When Xenoblade Chronicles came out for the Wii in 2010, it created enough of a stir to start a famously successful letter-writing campaign. Your enjoyment of its highly anticipated 2015 follow-up, Xenoblade Chronicles X, depends entirely on whether - and why - you liked the first game.

A disclaimer before we get into the meat of this review: I really enjoyed the first Xenoblade Chronicles, which I played on the 3DS last summer. So, I’m going into this as someone who enthusiastically loved the prior game. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend you read my article detailing my thoughts on the first game, because I think it explains my perspective/bias going into Xenoblade Chronicles X without needing to repeat it here.

Best Looking Game on the Wii U

Let’s make one thing clear, right from the beginning: the primary draw of this game is how dang pretty it is. XCX’s main selling point is that you get to explore a vast, beautiful alien world. The flora and fauna are sometimes tame, sometimes vicious. They range everywhere from dog-sized insects, to enemy alien mechs, to brontosaurus-like creatures the size of skyscrapers. There are lush plains, lakes teeming with wildlife, steamy jungles, postcard beaches, harsh deserts, ancient ruins, desolate cliffsides, and volcanic wastelands for you to scour for resources, items and mini-bosses. None of this would work unless this was a world you wanted to be in, and the planet Mira is gorgeously designed and rendered and definitely someplace you want to be.

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There are a few caveats here, however. Because this game is on the Wii U, it doesn’t benefit from the technology that the Xbox One or PS4 has to offer. The game displays at a native resolution of 720p and is capped at 30 FPS. There are a number of graphical glitches that are nearly impossible to miss within the first few hours of the game. While the draw distance for the environments is very high, there are nevertheless regular pop-ins as assets load half a second too late. It’s especially noticable during cutscenes, when the camera sweeps quickly over large swatches of land. On top of that, textures have a tendency to load late as well, treating you to low-res versions of characters and enemies while the full textures load. It looks sloppy, but I’m sure this has everything to do with this game taking advantage of all the power the Wii U can muster - and then some.

Above: immediately after arriving at a fast travel location vs. approximately 5 seconds later. Note the difference in texture on the alien to the right, and also the two humans standing on the red platform (harder to see - Miiverse screenshots are abysmal).

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However, there is a solution. If you go on the Wii U eShop, you can download free texture packs straight to your console. While this doesn’t cut down on the pop-ins and texture problems entirely, it is definitely an improvement, and it helps prevent what may have been an unavoidable negative bullet point for this game. The pop-ins in particular almost went away entirely after I downloaded the packs.

Morevoer, even if you never download these packs (which is possible - they are fairly large and Wii Us are not known for having large storage space), these graphical issues do not override the fact that this game is gorgeous and huge. For a game whose main draw is exploration, it still succeeds in spades by giving you a world you want to be in and explore. Some momentary texture and pop-in issues do not draw away from it all that much.

Side Quests Significantly Improved

In Xenoblade Chronicles, this game’s predecessor for the Wii, most of the gameplay (when you weren’t pursuing the story missions) was focused on exploring the entire map and completing quests in which you have to collect a certain number of items from the map, get a certain number of drops from enemies, kill a certain number of enemies, or other typical MMO fodder. While I was perfectly happy with this - I like the single-player experience in MMOs and thus love the “single player MMO” type of JRPG - these repetitive kill and collection quests are usually cited as one of the major complaints for Xenoblade Chronicles.

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Above: a cutscene in a multi-part side mission about a few humans’ efforts to inspire trust and tolerance towards the aliens that have come to live in New LA.

I am happy to report that Monolith Soft listened to your complaints. Xenoblade Chronicles X brings over everything that was great about its predecessor’s gameplay while improving on aspects that were less than stellar. Especially improved are tside quests, which now feature wonderfully inventive side plots and colorful NPC characters, in sharp contrast to the low-involvement blandness of the side quests from Xenoblade Chronicles.

