Saturday, April 2, 2016

[REVIEW] Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)

Xenoblade Chronicles X
Played on: Wii U
Genre: Open-world RPG
Developer: MonolithSoft
Publisher: Nintendo

One of my most anticipated titles of this generation, Xenoblade Chronicles X is certainly not your everyday game. It's a massive sci-fi RPG, with probably the largest open-world I've ever seen. All of its charms, and even its flaws, come from the fact that this is an enormously ambitious undertaking, presenting players with a huge playground of a planet that is ripe for adventuring and exploration.

In the story, you're one of the few survivors of Earth's demise. Having crash-landed into planet Mira, the last remaining humans set up the city of New Los Angeles, which acts as an ever-developing hub for main-story missions and sidequests.

The plot could be described as a distinctively Japanese take on something like Star Wars or Star Trek; there are sentient alien races to find, fight, and befriend, as well as a plethora of wild lifeforms (called indigens) to hunt down for experience and materials. The story has its highs and lows, and often requires healthy doses of suspension of disbelief (not unlike the aforementioned franchises, to be honest).

The open world comprises two sets of locations. First, there's the city of NLA and its various districts. There's lots of stuff to do here, but it does feel a little stiff when compared to cities in other similar titles. One of the reasons for that is how unwieldy it is to find your way across the city, with loads of information to keep track of (such as locations for recruitable characters, regular missions, and affinity quests) and no easy way to display all that data on a neat, organized manner. Also, here some of the game's technical compromises become clear, as textures can be a bit too muddy, and the lack of collision detection with moving cars can lead to unintentionally funny moments.

It's all for good reason, though, because then there's the true meat of the title: the Miran wilderness. Each of the five massive continents has its own identity, from sprawling plains to massive forests to desertic landscapes, and they're all beautiful, with detailed environments and a rather large draw distance. Of the seventy hours I poured into the title, the vast majority was spent exploring its many intriguing locales, battling indigens and instaling probes to map out the planet.

It helps a lot that the entire world is pretty much seamless: unless you use fast-travelling, there's not a single loading screen to be seen outside of story missions, which is a phenomenal accomplishment in a world this big.

Another defining quality of Xenoblade X is the depth of its mechanics. Make no mistake: this is not the kind of game you just pick up and play. There are a lot of concepts to grasp, which may warrant a few looks at the virtual manual (or at an online wiki, which I'd say is very recommended). The good news is that, unless you want to tirelessly micromanage everything, you can probably ignore a lot of the minutiae once you get the grasp of basic combat and exploration. Aside from the first few hours, I only cared about equipping arts and skills, relegating other needlessly complicated features (such as soul voices and some of the equipment characteristics) to their automated setups.

And of course, there are the skells, which are the all-powerful mechs that become available for your team six chapters into the story. Better yet, later on you can get the flight module, allowing your skells to take off. If you think Mira is an alluring place to explore on foot, wait until you start soaring above the beautiful landscapes, being able to reach literally every single place you lay your eyes on. It's a true game changer, and takes Xenoblade X from a great adventure to truly beathtaking stuff.

Saying RPG fans should at least try out Xenoblade X is an understatement. The dedication it requires, both for exploring its vast open world and for mastering its more obtuse mechanics, means it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. But if you're in the market for spending dozens upon dozens of hours on truly immersive and compelling gameplay, you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.

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