2017 just won’t quit, will it? This has, without question, been one of the best years for video games in recent memory…and more just keep on coming out. Case in point: Xenoblade Chronicles 2, an extensive JRPG that offers loads of exploration and adventure for Switch owners hungry for the next big thing after Mario.
In a world covered in a sea of clouds, the only dry land where anyone can live is on the backs and in the stomachs of enormous living creatures called Titans. Rex, a boy who makes his living salvaging relics from beneath the cloud sea, is acutely aware that this can’t last. The Titans are dying, and when there’s no Titans left, well…that’s going to be a problem. Rex gets his chance to do something about this when a salvaging job gone wrong leaves him bonded to Pyra, a woman known as the Aegis who is rumored to have the divine power to save the world. Rex needs to get Pyra to Elysium, the paradise found on the World Tree at the center of the planet…and that’s not going to be as simple as it sounds.
Rex and Pyra are an example of a symbiotic relationship that defines the world of Xenoblade Chronicles 2: that of Driver and Blade. Drivers are able to summon Blades out of Core Crystals, at which point the two are linked and are able to live and fight together. Blades can take many forms, but each has their own associated weapon that is wielded by the Driver during combat and passed back and forth between the two for powerful team attacks. The nature of the Driver/Blade relationship is an interesting one that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 explores throughout its narrative and it ties into the gameplay as well.
There’s plenty of exploration and combat to go around and the powers of your Blades factor into both. Exploring the world will often dig up oddities like treasure chests and locked doors that need help from a Blade to open; each Blade has a unique set of skills like lockpicking that can assist with this. There’s a huge amount of stuff to discover so much of your time with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will likely be spent searching for the next hidden treasure.
Combat, meanwhile, is somewhat similar to the previous Xenoblade games, though the focus is now on teamwork between Drivers, Blades and other Driver/Blade pairs. A Driver’s attack will charge up special Driver Art techniques, while those in turn will charge up special Blade Art techniques that are more powerful and can be combined with other pairs’ Blade Arts for powerful combos. There’s a surprising amount of depth to the battle system here but it’s all introduced slowly and deliberately so you’re able to get a handle on it all.
The importance of Blades throughout the game means that we need to address a big ol’ elephant in the room, though, and that’s where Blades come from. It’s not the stork – it’s Core Crystals. These are magic stones you’ll find throughout the game as you progress; they come in several different qualities and become more readily available the further in the game you get. This system is worth mentioning for its bizarre similarities to the “gachapon” systems seen in mobile games where you’re able to pay to get a random character or weapon. While you don’t pay for Core Crystals, they still offer random rewards and many of those are liable to not be all that great.
Collecting the many Rare Blades thus becomes a quest that stretches throughout the game, a quest that ensures that Core Crystals are a fantastic reward that you’re typically excited to find; it’s always a great experience to open a Core Crystal and get a Rare Blade. At the same time, I’m left a little confused as to the purpose of this system – if it were monetized that would be a little scummy but at least understandable. As it is, a sizable amount of content, including fully voice-acted skits, side quests and party banter, is locked behind Rare Blades that a player may or may not actually obtain. Patience and persistence will keep this system from ruining a player’s experience, but it’s worth noting coming in that you won’t immediately be able to get every Blade you want.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s presentation is fantastic as you’d expect from a headliner Nintendo game. There’s…something to be said for some of the character designs, which definitely lean toward the Senran Kagura school of proportion and are liable to put some players off as a result. Generally speaking, though, it’s a lovely game that maintains much of its visual fidelity when the Switch is converted to handheld mode. As for the voice acting and music, well…the music’s great and you can switch the voice acting to Japanese where it’s unlikely you’ll know if it’s bad or not! Hooray! Seriously though, the English voice acting varies wildly in quality and is particularly offensive in combat as characters scream over each other incoherently, so don’t expect much from that.
Do expect much from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as a whole, though, as like Xenoblade Chronicles X before it, this game represents one last great hurrah for Nintendo as 2017 draws to a close. Questionable character designs aside, this is a must-have for Switch owners, offering over 60 hours of quality RPG gameplay and adventure. If you’re not allergic to anime or RPGs and you’ve got a Switch to play it on, you should probably have picked this one up by now.