It’s difficult to know where to start with a game like Xenoblade Chronicles X. This is, beyond dispute, one of the biggest, most content-rich and feature-complete games ever made. I’ve played my fair share of RPGs in my time and Xenoblade Chronicles X is certainly the biggest game I’ve ever tackled. It’s also one of the best. Make no mistake, this game is just damn good, and a particularly monumental achievement on Wii U. That does not mean, however, that Xenoblade Chronicles X is perfect or that it’s easy to get into and play. This is an old-school RPG with layers of complexity and content, and it doesn’t hold your hand or introduce you to its mechanics in a seamless, intuitive way.
The plot is a clean break from the previous game, Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii (and later on the 3DS). At the beginning of Xenoblade Chronicles X, it’s 2054 and Earth is caught in the middle of an interstellar war between two advanced alien civilizations. As humanity’s cradle is burned to ashes, several colony ships attempt to escape into space. America’s ship, The White Whale, is ostensibly the only survivor. They wander the galaxy for two years until the aliens catch up to them. The White Whale crashes toward the nearby planet Mira. As the ship breaks apart in the atmosphere, its habitation module touches down and becomes New Los Angeles, the last human colony.
Your character’s story begins as human war veteran Colonel Elma wakes you up out of your escape pod. Xenoblade Chronicles X’s character creation system isn’t anywhere as deep as Fallout 4’s but it allows a decent amount of options so you can build a fairly unique protagonist, including sex, height, build, facial features, hair and voice. You’ll only hear your character speak during combat—not in cutscenes—but I thought it was cool that one of the voice actors is the same person who voiced Shulk in Xenoblade Chronicles. I made my character look like Adam Jensen from Deus Ex.
At its core Xenoblade Chronicles X is a very classic-style RPG, but it blends aspects from across the spectrum of role playing games. It consists of a main hub, New LA, surrounded by a big game world; you pick up quests at the hub and occasionally when out in the field. After being rescued by Elma you accompany her back to New LA by trekking over a vast stretch of Mira, coming up on a ridge as the sun rises and rainclouds part. It’s a positively breathtaking introduction to the game and really hammers home just how big Mira is.
Once you’re back in New LA, you get a feel for the game’s basic systems. You join BLADE, New LA’s military/peacekeeping arm and get to work exploring Mira and establishing an outpost for the fledgling city. BLADE has eight divisions—basically the game’s job system—with different focuses on combat, exploration, diplomacy and research. Once you choose your division, you pick your class and get to work. You can switch class and even division at any time though, so the game is already encouraging exploration at the start.
Once you get out into the field you’ll begin to get a feel for the game’s many working parts. Mira is teeming with native wildlife, known as “indigens,” and even other invading aliens, so learning how to fight is critical. The combat system is in real-time, and shares similarities with Knights of the Old Republic, a number of MMOs and of course the previous Xenoblade Chronicles. Once you target an enemy and order your party to attack, your character and each member will lay down basic attacks with bladed and ranged weapons.
The real meat of the combat is Arts, a system borrowed and modified from Xenoblade Chronicles. Each Art is a special move that requires cooldown and sometimes mana, and they range from powerful attacks to buffs, debuffs, aggro-boosters and evasive moves. Spamming arts is only half of it though—as you fight your party members will use their “soul voices,” which are vocal commands to coordinate combat. For example, Elma might stagger the enemy and call out for melee finishers; those moves will flash on your Arts panel, and hitting one in time will grant damage bonuses and even restore HP. As you level up your class you will unlock more Arts, which opens up even more cooperative moves. It’s crucial to pay attention to what your party is doing in battle, as coordinating Arts is usually the difference between life and death.
Dying isn’t the end of the world, though. After falling in battle, your team will simply respawn at the last landmark you discovered. There’s no loss of loot or money, and you even keep the XP you earned from the battle where you died; in this way Xenoblade Chronicles X really encourages exploration. One of the most important ongoing quests is planting data probes throughout Mira. These probes establish a respawn point, they place a permanent quick-travel spot and they even generate persistent income for your party.
