Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Xenoblade Chronicle X is the latest title from developer Monolith Soft, who brought us such wonderful titles as: the Xenosaga trilogy, Xenoblade Chronicles, Soma Bringer, Xenogears (before they left Square), and Baten Kaitos. Having played only around ten minutes of the first Xenoblade Chronicles, I walked into Chronicles X rather fresh to the new presentation being built, and I can honestly say that I was not disappointed, especially considering the 100+ hours I’ve already put into the game.
One of the first aspects I noticed upon booting up and starting a new game was how crisp and beautiful the game looked. The graphics are so beautifully rendered that you could sit in front of your TV for half a day and literally count each and every leaf from the trees on your screen. The art style does a wonderful job of creating a vibrant world as you explore the new planet of Mira that you and your representatives of humanity have landed upon. The world is vast and expansive, with each continent having it’s own theme, both artistically and musically, ranging from arid dessert to lush forests, and they all look gorgeous. The indigenous creatures are just as diverse in their nature, and while higher ranking enemies of similar types are usually just palette swaps or have added appendages, the diversity of the normal and special monsters more than makes up for it.
The art style does take heavy sci-fi/fantasy influences, but that just makes the game seem all the more complete, considering the setting. For the most part the graphics are fast and fluid, especially considering the expansiveness of the world and the lack of loading times both within and outside of battle. Very rarely did I notice blocky or fused textures, and that was primarily only when initially fast-travelling to an area full of many moving objects. One big gripe I had with the graphics however was the food. Each new chapter one of the party members will cook a food dish. All that power and effort into the terrain, people, creatures and environment, yet the fried chicken looks like canned spam moulded into a chicken leg.
Similar to the graphics, the soundtrack for the game is beautiful. The grand event scenes have epic background music, the theme playing for the antagonists are dark and foreboding, and the battle themes are a wonderful mesh of English, Japanese and German lyrics. One song in particular I found while flipping through the game soundtrack was one I hadn’t recalled actually hearing in the game (Wir fliegan). Next thing I know I’ve discovered it plays during the skell overlimit, and I’m finding ways of extending my overlimit time just so I can hear the song for more than the default ten seconds. While the soundtrack is beautiful, it may not be for everyone. The standard battle theme “Black Tar” is an odd fusion of rock, rap, and a little techno. While I personally enjoyed the track, I know of many people who really were not fans of it. Similarly, the theme for the Sylvalum continent nearly put me to sleep; yet my roommate sat on a mountain in Sylavalum for literally four hours just to listen to the theme. The soundtrack can be hit and miss at times, but overall I’d call it a pretty great success. The sound effects for the game can be largely described as ‘doing their job alright’. I wouldn’t call them astounding, but they aren’t grating or annoying either.
The voice acting, on the other hand, is a bit of a hard beast to tackle. On the one hand, Monolith Soft has employed some wonderful talent to do voice overs for both the main character and the rest of the in-game cast, who deliver their lines with the emotion and quality I have come to expect from some rather well known names in the business of video game and anime voice dubbing. The facial animations, unfortunately, sometimes almost outright kill the exceptional cast. If you’ve ever seen the 1954 Godzilla movie with the English dubbing, you may have an idea what I’m getting at. While most of the time the camera can either be moved during a scene to hide the facial movement, or is normally fixed in a manner that does so, the few scenes that focus heavily on a characters face can be nearly cringe-worthy at some points.
Your main character does not have this issue though. Why? Because he/she is basically a mute protagonist during cutscenes. What about the numerous options for the main character voice actor/actress you get during character creation then? This only really comes into play during battle, where your character and teammates will have callouts followed by something of a quick action event, where a successful completion can restore some health to party members or provide other useful benefits.
