Xenoblade Chronicles X is a mixed single player and multiplayer RPG developed by Monolith Soft and published by Nintendo. When I picked up the game I had very little knowledge of the series history and style of gameplay, all I knew about the game was that it was massive.
Having beaten the game I can say that the statement is more than accurate, Xenoblade Chronicles X has a sense of enormity that I haven’t seen within a game in a long time. It is clear that the development team put quite a bit of work into it and they should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.
When traveling through the first continent of the game I felt that Xenoblade’s approach to world building was one of its strongest points. The monsters, called indigens, had a unique and inspired design, that ranged from human sized to massive behemoths that towered over the landscape.
Seeing this vast difference in my level starting out and the average indigen that wandered the plains left me feeling helpless and greatly played into the idea that the world you now inhabit is full of extreme danger that could kill you at any moment. I had found myself living in Australia on a planetary scale.
Getting to mission objectives had me avoiding the sight of many of the nastier indigens or running away as fast as I could if they did manage to find me. Despite the hulking monstrosities roaming about, the missions are well scaled to fit with player level giving me the opportunity to better my understanding of the combat system within the game. Essentially the player character automatically uses basic attacks while the player controls special attacks called Arts.
However, being new to the series I found that the game did not do a good job explaining certain aspects of the combat system. For example, I would often have to look back into the manual just to catch up on what certain status effects did or how to heal.
It wasn’t until I was in the later chapters of the game that I figured out how to revive a fallen teammate. While I am sure this won’t dissuade fans of the series, if you are new to Xenoblade be aware that there is a learning curve that could take a while to get used to.
The game places a strong emphasis on your situation awareness, as your character’s positioning and its target play a considerable role on the flow of battle. In many instances where your character is can have a strong influence on flow of battle by leading to a higher chance of hitting, a stronger overall attack or even useful bonuses from your arts. This situation awareness is compounded by the fact that you can target specific parts of the enemy which can lower the enemies strength, cripple a fast enemy, or even destroy arms, which often significantly improves the odds of survival.
This is also the main method of gaining parts to build equipment and a chance for randomly dropped equipment. A nice feature of the game is that breaking off these parts also causes the indigen’s model to change, adding a dynamic feel to battles.
In one instance what I thought was a long neck on a massive monster was actually an extendable mouth, surprising me with it’s creepy looking face. Small details like this have a way of showing the level of dedication the developers had to building this world.
Traveling throughout the world Monolith Soft has built has been a visual feast of the eyes. The jungle scape of Noctilum gave me visions of the first time I saw the movie Avatar. With trees that reached the highest points of the map, and mushrooms the size of houses, the attention to imagination and ingenuity gave me a sense of wonder that is sadly absent from most video games.
The weather was also a fantastic factor when I was making my way through this interesting planet. Depending on the location, one could receive volcanic rocks flailing through the sky (as the party receives constant damage), forcing you to find shelter from the bombardment, all the way to deep fogs that can conceal boss level indigens that can tear through a player’s team like it was wet tissue paper.
When I first tried to load the game up I was made aware the game had downloadable content. When I found that the DLC was a data pack that increased the speed of loading in the game I was quite enthusiastic, but seeing that it was 10GB of data for things that should have been on the disc left me with sticker shock.
I ended up having to delete most of the games that I had downloaded on my Wii U just to be able to fit the data pack onto my console. This isn’t a problem with the digital version of the game as it comes included making the total game download well over 20GB, but if you’re not using an external hard drive then I would be cautious of purchasing this game.
As I was playing through the game I found myself extremely disappointed with the soundtrack. In combat it is important to focus on what your teammates say in order to have any chance at healing, but this can be difficult when your battle theme is also in English and can cover up vital information.
Also, it may just be me being picky, but the main songs off this soundtrack were some of the more annoying themes I’ve heard in recent years. This is mainly due to their uninspired vocals and repetitive nature. That’s not to say the entire soundtrack was bad as there were many great themes that did I enjoy. It was just disappointing to know that the songs that should have been emphasized in game only lasted for one or two scenes and then I would never hear it again.
The main quest is tied behind many different prerequisites to prevent the player from rushing past the game in a hurry without getting a chance to really connect with your other party members. I wouldn’t say this is a bad, in fact I quite enjoyed the fact that you would be sent on quests to develop a greater understanding of the side characters, or certain events happening in the game.
The problem with this is that many of these side missions required you to have spent a considerable amount of time with the central character of the side mission and if you hadn’t been paying attention, you might become stuck trying to raise the affinity of one character or another that you had been completely ignoring for the entirety of the game.
This issue is only intensified by the fact that there isn’t a solid method of gaining affinity with your party outside of completing mission after mission, or hours of grinding where you try to perform the art that your party is requesting of you.
After I beat the game I had found out that there were small little chat sessions you could have with your party members at certain places, but the requirements for them are that they’re not in your team, you know exactly where they are, and your affinity with them is to a certain level. These events would have been useful, but the game neglects to tell the player of them from the get-go.
I could have forgiven all of these issues if the games characters and motivations had been fleshed out. The player character has no depth at all, and the fact that you have amnesia is never brought up in the game after the small introduction.
I understand that it’s a plot device, allowing the player to experience the same wonder at the world that the character experiences, but it still feels contrived to me. The side characters feel just as flat as the main character and after the affinity quest where they’re introduced, they really don’t contribute to the main story in any meaningful way.
The only two characters that I actually enjoyed following were the two main characters the game focused on, Lin and Elma. You get to fully experience their grief and joy in a very meaningful way throughout the entirety of the game. It makes me wish that the side characters had received even half the love and attention Lin and Elma received.
Had the side characters had any influence on dialog within the main missions, or contributed anything of value to the main story outside of just existing, I might have felt this game had a compelling story. Sadly, the only contributions these characters have are their affinity quests and if you bring any of them on a main mission they’ll just stand around doing nothing during a cutscene.
What’s even more frustrating is that the antagonists feel like cardboard cutouts. You never truly understand their motivation for hating humans until the game is over, and even then it feels like a let-down. The small cutaways to the villains after several chapters only left me more confused as it failed to properly explain anything.
If I understood why the villains hated humans earlier, or if the lesser antagonists appeared in side missions where we might learn a little bit more about them, I might have had a stronger emotional reaction to their implied death, but overall it just felt like wasted potential.
Overall, even with my gripes, Xenoblade Chronicles X isn’t a bad game. I may have had issues with the character development and overall story of this game, but I look forward to a good story whenever I play a game.
To me this game was just the prologue to a very long story where the character and enemies are introduced but their motivations and development happen throughout the course of many games, and I won’t be satisfied with Monolith Soft until this story comes to a conclusion.
I have high hopes for this series and I eagerly look forward to the potential next installment. I think I’ll be playing through the rest of the side missions this game has to offer, and I hope that my time playing it will be filled with the same sort of wonder I began the game with. That being said, the world Monolith Soft built is fantastic and I encourage you to check it out.
Xenoblade Chronicles X was reviewed on Wii U using a retail copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 8
- Beautiful world building and fantastic attention to detail
- Rich combat system that utilizes situational awareness
- Harsh, unwelcoming environment that makes you feel small
- Skells were a fantastic addition that really changed things up
- Relative lack of memorable characters, enemies felt flat as well
- Soundtrack was repetitive in places, often covers up in game speech
- Lack of explanation on many key features of combat
- Weak main story line that absolutely requires side missions for full story