Don't forget me..
There were several moments during my 107 hours with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 where I had a love-hate relationship with the game. While the characters, its story, and the gorgeous locations drew me in, the objective marker system, its mixing of high and low-level enemies, and its awful Gacha system for unlocking Blades did everything it could to pull me out of it. That being said, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is still one of the best JRPG's I've played in some time, and that is again due to its strong characters, engaging story, and wonderful art design.
Much of your time here will be interacting with a varied cast of characters and mixing and matching your team with an assortment of Blades; weaponized life forms that are wielded by compatible hosts called Drivers. Blades, upon being awakened by their Driver, will be born as a blank slate, with no memories of their past, and the themes of memories and preservation are woven directly into the main plot.
You begin this adventure as Rex, a young man who spends his days scavenging junk from below the Cloud Sea floor. It's not long into the game where he suddenly finds himself in control of the Aegis, the most powerful Blade in all of Alrest. As with such power, there are those who would want it for themselves and Rex, along with a small group of allies, will stop at nothing to prevent that from happening. Rex will find these allies through various points in the story and not all of them will start on the same side. The rest of the narrative finds the team searching for Elysium, a Garden of Eden of sorts that could be the new home for humanity as the population currently resides on or inside dying Titans, floating beasts that have become home to all those in Alrest.
I wasn't too sure what to expect with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as while I am aware that it is the third in a series, it's my first entry and based on my time with the game, it won't be my last. XC2 features a passive and yet real-time combat system that can take a while to get used to should you be expecting your typical hack and slash or turned based RPG. The game will flood you with combat tutorials at an almost annoying pace and even some 50 hours in, you'll still be seeing the odd one pop up. While the combat is comprised of layers upon layers of mechanics, it eventually becomes second nature and all that complexity fades away. While I still prefer the combat system to something more akin to say Grandia III or Final Fantasy XII, which are my two favorite JRPG's, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 still makes a solid showing for a genre I'm not usually the biggest fan of.
Each character has a base auto-attack that will charge up three different skills as each hit makes contact. These skills can unleash big attacks or can be used to heal your allies as XC2 doesn't feature a sub menu for using potions or other items. These skills are dependent on the Blade you have equipped, so choosing which three Blades to take into battle with you can make the difference in success or failure. As you use each skill, a successful hit will charge up a fourth skill, a far more powerful attack that triggers a timed button prompt. The combat system doesn't stop there as each use of said fourth skill will charge up yet another meter that can be used to revive downed allies or unleash a tag-team attack and if performed correctly it can lead to the attack continuing further.
As for healing, this works one of two ways, one of which is vastly flawed depending on where you have your battles take place. Nia has a team heal called 'Healing Halo' and it was responsible for many of my victories, right down to the final battle. The other form of healing is by spawning healing containers. While you can spawn a few of these at a time to keep your team alive, they randomly fly out all around you and if you are fighting atop a platform or next to a cliff, they will almost always take a tumble to the dark below, leaving you without those much needed heals. There is a boss battle near the finale of the game where there is one single hole in the ground and of course, those healing containers would always find a way of bouncing down that hole. Thankfully, if you equip a Blade to each Driver with a healing skill, you'll have many chances of spawning numerous healing containers that won't fly off a cliff or bounce down a hole.
As you will almost always have a party of at least three characters, each with a Blade of their own, this can lead to some very chaotic battles as the game doesn't hold back on its flashy attacks or special moves. There are countless team attacks like breaking, toppling, and launching enemies into the air and even the tag team moves can be somewhat customized based on the different Blades you have equipped. Your teammates will also launch their own special moves that need to be triggered by you, each with their own timed button prompt as well. I found these attacks enjoyable but hated that they would override your main character's attack, so make sure to time these properly.
Apart from combat, Blades have special traits that allow them to open up locked chests, bypass elemental barriers, or using wind currents to ascend to out of reach platforms. These skills vary from Blade to Blade and until you level up those skills within each Blade, it can result in jumping through menu hoops to shuffle your team around to complete these tasks. Thankfully, your benched teammates can also contribute to this as well, making them great mules for having certain traits active in your party at all times. That being said, having to shuffle your team around so often can become a tedious chore that can get you killed very quickly if you are attacked after using low-level Blades to use their traits to solve some environmental puzzle, as happened to me several times in Chapter 7, and considering the checkpoint was at the start of the level, it made me almost despise the location this chapter mostly took place in. Thankfully, these trait-based moments don't block much of your story progress in the game.
Blades are unlocked through Rare, Common, or Legendary Cores. Despite the three types of Cores, there are only two types of Blades; Common Blades that have a uniform look to them that you'll see very often, or unique Blades called Rares. While your team members will each have a single unique Blade to themselves, there are a total of 38 to collect. Each Blade, regardless of it being Common or Rare, has it own skill tree to chip away at with Rare Blades having far more to unlock. These skills can be unlocked by feeding them certain foods, sending them on Mercenary Missions, defeating certain types of enemies, or simply by just using them in your party. Some of the Rare Blades can take dozens of hours to max out, should that be something that intrigues you.
The Gacha system to unlock Blades is based on your Luck stat and boosting it can increase your chances of getting a very cool Rare Blade, but it's entirely possible to open hundreds of Cores and get a boring Common. While there are a few Blades you will earn via the story, there are some Rare Blades hidden around the game and it made me want this sort of unlock system for each of the remaining Blades. Had there been exciting and lengthy side quests or special challenges to unlock them as an alternative to rolling the dice on a Core, then I wouldn't have minded the grind to unlock the entire set. XC2 isn't the first game to utilize an RNG system for unlocking cool and exciting content, as a game like Destiny is literally built around that system, it just sucks that it seems more based on luck than anything else.
