I can’t help but feel a little bad for the Wii U. With a name like that, it was doomed from the start. The primary audience for the Wii wasn’t people who distinguished between the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One, it was the people who liked playing pretend bowling with a plastic magic wand. At least call the thing the Wii 2. Anyway, with Nintendo’s new console, the NX, on the horizon, it’s looking like the Wii U will soon be put out of its misery…but there’s time for one last hurrah. This is Xenoblade Chronicles X, and it’s going to be why you wished you bought a Wii U.
Humanity’s had better days. When a pair of immensely advanced alien forces show up at Earth and decide to use it as a battleground, we’re the ones who lose. The planet’s reduced to dust and we’re sent off into the cosmos on ark ships to find a new home. Most of these are also reduced to dust on the way out, but the one we’re interested in is the White Whale, which crash lands on the habitable planet Mira after being shot down. You’ll control one of the survivors and are able to customize them to your liking, including gender, body type and the voice actor they use.
The main theme of X is x-ploration. Mira is a new, untamed planet and as a member of the elite BLADE forces it’s your job to scout unknown lands, fight off vicious indigenous beasts and collect materials to keep things comfortable on the homefront. There are quests to complete, bosses to battle and treasure to find. Your real goal, though, is a search for the Lifehold, the section of the White Whale where the last Earthlings were kept in stasis for the trip.
The Lifehold won’t find itself, so you’ll need to get out there and look for it. Exploration and combat both take place in real time; you’re able to run, jump and fly your way around the planet searching for mineral deposits and other goodies. There are collectible trinkets laying all over the place waiting to be grabbed, while more impressive hauls will require you to use collection skills that are upgraded as you ascend the BLADE hierarchy. You can also claim mineral payloads and extract valuable resources from them by futzing about with a separate interface, which is a nice touch.
If you want to beat up some of the locals, it’s as easy as targeting them; alternatively, they’ll target you, which usually means you’re in for some pain. Combat is almost entirely similar to the original Xenoblade Chronicles (or its 3D-enabled mobile port), focusing on the properly timed use of cooldown-based special attacks and buffs. Teamwork is key, even when you’re playing with AI characters, as they’ll request that you use particular skills and doing so will lead to greater effectiveness. Combat is quick and snappy; it’s such a good time that I found myself smacking down random flora and fauna on the way to quest objectives just because it’s fun, which is the sign of a great RPG.
You’ll want to watch out, though; there are plenty of hostile nasties on Mira who’d like nothing more than to eat you for breakfast, and the game won’t stop you from stumbilng into areas that are outside of your level range. It’s a good thing that later on you’re given access to Skells, giant monster-crushing mechs that are great for taking down Mira’s bigger baddies. Skells are an investment; they’re highly customizable, but the frames and parts needed are pricey. You’ll have to pay for repairs and they need to be fueled, but the power they offer is worthwhile.
There’s such a vast array of content in Xenoblade Chronicles X that the game can feel a little overwhelming, something like the feeling you get when you start playing a Bethesda game. There are multiple classes to choose from and you can combine skills from them to enhance your effectiveness. You can also choose from one of the many BLADE divisions, allowing you to focus on a particular aspect of planetary exploration like combat, resource-gathering or questing in return for rewards. There are dozens and dozens of sidequests to do. Your party members have their own affinity ratings that can be boosted by playing with them often. And that’s not even talking about the multiplayer, which exists both as a four-player cooperative mode and as a 30-player always-on social aspect of the game that makes you feel like you’ve got other BLADES backing you up at all times.
You’ll enjoy drowning in this vast ocean of things to do, since X is one of the most beautiful games to come out this year for any console. The Wii U isn’t exactly a graphical powerhouse, technically speaking, but pure polygons aren’t what makes X so impressive. The stylish aesthetic combined with a conscious effort to build a sense of wonder into the environments works amazingly well together. The environments are vast, stretching as far as you can see, and enemies that tower for miles above your characters are commonplace. Other games are probably more technically adept, but the cohesion in how X looks is tangible and makes the game delightful to look at. The music is also fantastically good, a fusion of rock and hip-hop reminiscent of the PS2-era Persona titles.
The one complaint I have regarding presentation is actually fairly significant and needs to be considered separately – much of the game’s text is really, really small. Intensely small. Tiny. This cannot be overstated, and it’s bad enough that you may need to consider messing with your video setup and where you sit in order to read things. You’re able to play on the Gamepad as well, but the text is still minuscule and you need the Gamepad for other things, so that’s not especially helpful.
Text weirdness aside, the point I’m making with this one is that the Wii U may not last much longer and it’s a little baffling as to how this was even released here. Xenoblade Chronicles X is easily one of the best games available on the console and, should the NX – or whatever it ends up being called – show up and demolish the Wii U’s remains, it’ll surely end up being a classic that defined its last days. If you own a Wii U, you owe it to yourself to give this one a chance.