and I really want a copy of the soundtrack so I can listen to these tracks and others.

Just listen to the Uraya Music!

The sound effects are pretty good, with attacks sounding suitably brutal or effective.  The battle music is also pretty solid as well, although it can get a bit repetitive at times, as it always can in a game like this.  However, you won’t really notice the battle music most of the time because of the in game battle voice clips.  And lets talk about that voice acting.

I played with the English voice cast, although you can download a free DLC update to access the Japanese.  The English cast for the main group is pretty great, honestly.  Most of the voice acting by and large is solid work, although some of the characters can get annoying (Hello Tora…meh-meh!) just due to how the characters vocal patterns and mannerisms are.  However, what started to drive me insane are the in battle voice clips.

You see, your characters and the humanoid enemies constantly talk in battle.  Special attacks, random quotes, the works.  You will hear Rex yell “ANCHOR SHOT” every time you use it, you will here Zeke scream “Dynamic Spark Sword!” whenever he unleashes the blow.  And they all overlap in a medley of aural chaos.  It can be a mess at times.  Your enemies, the humanoid ones at least, also yell things.  There is one area of the game where you fight these particular soldiers…and they ALL yell the following phrase: “YER DONE!?” just like that, sounding almost like a question.  Over and over.  In one fight I had four of these enemies active in a fight and the overlapping yells of YER DONE became a joke to me and my wife.  We now wander around the house and will just randomly scream YER DONE?! at each other when we do things.

Also, Rex legit screams “We will defeat you with the power of Friendship” as a battle quote, so that’s a thing.  This game really is anime to its core.

Oh and the entire soundtrack (as covers, but good ones) is available to listen to on Spotify.

STORY & WORLD

Trying to explain this story without giving too much away might be a tad difficult but I will do my best here.  This is the story of Rex and Pyra, two people brought together under unusual circumstances and bonded together.  Rex has promised to take Pyra to her birthplace, a land called Elysium, which is a mythical land of plenty atop the World Tree, this massive tree that sits at the center of the known world of Alrest.

The big thing here is that Alrest is a world where humans live on the backs of mammoth creatures called Titans, who swim around the Cloud Sea, a literal sea made of clouds.  The remains of the previous civilization sits under the Cloud Sea, and people called salvagers (like Rex) make a living diving into the cloud sea and scavenging for relics of the past.  It is due to these skills as a Salvager that Rex is hired to accompany some dubious people, and that is how he meets Pyra.  From there you travel the world, all with the primary goal of getting Pyra to Elysium.  Rex truly believes that the way to fix the world also lies atop Elysium, so he is more than happy to accompany Pyra.  It also helps that Rex is very clearly attracted to Pyra very early on, and this attraction grows and forms between the both of them, although neither ever expressly states this till the very end.

Along the way you will uncover plots to destroy the world, deal with terrorist organizations, run from the law, and more.  But throughout the game the main goal is always “Get Pyra to Elysium”.  Everything else is pretty much secondary to that stated goal by Rex and company.

The world itself is very well realized, with each Titan landmass having its own accents, culture, visual style, and personality.  From Tantel being an isolationist country that hides in the Cloud Sea, to Mor Ardain being a super advanced military country, to the Nonpons of the Argentum Trade Guild, every area feels and looks different.  There are tons of side stories to undertake as well that expand on both the cast and their relationships (called Heart to Heart events) as well as hidden areas to explore, side quests to discover that fill out the trials of the people of the world, and so on.  The main story is also very well written, but also very much anime inspired.  At times, it felt like I was playing a Shonen anime in game form, with Rex being a little too positive and naive at times, with him spouting the “Salvagers Code” at random times in an effort to bolster the group or explain his intentions.  The villains are pretty straight forward as well, but they all have their motivations, and while the story does try to do the “redeem the baddie” stuff here and there, it doesn’t really take away from anything.  Also, I will freely admit that by the end of the game, during the final sequence, I teared up and got a little sad as to what happened between Rex and Pyra.

One of the more unique things about the world that is woven both into the mechanics of the game as well as the narrative is the concept of “Drivers and Blades”.  Blades are beings summoned from these crystals called Core Crystals, that resonate with a “Driver”, a person who has the potential to bond with a Blade.  Those who do not have the natural talent to resonate with a crystal….well they die.  Very very horribly.  Rex becomes the Driver to Pyra, and its thru this bond of Driver and Blade that the story really gets shaped.  As the narrative progresses, we learn more about how Drivers and Blades interact, where Blades come from, and the way Blades work.  There are also the Titans, and we do learn towards the end of the game where they come from as well, and by the end of the narrative we have a full picture of how Alrest was born, the ideas its creator (The Architect) originally had, and its past and future.  All in all I was very much satisfied by the story and setting of this game, and really enjoyed every moment of narrative I experienced, even if Rex and Pyra’s attitudes annoyed me at times.

