Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Adam Riley 30.11.2017 26

Review for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on Nintendo Switch

Nintendo's Switch has had a slew of fantastic releases this year, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey leading the pack, both receiving the highest accolade from Cubed3 and other media worldwide. It has been a powerful start for the hybrid system, and now Monolith Soft is bringing its Xenoblade role-playing series to the already burgeoning platform. Xenoblade Chronicles on Wii was an absolute masterpiece, Xenoblade Chronicles X was still enjoyable, but lost some of its predecessor's charm, and now comes the third entry, seemingly a direct sequel to the Wii release… except not really being the case. Welcome to the world of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

The first thing that stands out when jumping into Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the shift in character appearance. Rather than the classic Final Fantasy-esque characters of the Wii original or the futuristic appearance of Xenoblade Chornicles X that worked so well on Wii U, Monolith Soft has opted to use more of a Tales approach, with anime-like characters that have a 'softer' visual slant than before. It is quite the shock to the system, and is at odds with the highly detailed world the characters reside in. Clearly this has been done to appeal to a wider audience that judges purely on looks, but then there are characters that seem to be more akin to previous Xenoblade entries, so it proves even more confusing seeing the contrast between the lead, a young treasure hunter named Rex who looks like he has been lifted from a cartoon, and some of the supporting cast that could easily have featured in some of Square Enix's grittier adventures (such as one of the first batch met that tries to slay Rex, triggering his encounter with the female-in-appearance Pyra, who is actually a Blade that becomes his battle partner, but can in fact be replaced by other non-human-looking Blades later on… Yes, it gets a bit convoluted, to say the least), and even some chibi-style - touch of Final Fantasy IX - types mixed in, seemingly just for good measure.

The same fluctuation in style is also present for the soundtrack, which is certainly all over the place in terms of quality, showing how sometimes having multiple composers is not beneficial when they have vastly differing styles, not singing from the same hymn sheet. It results in providing some beautifully sublime compositions, and then other, more clunky pieces that are a total mismatch to the setting. In fact, even the UK release's voice acting is quite often painful on the ears, with some woeful local accents that are so out of place with the world and characters, then paired off against some brilliant voice work for some of the key foes… There is a Welsh girl that certainly does not fit her character at all, and a very confusing lead voice actor that seems to change his accent throughout, sometimes sounding like from Bolton, other times like a Cockney, with a bit of Yorkshire thrown in. Thankfully, there is a free update that allows for using Japanese voices with English subtitles just in time for launch…

Screenshot for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on Nintendo Switch

It really is not the sort of adventure that gives off a great first impression - not at all - and those unfamiliar with Xenoblade's previous entries may instantly be put off. Underneath all the seesaw presentation levels, though, lies the usual solid battle system fans have grown somewhat accustomed to. Again, though, it is one that is definitely more suited to veterans than newcomers (thus making the 'cater for the casuals' visual changes, and almost childlike scripting and acting, all the more confusing).

This is no turn-based affair, nor is it an action-based RPG, or even the unusual hybrid system that Bandai Namco's Tales series is powered by. Instead, it goes down the route of the team auto-attacking and those in 'control' having to almost just sit back and hope the group can overcome whatever enemy has been engaged, sometimes stepping in to trigger a special move or two, or switch on the fly between what Blade accompanies Rex in the heat of the action. It really does leave battles feeling more hands-off than they should, and as the game progresses, the necessary grind becomes worse as weaker enemy encounters are a case of trigger the fight, and then sit and wait until the characters randomly wave weapons in the air, not making specific contact, yet wearing down Hit Points before victory is achieved.

Screenshot for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on Nintendo Switch

Once it starts to feel more natural further into the adventure, choosing the correct key move or assist ability in tougher encounters will be imperative, and it will be the fundamental difference between claiming victory or crashing and burning, which means it all starts to feel more satisfying. The major issue, however, is actually reaching that stage where it all flows naturally; it does not come quickly and most will not persevere to get the most out of the epic journey, as was partly the case with X.

Early on, as alluded to, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 does fall into the trap of grinding being needed to overcome even lower-levelled monsters. It quickly becomes apparent that merely following the on-screen markers for current objectives and side-quests taken on by Rex and his cohorts is shockingly perilous. Rather, it is best practice to fight against as many weaker critters as possible to keep boosting the team's strength (levelling can take place when resting at an inn), or attempting to lure one of the slightly more taxing beasts away from a pack and hoping for the best in order to climb the ranks faster.

