Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)

Casuals Need Not Apply


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DeveloperMonolith Soft
PublisherNintendo
Platforms: Wii U
GenreRPG
Rating: T
Price: $59.99

 

From the moment it was announced, I knew Xenoblade Chronicles X was something my time-starved Wii U was going to need. Its predecessor boasted a massive open world, fantastic creatures, and a battle system that has won me over time and time again. With  more powerful hardware and the promise of a new narrative with improved mechanics, I was downright giddy. What Monolith Soft delivered is a massive world you can easily pour a couple hundred of hours into if you’re willing to overlook some serious “gotchas” with game’s design.

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Story

The year is 2054. In a last ditch effort to survive an alien attack on Earth, the last of humanity have boarded massive “ark” ships designed to colonize the planets they’re able to reach. While most are destroyed before ever making it off planet, the White Whale managed to break through enemy lines. After fleeing across the galaxy, enemy forces catch up and knock the White Whale off course, sending it crashing down to the planet Mira in pieces.
The surviving passengers deploy the core of the White Whale and establish the city of New Los Angeles. Three days later, you’re awakened from a life capsule. After being brought to humanity’s last refuge, you’re enlisted into BLADE—the task force established to ensure survival on an unfamiliar world—and are told that you have to recover the Lifehold Core, a piece of the White Whale that housed the majority of humanity’s population.

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Xenoblade Chronicles X‘s narrative is surprisingly well-told despite being nothing more than a science fiction anime with some likable characters and a world that feels alive and dangerous. That said, some of the characters are boilerplate JRPG tropes (an “old” 20-something commander, a genius teenage girl, a short and fluffy comic-relief alien, and so on). Worse than any of it, narrative progress is blocked by tasks designed to artificially extend your time on Mira.
I want to make this point abundantly clear: Mira is enormous, but if I can’t continue to work through the narrative because I’ve not done enough side tasks, you’ve failed in your core design. I think the story has some interesting beats, but if you block narrative progress by artificially forcing me to engage in your world, we’re at odds. After spending 45 hours in the game, I was forced to spend several hours grinding so I could get back to the story. That’s an old-school design decision I believe should be phased out. They’re do their narrative a disservice by crushing the flow of storytelling.

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Content Guide

Spiritual Content
Unfortunately, the only spiritual content really alluded to in the game is the primary villain’s beliefs that humanity must be destroyed. There is nothing speaking to whether this is religious or something else entirely.
Violence
There is conflict throughout XCX‘s story. Characters will slash, crush, and shoot enemies and some human lives are lost over the course of the tale. The violence is not graphic and no blood or gore is shown, however. 

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Language/Crude Humor
The game has some mildly crude language in it including S***. There are also some suggestive lines of dialog where some characters are making relational advances toward others.
Sexual Themes
Without a doubt, Xenoblade Chronicles X‘s most egregious offense is in its hyper-sexualization of its cast. The game went so far as to offer players two suits of armor: one for effect and one for looks. They also make access to swimsuits easily available and just as revealing as you’d fear.
Drug/Alcohol Use
Some characters get drunk in the game and at one point, you can offer to “buy the next round.”
Positive Themes
The story of XCX speaks to the traits of teamwork, persistence, and hope. Though the odds may look grim, you must always forge ahead, relying on those around you. Really, those very themes are quite christian in nature as well. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we have to be ready daily to battle with sin. We have hope through Christ and a cloud of witnesses to cover our backs.

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Gameplay

Xenoblade Chronicles X features a tremendous world. The planet of Mira spans five continents, each with their own unique flora, fauna, and aesthetic themes. From the jungle-like Noctilum to the volcanic Cauldros and beyond, there’s a giant environment to explore and adventure through.
Mira is a planet full of danger. As such, you’ll need to be ready to defend yourself. XCX gives you a total of 16 classes to play as, each with a focus on a specific melee and ranged weapon as well as its own abilities to learn and master. These can range everywhere from the Duelist tank class, with abilities that focus enemies attention to the ranged Astral Crusader and beyond. The system gives players a substantial range of play styles to experiment with, letting folks choose the class that best suits them.