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They are for the most part still collection/kill quests, but they feel significantly more involved because they’re fewer in number and are framed within interesting stories: humans trying to get along with the alien races they meet on Mira; establishing a water purification plant for the city’s water needs - and the complications that come with it; helping an alien from the future build a time machine out of a car in a Back to the Future parody; dealing with deserters and spies; helping a pair of Nopon brothers find the Sword of Legendaryness; meeting new party members and learning more about the party members you already have. The missions aren’t merely tasks for you to complete to get experience and loot anymore. Instead, they help build the world of Mira and fill in the details of the humans’ situation and the war they’re fighting against the alien force that destroyed our home. It would not be inaccurate to say that these smaller, optional side quests are the real “story” of Xenoblade Chronicles X.

But here’s the thing. While Xenoblade Chronicles X delivers a huge improvement over the gameplay of the previous game, the question every reader should consider first is whether you like niche “single player MMO” games in the first place. Most of your time will be spent wandering around, fighting bad guys and picking up items, simply because it’s fun and usually without any particular objective in mind - especially not a main story objective (more on that below). Are you the kind of person who needs a strong story to help keep you motivated during a long game? Did you stick through the first Xenoblade for the story and not the gameplay? Well, this game probably isn’t for you then. I really recommend that everyone educate themselves before buying this game. If you already know that you don’t games like this, then exercise some common sense before dishing out $60. Discretion is advised.

But if you did like the first Xenoblade - or even moderately enjoyed it while wishing the quests were a little more involved and less repetitive - Xenoblade Chronicles X is certain to please. It has literally hundreds of hours worth of content for you to enjoy, between exploring the map, crafting armor and weapons, completing collections, getting to know the world of Mira and people of New LA, and dozens upon dozens of high-level boss monsters to conquer.

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Limited but Satisfying Multiplayer

Xenoblade Chronicles X, while not a true MMO, does have some wonderful MMO-like multiplayer qualities to it. Every time you load your game you’ll be asked what kind of “squad” you want to join - Lifehold, Conquest, or Friend. “Lifehold” is for when you want to ignore multiplayer altogether, but honestly I recommend always choosing “Conquest” because the mulitplayer elements are always optional. If you choose Lifehold, you won’t even be notified of new multiplayer opportunities, but if you choose Conquest you’ll at least have the option of deciding whether you want to participate.

In either mode there are Squad Tasks. These show up in the bottom right of the screen. Basically, if you defeat a number of certain enemies and/or pick up a number of certain collectable items from the game world within a set amount of time, you’ll be rewarded with Reward Tickets. Reward Tickets are invaluable because you can trade them in for literally any item dropped from an enemy in the game. Need an Insect Jaw to finish crafting that awesome new weapon, but not willing to wander around finding and killing the powerful enemy that drops it? Just buy it for a few dozen Reward Tickets. This works for items needed for quests, too.

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Then, in Conquest Squad, there are also multiplayer-focused kill quests. For these missions, you and a group of up to three other people take on boss battles for Reward Tickets and special items/materials. These bosses, known as “Global Nemesis,” are enormous monsters with 2,000,000+ total life bars that must be slowly drained and killed by many different Conquest Squads over a period of days. If the collective player base manages to bring these enemies’ life down to zero, they get rewarded with extra goodies.

But XCX’s multiplayer really shines in its “passive” multiplayer department, which the aforementioned Squad Tasks are part of. For example, at any time you can recruit another player’s avatar character into your party and use them in single-player battles. Having trouble with a level 30 monster because your party is only level 25? Go recruit someone’s level 30 character for the extra help... as long as you have the cash to hire them. There’s also a bursting fan community in the Miiverse, and I found that if I posed a question to it because I didn’t understand something, I would get a (good, correct) answer back within minutes. And there’s a big system of “Divisions” as well, too - basically, you can align yourself with one of eight divisions in the game and gain points by doing certain actions, depending on the Division. The Division with the most points every day gains special rewards for its members, such as consumable items for battle (this is the only way to get them that I know of), extra money, or free repairs for your giant mechs. And there are those Squad Tasks mentioned above, which you can technically not even help with but still get rewards from if someone else in your Squad is working on them.

While Xenoblade Chronicles X is not the kind of game where you’ll see other player characters walking around in the game world with you, there’s still elements of helping one another and bringing the community together to strive towards a common goal. And unlike an MMO, all of the multiplayer is optional.

