Even the most venomous of its criticizers can’t deny that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is erupting with passionate aspiration. The latest installment in the long-running franchise of Xeno exists as an indirect sequel to 2010’s acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles and presents a sprawlingly gargantuan role-playing experience. Often, it admirably delivers on its promises, serving a scrumptiously sizeable portion of addictive activities that demand countless spoonfuls of time to digest. Disappointingly, however, many instances of unsteadiness that its predecessors (Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X) were debilitated by still run rampantly throughout one’s adventure in the wide world of Alrest, preventing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 from its potential propulsion above the realm of ‘yeah, it’s pretty decent’.
The aforementioned Alrest, a world above a sea of clouds, sees protagonist Rex working as a salvager (somebody who picks up somewhat useful junk from the somewhat useless cloud sea). With humanity residing upon colossal beings known as Titans (much like in Xenoblade Chronicles), anxiety spreads as a result of various Titans, fundamental for providing the very surfaces humankind require to exist upon, mysteriously dying and plummeting below the vast cloud sea.
After a chance encounter with a being known as Pyra, Rex is requested to venture alongside her to Elysium, a legendary land that purportedly carries the potential of providing ample residency room for humanity in its entirety, being a rectification to the ‘Titans are totally dying and that sucks’ problem. Accompanied by various allies, Rex, Pyra, and friends begin their journey to Elysium, waging heated battle against the fierce threats seeking to oppose their plight. The fantasy fueled narrative of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 brings purposeful progression of characters alongside profound emotional sincerity, resulting in what can be described as one of gaming’s more successful examples of storytelling, even despite its clichés.
Graphically, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 brandishes anime-inspired visual charm, boasting colorful liveliness and cel-shaded loveliness. Despite its beauty during the Nintendo Switch’s docked format, in handheld mode the resolution suffers a shockingly severe blow. Whilst the overwhelming majority of Nintendo Switch games showcase a satisfactory degree of graphical competence in handheld mode, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 exchanges its crisp vibrancy for a sludge showered pixelated parade of dirge. With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild still turning heads during handheld mode for its drop dead gorgeous good looks, there is insufficient excuse for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to perform as lousily as it does when on the go.
Combat of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 shares similarities to its preceding Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X, but also provides an array of alterations to the fighting formula that create an intricately strategic melding of concepts. Characters are placed into pairs consisting of a Driver, responsible for taking center stage and dishing out the damage, and a Blade, who provides elemental energy and assistance to their Driver. During combat, auto-attacks neglect to require any form of input from the player. Being automatic as their name implies, they charge up a character’s Arts. Mightier than auto-attacks, and possessing perks, Arts deal more damage, and their usage charges up a character’s Special Gauge. Specials can be executed at either level one, two, or three (a fourth level is attainable provided that a Driver has garnered a maximized bond rating with his or her Blade during combat), with higher numeric levels equating to deadlier damage, but requiring longer (more executions of Arts) to charge up. With each Special bearing an elemental property, executing a level one, followed by a level two, and concluding with a level three Special in a specific sequence will allow for a Blade Combo, a grandiose performance of fighting fueled eye-candy. Chain Attacks, Driver Combos, and Fusion Combos also play a role of importance, alongside Blade switching.
If it sounds bewildering, it’s because it is. Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s combat brings with it a lofty learning curve, and can perplex players as a result. Whilst it becomes digestible (and satisfying) over time, thanks in part to the nature in which Xenoblade Chronicles 2 drip-feeds its mechanics as opposed to suffocating players with an influx of information, further assistance (such as the option to replay tutorials or the inclusion of a training room for practicing incidental intricacies of battling) would have been welcome. However enjoyable as it may evolve to be, the road trip to competence at Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s confounding combat is a bumpy one to say the least and could have been cushioned by supportive features that are disappointingly absent.
The insurmountable amount of activities offered to players in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is staggering. From unlocking and enhancing Blades to undertaking Merc Missions, to indulging in a retro-influenced mini-game (Tiger! Tiger!) in the interest of strengthening Poppi, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 provides to its players a jaw-dropping quantity of time eaters. Side-quests have undergone improvement, showcasing greater diversity than their iterations in Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X, alongside being more intelligently organized within the pause menu screen and less over-abundant in their quantity.
Positive points aside however, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 makes missteps that dampen the experience. The voice acting (specifically the English dub) of characters ranges from wonderfully realized to woefully rubbish, creating an off-kilter balance of quality throughout the range of cutscenes. Pyra, Poppi, and Dromarch all flaunt marvelous vocal delivery that matches their personalities perfectly, wondrously bringing them to life. By contrast however, Rex, Nia, and Taro are shackled with cringeworthy dialogue, being decimated by obnoxiously over-pronounced Scottish accents, or, in the case of Taro, cheap comic relief.
Players battling opponents of a level similar to their own, only for a separate baddie far outclassing them to butt in on the confrontation uninvited, never ceases to be a bothersome occurrence in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (much as it was in Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X). With a player’s allies maneuvering independently throughout the battlefield, they will at times bumble into a senseless choice of territory (such as the edge of a steep summit, or a bubbling pool of harmful liquid that inflicts gradual damage to them). With no means to demand their allies regroup at a selected location, players are at the mercy of Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s imperfect ally and opponent artificial intelligence, which on occasion declines to play fair.
Finally, Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s default method of organizing acquired items chronologically results in some irritation. Whilst an alphabetical format of order can be selected from within the item menu, alterations made will automatically be reset to chronological upon exiting. This mechanic serves to create needless annoyance (especially for players that are particularly specific about their organizational preferences).
Despite its setbacks, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is nevertheless a joy to behold. The colossal beating heart beneath its chest is radiating with a boundless passion that in rare instances drives one to embrace the mistakes on display. From the graphical and technical hiccups to the groan-inducing dialogue, even Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s rock bottom occurrences of failure can be partially endearing when considered alongside its bundle of brilliance. The array of actives to indulge in, the breadth and diversity of its environments, and a battle system that (despite its befuddling design) flourishes to offer an array of strategic satisfaction, results in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 being a ‘rough around the edges’ blast of delight.
(Author’s note: nothing in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 can top the adorably humorous dances that Poppi performs whilst idle.)