It’s super important to place probes because you’ll probably be dying a lot. Unlike the Elders Scrolls series, enemies do not scale with your level. It’s not unusual to see massive indigens the size of small skyscrapers and several dozen levels above you just wandering around outside New LA. Some of these are peaceful and will simply ignore you (until you’re dumb enough to stick them in the butt with a sword), but many other indigens are hostile predators that will attack on sight. This can be rather sobering and thrilling. Few games instill the fear I experienced, cowering behind a rock feeling like a bug as a five-story kaiju thundered past. It can also be annoying at times, forcing you to avoid fields and valleys swarming with herds of hungry, high-level indigens.
Mira is a beautiful, dangerous place. Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of the few games that creates a wholly believable world, something that feels like an actual planet with competing biospheres, ecosystems and creatures that look like they really evolved there. Part of this is just how brain-breaking-gigantic Mira is, complete with five separate continents. To put it in perspective, you could fit the entirety of Skyrim into Mira several times over; Fallout 4 could fit in there four times. Witcher 3 could squeeze in there three times. Xenoblade Chronicles X does all of this on Wii U with no loading times; the only time you’ll see a loading screen is when you enter a building or fast-travel, and even those are mercifully brief. Of course if you have the retail copy this does require a rather hefty 15GB install that uses up half of the Wii U’s internal memory, but trust me: clearing some space is well worth it.
You might suspect that Mira is big and empty, but every square inch has been modeled and textured by hand. It’s all packed with fascinating creatures, sidequests and secret treasures too. The landscapes are gorgeous and daunting. Gravity-defying rock arches stretch across the horizon. Waterfalls that make Niagara look like a puddle feed into tributaries that supply an entire jungle continent with water. Bizarre alien wheel structures the diameter of small moons lie half-buried in deserts wracked by scorching lightning storms. Vast, shimmering, monster-infested oceans separate the landmasses. None of this is skybox or illusion. Anything in the vast distance can be reached, scaled, dived or otherwise explored, and all of it hides rewards for those daring enough to try.
To be fair you can’t access all of it on foot, but that’s where Xenoblade Chronicles X’s other big aspect comes into play. After hoofing it for about 30 hours and completing a dozen big missions you will gain access to a Skell. Skells are giant transformable mecha that give you a completely new perspective on the gameplay. Instead of adding new arts by leveling up, you give your Skell more moves in combat by buying and installing new modular parts. Want a laser katana Art? Bolt that sucker to your Skell’s arm. Want to fire off a hail of missiles? Pop a few missile pods onto the back of your Skell.
The brilliant part is that jumping into a Skell does not dramatically change combat. You gain some new abilities, like “binding” bigger enemies so your team can get a few cheap shots in. But the battle system you’ve learned from the previous 30 hours adapts remarkably well. What doesn’t carry over is the reckless abandon.
If you die on foot, you simply respawn at that last data probe. But if your Skell is destroyed the consequences are far graver. A Skell is a piece of technology that stays destroyed until you get it fixed. You start with three repair insurance policies, but once those are gone you need to fork over a veritable fortune in credits to get your Skell back into fighting shape. Skells also expend their limited fuel supply in combat, so you’d better keep the tank topped off or you’ll be going nowhere fast. This really conveys that New LA is short on supplies, and Skells are a rare and vital resource that you can’t play around with. Fighting in a Skell actually feels more risky; you can’t just go harass that enormous level 50 dinosaur right after you get your first Skell.
If you’re careful and build up enough credits though, you can outfit your entire party with Skells. This is necessary toward the end of the game as Xenoblade Chronicles X is a surprisingly difficult game, especially when it comes to boss encounters. If a boss flattens your party three times in a row you can cop-out and the game will lower the boss by a few levels, but thankfully I only resorted to this once in 40-plus hours.