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Music, Sound and Voice Acting

This game has a fantastic soundtrack. Each continent has its own BGM, with day and night having different versions of the same general tune, but they never get old because they are so catchy and fun to listen to. The music in New LA, the main city, is a little harder to praise because it’s got a weird vibe to it - lots of superficial rapper “uh, uh, yeah”s and punk rock girl “one two three four!”s in an attempt to make it sound more American I guess - but even these songs grew on me over time. (Which is good because they’re definitely the songs you listen to the most.)

It’s hard to talk about music aside from saying it’s good or bad, so I’ll let the music talk for me. Here are some of my favorite tracks:

The sound effects and design are excellent, especially in battle. (You’re out of luck if you hated how characters talked so much in the first game, because this game not only does the same thing, but turned it into a part of the battle system. See below.) Although I’d note that sometimes, the background music can wash out character dialogue. As for the voice acting, it ranges from good to great; anyone familiar with the usual voice actors who work on English localizations of anime and games is sure to recognize a majority of the voice talent.

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Great Ground Combat, Underwhelming Mech Combat

There are essentially two different combat systems in this game: one for “ground gear,” or your characters’ physical combat skills, and one for Skells, which is the game’s word for its giant mecha vehicles. These two combat systems are significantly different, and unfortunately the game incentivizes you to use the one that is less engaging and more cheap.

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Ground gear combat is adapted from the battle system from the first Xenoblade Chronicles. Each playable character has a certain job class and possesses a certain set of “Arts” to use in battle. The only exception is the player avatar character, which you can freely assign to different job class tracks depending on the situation. For example, the party member Lin is a “Shield Trooper,” which receives large boosts to HP and melee attack and whose Arts focus on tanking and defensive buffs. If you don’t want Lin in your party but want the benefits of the Shield Trooper class, you can set your avatar’s job class to Shield Trooper and have access to the same benefits and battle role.

In battle, your character will auto-attack using either their equipped melee or ranged weapon, which you can switch between freely mid-battle, and you can select which Arts to execute and when. Arts are limited by cooldown timers - just like in an MMO and Xenoblade Chronicles - but this game introduces two new elements to this mix, Soul Voices and secondary cooldowns.

Basically, at certain points during combat, your party members will call out to you to perform an Art of one of the five Art categories (melee, ranged, debuff, buff/heal, and aura). If you execute the Art in time, you’ll get an additional bonus to the Art’s effects and heal your party a small amount of HP. This essentially gives you an incentive to make a decision on whether you want to blow through all your Arts as soon as they’re off cooldown, or if you want to hold back a little and have them available for if and when you get a Soul Voice prompt. This is a significant tactical consideration, because for the most part, completing Soul Voice prompts is the primary way of healing your party during battle.

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On top of that, every Art has a secondary cool down that will slowly tick up if you’re auto-attacking with the weapon associated with that Art. Even though an Art may be available to use, if you wait a longer for its secondary cooldown to finish, you can get a bonus effect such as increased damage or automatic re-use. Add into this dynamic the additional factor of certain party members being more likely to Soul Voice certain categories of Arts after certain actions, and you get a complex battle system in which you constantly have to weigh the pros and cons of using an Art at any given time, selecting which Arts to set to your characters, and tweaking your party make-up.

Early in the game, you’ll also unlock “Overdrive Mode.” As you auto-attack, you’ll accrue Tension Points. You can spend TP to execute certain TP-cost Arts, but if you’ve got at least 3,000 built up, you can spend them to enter Overdrive Mode, where you’ll do increased damage for a short amount of time. On top of that, your Arts will also gain a tertiary cooldown where they can gain even more benefits if you wait even longer to use them.

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Above: ready to roll out #squadgoals

We start to see some problems, however, with Skell combat. Skells are giant mecha vehicles that you can earn a license to use and buy approximately 25-35 hours into the game. While the basic skeleton for Skell combat is the same as ground gear combat - eight Arts to chose from, you gain points from auto-attacking, and you can spend 3,000 to enter Overdrive Mode - the similarities almost stop there.

