Xenoblade Chronicles is likely one of the most well known RPGs for the Wii, with Operation Rainfall, the fan campaign to bring it to North America, having had obvious success. I was one of many who rushed to play the game as soon as they could, however, I was a bit disappointed by it. The story was about as interesting as I had hoped. However, the characters, combat system, and graphics were all far less polished than I had expected. For all the acclaim the game was receiving, it certainly didn’t feel like an AAA title to me.
As such, I was rather skeptical about trying Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I have to say though, I am by no means disappointed. I wanted to put this list together for anyone who may be meeting the sequel with the same skepticism as I did, and hopefully help you decide if Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is for you.
When I played through Xenoblade Chronicles (the first one!), the characters felt flat, lacking any depth or development throughout the game, despite major events happening that offer plenty of room for growth. I found a couple of them endearing for their little quirks, but other than that most of them just came off as annoying and distracted me from the enjoying the world; atmosphere; and story.
Thankfully, in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I haven’t noticed any of these issues being present. Rex, the protagonist, seems a bit generic at first but even still, I found myself loving him right from the start. As the game goes on and the story develops, so does his character, unlike Shulk from the first game - who I feel comes off as a bit of a Gary Stu, a character who is perfect in every way and has no real flaws. I found myself constantly engulfed in how Rex reacts to situations, and with each event that unfolded, he grew on me more. While most of the time it was pretty obvious as to what he would do, he did surprise me a fair amount. Also, while Rex is the protagonist, the game does a good job of making every character feel important to the story - it never felt like someone was just there for the sake of being there. This is in contrast to Reyn from the first game, where it felt as though he was only there to fill in the “best friend” trope, and constantly annoy us with “It’s Reyn time!”.
Even the side characters, or “blades,” that you use as your weapons in Chronicles 2 each have a unique personality, and I think you’ll find yourself either loving or hating each one of them respectively.
The combat of the first game has a lot of intricacies to it and makes sure that you need to know them inside and out if you don’t want to continuously grind out several levels at a time.
The problem with this is the overwhelming number of systems and mechanics to learn, as well as the subpar explanations for them. Halfway through the game, you still get bombarded with new mechanics as you get new party members. Most of which, you get little to no explanation on how to handle - I found myself constantly getting lost as I tried to keep up with the additions to the combat, such as when being introduced to Melia. Melia’s practically a necessity in a party, as she’s the only actual capable healer, but I found her elemental system to be poorly explained, and even after figuring it out it was always a constant struggle weighing the amount my buffs were contributing to the fight, and when it was worth it to blow them up for the extra burst damage or heals.
The whole game just felt so difficult to me, which as much as I’m all for a good challenge, it seemed difficult for all the wrong reasons. It was a constant battle with the clunky UI and mass amounts of new skills being introduced rather than having your mental ability tested with challenging puzzles; developing strategies; or having your finesse tested with your ability to react in a speedy and logical manner. It felt as though I found myself customizing my characters and figuring out what abilities would compliment each other far more than I ever did enjoying the story or exploring the world, to the point where I would ultimately forget what was even going on or what direction the events were taking.
Even when I did find what seemed like the perfect combination, the combat felt heavily RNG based, so I’d have to go through a fight several times with the same exact strategy, just hoping that the boss would act slightly different this time around.
In the second game, we’re treated to a more simple and engaging system, while still being offered a good amount of customization. The UI is simplistic, but allows for the player to do just as much as in the first game, as well as just feels more fluid. There a short and to the point explanations of each mechanic you’re expected to use, and I found the difficulty to be just right.
There are still challenging parts, but if you give it just a little bit of work you can usually come to a good resolution. I also actually had fun while fighting, and would sometimes get moments yearning for an extra battle or two and going out of my way to just play around with a new weapon I had gotten. While I still think there many better combat systems out there, I think the developers did a good job at creating a unique and interesting, but also easy to use the battle system.
The base idea from the first game is still there, being relatable to an open world ATB combat system, such as in Final Fantasy XI and XII, but it has a nice simplicity and pace about it that almost makes it feel like an action game, which gives good room for the customization veterans may be desiring from the first game, while also giving a faster and more engaging feel to it.
I find that sequels often screw up at least one thing that was a plus from the previous games, but in this series, I am happy to say that I can only feel improvements. If you were intrigued by the story, and world of the first game, but turned off by the combat system or characters then I feel as though giving Xenoblade Chronicles 2 a try is worth it. I find that they’ve improved on every aspect of the previous while making sure to fix major issues.
The story easily rivals the first one for me, but with the characters developing, and having actual personality; as well as the friendlier combat interface; and stunningly beautiful graphics to boot; I never once found myself getting distracted by what was going on in the game and found myself wanting to constantly keep chugging on forward. So here’s to chuggin’ on forward, and hoping that you don’t let the first game deter you too much from trying out this gem.