Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is another great JRPG for both the series and the Switch. It's a whole different experience from other open world games on the system. One that may take a little more effort to get into, but one that rewards anyone that does.
The Xenoblade games set themselves apart on multiple fronts from other (J)RPG’s. One of those ways is how they handle the titles of the games. You might be expecting Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to be a direct sequel to the Wii’s Xenoblade Chronicles, unlike the Xenoblade Chronicles X game that launched on WiiU. But it’s not. Like X, this game is not related to the story of the other games in any way so you can ignore the “2” in the titles at your leisure…
When you start playing the game, though, it becomes apparent quite quickly that this is, in fact, a Xenoblade Chronicles game. This is a dual-edged sword, however. Fans will rejoice, but if you disliked any of the first games you’ll probably won’t like this one either. To set expectations I enjoyed both previous games so keep that in mind reading on.
The Xenoblade games offer a distinct flavor of JRPG that mixes grand open worlds, a compelling story, and a unique combat system. All of these ingredients are present in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in an improved fashion.
The story revolves around the ‘ocean’ world of Alrest. I put ocean between quotes here because the ocean is not the type of ocean you’d expect. Instead of a water ocean, it’s a cloud ocean. But the difference is only in appearance since you can still swim in this ocean as you would a normal based one. This doesn’t mean that diving in is recommended, especially in the beginning falling in the ocean and not dying is actually a hassle. I would have preferred simply respawning to trying to find a place where I can climb out again.
Alrest is made up of several locations that are actually giant beasts called Titans. When the game kicks off we find protagonist Rex living on one of these Titans that he lovingly refers to as Gramps. The opening cinematic clearly sets the tone for the rest of the adventure and the thing that probably stands out most is the graphical style of the game. While it isn’t a grand departure from the other games it is more stylized. I prefer a stylized approach any day and this game proves this again (to myself at least). The anime style of the game is overall pleasing but does get too ‘Japanese’ for my taste in places. Particularly in the physical appearance of one of the female main characters (see some of the screenshots to see what I mean). Her chest is so abundant that I found it distracting and it actually detracted from the experience. The game’s animation is also still a bit clunky but other than that the game’s presentation is quite good, especially for a game with such a vast world.
On the audio front Xenoblade Chronicles 2 provides a complete English experience with a mostly British voice cast. While the voice acting is more than adequate I did feel the Britsh accents were a bit much. Purists will be happy to hear that the original Japanese voice track is available as a separate download.
The combat system of Xenoblade games is one of the key differentiators of the series. In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, this system gets some additions in the form of the Driver-Blade-Simbiosys. What this means is that your in-game party can consist of three ‘Drivers’ or warriors that wield sentient weapons called blades. These blades can take various forms and each have a certain elemental power. Both Driver and Blade have an expansive skill tree that you can develop over the course of the game. Some of the Blade masteries seem optional throughout most of the game but their relevance ramps up significantly near the end of the story. So ignore them at your own peril. If you do ignore them building them will require grinding a bit and visiting so-called heart-to-heart moments to build more affinity between you and your blade(s).
The weapon system remains mostly the same from earlier games, albeit with a few additions. You and your party will auto-attack your selected enemies. You can move around but this is only to achieve certain benefits for your special attacks. There is an attack for instance that is much more powerful when executed behind your target (apparently backstabbing is rewarded!). The main part of the combat boils down to timing. Either in the form of quick time events, which can occur in sequences of up to four, or by executing special attacks at a certain moment in the animation of a normal attack. Combat starts out relatively simple and perhaps even dull, but it gains depth (and complexity) quickly.
The game has a (rather cheeky) tutorial that explains the game’s mechanics as you progress. Overall the tutorial works rather well and I appreciated the cheeky tone. However, regardless of the tutorial, the game’s complexity felt daunting. It’s not like Breath of the Wild where you learn by exploring. Here I felt like you need to read some kind of manual to do everything you want to do. But then this is hindered by the fact that you can’t do everything from the start. You need progress the story to a certain point to unlock everything. The result is something of a learning curve, but one that is ignorable by simply following the instructions. While this is simple enough, it contradicts the openness of the world and a player’s urge to explore from the get-go.
Like the other games in the series Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is an enormous game that will probably take upward of 80 hours to complete. What’s impressive about the game is that it keeps getting more and more interesting. The various Titans provide a varied landscape and the story and skill progression keep things interesting. Fans of the series know what to expect and should definitely give it a try. Players unfamiliar with the Xenoblade games should go in open-minded and not expect a Breath of the Wild open world experience. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 needs some time to warm up but rewards players that make the effort.