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The combat in Xenoblade Chronicles X‘s will feel familiar to franchise veterans. Fans of MMORPGs such as Final Fantasy XII or White Knight Chronicles will probably recognize the system as well. Players are given a bar across the bottom of their screen with eight customizable slots. In battle, players will choose an ability for the character to execute. The action is carried out on-screen, and the skill has to recharge while the player selects another ability. This functions to  keep the game out of full action-combat territory while the pace of battle maintains its flow. It also gives players some on-the-fly tactical choices to make.
As you gain access to new abilities, you can fill out your bar with what you deem most effective. One of the cool things about XCX‘s combat though, is skill synergy. For example, one move may knock an enemy over while another inflicts a damage bonus to a toppled enemy. With such a wide skill variety, there are plenty of combinations to make players effective combatants.

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As you venture through Mira, you’ll uncover mining points scattered throughout the world. As you discover and claim them, you’ll be able to start setting up probes to earn residual income. This income can then be utilized to research new arms and mechanized technology. It gives you a tangible reason to explore more and more of the world.
The mechanized units, or Skell as they’re known on Mira, are a fun aspect of Xenoblade Chronicles X. They make you stronger, faster, and able to reach more places. They’re also fully customizable with armor and weaponry. Despite the fact they’re on the front of the box, however, you cannot access to them until around 30 hours into the game. This feels like a another way Monolith Soft aggressively sought to gate players’ progress since it makes exploration considerably easier.

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While there are plenty of places to explore and more than ample enemies to slaughter, it would feel pointless without objectives. That’s where the game’s questing system comes in. As you play, you’ll be able to pick up three kinds of quests: job board requests, affinity missions, and story missions. The job board gives you tasks to do as you explore (slaughter a unique enemy, collect X MacGuffins, etc), while affinity missions reward you with more backstory for a character and better standing with teammates. Story missions are the real bread and butter, unveiling more of the mystery behind humanity, their alien adversaries, and the White Whale’s ark they seek so desperately. As mentioned in the story section, these are quite well done, but progress to them is severely gated, particularly if you’ve not spent dozens of hours on side quests.
It’s also worth noting that XCX utilizes the Wii U’s Gamepad for fast travel. Fast travel is one aspect of the game that actually eases a burden. Still, even it isn’t without a flaw or two though. You can play the game entirely with a classic controller, which I loved, but without the Gamepad, there’s no way to fast travel. This could have easily been added as a menu option but was unfortunately overlooked. That required I always have that cumbersome gamepad within arms reach even though I used it only for fast travel.
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Presentation

XCX excels with its presentation. The rock soundtrack is catchy, addictive, and context appropriate, with its on-point vocals driving the tunes ever deeper into your brain. I couldn’t get enough of the satisfying chorus in  “Black Tar“! . The voice work is fairly well done on the whole, but a couple of characters certainly carry a bit of cheese with them.
The game looks fantastic. It’s been a long time—probably since Skyrim—since I felt so in awe of an open world. If you can see it, you can travel to it. The sense of scale is jaw-dropping. Character, Skell, and enemy designs are all on-point. That said, the Wii U still showed its lack of power here. There were definitely times when I looked at this game and couldn’t help but think how much nicer it would look on any of Nintendo’s competing systems.
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Conclusion

Overall, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a triumph for Nintendo’s RPG fans. The combat, character progression, and exploration mechanics are top notch and the world is almost overwhelming in scope. There’s a ton here to keep fans busy for hundreds of hours. There are definitely cracks in the armor though. Locking story progression so aggressively behind what ultimately become grinding walls is nearly unforgivable. It also feels overbearing to keep players from accessing content on the front of the box until 30-ish hours into the massive adventure.
All of that said, Wii U owners with enough time and patience to dive into Mira and conquer the walls Monolith Soft has erected will find a beautiful, engrossing world with an engaging narrative and fun gameplay mechanics.

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The Bottom Line

Xenoblade Chronicles X is a great open-world RPG with plenty of to see and do. Unfortunately, this game requires dozens of hours of commitment and a slew of side questing to complete the narrative.

 

7.5

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Joe Morgan

Gamer, software developer, dog lover. When he's not writing for GeeksUnderGrace or CrossConsoleGamers, you can find him streaming at Twitch.tv/JoeKnowethGames

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