The end of the year has been rather kind to the Nintendo Switch. Super Mario Odyssey, Fire Emblem Warriors, and the new port of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. But the game that’s had me the most excited is Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The original was one of the final games for the Nintendo Wii, one that almost didn’t make it to the United States, and earned some acclaim as a cult hit. While it isn’t the first Xenoblade sequel (that honor goes to Xenoblade Chronicles X), the question ultimately is whether it builds upon the original game’s promises. The short answer is yes it does.
The first thing to get out of the way is that this game is not a traditional sequel to the original Xenoblade, though they do share some resemblances in plot, world design, and of course the combat system. The game unfolds on the world of Alrest where what would be the ground is a sea of clouds and everyone lives atop the backs of creatures called Titans, which serve as both land mass and transportation. It’s also a world that’s quickly running out of time due to the Titans that service the world quickly dying off, and leaving places where people can only live a diminishing quantity.
The main character of the game is Rex, a scavenger who lives on a small (by comparison to its own species) Titan, and who is a far more lively protagonist than the more reserved Shulk (of Xenoblade 1 and Super Smash Bros acclaim). The story unspools at a pretty generous rate with Rex’s quest to reach the land Elysium, and while it isn’t my beloved Persona 5, a great JRPG is still a great JRPG and this game does deliver in crafting a colorful world. In particular, the literalization of what it is RPG players do (scavenge) as your profession is a nice touch.
The combat system is fairly similar to the original game. Though a lot less menu heavy, the game still takes its lead from MMORPGs in terms of the combat focusing more on letting auto-attacks continue till your abilities (i.e. aggro, defense moves, healing moves) are available. Thankfully though, the game breaks up the potential monotony of this by introducing different combination attacks that do provide some flair when you have a full party. In addition, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 does take great care in allowing you to get invested in customizing Rex and your other party members via weapons, accessories, etc. All of that being said, there’s a great deal of leniency given to how you can invest in the growth of your party members and to select a play style that fits you. It’s also worth noting that the environment of the game looks truly fantastic on the Switch. For all the complaining about the relative graphics of a Nintendo system, it really doesn’t matter when the games look as stylized as they do with the major Nintendo releases, the environments look gorgeous in-person and from a distance, and it also helps to avoid dating the game. Granted this is one that most definitely needs to be played on the television. It doesn’t hurt that in-terms of RPG lineage, Tetsuya Nomura does the major designs for the game, they definitely aren’t him but don’t also fall victim to the zipper fetish of say Kingdom Hearts, but it helps to give the game’s style a familiar feeling.
All being told, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has definitely lived up to the hype thus far. There’s been plenty of games that have hit hard at being a draw in the public eye, but in terms of a fantastic JRPG this one hits the top of the pile. There’s great combat, sound design, and eye-popping graphics. There’s a great deal of variety in terms of games coming out for all systems nowadays; but for my money, a great RPG is tough to get right, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has all the makings of a modern classic.
4 Titans out of 5