GAMEPLAY

Alright, there is a lot to unpack here with this game.  It involves a ton of systems, some of which don’t even seem to connect to each other and at times feel half baked.  In fact, this game even still gives you tutorial popups of new features all the way till the last chapter of the game (seriously, there is a pop up right after one of the 2 final boss fights letting you know of a new thing you can do its wild).

Controls are pretty straight forward however.  Left stick to move, right stick to control camera.  You move in a 3rd person perspective.  The B Button on the field is Jump, A unsheathes your weapon if you are targeting an enemy or you using A to activate items or talk to people.  R1 targets nearby enemies.  ZR (or R2) opens and closes your “quest” tracker, LZ switches your active Blade on screen, X opens up the Fast Travel screen.  Y is for auto run although I never used that.  The L Button plus the Control Stick or Directional pad can shift the camera around.  R3 (Pressing the R stick) changes your map zoom (so mini map, full map, zoomed map, no map).  The + key is your menu key to access things like inventory, characters, ect.  The – key is to quickly go to your system menu to save the game, change the time of day, and get access to options.  You can save almost everywhere which I love.

Combat is where things get a little wild.  To start, you must target an enemy, or get its aggro (some enemies can auto attack you if you get too close, like an MMO).  Once you target or are targeted you must take your weapon out with A.  Then your characters will auto attack with their equipped weapon which is based on the Blade you had out on the field.  Your Blades are how you access different weapon types and roles in combat.  Each Blade will be either an Attack (DPS), Healer, or Tank type.  Each character in your party will have 1 Blade that cannot be removed (Pyra cannot be removed from Rex, for instance, & Nia cannot remove Dromarch) and eventually you will be able to equip up to 3 total blades on each character.  Tora is unique in that he can only use Poppi, just as an FYI, and Poppi is a unique Blade with her own set of mechanics that will take way too long to go into here.

One combat has started you will have access to 3 “Weapon Skills” mapped to your X, Y, and B buttons.  These charge up during combat, and can be unleashed to do more damage and have added effects such as Break, Spawn Healing Potions, Heal the Party, Grab aggro, ect.  You can check these effects in your Weapon Menu in the character screen.  Each Weapon Type goes with a Blade Role as well (so Hammers are almost always TANK weapons, Katanas are Tanks, ect) but it also depends on the character.  Rex will have different attacks when using Fist weapons then Nia will, for example.  You also get a Special which is unique to the Blade, mapped to A.  This special can charge up to 4 levels during combat.  Your DPad will be used to eventually switch between your equipped blades (Up, Down, and Right) and also set your team to Target specific enemies (Left).  Finally, you can switch your target by holding down R1 and pressing B or Y for left and right.  You have no control over your party members (and you will have 2 party members plus whichever character you are controlling) in fights.

There are 2 big things in combat you need to be aware of: Driver Combos and Blade Combos.  Driver combos are activated by chaining specific status effects.  Start with Break, then you can hit the Topple status effect, then the Launch effect, and finally Smash.  Each character will generally be able to activate ONE of these (Rex can do Topples for example, and with one blade he can do Smash eventually).  The window to activate these is pretty small but you can do big damage.  You also have Blade combos, which are based on the element of your blade, and those Specials.  If you hit an enemy with a level 1 water special, you can combo with say a level 2 water special, and then finally a level 3 water special for big damage.  You can use Blade Switching to maximize your potential for both Driver and Blade combos and you will need to learn this to be effective.

Mind you the game will explain all of this to you…exactly once.  And never again.  You cannot access any of the tutorials the game gives you about combat, or ANYTHING AT ALL, once you have seen them, so you will have to be looking this stuff up on a wiki if you can’t remember it.  It took me nearly 40 hours before I FINALLY got the hang of Blade Combo’s and understood what I was doing.  Also, the game doesn’t really explain how roles work, or how healing works, or any of that.  Thankfully I have played enough MMOs to understand that, in general, you will want 1 Tank character, one DPS character, and one Healer.  By the end of the game I had Rex as my healer due to some story stuff, my DPS was Zeke, and my tank was Tora.  It worked pretty well.  Most of the games combat is going to be up to managing who everyone is targeting, your blade and driver combos, and understanding how to use Chain attacks (yes there is another mechanic that comes way later) to maximize damage.

Character customization is surprisingly detailed as well.  Each character has a skill tree you can spend SP on (earn in combat and by doing side quests) that unlock upgrades.  Things like being able to use your Weapon Attack mapped to Y at the start of a battle, or more HP or strength, or increased critical chance.  Each weapon type has 4 unique skills for it as well, and you can only equip 3.  You can also level those skills up with earn WP, again which you get from combat and side quests.  Finally, each character can equip 2 “Accessories” which can do all sorts of things like increase aggro generation, boost auto attack damage, grant increase damage with specific weapon types, and so on.

