The Highway to Skell: Xenoblade Chronicles X

Xenoblade Chronicles X
Reviewed On
Wii U
Available For

Xenoblade Chronicles X is the latest entry in a series that has loosely connected chapters, at best, due to its developer having changed publishers multiple times since the PSOne days of Xenogears. The developer, Monolith Soft, has a long and storied history with developing a wide variety of excellent RPG combat and exploration systems, their latest title being no different. Xenoblade Chronicles X is another space opera-inspired Japanese RPG, but it vastly differs from its predecessors in wide variety of ways- does X crash and burn like the wreckage of a spaceship, or is it a revolution in JRPG design? Well, you’ll have to read further to find out. I’m not giving everything away in the first paragraph, you know.

The story of Xenoblade Chronicles X begins with the earth being destroyed, caught in the crossfire of two warring alien races. Arks, huge spacecrafts capable of transporting a large number of the human race, are attacked as they try to leave earth’s atmosphere. There are few survivors. At least one of the ships, the White Whale, does survive, however, though it is attacked and force to crash onto an uncivilized alien planet of Mira. Thankfully, the player character whom you customize yourself is among the survivors of the destroyed planet, otherwise this would have been one extremely short game.

I know we are heroes and all, but shouldn't we be running away from this thing?
I know we are heroes and all, but shouldn’t we be running away from this thing?

You are rescued by Elma, one of eighteen recruitable characters, as you were in stasis as the White Whale crashed. Shortly thereafter, you’re escorted to the last bastion of humanity, New LA, and prompted to join the illustrious organization of BLADE. As you’ve probably already figured out, the other stasis pods from the White Whale become this game’s driving force: The remaining human survivors have to find the pods before the voracious wildlife do and devour the occupants. At least, that’s how the plot begins- it’s a JRPG, after all, and an ever-expanding story is one of the many marks of the genre.

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While the story does have its developments, it’s very clear that exploration is the major focus of Xenoblade Chronicles X. The game will continually remind the player that Mira is a big place- even showcasing some incredibly large monsters during the prologue. There is a myriad of things to do in each location on the map of Xenoblade X: Hidden caves are plentiful, resources that the player can collect dot the map, and side quests so plentiful you’ll be wondering how you can possible finish them all. While there only being 12 missions would make some think that Xenoblade X is light on content, those who jump to such an assumption would be extremely wrong.

The world is really breathtaking, and pushes the Wii U hardware to its limit.
The world is really breathtaking, and pushes the Wii U hardware to its limit.

There are Affinity quests and side quests that are narrative driven, expanding upon the playable characters as well as the inhabitants of New LA, itself. Some side missions are given by various NPCs around the world, while a large number can be obtained from what is essentially a bulletin board of jobs, giving the player item fetching and monster slaying quests. Some of the side quests actually contain the best stories in the game- so it’s strongly recommended that players take some time and actually try out the side missions rather than plowing through the storyline. Many missions will bring out your inner stealth gamer, as some will require players sneak through locations with extremely high leveled enemies that attack on sight during the day, while enemies at night don’t even acknowledge the player’s presence. Sometimes a little bit of experimenting is needed, as the game doesn’t express whether it’s safer to go fetch an item during day or night much of the time.

Speaking of speeding through the story, Xenoblade Chronicles X actively prevents the player from doing that. Most story missions will have a set percentage of the continents that players will have to explore, which is something players should be doing as they progress, anyway. Getting the exploration percentage higher is actually quite easy: Planting network probes in certain spots (which gives the players valuable Miranium as well as money) and discovering major locations will give players a new fast travel spot to use from the map, expediting progress in the long run. Completing side quests, defeating certain monsters, finding treasure or sightseeing spots will all increase the survey percentage and allow players to continue on, but those who prefer to just do the story and be done with it will most likely be annoyed by the gated progress.

Battles are fast and furious, and a real focus of the game.
Battles are fast and furious, and a real focus of the game.

So there’s a lot to explore, tons of quests, and the environments are baffling huge. What else is there? Well, it’s a good thing I made you ask, because there’s an incredibly robust crafting system, where the players use parts gathered from defeated indigenous creatures and minerals gathered from network probes to make augments, enhance the abilities on owned gear, or make new gear entirely. Augments function like gems or slots in most other RPGs: You make an HP XX gem, and you get a hefty boost to your current health. You simply place the augments into equipment with open slots, and you’re pretty well set. As for crafting equipment, it’s extremely costly so it will typically have to wait until beyond the halfway point of the game, but it’s a good way to get the exact gear you’re wanting if you’re trying for a specific build. As far as character developing goes, there’s plenty of room for builds, too. The player character initially starts off in the Drifter class, but upon mastering it can move to three separate classes that each use different weapons and have differing strengths. Mastering one of the aforementioned classes leads to a choice of two other classes that further shift the focus toward a strength of a player’s choice, each of which have a fourth, and final, class to master. Mastering a fourth tier class makes the classes weapons available with any other class, so players who decide that they really like lightsabers can use the Galatic Knight’s photon sabers with the Full Metal Jaguar’s dual guns, should they wish to master one of these classes prior.

