Xenoblade Chronicles X came out last Friday, and while I probably would have waited on picking it up until I finished playing Fallout 4, I agreed to take over its TAY review from Steve. So basically, since then, I’ve diverted all my gaming time to tackling this new huge release from Monolith Soft because I know it’s gonna take me like 100 hours to really delve into it and be able to give a full evaluation, the same way I did for Xenoblade Chronicles 3D.

You hear that, TAY?! I’ve got to the point where I’ll even put aside Fallout-fucking-4 to write articles for you. There’s no other group of people online I’d rather talk and debate games and anime with, and I really mean that. I luv u gais.

Anyway, because a review for a game like this is going to take me a long time just due to the sheer size of the game itself, I thought I’d do at least one post before then about my earlier thoughts on the game. So here they are, in no particular order or organization, after playing the game for about 12 hours.

Looks Mostly Amazing

Just like its predecessor, XCX is a visual delight. While its world doesn’t have as fantastic a concept behind it as the Bionis and Mechonis, it is just as beautiful and many many times more vast. The game has an entire planet’s worth of continents to explore and it’s worth noting that the landscapes have a lot more verticality to them than they did in XC. What I mean by that is that there are more mountains to climb, cliffs to tumble down, bridges to cross, and high areas that you can’t access until you get a flying robot later in the game. This is in contrast to Xenoblade Chronicles’ environments; with the exception of Valak Mountain (which is an enormous pain in the ass to navigate), most of its locations are either one mostly flat plain or two flat plains on top of each other. This made sense in XC - Gaur Plains was on the Bionis’ thigh, and the top of a person’s thigh is flat - but in XCX they needed to come up with some more varied topography, and they succeeded.

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However, there’s a couple caveats here. Unforunately the first of these has to do with the inferior hardware that the game is running on. While XCX is definitely the best-looking game on the Wii U, there are a lot of graphical issues with it that simply would not exist if this game were on the PS4 or XB1. Objects and assets will sometimes pop into view as you walk along, and it’s impossible to ignore the pop-ins during cutscenes when the camera sweeps across environments and the hardware can’t keep up with rendering everything ahead of time. On top of that, textures will load a half second too late during cutscenes as well, sometimes treating you to a low-res version of characters before the detail on their clothing and hair updates.

Then there are the character designs, which have already been commented on by lots of people, so I won’t get too into it. But they’re kinda....... yeah. Derpy. Honestly if you compare them to the designs in XC they really aren’t that different when it comes to the style, but the problem with XCX is that its graphics are bolder and more detailed, while XC had this softer, almost painted quality that for whatever reason helped mitigate how weird everyone’s faces looked.

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The character design problems are exacerbated by the character animation, which is inconsistent in quality. Elma is a calm, logical character, so when she doesn’t emote that much, it isn’t such a big deal. But spunky 13 year old Lin has had the same dead-eyed facial expression for the entire game so far. I swear to god, the girl’s eyebrows must be paralyzed or something. This contrasts jarringly with a strong vocal performance by Cassandra Lee Morris. Speaking of which...

Sound/Music is a Mixed Bag

Lin - the black-haired girl in the images above and the game’s deuteragonist - has the same voice actress as Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s Kyuubey in the English dub. If you’ve ever watched the English dub of Madoka, the voice will be INSTANTLY recognizable, which makes for a hilarious connection between the two characters. Lin is constantly threatening Tatsu, the helpful little Nopon, with cooking him up in her next dish, adding a mean streak to her personality that meshes so well with Kyuubey’s heartlessness.

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(By the way? Lin is awesome. I love her and I was not expecting that, at all. This has been the biggest surprise about this game so far. Actually, all of the characters have been great. I have high hopes for the story.)

(UPDATE: 25 hours in, the story is definitely living up to my expectations. Last night, I got to a point that literally made me yell at my TV.)

The rest of the voice acting is very solid, although the cast will disappoint people who hate seeing the same names over and over in dubbed anime and Japanese game localizations. Pretty much all of the usual offenders make an appearance at some point. I don’t even watch a lot of dubbed anime or follow voice actors, and I’ve already recognized four voices so far.

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As for the music, well... so far it leaves something to be desired. Xenoblade Chronicles has one of THE best soundtracks in recent memory, famous for its beautiful distinct melodies. But XCX has gone in an entirely different direction, instead trying to emulate Shoji Meguro’s fusion of pop, rock and rap from Persona. Except... without being particularly good. The music in this game just feels like background noise for the most part, too amorphic to hum any tune to yourself. The only BGM I can remember off the top of my head at the moment is the one that plays at your main base, and only because it has a constant, mindless loop of stereotypical rapper “uh! uh! yeah!”s, which is probably the laziest way you can try to make a song sound more like hip hop. Other tracks are passable, but I’ve yet to come across anything similar to even the sleepy Colony 6 theme, much less Gaur Plains, You Will Know Our Names, or Satorl Marsh - Night.