Screenshot for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on Nintendo Switch

The game relies on a plethora of chat-style tutorials that flash onto the screen and can be all too easily discarded and forgotten about, plus it also leans on item accrual from enemy drops, garnering enough cash to raid local stores, or hunting down loot boxes dotted around the world…followed by the need for players to be savvy enough to have figured out all the intricacies of all the game's systems in order to properly equip their Driver (Rex) and Blade (one of many that can be acquired along the way, making Pyra seem a bit redundant as an initial lead), power up various abilities, attach numerous add-ons for extra skills, use points amassed to unlock new moves…and so on, and so forth.

Basically, it can be a bit overwhelming even for long-term RPG fans, so anyone thinking this will be the next Zelda - easily accessible to all, but with hidden depth - needs to have a real rethink about whether or not to dive in. Xenogears was amazing, Xenosaga was mightily impressive, but then subsequent Xenosaga entries started to become overly complex and convoluted. It is hoped this trend does not continue with future Xenoblade games.


 
Speaking of the series' name, going from the original to X and now to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 might seem confusing to some. In actuality, calling this a sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles can be likened to saying Final Fantasy II is directly tied to Final Fantasy in any other way than just its parent name and the link between the core battle mechanics. The theme of Titans returns - with people living on the back of larger ones, attempting to reach the paradise of Elysium before the Titans die off - but other than that, this is an adventure standing proud on its own merits. Sadly, then, despite having so much going for it, there are too many quirks to raise this up to the same level Switch owners have come to expect after the likes of Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Exploration of the grand world is undoubtedly fantastic, and unearthing all sorts of hidden goodies is extremely rewarding, showing off how talented the team at Monolith Soft is when it comes to overworld creation. Even the innards of bustling townscapes are thoroughly impressive, with plenty to see whilst wandering around. It is irksome that the awful camera spoils some of the town exploration, as it is simply terrible in close quarters situations. It often becomes so frustrating that losing the position of Rex becomes too regular an occurrence, with him dropping off ledges, and so on, leading to annoying moments where long-winded navigation to get back up to where you were previously is required, or swimming through the clouds is necessary to find a ledge back up to the mainland. There is an attempted first-person viewpoint option to get around the awkwardness of camera movement when in tight spaces, narrow pathways, or inside buildings, but that just does not work in this sort of game.

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Graphically it is a mixed bag, as well, with some aspects looking drop dead gorgeous. However, in handheld mode, everything becomes very blurry, which makes the cluttered interface trickier to fathom, and in docked mode, there is a lot of slowdown in overly crowded towns where many people are milling around, and shop/objective markers are popping up all over. Cut-scenes, whilst engaging to begin with, prove to be so long in places that the screen will dim, as the Switch gets ready to go into standby mode, thinking users have just left the system behind for a prolonged period.

Trying to get through all of the game's chapters is going to be a long slog for all comers at the best of times, which some will obviously relish, so with long, drawn-out scenes of no interaction added in, most will tire of the game possibly before even half of the adventure has been polished off. This is quite gripping in places, but at the same time does not have anywhere near the same draw as Breath of the Wild, and pales in comparison to the previous two Xenoblade releases. The combat system is overly fiddly, which will be enthralling for those with enough patience to try every little detail out, but for the majority of players, it will become unbearable, with most trying to get by with the merest of adjustments…which then results in constant dying and returning to the last checkpoint.

Screenshot for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 tries its hardest to match the grandest of grand RPGs out there on the market, attempting to become Nintendo's own Final Fantasy. In doing so, though, whilst still wonderfully vast in its scale, and gripping in how things play out for the most part, it has lost its way slightly, becoming bogged down by an overly complex pre-battle system, marred by fights that mostly feel too hands-off/automated, and some terrible character visuals and voice work. There is indeed a lot to love about this, yet so much that makes you yearn for something more.

Developer

Monolith

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Oh, dear god. I got to the party late as usual, but BOY do I regret my purchase.
This is one of the worst JRPGs I've played in my life.
I think you are way too generous here Adam.

Can't a fella drink in peace?
                                -Farnham

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