Your selection of Skell Arts is not tied to something like the class or model of the Skell, but to what weapons you have equipped to them. The concept of secondary cooldowns are also gone; Skell Arts simply cooldown and there is no added benefit to waiting on using it again, unless you’re hungry for the HP heal you can get by waiting for a Soul Voice. Using Skells basically strips your party members of their individuality, even nullifying the level they’re at, because the Skell itself has its own level and stats. And for the most part, because Arts are attached to what Skell equipment you have and not the character or Skell model, Skells are nearly identical except for their level and armor class (Light, Medium and Heavy).

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I know some people will disagree with me on this, but I found Skell combat to be far less engaging than ground gear combat. Deeper decision-making requirements are stripped away in favor of spamming Arts as soon as their cooldown is ready. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if Skell combat weren’t so overpowered compared to ground gear combat. One of the first weapons you can equip to your first Skell gives you a melee art that can do 20,000+ points of damage in one hit, which translates to at least 50% HP for most enemies. And I’m not talking enemies that are lower level than you, I mean ones that had previously been giving you a lot of trouble. Why try to tweak your party and use your brain to take out tough bad guys when you can get in a Skell and blow them away in a matter of seconds?

After you get to the point where two or more party members can pilot Skells, for the most of the rest of the game, you are either: A) forced to use Skells because the mission/enemy is designed for you to need them and therefore it’s too hard for ground gear, or B) will end up using Skells during ground gear missions as a matter of practicality because it allows you to mow down enemies and save a ton of time and risk. I know this is a necessary evil because the mechs NEED to feel super powerful and awesome, and it’s true that ground gear eventually starts to outclass Skells, but for a solid 50+ hours there’s almost no reason to stop using them aside from a handful of situations where the game forces you to.

COULD you, during that time, figure out a ground gear set-up and combo that does tons of damage, maybe even outclassing Skells? Of course. But that possibility isn’t really the point. The point is that you can get through the game relying on Skells, which get the job done without the need for much thought or planning.

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Now, they did make some attempt to limit your use of Skells by making them both expensive and dependent on fuel, which can only be replenished by exiting the Skell or spending money back at your base. But to be honest, during my 3-4 hour play sessions, I’ve never run out of fuel in my Skells. It’s not being in the Skell that diminishes fuel, but auto-attacking, using Arts, and later, flying. There is enough down-time between doing these things that the fuel doesn’t deplete very fast at all. And whatever does deplete doesn’t carry over: the next time I turn the game back on, the fuel has reset to max.

Likewise, making the Skells expensive to buy, upgrade and repair is not a limitation on your use of them because money is extremely plentiful. Remeber in Final Fantasy VIII how enemies didn’t drop money, and instead, you’d receive a salary after walking a certain number of steps - thus making it easy to grind money by walking in circles for a while? Same concept here. So throw some rubber bands on that controller and go watch a movie.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong. The difference here is not major. If ground combat is an A+, Skell combat would still be a B. Not to mention that they’re still cool as heck, and you can exit them at any time during battle and switch to ground combat if you want. On top of that, Skells are invaluable as vehicles, making exploring Mira and its continents a million times easier (which further incentivizes you to always be using them). They literally transform into cars when you hit the “run” button! And eventually they learn how to FLY!!! And have I mentioned that you can customize their colors and give them special names? The Skell I assigned to the character Doug, for example, is named “Quailman.” Only 90's kids will get it.

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Skells are still REALLY cool and an awesome, awesome part of why this game is so rad. (Yeah, “rad,” I’m goin’ there.) I just wish the combat system associated with them was as engaging and complex as the ground gear system.

Some Head-Scratching Character Design

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Since we first saw screenshots of Xenoblade Chronicles X, people have been commenting on how strange the human characters look. I think they are approximately as odd as the human characters in the first Xenoblade, but because of the increased graphics and sharper, more defined aesthetic sense, the oddness is amplified. It really comes down to one thing: they are way too anime-looking, without falling into the more overt anime aesthetics of games like Persona and Tales of. So what you end up with are a bunch of relatively realistic-looking humans with enormous anime eyes and unemotive facial expressions.

