Late last night (this morning?), I had an epiphany. I have played about 120 hours in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and I was thinking about my time spent with the game. As I stirred my cauldron of thoughts, my brain stew heated, bubbled, and eventually exploded. I realized that about 40 hours of that total is by and large meaningless garbage. This was hard to accept. Let me explain how this came to be.
The original Xenoblade Chronicles is one of my all-time favorite games. It carried me through a difficult and tumultuous period in high school. Whatever stressful situation was playing out at school, I could count on Xenoblade to take my brain somewhere else for an hour or so. The game had sat on the shelf for years before I resolved to return to it and beat it during that difficult era. It was the first game I ever truly dedicated myself to conquering, and that made it even more special.
With my limited time, I focused primarily on progressing through the story. Occasionally, I would take on sidequests if I needed to level up, but I mostly pushed through the story with the aim of completing it on the speedier side. Time limitations forced me to focus on doing only what needed to be done. This kept my party at levels about even with areas and bosses. My gameplay sessions were accordingly tight and engaging. Unfortunately, this is not the approach I have taken with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Instead, I’ve allowed myself to get caught in its bloated, boring side content.
Despite my lengthy playtime, I’ve never favorably described XC2 to a friend. Here is what I usually say:
“It’s like, every time you do something, you do it to unlock something else, which you also do to unlock something else, but the only reason you need to do all this circular unlocking is because the developers arbitrarily put a roadblock in place so that you need to do bullshit to unlock their bullshit gate.”
“Right... I’ve played stuff like that,” they say, fraudulently. Lies! They are confused. They have never experienced this Frankensteinian nightmare system. Secretly, this explanation baffles people. You know why? Because it is, indeed, fucking baffling.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is filled to the brim with unnecessary crap. The reward for doing crap sidequests (blade quests, especially, for those who have played) are crap cutscenes with crap voice acting. The crap feeds into itself, requiring more crap experience in order to do newer, crappier quests. It is an endless cycle of excrement. Truly, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the human centipede of JRPGs.
But, please, let me properly explain. The crap cutscenes I mentioned often build out the character of your “blades.” In this game, the weapons your characters use come with (usually) humanoid companions. These are blades. It’s not quite “your sword is also your waifu,” but it’s close. The issue with most of these characters is that they are a waste of time. Characters that impact the story get appropriate coverage in the story itself and require little to no boring sidequests to maintain. The unimportant blades (of which there are many), however, only get featured in their own side missions. There, they are built up enough to become one-dimensional tropes. These side missions almost universally suck. The characters suck, and the cutscenes you get during the sidequests are tolerable to unbearable. Unfortunately, I took quite a while to come to my senses on this.
Here’s an example. Meet Ursula, a lovely young lady with a polar bear. Her “blade” form apparently is a human AND an animal. The rules of blades are inconsistent, but I digress.
Her “affinity chart” can be unlocked by doing sidequests. Unlocking further rings of her affinity chart makes her more powerful. Additionally, she unlocks “field skills” that can be used to access sectioned-off areas of the game. These areas are ONLY sectioned off to encourage you to do more bad sidequests. Some treasure chests, for example, can only be opened if you have high enough “lockpicking” field skills on your blades. Sometimes, you need two field skills just to get to a treasure chest that in turn needs two different field skills to be opened. This leads to a lot of frustrating grinding and a lot of shuffling party members in and out to find the right field skills for certain tasks. Sidequests also frequently require field skills.
Ursula’s sidequests come almost exclusively in the form of “Merc Missions.” These are sidequests where your player character has no involvement. Instead there are required attributes that your blades must have, and you send blades with those attributes to do the mission. The more their field skills (different than attributes) fit the mission, the quicker it goes by. These missions go on for a set amount of real time as you play the game. After the time is up, the blades come back and gain some experience, plus whatever reward you got for the quests. This means that, ludicrously, to unlock all of Ursula’s skills, you can’t actually use her as a blade in your party for most of the damn game
Each merc mission Ursula goes on requires a team of six characters to get it done most efficiently. At best, it will take three minutes. This means that EVERY THREE MINUTES a notification will pop up on screen (with a nice little HD rumble) that she’s done, and then you have to send her back out to do another three minute mission. To make things worse, the game does not remember the team you just sent out, so you have to once again use the game’s asinine sorting feature to find the blades you just sent on the mission. As of writing, I have 167 blades available to me (an entirely different issue deserving of its own article), and there are 58 (FIFTY-EIGHT!) criteria I can sort them by. Sorting for the three minute mission thus takes two minutes on its own. Then, you have to do these missions (in which you don’t actually do anything) something like 200 times. That is literally (actually literally) not an exaggeration. No joke. You are left with three minute spurts to play the actual damn game.
The above example is probably the most egregious sidequest bullshit in this game, although there are plenty of blades I have not gotten that might be worse! Another blade quest requires you to beat around 40 world boss characters with her equipped, regardless of whether you have beaten them before. There are 8 branches of her skill tree, and you had better kill those five monsters in the right order on each branch. Another mission, this one, has some of the absolute worst voice acting I have ever had the misfortune to sit through, to say nothing of the worst-of-anime character design. Another drags you around each continent in the game to mine random locations, until you have mined a set number of those, upon which you are told all previous mining was pointless and pointed towards the “right” place to mine. Fuck you! Send me to the right place off the bat!
The blade sidequests theoretically reward you with field skills and fun cutscenes. Obviously, I did not feel rewarded by the cutscenes. The field skills are frustrating and arbitrary as well. They are almost never necessary to get through actual game content (with a notable, annoying exception near the end). Thus, they create a system almost completely separate from the main story progression through the game. Sidequests are also almost never necessary to level up, because the game gives out bonus XP that makes it easy to boost your level if needed (a bit like FFXV except you still level up normally, too). Instead, field skills, sidequests, and merc missions create a boring, crappy cycle of shoddy gameplay to fill up playtimes. Truly, the game is a “dollar per hour” masterpiece. Personally, I care more for fun per hour, where this game often fails.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2's side content has absolutely zero regard for your time. The main story is very anime, but mostly interesting regardless (I have not yet finished, but am on Chapter 10). Xeno- games usually have fun twists, and I’ve enjoyed several already. Exploring the vast world of the game is very cool. On the whole, the game is worth your time! The side content, however, is extremely not. Don’t fall into the same trap that I did.