Backlog Slog – Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 comes from Monolith Soft, with a release in 2017 making it one of the more recent entries on my backlog. The title is a sequel to the successful 2010 title Xenoblade, which itself is a spiritual successor to the Xenosaga trilogy, which is also a spiritual successor to Xenosaga. This dates all the way back to the PS1. It’s a long running saga of the developers being forced into positions where they have to give up their previous IP and move on to something new, but thematically kind of similar in areas.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 stands alone from the first game, for the most part, which is great for me as someone who never got around to playing the original or its New 3DS re-release. So you can come into it without too much worry in terms of missing anything. The game takes place in a world where humans have been cast out of the one stable piece of land, Elysium. As a result, people now live among an ocean of clouds. The only solid pieces of land also happen to be giant monsters  called titans, which were placed among humans so they could have somewhere to live. The titans themselves are absolutely massive, allowing towns and even cities to spring to life on their backs.

Unfortunately, the titans are living creatures, which means they have an expiry date. The titans are all quickly starting to die off, causing people to worry about what they’ll do next. Enter the hero of the piece, a scrap salvager named Rex. As this is a JRPG, a series of ‘chosen one’ and ‘coincidence’ leads him to a situation where he’s now the man to save humans and get them back to Elysium, along with his fancy sword.

Now comes the interesting and unique part of the game, which also ties into gameplay. Every weapon you can equip to your characters in the game also happens to have a humanoid or beast based counterpart, called a Blade. The person that wields this Blade is called the Driver. You begin with a standard weapon with a Blade who happens to be unique and special, but you can equip other Blades, all unique with their own personalities, elements and types as you go. And there are a lot of them, spanning healers, attackers, and tanks. It’s the same for your party members, with each having their story relevant Blade with the most personality and development, but others can be equipped.

Equipping characters, managing their abilities, and choosing the right Blade for the job is a large part of gameplay. Fights are, for the most part, automatic. Approach enemy, draw weapon, watch your characters auto-attack. You can’t manually attack at all, aside from special moves. The game really focuses more on strategy and going prepared into battles rather than skill, which may quickly make battles tedious for some players who are more interested in a hands on experience. And you’ll be doing a lot of battling. Which can be a bit of a problem as the game has a few frame rate issues when too much is going on, perhaps a consequence of packing so much detail into the world and environments, as well as having so many monsters and characters on screen at any given time.

The overworld between towns can be fairly expansive and it’s full of monsters, some will be around your level, and some… Will be far beyond. As I found out. Repeatedly. I was just trying to make my way around when I was absolutely decimated by a ridiculously high level giant gorilla. And then a lion thing. And some other stuff that was around level 40 or higher, while I was level 8. Thankfully, there are no real penalties for dying and you’re plopped right back at your last waypoint with no progress lost.

There are also plenty of sidequests as always to keep you entertained and to help gain some gold and experience, though they usually amount to ‘go here, kill this’ or ‘bring me a bunch of these’. Another side quest element is advancing the towns economies. That’s right, you get to single-handedly boost the economy of the entire world, if you so wish. Done through making purchases, trading items and participating in everything the town has to offer. This means you will, in turn, get cheaper items.

Items are a big part of the game, though they’re easily available through scavenge points throughout the world, meaning you’ll never be without for too long. They have a wide variety of uses too, so you’ll be frequently dedicating a half hour or so just to stock up, just in case. Though it makes it difficult to let go of anything, because the items you just sold for tidy sum turns out to be the same ones you needed for a quest, meaning you have to go back out and find them all over again.

All in all, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a charming JRPG experience. The characters are lively, the story is fun and all the blatant anime tropes and cliches takes me back to the JRPG’s I grew up with, just on a larger scale. Despite its few flaws and stumbling here and there, it’s still a fun little experience for those who want a beautifully crafted experience that, despite being brand new, still feels pleasantly nostalgic.

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