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Review: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a messy RPG that works if you’re willing to dig

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Developer: Monolith Soft

Publisher: Nintendo

MSRP: $59.99

Introduction:

The original Xenoblade Chronicles was a game I, like many other JRPG fans, pined for when it was thought to be a Japanese release only. Thankfully, the Operation Rainfall petition worked, and Wii owners were treated to what was easily the best JRPG on the console, and potentially even across all platforms during that entire console generation. Chronicles 2 is technically the third game in the series, following the Wii U spinoff/sequel/whatever that was in Chronicles X, though the story and its world are entirely their own thing.

Players step into the role of Rex, a young salvager who lives on the back of a mini Titan he affectionately calls Gramps. A financial opportunity of a lifetime arises, and against Gramps’ better judgment, Rex sets off without him. Without spoiling anything, things don’t turn out quite the way he envisioned, as Rex comes face to face with an ancient being known as Pyra. The story then proceeds to center around Rex and Pyra’s journey as they travel and recruit other allies to their cause.

If you’ve played any Xenoblade Chronicles game before, then you probably have a pretty good idea about how combat unfolds, though there are a few notable differences. You make contact with enemies in the overworld that are on screen, and then a seamless transition based on the enemy line of sight pushes the game into combat. Players supplement a standard attack with cooldown abilities, and quick-time button prompts for added pizzazz and damage.

As always, here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

The story is weaker this time around.

This isn’t to say that Chronicles 2 tells a bad story, it’s more about just how good the original game was. Chronicles 2 is an upgrade over 2015’s Chronicles X, but still pales in comparison to Shulk’s hero’s journey mainly thanks to some awkward Scottish voice acting, forced comedic moments that feel out of place, and a narrative that doesn’t do the best job of establishing all of its characters.

Chronicles 2 starts out far quieter in a way that works well, provided you don’t need explosions and/or the sound of battle to get you interested. The game does an excellent job of keeping things (relatively) simple at the beginning while conveying the humble nature of Rex’s day-to-day existence through side quests based around the denizens of the game’s opening area, the Argentum Trade Guild.

Rex himself is almost childlike, carrying himself with a reckless sort of innocence in the “I’ll help anyone no matter what” kind of way, rarely pausing to consider the consequences of his actions or the potential in being duped by those he seeks to help. This is further conveyed by one of the phrases he utters during battle about “winning with the power of friendship” that can quickly become eye-rolling if you aren’t a sucker for the cheese that typically comes along with JRPGs.

I suppose there’s a sort of lovable foolishness attached to this archetype, but the main problem comes from the fact that this kind of character is not particularly new to the genre. Therefore Rex ultimately feels like a retread character that will likely be forgotten five years from now.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 doesn’t mess around on the combat front.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was unabashedly designed for dedicated players in mind, and with that, it probably won’t be a game that will move large quantities of Switches off the shelves. It is, however, great at sucking up your time, and a lot of that has to do with how it treats combat. Much like its predecessors, Chronicles 2 isn’t afraid to toss a high-level enemy or two into the game’s open areas, mixed in amongst the level 8-12 fodder.

As someone who typically enjoys a session or two of grinding before heading off to continue the main storyline, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 always kept me on my toes, which was a welcome feature. It’s easy for grinding to become a mundane task with the repetition of demolishing enemies while watching the experience bar inch along to the next level, but Chronicles 2 kept my eyes on the horizon.

In part, this was because the game doesn’t render all of the enemies on screen at once until you get within a certain distance. As a result, there is potential for you to inadvertently cross the path of a barrelling behemoth if you aren’t paying attention.

Getting into combat itself is relatively painless as the game (mostly) leaves it up to the player how and when they wish to fight. There are no random encounters, so any battle you find yourself in is your responsibility most of the time. There are, however, moments of aggro that feel like they get out of hand from time to time. More on that below.

The creatures of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 are an angry bunch.

Aggro is a big part of the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 experience for better and worse. What I mean by that is that it’s not unusual for additional creatures in the overworld to join a battle already in progress if they are within proximity. On the one hand, it can severely streamline the grind, as foe after foe walk right up to you and the battle in progress, only find themselves felled in a matter of minutes, meaning more experience for you.

On the other hand, this has the potential to cause some severe balancing issues, particularly if you are facing a group of enemies at your level or slightly above. It’s a pretty decent challenge to enter a three on three overworld battle in this type of scenario, but one that has its obvious rewards. However, a simple dare to tackle this kind of challenge can quickly come undone as more and more enemies pile into the battle. Sure, you can retreat, but it can be frustrating when you are trying to top off one more level and keep getting ganged up on.

This isn’t an issue that happens all the time, but it happens often enough to be worth mentioning.

Verdict:

Considering the kind of year that the Nintendo Switch has had, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 isn’t the best of what the platform has to offer, but it does serve as a nice way to close out the console’s first year. Chronicles 2 returns to a lot of the same themes that the original game did, and in many ways, it feels like a return to form. JRPG fans will no doubt feel satisfied at the dearth of content that the game has in store, even if it does frustrate from time to time.