Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (i.e. XC2) was to be my Hail Mary, my Japanese Savior, and the final opportunity to pull my Switch buyer’s remorse out of the toilet. As the Switch had been an impulse buy, and with no strong loyalty to any classic Nintendo properties, I hadn’t been snagged by any of the existing Switch games — yes, that includes Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which I personally consider unnecessarily frustrating and overdone in all the wrong places. What I wanted was a game that gave me a reason to take the device from its cradle and use it until the battery died. I hoped that XC2 might fill that niche, being a game in the more traditional JRPG mold.
How’d that work out for me? Let’s just say that if they make a movie out of my relationship with the Switch, it’ll be a legitimate nail-biter.
You start the game as Rex, a salvager, who lives on the back of a Titan and through exposition explains why and what that means: humanity was kicked off the planet’s singular land-mass by the Creator and was consequently forced to live on the back of these massive creatures that plied the seas. Why Rex is living alone on a relatively small (yet still massive) Titan was not addressed (aside from “dead parents”), but his job was. Salvagers dive beneath the seas to collect goods that end up down there either through accidents or because a Titan dies because when you and thousands of people live on the back of a mortal creature, you have to be aware that someday you’re going to take an unscheduled trip to visit Davey Jones when your neighborhood literally gets old and dies.
Rex is hired by a local Teamster because he’s from a particular Titanic (oh the irony) neighborhood. The team that needs his expertise doesn’t say what they’re after, but it’s quickly understood that they are looking for a special “Blade” called the Aegis…
…and this is where we’ll leave the plot and talk about the mechanics.
A “Blade” is a sentient elemental force that is bound to a “Driver” who wields the power of the Blade. In the presentation, the Blade is an aspect that acts more like Ash’s Pikachu than anyone else’s Caterpie in that they hang out and factor into the cut-scenes and aren’t simply deployed in combat. A Driver can have up to three Blades at the ready but can have more on deck. Blades come in three major varieties: tanks, healers, and DPS, so yay for boring consistency, I guess.
The point of a Blade is really to impart Arts (or is it Artes?) to the Driver during combat. Arts are special moves that can be deployed after they’ve charged. A Driver charges his or her Arts by performing mundane auto-attacks. Combat in XC2 isn’t all that active; once you target an enemy, draw your weapon (an active process), and are within range, the Driver will begin a 1-2-3 cycle of attacks which do increasing damage within the cycle. For example, first hit might do 15 damage, second does 45, and third does 75, at which point the attacks return to stage 1, then stage 2, and then stage 3. Repeat until someone is dead. But the key is to find the best time to use available Arts, in a process called Cancelling. This really just means timing your Art use to coincide with the auto-attack animation for maximum benefit. What’s the benefit? Well, the purpose of the Art is one, but foe each Art used, another meter is filled. This one has four stages, and relates more directly to the Blade that the Driver has deployed. Using this special Art, the Blade will attack via a QTE. There’s really a lot more to things than this paragraph might indicate, but I’m not far enough along in the story, nor do I have enough party members yet to take advantage of all of the weird combos and chains that can be produced through skillful Art deployment.
So there I was, trucking along and enjoying the game. I was really feeling like XC2 was going to redeem my Switch purchasing decision, but that was only until I got to the first major city and found that Monolithsoft doesn’t give a damn about your sense of what is nice and good in the world. As I’m running across the wide open plain between the start of Chapter 2 and the first city, the mobs were as thick as ticks in the summertime but ranged from level 4 to level 8fucking1, all mixed up in an absolute aggro nightmare. I managed to haul ass to the city, but after that, I died anytime I went outside. Considering all my missions required me to go outside, that was going to be difficult. Even when I decided to grind low-level mobs right outside the doorway in the hopes of leveling up a little, I learned the hard way that the advertised level made no difference. There are normal mobs, and specialty “named” mobs of the same phenotype, so telling them apart is next to impossible. That’s how I ended up dying to a level 5 bunny who was made of kevlar and was packing an arsenal that would give the Punisher a boner.
So I turned to the Internet because even though the game has tutorials, there’s only so much real explanation that can be given in a few lines of text on the screen. There are all kinds of weird systems, like the pouch mechanic which allows you to apply timed buffs in the form of food, drink, and even board games and musical instruments. There’s item equipping, and a whole array of Weapon and Skill points to be allotted. And someone, somewhere at Monolithsoft figured it’d be cool to not only allow you to level by doing but to side level by spending some special category of XP whenever you sleep at an inn. Don’t forget to sleep now and then, even if it means you need to fast-travel out of your current story instance, kids.
With this and other Internet-sourced knowledge, I returned to the game. I also said “fuck it” because if I couldn’t get past this hump then the game would be dead to me anyway, so I started taking stupid chances…like swimming in clouds. There’s too much to really explain what this means, exactly, but I thought that jumping off a Titan and into the cloudy sea would be like falling off a cliff, except…it’s not. And the main story wanted me to cross a bit of that cloudy sea to get to my objective. So I did, and with my new found knowledge at hand, I was able to move the story along to a point where I got more NPCs in my party, which helped with more progress.
As of this point, I am pleased with the game again. In fact, I made such progress that I managed to not just progress, but to slaughter an entire nation’s worth of soldiers. This is not the mission objective, but as I’m running around trying to find the objective on this map, I keep running into more enemies. I just can’t not kill them all.
So, a few bullet point caveats for those who are on the fence:
- There are no Japanse voice options out of the box. There is a free DLC that adds that for those who want it.
- That means the VOs are in English. In fact, many of the characters have accents from around the UK. I know some people (a.k.a. my daughter) demand that Japanese VO, but I kinda like the non-American accents.
- When you move in combat your attacks stop, which kinda sucks especially when some of your Arts are designed to be triggered from behind or to the side of your enemy
- And the movement is really sllloowww in combat. There’s always a lag between what you’re doing and when you’re allowed to move. Rex starts out with an Anchor Shot Art that generates a healing potion, but you best not wait to use it until you’re on death’s door, because the chances of you being able to move to pick it up in time are pretty damn slim.
- I have a beef with the compass navigation. The current mission location is highlighted on the compass, but it has an obscenely wide swing, meaning that even if you turn a full 180 degrees the indicator is still in the center of the compass even when you’re really, really close to it.
- And the map sucks because you can’t scroll or zoom or add custom waypoints.
- Pyra’s boobs do not need to be as large as they are.
I think those represent the limit of my complaints at the moment. My latest investigations and circumstances don’t alleviate the fact that I could get stomped by a level 81 gorilla on the plains while I’m looking for level 12 quest rewards, so there’s that.
Right now, though, it looks like I’ll be using my Switch more in the coming weeks than I have in the run-up to now. I can also recommend XC2 with at least one thumb up because I have already put about 7 hours into the game (which is a lot of consecutive hours for me) and I think that says something about the power of the game on a system that was in danger of collapsing under the weight of a blanket of dust.
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