Going into Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I knew the experience might not be for me. I enjoyed the first game in the series—especially its scope, colourful setting, and story—but burned out of in forty hours in after getting stuck on a boss. So, I was excited when the second game was announced, but critical and fan reception was mixed, and for all the wrong reasons. Still, I was able to snag the game on sale, and, in the wake of Breath of the Wild, looking for something sprawling and epic, decided to take the chance.
And, let’s just get this out of the way:
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a heaping mess.
From its often abysmal character designs (especially many of the women—though Morag is top-tier and Nia is awesome) that stumble right past sexual objectification straight into perverted exploitation, to its over-complicated gameplay/progression systems that layer on top of each other like a pile of discarded laundry, to its obsession with anime tropes, a horrible gacha system for obtaining new allies/abilities, battles that take way too long (even on easy mode), some of the worst, lingering, way too long side quests in the genre, and its immense disrespect for the player’s time, there’s a lot wrong with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. These were all the elements that I read about beforehand and knew—KNEW—would be turn-offs for me personally. In fact, in any other instance, many of these ALONE would have been deal-breakers that would have sent me off cutting my losses and searching for a new game to play.
But, for some reason, I keep going back to Xenoblade Chronicles 2. And I think, 18 hours in, I finally understand WHY it’s able to overcome its many deficiencies, and it’s a pretty simple answer.
I first became a fan of JRPGs during the SNESera, and still consider playing Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI to be two of the most formative experiences of my life—matching the first time I read Lord of the Rings and Terry Brooks. They’re rooted in who I am as a fantasy fan, and foundational in the way I like to tell stories. However, I really came of age during the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 era of JRPGs, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 reminds me of many of the best RPGs from those platforms. It has Grandia‘s sense of earnestness and adventure, Skies of Arcadia‘s scope, Final Fantasy XI‘s sense of imagination, Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete‘s reliance on a stellar, likeable cast of characters. In this day and age where most RPGs—Japanese or otherwise—are obsessed with appealing to an older crowd looking for gritty worlds filled with morally grey characters, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a throwback to when RPGs were bold, adventurous, and reached out to the player, beckoning them to join in the adventure.
One of Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s coolest aspect is its world. Instead of taking place in a traditional fantasy world, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is set in the world of the Cloud Sea, a vast (endless) expanse of infinitely deep water covered by clouds. Roaming this world are the Titans, enormous, ancient beings, on the backs (or inside) of which are human settlements. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and lends the whole game a sense of imagination, beauty, and scope that can stand up to any other game in the genre. And the concept is never wasted. As you explore the first titan, you emerge from a dark forest to see a vast mountain towering high above an open plain—seen in the first photo below—only to realize, as it moves and sways, that you’re peering up at the head of the giant Titan upon. Or, in another instance, our heroes are swallowed hole by a Titan, only to find a thriving society living within its guts.
It’s pretty damn cool.
And, boy, it sure is pretty:
But, then there’s this:
(This is Pyra—a centuries-old weapon created by an ancient civilization with the power to sink continents and destroy the world. Seriously. She also has an alter ego who’s blonde and sassy.)
And, this furball who’s created a sentient, artificial sexbot that also doubles as his weapon (she even has a “maid” mode that he can activate when he’s feeling particularly perverted):
And therein lies the rub: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the ultimate roller coaster. Its highs are towering, beautiful, and likeable. Its lows are the worst that modern gaming and gamer culture have to offer.
But, I can’t put the damn thing down.