Getting a Skell in the first place unfortunately uncovered a few of Xenoblade Chronicles X’s shortcomings in balance and structure. Xenoblade Chronicles X’s missions are divided into three categories: “normal” missions (sidequests), Affinity missions (think of the loyalty quests for party members in Mass Effect 2), and of course main story missions. The affinity and story missions are usually interesting and have involved objectives, but sometimes they’re gated by banal and highly specific requirements.
These requirements can be anything from reaching a required level to obtaining rare item drops and exploring a certain percentage of a continent. Unfortunately this is where the inevitable RPG scourges of fetch-quests and grinding rear their ugly heads. What’s worse, the “normal” missions have these issues as often as they send you to do something cool. In both cases, especially with the fetch-quests, sometimes the game doesn’t even point you in the right direction.
It will say “find X number of this item on this continent” and leave it up to you to find where to go. In an entire continent. I’m not ashamed to say I resorted to online FAQs more than a couple times just so I could collect some rare doodad, fulfill an arcane mission requirement and continue with the damn story. Sadly the Skell qualification exam, which consists of eight tasks from the various BLADE divisions, is mostly just fetch-quests. I would’ve preferred a crash-course in Skell use that got me accustomed to piloting one of the dynamic vehicles.
Thankfully these are only mild annoyances in the grand scheme of things, and should not deter you from checking out this amazing RPG. The only other mixed bag I encountered was the soundtrack, and a handful of graphical issues. The music and voice acting are overall quite excellent, with the vast majority of music consisting of an intoxicating orchestral-techno hybrid, lending a suitably epic feel to the breathtaking vistas of Mira. There’s also some surprisingly good hip-hop integrated into the battle music. The music in New LA, however, makes some odd choices. I know the city is supposed to feel hip and metropolitan, but did they really have to go with generic beatboxing? This is probably why I didn’t spend much time in the city and preferred to bound over the endless fields of Primordia, or the exotic jungles of Noctilum.
New LA also suffers a bit in the graphical department, with less impressive textures than the rest of Mira. The city is an impressive sight on the whole with bustling pedestrians, roaming Skells and even sparse car traffic, but up close the textures get a bit muddy. The vast, diverse beauty of Mira more than makes up for any New LA quibbles, however. Xenoblade Chronicles X is nothing short of stunning.
There are a few extraneous elements to consider, like the light online features that let you go on raids with fellow players, post messages to Miiverse or recruit visiting avatars to your party for a limited time. I feel like I could go on for pages and pages talking about this game, possibly even write a doctoral thesis. There is a staggering amount to do and see here. You can invest in New LA’s arms manufacturers to create more powerful weapons and armor. You can recruit entire alien civilizations to assist the fledgling humans. The story has some incredible twists and well-written, (mostly) likable characters.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a phenomenal achievement in the art form of role playing games. It possesses a bigger world with more raw content than most anything else in its genre outside of an MMO, and without the crippling bugs that plague Fallout 4, for example. It just doesn’t explain itself as succinctly or effectively as it could to new players. But I implore you, don’t let that scare you off. This game will leave you breathless on a regular basis. It avoids most of the pitfalls and clichés of its peers with grace and style. If you have the time and perseverance to conquer Mira, Xenoblade Chronicles X offers the role playing experience of a generation.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been gaming off and on since I was about three, starting with Star Raiders on the Atari 800 computer. As a kid I played mostly on PC--Doom, Duke Nukem, Dark Forces--but enjoyed the 16-bit console wars vicariously during sleepovers and hangouts with my school friends. In 1997 GoldenEye 007 and the N64 brought me back into the console scene and I've played and owned a wide variety of platforms since, although I still have an affection for Nintendo and Sega.
I started writing for Gaming Nexus back in mid-2005, right before the 7th console generation hit. Since then I've focused mostly on the PC and Nintendo scenes but I also play regularly on Sony and Microsoft consoles. My favorite series include Metroid, Deus Ex, Zelda, Metal Gear and Far Cry. I'm also something of an amateur retro collector. I currently live in Westerville, Ohio with my wife and our cat, who sits so close to the TV I'd swear she loves Zelda more than we do. We are expecting our first child, who will receive a thorough education in the classics.View Profile