It doesn’t help that the characters with the strangest-looking faces are the main characters who are present for almost every story-based or story-related mission, and on top of that, most of the face options for the player avatar are a bit grotesque. (More on that below.)

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There are also some strange design decisions for the alien races as well, with this game providing an embarrassingly stereotypical case of Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism. For some alien races, the males look highly foreign - they look like monsters, hulking and scary and inhuman. But their female counterparts look significantly similar to humans in comparison... namely, in sex appeal. Men have be ugly monsters (because men are violent, dangerous and threatening, right?) while women have to be be super models with body paint and face prosthetics (because “female” first and foremost means human titties and butt). Surely for some or even most gamers, this won’t bother them, but for me, it was hard to ignore the sexism on display.

Above: This game expects me to believe that Skinny Jabba the Hut and Borg Queen Rip-Off are the same species of alien.
(Update: It’s been pointed out that these two may not be from the same species, even though I’m pretty sure they are. However, in either case, these are still representative examples of how male aliens look in this game versus female aliens. You won’t find a female alien that looks as monstrous as the character on the right, and there’s only one male alien in the entire game as “beautiful” and human-like as the one on the left.)

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For the record, there are alien races that don’t have this problem, namely the ones that are supposed to be cutesy or are explicitly established as having no sexes because they reproduce asexually. But if an alien species doesn’t fall into those two exceptions, it falls into the “men= unsympathetic inhuman monsters, women=super models with face prosthetics” trap. And that’s just kinda sad, not to mention cheesy and glaring.

However, putting that problem aside, the alien designs are wonderful. Each one is unique and their designs “makes sense” once you get to know more about each race. Nopon are back from the first game, and they’re joined by half a dozen other unique and personality-filled races, such as the squeaky-voiced techophile Ma-non, the gentle hive-minded Orpheans, the warlike Prone, and the villainous human-hating Ganglion. One of the themes of this game is cooperation, specifically between humans and other alien races, even though our home world has been destroyed by aliens (albeit different ones). It’s uplifting to see so many different races working together peacefully.

Meager Story, But That’s Intentional

Two years ago, Earth was caught in the middle of a war between other aliens. The planet was destroyed in the process, and the last remnants of the human species fled into deep space in hopes of finding somewhere new to start again. But the blood-thirsty Ganglion tracked them down and attacked, forcing their ship, the White Whale, to crash land on the primordial planet Mira. During the crash, a section of the ship called the Lifehold broke away and crashed separately. The Lifehold contained the vast majority of the human refugees on the ship, stuck in cryogenic sleep for the potentially long space mission that was anticipated when they left Earth. You and your team of soldiers have to find the Lifehold while defending the ship’s remains, dubbed New LA, from continued Ganglion attack. Along the way, humans will forge alliances with other alien races on Mira who have been targeted by the Ganglion.

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The game tells its story through about 12 “story missions” sprinkled throughout the game. You can’t simply power through them all at once because each one has prerequisites - a minimum level, completion of other quests, a certain percentage of exploration of the world map. And the story missions are few and far between compared to everything else there is to do in this game. As of writing this, I have played for about 85 hours. Out of those 85 hours, I have only completed 9 story missions, with less than 15 hours spent on the “story.”

Is the story any good? Sure. The premise is great and the plot takes a couple surprising turns. The characters are interesting and likable without the game going completely overboard; like in the first Xenoblade they feel more like real people than the more anime-inspired tropes you usually see in JRPGs. And it helps that almost all of them are adults, which is a nice respite from the usual focus on teenagers.

On top of that, the story is told more unconventionally. It’s really more about the interstitial parts - the overall situation, the side missions, the NPC dialogue, the environments, flavor text, that kinda stuff. While the main story follows a small ragtag band of friends like in most JRPGs, the game is really about the human race being driven from our homes, forced to crash land on a foreign planet, and what happens afterwards. The world-building and smaller story vignettes you get to see in side quests make up the bulk of the actual story in this game.