One incredibly useful feature of Xenoblade Chronicles X becomes available after completing a certain rather easy quest. There are some spoilers involved with the quest and function so I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that afterwards you are allowed to change certain physical aspects of your main character, allowing you to perhaps get rid of that really ugly mullet you initially had, thinking it would be funny but are now regretting. The initial options for character creation are not a whole lot in terms of physical appearance, despite having an arbitrarily large colour palette to choose from in some cases. Personally I viewed this as a good thing, as I didn’t have to spend four hours creating a character, yet still had enough choices to be perfectly content with my character. The only real complaint is that certain hairstyles are locked to character age, because apparently young boys can’t have mullets and older women can’t have pigtails.
The combat system from Xenoblade Chronicles X has a very unique method of blending active and passive combat, which is even impacted by both weapon and skill decisions. During combat the player only has control of their personal character, although you can give battle orders to party members (if they decide to listen to you). Once combat is initiated the player character will auto-attack at a certain rate dictated by both weapon stats and what skills the character has active. In addition to the auto-attacking there are also active skills with multiple tiers of cooldowns. As a prime example of how this affects battle, the secondary cooldowns sometimes allow for immediate reuse of a skill, adding both more strategy and more active elements.
Personally, I set up my character to deal a massive amount of damage from any active skill used from behind an enemy, but attacks from other directions would do much less damage, thus forcing me to actively get behind whatever I was attacking. This was met with great success at first, as most of my battles lasted anywhere from two seconds on normal enemies to twenty second boss fights. I was even more pleased to find that all the passive skills affect the robots (skells) as well. I was not so pleased when I started fighting larger or more mobile creatures however, as it began getting incredibly difficult to maintain my position behind an enemy.
The combat is definitely not without fault as teammates may not be the most useful of things to have around a potentially hostile target or targets. More times than I could count, I found myself in battle with a relatively easy creature and a large and intimidating, but non-aggressive, creature starts walking by. What do my teammates do? They taunt it; because of course a team of level ten characters can take out a level 92 goliath of a creature called “Luciel the eternal”. Even more frustrating were certain event battles where one of the creatures in combat would be invulnerable to attacks, and all my party members decide to only attack it and not the large looming beast of death and destruction using me as a kicking bag. Thankfully neither of these happened often enough to truly anger me, and both could probably be fixed with some tweaking to my ally combat tactics or assigned attack skills that I was just too lazy or tenacious to change.
Field exploration is smooth and clean, and really makes you feel like you’re exploring a vast landscape. Many times I opted out of the fast travel aspect just so I could jump around the landscape or try to find any harvest points I had missed. As an added incentive to explore the world, if you play in online mode you will be given a set of five tasks that are either to kill a certain type of creature or collect specific items. These tasks can be completed through the combined efforts of up to 32 people on the same server and will provide reward tickets upon participation/completion. These reward tickets may be used to purchase any monster drop, regardless of whether or not you have fought or defeated it before, except for specific boss drops.
In addition to these useful tickets is the game pad screen. The screen may be used as: a map, fast travel selection, recon analysis, probe replacement or landmark identifier. The game pad is incredibly useful and serves a function so useful that I couldn’t imagine playing without it. Even those who play with a controller pro can keep the game pad close at hand, as the game pad may be used in conjunction with a controller pro.
Overall, the game was incredibly enjoyable. The story was interesting, despite feeling more akin to some sort of background happening than a true main campaign style of story, but the true worth of the game is not in its story, but in its exploration of the planet. Out of my 110 hours of gameplay logged on this game, only about ten hours were for story, and the other hundred were purely for exploring and saying “can I kill that?” usually followed by me running away really really fast. Despite the fact that the story does is not the main focus or even revolves around your personal character, really, the setting was a beautiful concept of existence, struggling to survive, and cooperation and cohabitation between man nature and other.
If you are looking for a game only to play for story aspects Xenoblade Chronicles X will probably feel rather underwhelming. Focusing on exploration or 100% completion will give you more content than you could ever hope for, and I would highly recommend picking it up. Fair warning should be given that there are very few in-game explanations for pretty much anything, and for the first twenty or so hours the digital manual will be your best friend and companion.Score: 9 / 10