Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is one of my favourite video games ever. I think it excels as one of the best JRPG’s ever made. It has an incredibly rich world with plenty of side-quests that expand its lore and theology. It had an engrossing soundtrack which amplified immersion. It was nearly perfect.
This brings me into Xenoblade Chronicles X, which released on the Wii U in 2015. I attempted to play it for about 3 hours, but it’s clear how tonally different it was from its predecessor. The soundtrack, environment, and main story all contributed to a more exploration heavy game, focusing on bolstering your stats and party. It felt akin to an MMO rather than a single-player RPG.
My expectations for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 were tepid. When the initial art style was shown, and they displayed the character design of Rex and his stupid pants, those expectations were lowered even further. What was once a unique style and appearance in the first game, was turned into a generic anime aesthetic. And not only did it appear generic, it was boring, with common anime cliches abound. Generic shounen boy main character, Neko cat girl, an abundance of Waifus, it was not my cup of tea.
But I still decided to purchase the game because I loved the first one, and I’m a sucker for JRPG’s. So the Penultimate question: Is Xenoblade 2 a great game? Is it better than the first game?
It’s…complicated. Let’s start out with what I don’t like first, because it’s much less than what I like, and I do not wish to leave the impression that I hate this game. I sank 80 hours into it for a reason, and it’s probably the reason I nearly failed a math course in University.
The English Dub
I am a firm believer that a competent voice actor can make or break a character. I also understand Nintendo’s decision to employ voice actors new to video games. I respect it as well, because it can allow new talent to flourish. I also want to make this very clear:
I DO NOT THINK ANY OF THE VOICE ACTORS ARE BAD, JUST THAT THEY WERE GIVEN BAD DIRECTION FOR THE STORY CONTENT.
A lot of people point to issues of lip syncing, mismatching tones, and voice actors just not being the right personality for a position. However, I would direct those people to all of the cutscenes that are out of the main story. Because, when the voice actors do not need to lip sync, the quality seriously improves. It’s why the voice acting in games such as Persona 5 is so quality. Aside from the anime cutscenes and cinematics, there is rarely a need for lip-syncing, and that allows for a lot of easy retakes and expression when voice acting.
Another issue for the voice actors in Xenoblade 2 is the Japanese to English translation. Xenoblade 2, is a game that revels in anime tropes and cliches. Rex is such a generic shounen protagonist that it’s laughable. Pyra is this blatantly obvious waifu who loves Rex for absolutely no reason. Poppi is an atypical maid servant. I can keep going, but it’s pointless.
However, the English dub tried to inject a lot of unique quirks into each of them. Rather than have Rex be as bland as toast, the translation team decided to give him a bit of a fiesty personality and attitude. He swears and cusses when things don’t go his way, and he actually shows a lot of determination. Poppi was changed to constantly insult her master, Tora, and she shows a lot of determination and initiative.
The issue comes when these new personalities obviously clash with the original intention. A lot of the English dialogue was changed to poke fun at just how ridiculous a lot of the female blade’s costumes are. A lot of the blade Dahlia’s personality was changed to become a southern belle that cares for those close to her, rather than a promiscuous quadruple F cup ice bunny.
The issues with the dub only rears its head in main story cutscenes. When people like Rex need to scream or show emotion, they just cannot do it properly. Emotional scenes lose so much of its impact due to the lack of convincing screaming.
However, here’s Nolan’s patented plan:
Japanese Dub for main story
English Dub for everything else
If you plan on doing a lot of sidequests, keep the English Dub on. There are a lot of really good lines in this game that add a lot of personality to every Blade.
THE MAIN STORY
This one actually hurts the most, and it’s where the majority of my issues with this game comes from. However, since JRPG’s are so story heavy, and easily consist of the most cutscenes out of any video game genre, it becomes a huge problem.
WARNING: THERE WILL BE LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD. SKIP TO THE “THE GOOD” SECTION IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO HAVE THE GAME RUINED FOR YOU.
The ultimate thing that kills Xenoblade 2’s story is that it was rushed. The game is split up into 10 chapters, which is fairly lengthy. I really enjoy chapters 1-6 though! Each of these chapters felt like they were telling their own movie. They usually began with you going to a new location, discovering its people and conflict, and they all climaxed in a major story event! In each cutscene, there was strong worldbuilding and character development for its cast. The goal was simple: reach Elysium, save the world. The player never forgot that, and each location visited brought them closer to that goal. The story’s pacing was similar to Xenoblade 1’s. A simple goal, but a meandering pace lent itself to greater worldbuilding. The only issue is Xenoblade 1 knew how to finish its story.
Chapters 7-10 in Xenoblade 2 are full of ass-pulls, rushed plotlines, stupid backstories, and all of the worst anime tropes that show a lack of time. I have no proof on this, but I feel that Nintendo rushed Xenoblade 2 out at the end of 2017 for a holiday release. While this made strong business sense, the game suffers from a lack of polish.