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But honestly, I think the question of whether the story is good is kinda moot. At the end of the day, the story shouldn’t be why you pick up the game. You should play it if you think you’d like the battle system and the world and the exploration, because that’s what you’ll be doing for dozens and dozens and dozens of hours. The story is more like icing on the cake. If you are looking for a more traditional JRPG, with a focus on a character-driven linear story, you should look elsewhere.

UI, Maps, Menus and Tutorial/Help

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Above: screenshot of the map interface displayed on the Wii U Game Pad.

My biggest issue with this game is how inconvenient everything is. Nothing is simple. Everything takes more menu screens, more button presses, and more text boxes than should be reasonably necessary. The UI does a terrible job of conveying information. Actually, the whole game does a bad job conveying information. Unless you’ve played it, it’s really hard to explain this without going through a long laundry list of all its tiny annoyances. But I guess I’m gonna go ahead and do that anyway.

Do you like menus? I hope you do, because you’re gonna spend a lot of time in menus, including waiting a extra two seconds for menus to load. Two seconds may not seem a lot, but when you’re swapping in and out of menus, moving armor around or comparing things, it adds up quickly and wastes your time. Even better, do you like BAD menus? Do you like menus within menus that are activated by different buttons? Everything is very clunky and clumsy.

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Half the quests tell you exactly where you need to go to complete them, and the other half leave you to wander around aimlessly for 30 minutes before looking it up on Google. Unless you have a phone or tablet to keep next to you while you’re playing, consider buying the retail walkthrough, because you will need it. There’s really no reason for important information to be artificially kept secret like this. Sometimes the game even teases you with its refusal to clearly provide information. The enemy encyclopedia doesn’t let you search by dropped items, forcing you to scroll through (and wait for models to load in the process) trying to find which enemy drops an item you need. And of course, the enemy “encyclopedia” doesn’t tell you where on the continent the enemy is, only which continent. That’s about as helpful as telling someone visiting Kenya for a safari that if they’re looking for lions, they live in Africa.

The maps are pretty bad. There are two maps in this game, a terrain minimap on the TV screen and a segment map on the Game Pad. The minimap screen can show you where shorelines and cliff edges are, but it’s pretty small and doesn’t have a way of conveying elevation, leaving you on your own if you’re looking for a way to get around a mountain or up a cliff. The Game Pad map is a map of the entire continent/area that you can zoom into a little bit, but not enough to be a replacement for the minimap. You’ll head towards a quest marker on your map, only to realize when you get there that the quest objective is up on a ledge that you can’t reach, and now you have to turn around and find another way up.

How about misleading maps? Sometimes when you finish a quest, beat a rare spawn or find a resource, the game will notify you that the “segment recon is complete.” On the Game Pad’s segment map, a gold shield icon will appear on that segment. That seems to suggest that you successfully got everything there was to get in that segment, right? Nope. I’d wander back at another time, only to find another quest to do or something else to get. Plus, if there are two or more quests to get in one segment, the segment will only list information for one of them, so you can’t rely on it as a way to check around for quests you haven’t done yet. Yet again, the game only gives you half the information it should be giving you.

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How about design elements that got abandoned in the 1990's? Characters will only get experience if they’re in your party. Your main character cannot be removed from the party. Thus, by the end of the game, as is the case with every JRPG that did this, your party is a metaphorical Trogdor - one beefy strong arm (the overleveled MC) attached to a bunch of underleveled weaklings who’ve had to share opportunities to get experience. And the game NEVER STOPS THROWING MORE PARTY MEMBERS AT YOU. Some of them have fun personalities and could be useful in battle, but when you switch them in, another character is being denied the XP they need to stay usable.

Nothing is explained in this game. You can access the manual in-game, but it only teaches you the absolute bare minimum. Nowhere are any of the less-obvious battle stats explained to you, like “Potential” or the difference between “Melee Boost” and “Melee Up.” What is the “Virus” debuff and what does it do? I’m 85 hours in and I still don’t know. The game does not let you see how your TP generation per second changes if you switch weapons around, forcing me to do math in my head, multiplying gun ammo by TP gain by cooldown and other silly things that really shouldn’t be unnecessary.