Each class gives you a variety of skills and arts, each of which also need to be leveled up for maximum effectiveness. There are 16 classes, each of which come with 10 skills or arts in some combination, of which each of the arts or skills can be leveled up to five. To recap: There’s a huge crafting system that allows you to add slots to equipment, create augments for those slots, make entirely new equipment customized to your specifications, tons of different classes, skills, and arts you can use for attacks. Even the way characters develop in Xenoblade Chronicles X is a little daunting with how in depth it is, which is actually quite incredible. If you’re among the types who likes maximizing to see your numbers get bigger, this will probably be your favorite game of the year.

Night falls on Xenoblade X.
Night falls on Xenoblade X.

This isn’t speaking of the battle system, which veterans of Xenoblade Chronicles should be somewhat familiar. Players position themselves around enemies and attack in real time, choosing arts with cooldowns from a palette to slay enemies. X, however, decided to add Soul Voices, which are basically shout outs from your party members that restore HP and provide various bonuses if you use a melee attack, debuff, etc., when your party tells you to, and vice versa. These Soul Voices give players reasons to constantly pay attention during battle, as hitting a prompt or using a specific type of art at the right time may be the difference between success and a party wipe.

Overdrive is another feature of the Xenoblade Chronicles X battle system, which drastically reduces the cooldowns on the player’s arts and allows them to, for a short time, decimate a target with higher damaging arts. Arts used with the proper timing can lengthen Overdrive, increase the hits counter more than normal (which increases damage), heal themselves, and more. Sadly, even the in-game manual doesn’t properly explain which arts must follow what in order to receive the appropriate bonus, which is a shame that such a core mechanic isn’t effectively elucidated without viewing a guide somewhere.

I don't think he wants to be petted by you.
I don’t think he wants to be petted by you.

Skells are another big thing in the game- they’re like personal Gundams that you can ride around in and further explore and fight on Mira. There are lots of different types of Skell frames to choose from, each with their own distinct advantages and disadvantages, and on top of this, Skells can be equipped with eight different weapons that give the frame its arts during combat. This provides players a significant avenue for min-maxing, though those who don’t care as much about this will at least be pleased to know that you can customize the colors of your Skell- because who would go kill innocent living creatures indiscriminately if you’re not going to look good doing it? Overall, obtaining a Skell completely changes how you look at the game: There’s no mountain top or floating land mass you can’t reach, as it allows much easier traversal across Mira’s five continents.

Of course, this comes with a catch: Skells are very expensive to purchase, outfit, and upkeep, and those who get their mechs destroyed too often may find it too costly to operate them recklessly. If your Skell is destroyed there’s a quick time event which, when perfected, lets you repair your Skell without costing a fortune. It’s an easy QTE, but you may want to practice them if you’re especially bad at such things.

Pretty girl, check. Giant robot-like suit, check.
Pretty girl, check. Giant robot-like suit, check.

The environments in Xenoblade Chronicles X are much better conveyed and designed than the tutorials are, thankfully, and players will be blown away by breathtaking landscapes all over the planet. Mira is an incredibly beautiful place to explore- seeing a giant Millesaur on Primordia for the first time is impressive, but so is reaching the top of the waterfalls and seeing all the way to the horizon. The salt flats of the white continent Sylvalum are gorgeous and accompanied by dreamy music, but you’ll still be blown away by a gargantuan sand worm suddenly springing up above you and into the ground, right before your eyes. The graphics are easily the best available on the Wii U- while the textures may appear smudgy up close, the draw distance clearly uses most, if not all, of the power available on the platform.

The sound is a mixed bag. All of the sound effects are spot on, but many of them are repeated quite often (such as when swimming). Music while exploring the continents are all extremely well composed, though a fair amount of event music and (strangely) the New LA themes all have vocals in them, which may take some players aback. The music bounces back and forth from rock-inspired themes, to greatly composed exploration themes to J-Pop- it’s pretty all over the place, but there should be something there for everyone even if the New LA nighttime theme is awful. There’s tons of voiced dialogue, and the delivery of the voice actors is definitely comparable with other JRPGs- many of the voice actors will be familiar to those who enjoy these types of games (Lao, a party member in this game, is the same as Leon Kennedy from Resident Evil 6 and Alvin from Tales of Xillia).

Nice little giant creature. You are a friendly herbivore, right?
Nice little giant creature. You are a friendly herbivore, right?

Overall, Xenoblade Chronicles X lives up to its name as a huge game as there’s tons to explore, experience, and complete; insomuch that it may even seem daunting. Those who prefer to just do story missions should stay far away, as the exploration focus even carries over into preventing players from taking on story missions until sufficiently traveled and leveled. Players who enjoy rewarding combat systems and progression with a strong focus on exploration will more than likely love Xenoblade Chronicles X, since it’s not without its flaws (better tutorials would be a start), but it does do a great number of things extremely well. Those who like to customize and optimize will find a lot to love in this game.

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