Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review: Bitter and Sweet

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is finally here, and I retreated into a vacuum to experience this ambitious [...]

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is finally here, and I retreated into a vacuum to experience this ambitious JRPG without anyone telling me what to expect, or how I should feel about it. I never played Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii, or X on the Wii U, so this was a fresh experience for me. My hopes were high, and so were my expectations. Looking back, I can tell you that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 managed to exceed many of my expectations, while failing to meet others. It's been a bittersweet experience, but one worth indulging.

Our story here revolves around a young "salvager" named Rex, who makes his living by diving below the "cloud sea" to recover treasure and booty from the actual sea. The denizens of Alrest live their lives on the backs of enormous, autonomous titans after the world they once knew sunk below the depths in a great cataclysm.

Avoiding major spoilers, I'll divulge that Rex eventually becomes a "driver," a skilled warrior capable of commanding a "blade," which is a powerful, living, humanoid weapon of sorts. Rex and his blade Pyra embark on a quest to reach the fabled land of Elysium which, if recovered, could end the suffering of the world and prevent future wars over land and resources.


The story is simple but moving, and both of the main characters are extremely likable, though it's clear Pyra was designed from head-to-toe to be sexually appealing to young men. Her butt cheeks literally hang out of her hot-shorts, and her breasts are comically large (and very often the center of attention). More than once I felt my cheeks glowing red as I played the game in front of my wife, a non-gamer, who no doubt did not understand why the central heroine of this story would be dressed so provocatively.

For the casual among you considering diving into Xenoblade Chronicles 2, be warned that this is not a casual JRPG. There are many systems to keep track of, and almost too many modes of progression. I love RPGs for the progression systems -- I've always welcomed a good grind -- but in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 things can get a little overwhelming.

Let's consider our protagonist, Rex. In a standard JRPG you'd expect to level up while doing battle, see his stats go up, and upgrade him over time with new weapons, new armor, and maybe an accessory or two to augment a few stats. If you've been around the block, you'd even welcome the addition of a skill tree or interchangeable spells.

In XBC2, Rex will have a few more options. By defeating enemies and completing quests you will accrue XP, but you won't level up until you go rest at an inn, and even then you'll have to decide how much of your XP you'll want to cash in for levels. You'll also pile up WP, which you'll use to level up your weapon's special special abilities, and every Blade you control will have its own weapon, with its own abilities.

affinity chart

Additionally, you'll have SP to spend on an affinity chart to unlock passive boosts. All of your blades have their own affinity trees to keep track of, though those progress automatically. On top of this, Rex will have two accessory slots, as well as a pouch, which is basically another accessory slot for you to stick in perishable, limited-time buff items. Blades can also equip their own version of accessories, called aux cores, which can augment their stats in dramatic ways.

Sounds like a lot to keep track of, right? We're just scratching the surface. Without spoiling anything, I'll remind you that all of these things apply to every member of your party, and some blades even have their own unique way of powering up that requires you to engage entirely different systems and mini-quests. Spinning all of those plates is not optional. You'll have to learn to manage all of this upgrading effectively, or you'll soon find yourself outmatched. Even the towns you visit have important upgrades to make, and seeing them through can be extremely time-consuming.

That said, I have no doubt that many of you are loving every word of this. I never played the previous Xenoblade games, so this could very well be par for the course, and something series fans were expecting (and hoping) to see. If that be you, rejoice: you have more side-quests and peripheral missions than ever.

Presentation, too, is something I expect to divide opinions sharply as players dive in. There is so much to love about the way that XBC2 looks and sounds, and yet, so much to resent. I can't imagine anyone will be questioning the art direction. Environments are lush and alien, while maintaining the ambience of untamed wilderness. Flowers and tall grass dominate the backs of the Titans you explore; creeping vines fruiting eerily-glowing pods will light your way along wooded paths, and everywhere there is life, both benevolent and hostile.


There's a fantastic steampunk flourish that accents the world in a brilliant way, and the soundtrack is stellar. Seriously, the score is sweeping and emotional in the best possible way, with day and night-time variations of most tracks, and it will take your breath away.

On the other hand, the world around you is very often murky, aliased, and washed out. XBC2 runs at sub-native resolutions both docked and undocked, and when playing the game on the go things can get straight-up blurry. I didn't play Xenoblade Chronicles X, but I remember gameplay clips, even in large areas, looking sharper and smoother than what we see here. I wish Monolith would have traded in some of the lighting effects, bells, and whistles for a more consistent resolution and frame-rate.

The voice acting is another point of presentation about which my opinion is divided. Generally, I found the voices and performances from most of the actors to be fantastic. There's an eclectic mix of accents from all over the world that I think makes perfect sense in a game like this -- even canonically. If the dissolution of the world into the cloud sea caused a mass diaspora of humanity, I would expect people from all walks of life to end up mingling together on the backs of these titans. British, Welsh, American, and Yorkshire accents abound, and I found most of them pleasing.

I also found some of them to be very grating, and if there's even one main character you don't like listening to, you're going to get annoyed, because you'll be hearing from them a lot. Your party members chatter constantly while exploring and fighting; too much. Every jump, every treasure chest opening, every scavenging, every special attack, and almost every freaking stroke of the sword will yield up shouts, screams, commands, pleas, and commentary from the characters involved.

Human enemies will do this as well, very often with groups of soldiers all talking over each other, with the exact same voice, saying the exact same things -- over and over again -- until you defeat them. It can be maddening, and how this game went through hours of QA without someone bringing this up is perplexing.

My issues with XBC2 were not enough to crush my spirits and, in the end, the game's charm still wins out. There are so many wonderful cutscenes that you will want to watch again when they're done, and the story takes some fantastic turns (even if some of them were spoiled by early trailers). The characters all wear their hearts on their sleeves, and manage to drum up some interesting chemistry with each other. If you've been craving a beautiful RPG on the Switch that is capable of swallowing up 100+ hours of your time, then you're not going to be disappointed. It's not perfect, but I think that fans of the series are going to love it.

WWG's Score: 3.5 / 5

xenoblade chronicles rating