Though the Wii was already a massive success overall for Nintendo, the arrival of Xenoblade Chronicles deservedly brought new life to the system in the eyes of RPGamers the world over. The Wii U follow-up Xenoblade Chronicles X didn't do quite enough as a system seller, though it didn't exactly get much support in a lacklustre library. The Wii U's successor has gotten off to a far better start, and with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Nintendo has what looks to be a perfect way to round out what is already a very strong first-year RPG line-up for the Switch.
I appreciated Xenoblade Chronicles X's attempts to not just follow the same formula as before, as it went in a somewhat different direction. However, there were plenty that didn't, and they will be pleased to know that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 feels much more in line with the first game in both its world design and overall narrative structure and themes. Rather than consisting of two unmoving giants, the world of Alrest instead features numerous living and moving beings called Titans on which the populace has made their homes. Main protagonist Rex starts out the game living on his own small (in comparison) Titan, working on salvaging treasure found under the cloudsea that covers the world. He is hired by a group to investigate a particular wreckage, and ends up finding a girl named Pyra. After the ensuing events, Rex sets out on a journey to take Pyra to the legendary place called Elysium, said to lie on top of the world tree and to be the home of Alrest's deity.
The story certainly starts off strongly, providing a good mix of drama, action, charm, and humour, with some excellent cutscene direction certainly helping things, particularly in one combat scene in the first chapter. Though the story doesn't start out with quite the same stakes as the previous two Xenoblade titles, there is already a fairly deep cast populating all sides — protagonists, antagonists, and supporting members — and hints to plenty of secrets and depth that are almost certain to come up later in the game. From the start, there has been plenty of entertaining back and forth between the party members that really helps complement the cast and world. In Xenoblade Chronicles 2's early chapters at least, there is less of a focus on supplying the player with a massive amount of sidequests. The quests still follow a similar structure to past games, requiring players to find and talk to specific NPCs, defeat certain monsters, or collect certain items, but they seem more focused and individually a bit more ranging in scope.
Exact details on the combat system can be found in RPGamer's previous coverage, but it follows the same structure as the past two games, with auto-attacks supplementing a system of arts and other special attacks. Many arts will have secondary effects that can provide tactical advantage; Rex's first art, for example, causes enemies to drop a healing potion that activates when a party member touches it, while others might inflict a status ailment or cause bonus damage from a certain position. One upside to Xenoblade Chronicles 2's system over the past two games is that everything in the combat UI is button-driven rather than menu-driven, giving players the chance to react more quickly.
One thing that briefly caught me out is that auto-attacks don't start until the character stops moving, but aside from that I've had no problems getting to grips with combat and it's been thoroughly enjoyable. The balance looks right on the money, with early boss fights providing a good but fair challenge, and the series' friendly defeat consequence of simply dropping players back at the previous landmark means there shouldn't be any worries about exploring, and perhaps accidentally drawing the attention of one of the incredibly powerful monsters that roam the world. The synergy across all of the Blades and Drivers works nicely providing some fun tactical options and ways to influence a fight, and is a massive part of the combat. The system for finding new Blades, introducing shades similar to monster-raising games, also looks like it will provide some fun options for players, especially when they manage to find rare allies, linking up well with the affinity-based progression system that unlocks skills and other bonuses as Drivers fight alongside their Blades.
If there's one thing Xenoblade is known for above anything else, it's spectacular location design, and this title is no different. Chapter two location Gormott features Xenoblade Chronicles 2's apparent version of the Gaur Plains, introducing players to stunning views heavily populated by all sorts of fauna and flora, but also does a great job showing one of the game's first towns, providing a bustling, yet appropriately rural settlement. The changes to collecting resources around the world are also welcome, giving players collection and salvage points to attain various items, with Blade abilities or the salvage gear used helping to provide more or better items. Though there's still a sense of luck, gathering is a bit more interactive and open to player influence than the previous titles, with the large amount of rewards from each point also helping to mitigate any disappointment when the exact item searched for doesn't appear. Exploring the world is one of the Xenoblade series' strengths, and this game looks to carry it on superbly. I've already spent a couple of hours using a few sidequests as an excuse just to wander around and take in the sights.
Yasunori Mitsuda takes over the reins for the soundtrack, aided with compositions from a few others including the first game's contributors ACE, and the music has been stellar and hugely complementary to the visuals and events so far. The voice acting retains the British flavour of Xenoblade Chronicles, happily diving into an array of accents, and its high quality certainly plays a big part in bringing the story and characters to life. The game certainly makes full use of the system on docked mode, with the other side of that being that there is a noticeable drop in resolution on handheld mode, but the game still runs fantastically and the quality of the design still superbly shines past the slightly rougher edges.
It is still not very far in, being around ten hours into what is expected to be at least an eighty-hour campaign. However, Monolith Soft's team has more than earned my trust in being able to follow through on such early promise. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has very quickly sucked me into its world. A superb combination of writing, performances, gameplay, and design make the game a delight to experience. In a year already packed full of fantastic RPGs, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is not a game to be missed, especially for fans of the series.