Blades also come in 2 types: Rares and Commons.  Rare blades have unique names, art, and skills.  Each blade will also have an “Affinity Chart” which has nodes that increase their Special Attacks, their passive skills, and their Field Skills.  All blades have Passive Skills that do things like “Heal the party every second while at max Affinity” or “Increase damage when under 30% health” and Field Skills which are used for skill challenges on the world map.  You might find a chest, for instance, that needs several levels of Lockpicking to open.  That’s a Field Skill, and the more Blades you have equipped that have Lockpicking as a field skill, the more levels you have access to.  The game does not tell you that your characters who are NOT in the active party will contribute to this.

An example: You have 4 total available party members.  3 of them are in your active team, one on the bench.  You run into a chest that needs 8 levels of Lockpicking to access.  No single blade will give you that much (at most, you can get 5 from a single blade).  But if each of your 4 party members has a Blade with 2 points of Lockpicking, you can switch those blades onto them (equipping the blades) to get 8 total levels of Lockpicking, and beat the challenge.  Most of these Field Challenges will unlock treasure, new areas, and more.

There are even more systems, like Town Development which unlocks more stuff in shops, a pouch system that grants Trust to your blades (which is basically how much a blade likes the character, mercenary missions where you can send blades out to do jobs while you play, and a full on gathering system and salvaging minigame.  This game has a metric ton going on here, nevermind a full complement of side quests that are pretty involved at times (and quite a few that are just fetch quests too), and the fact that just about every Rare Blade has a “Blade Quest” unique to them that you can unlock as well and sometimes HAVE to unlock to level the blades Affinity Chart further and its just…there is a lot of stuff here.  Oh and I almost forgot to mention all the Unique World Bosses that roam areas of the game.  Those things can be scary to face.

My biggest single gripe about this game has to do with those Rare Blades.  You see, you get some Blades from story moments, like one called Wulfric, or Pyra.  However, many Blades are locked inside “Core Crystals” which you get as drops from enemies.  Core Crystals are in essence Loot Boxes you cannot buy with real money outside of some that are included in the DLC packs that you can get ONCE.  Core Crystals come in Common, Rare, and Legendary types, and there roughly 28 total Rare Blades in this game.  I opened all my Crystals, and I think I got about 12 Rare Blades from them, plus I have all the Quest Rares.  Most of the time, I got Common blades, which can vary in quality and usefulness in the extreme.  You also have a limit to how many Common Blades you can carry, and Blades have to be bonded to specific characters and can only be moved thru the use of “Overdrive Protocol” items.  So if you mistakenly get a healer blade on a character you want to use as DPS, you will be stuck unless you have one of the rare Overdrive Protocol items.

Now, as always, here is some gameplay footage showing off both the exploration, combat, and even the salvaging minigames as well as menus, blade systems, and all the various charts.  PLEASE BE AWARE THERE ARE SOME MINOR SPOILERS REGARDING WHO JOINS YOUR PARTY.  I CANNOT HELP THIS AS THIS IS MY END GAME SAVE FILE.  I also access one of the DLC Features called the Challenge Mode for the first time to show you combat as well as some of the voice acting and cutscene stuff.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Look, it takes a special sort of game to grab my attention for as long as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has.  The last JRPG to manage this, to make me actually WANT to finish, was Persona 4 on the PS2.  Beyond that, most of the games I play with long playtimes are things like Fallout 4, Path of Exile, Dragon Age Inquisition, and so on, and generally those are over multiple sessions over long periods of time with breaks for other games mixed in and frequent restarting.  But Xenoblade?

I have basically been playing that exclusively outside of my Indie Impressions games, and honestly I am not done with the game yet.  I still want to complete more Blade Quests and try to collect all the remaining Rare Blades (which means farming Legendary Core Crystal drops).  There is a New Game Plus mode that unlocks special Blades and secondary skill charts for all the characters.  I have the DLC Torna the Golden Country which is something like 20 more hours of content that goes over the Aegis War time period.  But now that I have finished the main story of the game I feel I can take my time, and do things when the mood strikes me.  But my time with Rex and company isn’t over yet.

And if what you have seen here interests you I urge you to consider picking this game up.  Its $60 on the Nintendo Switch Store, and it was well worth every penny for me, personally, even if it’s got some oddball issues, some strange mechanical quibbles, and the goofiest voice acting at times.

So…I gotta ask myself…YER DONE?!

No.  No I aint.  But Alrest has been saved, at least for now, so it’s time to move on for a while.  Thanks for reading, and as always treat each other kindly and Stay Nerdy.  We can defeat the evils of the world with the power of Friendship indeed, Rex-Rex.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – A Review
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