Xenoblade Chronicle’s Gameplay on Steroids

When I wrote on TAY about why I loved Xenoblade Chronicles so much, it was basically an article about my personal tastes. XC worked for me because its strong points catered to what I personally look for in a game, and its flawed elements were things that mattered to me a lot less. Playing its sequel, I feel that it’s even harder for me to really recommend it without knowing a person’s taste in games.

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One thing’s for sure: the story is on the backburner. Monolith Soft tried to “rebalance” gameplay and story with XC, but XCX seems to tilt the scale in the opposite direction, with gameplay becoming an even bigger focus - to the detriment of a true JRPG experience. Honestly, this game feels a lot more like Monster Hunter. You’re sent out to do tasks. You’re expected to wanna traverse the landscape and fight monsters. You wanna do these tasks and traverse these landscapes, right? If you don’t wanna do these tasks or traverse these landscapes this is not a game for you, period. People looking for a strong story-focused experience should look elsewhere. People who hated Xenoblade Chronicles’ MMO-like gameplay focus should also look elsewhere, because here, it’s cranked up to 11.

But damn, if you’re like me and loved the meat of the first game’s gameplay, chances are you’ll love this game. The world is bigger and better and there’s a larger, more overt focus on exploration. The world and its missions are riddled with goodies. High-level monsters stomp through main roads and bridges, requiring you to sneak past or find another way through. Collectibles glow against the dark backdrop of nightfall, supporting my obsession with the Collectipedia.

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Combat is very similar to XC’s, but at the same time it has some pretty significant changes. Unfortunately, and obviously, they could not carry over Shulk’s future visions unless they forced a similar concept into the story, and I think that idea was explored enough in the first game. So instead, XCX expands on the mid-combat character banter by turning it into prompts for you to use specific abilities at certain times. If you do it successfully, you get a bonus, such as healing the party slightly. All abilities have a secondary timer to them as well, so if you make a tactical decision to wait on using an ability, you can get an extra effect. Aside from that, picking abilities, setting skills, and carefully setting up your party are all brought over from the first game. I think overall they did a good job of preserving the strategic nature of XC’s battle system while making it feel new at the same time... so far. We’ll see if that changes, I have yet to unlock one of the major parts of the battle system, from what I can tell.

“BRB Returning Game” - sub judice, December 7, 2015

However, despite having a generally positive time with the game so far, I have to mention the fact that last night I got so frustrated with it that I felt ready to literally return the game.

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Basically, this game has a lot of moving parts. There is so much packed into it - the world, the missions, the battle system, the multiplayer, the factions, the story progression, the equipment, character classes, item collection, item crafting, map making, resource gathering, base customization, and so on. And all of this is dumped into your lap in the first couple hours of the game for you to just kinda figure out on your own.

Xenoblade Chronicles X is the first game in two decades where I had to read the manual to understand what was going on. I spent several hours last night just wandering around, at a complete loss for what the game actually wanted me to be doing at the time. I couldn’t progress in the story yet, but I also didn’t seem to be able to complete any of the quests I had picked up. This was especially frustrating because I had gleefully accepted a ton of missions from the game’s literal mission dispensing menu right after it was unlocked for me - yet these missions didn’t tell me where I had to go to complete them, OR if they did, they were sending me to an entirely different continent of the overworld that I could not get to yet.

I eventually realized that I had accepted missions from the game’s multiplayer portion of the game and that I wasn’t actually supposed to be doing any of those yet. But the game gives you the option to accept them all - AND makes a lousy attempt at explaining all of this to you considering the torrent of other information - within the first few hours of the game. While you’re also trying to digest the story.

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Once I figured out that I was Doing It Wrong, I got back on track and my rage subsided. But I feel as though I really can’t be blamed for my several hours of frustration. I loved the first game and I was 100% ready and excited to give the story missions the middle finger so I could wander off and do whatever I wanted, completing whatever missions I could get. So naturally, in my eagerness, I wanted to do the missions the game appeared to be offering me - except I couldn’t do any of them yet, and I wasn’t told that. Why offer me quests I can’t even do? I mean, how am I supposed to know the thing that hands out missions, that I was just told about, is not something I should be concerning myself with yet? The game reportedly makes you wait about 20 hours before it introduces the Skells (aka giant mecha) part of the game to you. But not this?

That may be my only complaint so far: it takes some time for you to get used to how much of everything there is in this game, and the fact that it’s pretty much dumped on your lap at once with a minimal (at best) explanation.

So, there are my initial rambling thoughts about Xenoblade Chronicles X. So far it looks like it takes the principles that drove the first game and pushes them even farther. This will not appeal to everyone, in the same way that Xenoblade Chronicles did not appeal to everyone. But so far, I’m enjoying it. 12 hours in, I barely feel like I’ve scratched the surface of what it can offer and I am eager to see where it leads me.