One of the major story events in Xenoblade 2 is the Aegis War. It took place 500 years prior to the events of Xenoblade 2, and its probably the most intriguing thing about the game. It’s shrouded in mystery, which actually lends a lot of intrigue to it. However, most story relevant characters were around during this time, and they all reference this war as some grand motivation. But what’s frustrating, is how vague the language they speak is, and how often they bring it up.
For example, a lot of conversations will become:
PERSON 1: “You did it…didn’t you?”
PERSON 2: “Ha! You of all people should know!”
PERSON 1: “Ngh…!”
And the game just expects you to understand what they are talking about. The game becomes full of these, and it honestly becomes difficult to track what is going on. Alliances just change on the flip of a coin, people become villains out of nowhere, it’s just an absolute mess.
It also doesn’t help that the chapter structure previously established in Chapters 1-6 is diminished in favour of one-off locations, or forwarding the overall plot. Chapters 8-10 are spent in one location. There are no new cultures or locations to discover.
And, Xenoblade 2, despite being a modern game, is guilty of one of my most HATED video game tropes:
The good ol’ Win In The Fight, Lose in the Cutscene.
We’ve all gone through this traumatic experience. You fight a boss. It’s very difficult, you take multiple tries, use a multitude of strategies, and you prevail over your opponent. You are victorious. And then the following cutscene depicts you getting demolished by the opponent you beat. It feels like a betrayal. Its frustrating, because it takes away any sense of accomplishment. If I’m going to lose in the cutscene afterwards, why not just make it a fight that I must obviously lose? This is always bad. Never do this, unless it’s 100%, totally clear that you HAVE TO LOSE THE FIGHT. And if the player wins the battle, but you still don’t want them to win, have a stalemate in the cutscene, or an outside influence interrupt the fight. Xenoblade 1 handled this scenario very well, where if you win a fight, it would show you continue to fight in the cutscene.
This piece of information is unconfirmed, but if anybody has finished this game, they understand what I am about to say. It is with great pain, that I announce, the main story feels unfinished. I feel, that Nintendo completely rushed this game for a holiday 2017 release.
Again, Chapters 1-6 feel like a fully fleshed out adventure, but once you run out of areas to explore, and the game becomes more linear with its progression, the story just barrels past at lightning speed without any time for explanation. Villains are given weak motivation or set-up, and major story events are shown in text boxes. It feels like a let-down, as I felt Xenoblade Chronicles 1 was a consistent experience throughout. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 wants the epic moments, but doesn’t allot enough build up for it. It wants to dive right into climaxes without understanding why they are effective.
BLADES AND SIDEQUESTS
I’d describe Xenoblade 2 with this phrase:
Side Quests rule, Main Story drools
One of Xenoblade 2’s core mechanics are the fact that blades, which are anthropomorphized weapons, are llinked to powerful warriors called Drivers. Drivers utilize blades to enhance their basic functions. Drivers are, unfortunately, chosen at birth through genetics. Therefore, only a select number of people are able to become super soldiers. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes this premise, and tackles a lot of really interesting concepts with it, and uses the concept to relate to our world, and what it may look like.
Fiction is not the opposite of reality, rather, a blurry mirror of it. The Side Quests in Xenoblade Chronciles 2, allows you to understand this world, its inhabitants, and provide you with a plethora of great side stories to entertain the player.
A generic RPG sidequest is usually “go get these 5 sticks for me and take dis.” Xenoblade 2 does have this, however, when it dabbles in generic side stories, it spices it up the best it can.
It’s honestly impressive that, with such a small development team, this game was able to thrive, and have an abundance of quality content. There is also a surprising amount of voiced cutscenes in this game, which, is impressive for voice actors who are almost all newcomers to video games.
There are almost 50 unique blades in this game, and they all have their own personalities, side-stories, and purpose in the narrative. Their dialogue even changes depending on which character is the driver. These stories I really do not want to spoil, as I feel they are the best part of this game. Try and get every blade that you can, and use all of them. The variety in this game is exceptional.
Some of the blade designs are really stupid and over-the-top though. Like, really obvious, fan-service waifu-bait. It’s pretty disrespectful sometimes.
And here we are, the absolute best part of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. This game has such excellent world-building, that it actually feels like a world lived in for a long history. Each Titan has their own history, culture, race, political system and ideologies. It feels like, although language is universal between all Titans, each area feels unique. The fact that there are only a handful of cities works wonders for this game. There is the heavily Industrialized Mor Ardain, and there is the Isolationist Tantalese. Two completely different worlds, but all in the same video game.
It also works well that, the world you are in, is dying. Titans are collapsing, which leads to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The world feels empty of civilization, because the world is slowly degrading. But despite feeling hopeless, people are hopeful and realistic. They try to live life the best that they can.
I won’t divulge the history of every nation within Xenoblade 2, but trust me, simply exploring and talking to random NPC’s is so enlightening.
I’m very happy The Switch got this game. It is perfect for the console. It is a beefy RPG that you can just lose yourself in. Just, make sure to use the Japanese dub when you want to take it seriously.