As you level up your Driver, you will earn Weapon Points and Skill Points to upgrade your skill attacks and various stats of each character. Weapon Points target your Blade and the weapon it is tied to, meaning any Blade with that same weapon type will already see these upgrades added to them, but only on that Driver. Skill Points affect things like increasing your health or increasing damage after canceling an auto attack. There are also pouch items that allow you to equip food items to be granted timed buffs like boosting defense or attack power for a limited time. Finally, Drivers can equip multiple accessories that have a wide range of different perks like boosting your health or adding more strength to your attack. While also having their own skill tree, Blades can equip Chips, which are essentially better versions of the same weapon type and Aux Cores, which are similar to the accessories than Drivers can equip.
As you explore the world and find various items, you can use these items to refine your Aux Cores or simply sell them to vendors in the numerous towns you'll come across. Rex also can scavenge for items through a mini-game that if performed correctly, is the best way to accumulate a lot of money early on. As you talk with the townspeople, sell items or complete side quests, you will boost your development level in the region. As you raise that level, shop prices will decrease fairly dramatically, especially the items Rex needs for scavenging. There is also the ability to buy each of the in-game shops, but I never did this other than during the tutorial on how to do so.
While you adventure around and have spare Blades in reserve, you can send them out on Mercenary Missions once you have unlocked this system. This can work towards skill progression as well as receiving certain rewards for completing a mission. Eventually, you will have to rely on this system to complete certain story missions, side quests, or Blade quests as well. While the system is a nice side activity to do that doesn't require much input from you, it's the completion of these quests that can be a bit tedious. When your team comes back from their successful mission, you have to sit through each character's progression accomplishments and button mashing sadly doesn't speed up this system. I wish there was a 'accept all' that could speed through these, especially with sending out large teams.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 features a fast travel system like most games, but its use is one of confusion when considering many of the situations the story places you in. There are moments where characters shouldn't be able to access certain locations, or they are blocked off from the outside world, yet, when not in combat or watching a cutscene, you can fast travel anywhere you like. While this won't solve the story moments of whatever situation those characters are currently in, it just doesn't make any narrative sense that they can take a quick trip to town and this can break the illusion of how dire certain circumstances can feel.
The team at Monolith Soft have constructed a remarkably gorgeous world here. The locations vary from the outdoor grassy fields of the Gormott Province to the inside of the Uraya Titan and its stunning caves. The game runs the gauntlet of some predictable locations with deserts and snowcapped mountains, but every single location is breathtaking for a JRPG that you can play on the go. Each Titan is packed full of so many locations to discover and you have to be mindful of the Cloud Sea level as it can block access to lower sections of each environment.
While the game looks great either portable or docked, there are some aliasing issues when playing on the go, but frankly, I played nearly 80% of the game portable, and I didn't really mind the minor graphical downgrade. These issues I found were only present during battles and exploration as the stunning cutscenes looked great in either format. While the Switch could be debated as a handheld console that happens to play on the TV, or a TV console that happens to be a handheld, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is easily the most impressive JRPG on a handheld I've ever played.
Unlike most JRPG's, I quite enjoyed the entire cast of characters, even the fluffy and round Tora, who can come across as a bit annoying. As you find out more about him and one of his specific obsessions, he became this very awkward and yet relatable character that you just don't see too often. Its central characters, Rex and Pyra, play off each other well and have some truly touching moments. The remaining cast of characters are fun, well designed, and while the outfits have caused a bit of controversy, I really enjoyed several design elements to characters like Pyra, Mythra, and a certain outfit for Nia, who was easily my favorite character in the game. Another character I thought that was brilliantly designed was Pandoria, a Blade belonging to Zeke. As for the Blades you unlock via the cores, there is a wide range of really interesting designs, but the art used for their characters in the menu's varied drastically in quality.
While the music is absolutely breathtaking, the same can't be said for how the game handles its voice acting, particularly how it handles audio loops and sound sampling. The voice acting itself in regards to the sound of the characters and their dialogue is great, I loved the fact I hadn't heard many of these voice actors before and the Welsh sounding accents do a great job here. The problem comes from the massive repetition during combat. While characters shouting out their moves is one thing, hearing the same battle cry over and over again can get very annoying, especially when Rex himself has maybe 6 or 7 phrases and if the battle is long enough, you'll hear them all at least a few times. The biggest offenders are the guards, as they repeat "You think you can take me?" and "Don't forget me" constantly. If you get into a fight with more than three, it becomes this echo of the same line over and over again. I stumbled into a group of five guards once and felt like I was going to go insane. I also found a drastic difference in volume between cutscenes and combat as I constantly had to lower or raise the volume depending on the situation.
The last few issues I have with the game impacted my enjoyment to a fairly sizable degree. The map system and attempting to find the way to your objective marker is painfully bad and it's incredibly easy to get lost trying to find your way. The mini-map itself is fairly useless and often I would have to bring up the fast travel map to get a better view of where I needed to go, but either map feels like it's somehow leaving out important information. Another issue was the placement of high-level enemies in low-level locations. Being a fresh level 8 character and having battles with level 7 or 8 enemies should be fun until a level 85 bird would come out of nowhere and one-shot my whole team. These high-level enemies are everywhere and it becomes this rage-inducing series of events when you are having a fun battle and then a level 99 T-Rex shows up and wants to hand out death hugs to each member of your team.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a game with very noticeable flaws and there is no mistaking that fact. Yet despite them, and if you can tolerate them, there is a very impressive game here. I loved the characters, the story, and the art direction is simply phenomenal. The well-directed cutscenes are also another feather in its cap as they are action packed and well composed. I understand that 107 hours is a drop in the bucket to some players and yes, I still have dozen's of side quests left to do, but I've completed the story, sat through the credits and enjoyed both endings, and I plan on diving right back in and taking in more of this fantastic world.