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The battle UI is perhaps the game’s biggest failure in conveying information to the player. Just look at this mess. Practically speaking, your “screen” is the small uncovered center and partial left side, outlined in yellow above. The rest of it basically acts as a frame around the action, blocking everything outside that yellow opening from your attention. The empty patch in the bottom right corner doesn’t count because that’s where the battle sub-menu goes when you open it. And speaking of being 85 hours into the game and still not knowing things, I still don’t understand some of the stuff in the battle UI. You see the area outlined in red? It’s like a tiny icon of armor next to a bunch of tick marks, and a second tiny icon with more tick marks? I have no idea what that is. I have not been able to discern what information the game is trying to tell me there, and apparently it doesn’t even matter because I’m 85 hours in and never needed to find out. [Update: I know now so don’t bother explaining it to me; the point is that it’s useless information taking up space in an already cluttered UI.] And the parts outlined in green are duplicitous. My character’s health and TP are down on the left, and down at the bottom above the hotbar. Why twice? Why? Why???? I don’t know.

The on-screen text is too small. Your class-specific weapons do not stay equipped for each class, so switching classes is always followed with re-equipping whatever you had equipped last time you played that class. There is no reliable, fast way to switch between enemies during battle; the majority of the time when you hit the button that’s supposed to switch to a different target, nothing happens. When you enter into Overdrive Mode in Skells, a blurring effect gets imposed over the combat, potentially blocking your view of what’s going on. Skells themselves are too large and cover up too much of the screen, exacerbating the UI problems mentioned above. There is no way to switch in or edit characters not in your party via the menu - instead, you have to walk to where they’re standing in New LA and ask them to join your party, and of course they’re spread out all over the damned place. Good luck trying to find which character you gave that awesome chestpiece to, as you’ll be wandering around for 15 minutes trying to find it. If you remove a character from your party by accident or change your mind, you have to run an errand to their designated standing spot in the city to get them back.

I could go on AND ON about the plethora of little aggravating things in this game. None of these things, by itself, is all that serious. But they add up, slowly but surely, until they become a shadow cast over what would otherwise be an incredible game. A Shadow of Bullshit, if you will. Although they are never so bad that they prevent you from enjoying yourself, you will spend dozens of hours early on trying to get used to all the awkward menus, the time-wasting, and not knowing how things work because the game doesn’t bother teaching or telling you.

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Character Creation

This is a relatively minor point, but the character creator in this game is not good. The options are too limited. For example, there are only a couple different faces to choose from per gender, and those faces have a set number of haircuts that cannot be used with the other face. So if you pick Face #1, you can only use Haircuts #1(a) through #1(g) and not haircuts associated with Face #2. On top of that, some of the options you do have are really tacky and fugly; the default male avatar face for example has endured a lot of ridicule for being so weird.

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Above: my avatar character. The game would not let me give her both the younger-looking face and the undershave haircuit. In order to get the haircut I wanted, I had to pick this face. But at least I was allowed to make her 7 feet tall.

On top of that, there are no options to change your character’s body type aside from height. So if you want to play a scrawny man or a chubby woman, you’re out of luck here. There was some controversy before this game released because they removed a bust slider for female avatars, but I would have been perfectly okay with this had it merely been one of many other options for tweaking the type of body your character had. In the year 2015, there’s simply no excuse for a character creation feature to have so few options, especially in comparison to Fallout 4, which came out just a few weeks before this.

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From the massive world to explore, an endless amount of content, and awesome giant robots to customize, all topped with a huge dose of worldbuilding and an unintrusive story, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a truly incredible experience for the Wii U. Like any game, it isn’t perfect and it will not appeal to everyone, and there is a potentially long period of growing pains when you first begin as you essentially teach yourself how to play. But it has a very specific experience to offer, and for those interested in that offer, it completely succeeds in delivering it.

It’s really too bad that this game came out at the end of the year as a Wii U exclusive, because it deserved so much more 2015 GOTY consideration than it got.

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Edit: Whoops, I typoed “December” in this image. I’d fix it but I don’t get paid to do this shit, so sorry, you get my laziness instead.

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