Xenoblade Chronicles was an excellent game, with its only flaws being the excessive amount of level grinding required to beat the game, and the pointless sidequests that should be skipped entirely. With Xenoblade Chronicles X, these problems are not only still here, but they’re actually worse than before.
Let me get one thing out of the way: FUCK. LEVEL. GRINDING. It is 20-goddamn-15, and if you can’t design a game without mandatory level grinding, you desperately need to modernize. I’m all for sweeping, lengthy 100 hour JRPGs. Perfectly fine by my book. But don’t waste my fucking time. Not even three hours into Xenoblade X, I was forced to level grind to fight a boss, despite fighting every battle along the way to said boss. Five hours in, I’m still level grinding. This is bad game design. There’s not even a difficulty setting that lets more casual players power through the story.
Second thing - the character models are atrocious. I honestly cannot distinguish them from Xenosaga on the PS2. Outside of the character I designed myself, every character looks dead and lifeless. The mouth motions, even in cutscenes, do not come remotely close to syncing with the speech. This is excusable in a low-res game like the original Xenoblade, but on an HD console, it just looks cheap and lazy.
The characters range from irritating to bland. Lin might be at the top of game characters I want to never see again. My other party member so far... Whose name I can’t even remember, has one character trait: Soldier. The side characters are basically on par with NPCs from the original Final Fantasy on the NES. That’s a game from nearly 30 years ago.
Is there a plot? I honestly have no idea. I’m five hours in, and there are hints at what might be a plot, somewhere, buried in this game... But I’m five hours in. If I don’t know why I’m playing at this point, I’m pretty much going to, you know... Find something better to do.
Admittedly though, the intro cutscene was amazing. It looks great, it SOUNDS great, and it sets up a really interesting premise... And I feel like that cutscene might belong to a game that was cancelled sometime during the development of this one, because nothing good about this cutscene shows up again within the first five hours of actual play.
Outside of the environments (which look incredible!), everything here kind of looks like ass. Like, on par with very early PS3 games, only without the art direction that made some of those (Lair, Uncharted, etc.) look nice. The New Los Angeles area looks straight out of Xenosaga, with a cool-in-2002, simplistic aesthetic full of steel, LEDs and low-res textures. The skells (this game’s mech suits) look horribly bland, which blows my mind, given how prominently they feature in marketing. Even Xenogears on the PS1 had better mechs than this game! Every human and humanoid creature in this game looks the same. Pick two members of the same species in Xenoblade X, and you cannot tell them apart.
The music is a mixed bag. While some of the overworld and battle music is cool, there are a few tracks - basically, anything with vocals - that clash horribly, and would not feel out of place in Sonic Adventure 2. Even the sound effects take a step back from Xenoblade, with nothing giving enough of an “oomph” to give a clear idea of what’s happening during cluttered battle scenes.
But I think what irritates me most is the way the game’s progression is set up. Generally, I can tolerate a slow plot if it’s got a linear pace with occasional stops for story... But this game isn’t that. It’s set up like a series of sidequests. There is no adventure to the top of Bionis here - it’s “Here’s your hubworld, here’s your mission, go do it.” It tries to be an MMO, but it lacks the dynamic events and social tools that made a modern MMO engaging. Admittedly, MMOs are not my cup of tea, but I can see the appeal of a gigantic, ultra-hyped world boss in Guild Wars 2, and trying to find 20 other people to team up with to kick its ass. So far, Xenoblade doesn’t seem to have the level of community that makes a world boss such a big event. And once again, it feels like a game that’s trying to model itself after games from 15 years ago.
Noticing a running theme here? Xenoblade Chronicles X is like a weird time capsule of archaic game design choices. If that’s your jam, you’ll probably like it. But even if this game were released on PS2 or something, I wouldn’t play it. It’s just... Bland. There’s nothing there to hook me, nothing to say, “This is worth investing 100 hours into.” It almost feels like a game that begrudgingly escaped development hell - something that has gone through so many changes and redesigns over a period of a decade or more that it ends up being this mediocre collage of old and new game design choices - usually to its detriment.
I think I’ve made up my mind about this one... I’m just going to sell it. Very disappointed with this one.
(BTW, that’s not my Wii U pad. :P)