Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Nintendo Switch) Review

Game Title: Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Developer: Monolith Software, Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Availability: Retail | Digital
Battery Life: 3 – 3.5 hours
Download: 13.9 GB

When people think about RPGs associated with Nintendo, you probably will start thinking about games like the Mario & Luigi series and, of course, Pokemon. With First-Party franchises, though, a certain niche RPG series that has rebooted not once, but twice now, has risen up and is gaining popularity very quickly. That is the Xeno series, recently known as the XenoBlade series.

Xenoblade Chronicles made a big impression with the Wii and later the New Nintendo 3DS, and it’s long been guessed when its true sequel would come out after Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U, and Switch owners got that. Not an actual sequel, chronologically and world-wise, but in terms of game releases.

Past all the hype and high esteem fans seem to hold it in, how is the game? Is it worth the hype? Is it not worth it? Let’s find out. Here is my review of Xenoblade Chronicles 2!

Story

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes place in a world, where land mass of the planet is gone and all civilization lives on massive beings known as Titans, which are in a constant state of decay, in danger of becoming extinct. After becoming bonded with a legendary “Blade” entity from the past, a young boy sets out on a journey to bring her to the mythical land of Elysium, in the hopes of finding a new place for everyone to live in peace and without the worry of losing their only means of living after the Titans die out.

The plotline of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is good in the way it builds its world and lore, but the character development is a little too “cliche anime trope” to go along with the story it tells. While being cliche personalities are nothing new to the JRPG genre, it feels forced and unnatural, particularly with the main heroine, Pyra. It feels like it is cliche just for the sake of being cliche and doesn’t fit in with the rest of what is going on.

Gameplay

Xenoblade 2 is very difficult to define in terms of gameplay. It is an open-world RPG with elements from both turn-based and action-based combat. I would put it with the growing number of hybrid RPGs that mix turn-based and action-based combat.

The way progress works in the game is similar to most JRPGs. The story pushes you forward to your next objective and a marker to follow to it. But, like any other open-world game, there are tons of areas you can explore instead, if you so wish. It’s not quite as open and free as games like Skyrim, but there’s a lot to explore outside of your main objective, moreso the further you get in the game.

We also need to talk about how technical this game is. Be it combat, exploration, or party management, there are a ton of different gameplay mechanics you need to be constantly thinking about. Be it combat aggro and chain attacks, Sea Tide levels and Field SKills needed to proceed in the open-world, or Trust and Upgrade systems for each of your recruitable “Blade” characters, there is an overwhelming amount of gameplay systems in this game. You are constantly being given tutorials, even all the way up to the Final Boss of the game. So much so that it is overwhelming even to experience RPG fans.

Going away from the overwhelming portion, combat is the most unique aspect of the game. Unlike games like Ys where you roam around and issues all attacks yourself, Xenoblade utilize what is known as the “Auto-Battle” system. All members of your party automatically attack enemies in combat without any input, and you only interact when your skills are charged up and can be used to attack enemies, drop HP potions for healing, bringing aggro up or down, or other effects your skills may have.

This makes the combat system a simple, yet complicated venture. You don’t have to interact very often, but there’s also a lot you have to worry about, similar to how you plan out Raids in MMORPGs with Tanks, Attackers, Healers, etc.

Another thing we need to talk about is the Difficulty of the game. Xenoblade 2 has a lot of difficulty spikes in its major story bosses. While this is normal for an RPG, the spikes are extreme enough that you’re required to not only go back and grind for levels for every major boss fight, but also fight each boss in a smart way, utilizing your tanks, combos, and more, which makes the game not only hard, but very off-putting if you don’t enjoy grinding for hours for each major boss.

Thankfully, the latest update added an Easy Mode difficulty option, making this much more doable for non-hardcore RPG players. It is in no way a cakewalk as all of those bosses will still be challenging, but you’ll be able to beat them without all the grinding from before this patch released.

That brings us to Length, a very important part of this review. Despite all the claims of this being a 100+ hour game, it really isn’t. I played Chapters 1-4 on the Normal Difficulty and Chapters 5-10 on the Easy Difficulty, and the results really shows how much grinding was involved in this game. I stuck to the main quest with a little exploring and side-quests here and there. When I finally beat the game, I’d logged around 40 hours.

Now, we take that 40 hours and think on it. If people were clearing the game in 70-100 hours on the Normal Difficulty, you could probably account for an hour or three to accomodate for how much shorter the fights are in Easy Mode, but that still amounts to a minimum 25+ hours of gameplay spent just grinding for levels before Easy Mode was a thing. That’s some pretty intense grinding.

In short, though, it’s a 40-hour game if you just trek the Main Quest and stick to Easy Mode so you don’t have to grind. There is no shame in that, either. Easy Mode feels more like the Normal Difficulty of many RPGs while Normal feels more like Hard/Very Hard.

Once you beat the game, you have New Game Plus along with extra side quests and unique bosses to fight. Though NG+ wasn’t added until this last update, so it wasn’t there originally.

Controls

Controlling the game can be technical, but the game explains it pretty well. The touch screen is not used in handheld mode, so you can do everything with the game’s buttons.

You move around with the Left Analog Stick and move the camera with the Right Analog Stick. The Directional Buttons are used, but mostly for issuing commands in battle or navigating menus. The four triggers are used. R is for locking onto enemies, ZL for switching your Partner Character, and ZR for viewing your current Quest Objective.

Then comes the face buttons. X opens the Fast Travel menu, A lets you interact with NPCs or draw your weapon, B lets you jump, and Y lets you run faster in the field. The face buttons also have skills tied to them when you’re in combat.

Presentation

Graphics are a great thing about this game, but also a not-so-great thing. When you have the Switch in TV/Docked Mode, the visuals look really good. The CG cutscenes have perfect graphics with no blemishes and really showcases the beauty of the giant environments that are built into this game’s world.

The bad part comes out of handheld mode. The game’s resolution tanks very low when the Switch is undocked, making the visuals on-the-go have tons of jagged edges, a very large blur effect, and everything looking grainy and strange. This has improved with the last patch, but it still doesn’t look very good.

Another lesser aspect is the English Dub. While the English VAs do a pretty decent job in their voice recordings, matching the character animations creates a substantial amount of pauses for the sake of matching. The end result has many scenes sounding like someone taking dramatic pauses every few words and is very awkward.

Performance, though, is great. The game runs at a nice, steady frame-rate from start to finish and loads all of its areas pretty quickly for an open world game.

Battery Life

Many people think the game’s resolution was lowered in handheld mode to extend Battery Life, so let’s take a look at how well that worked out. Here are my times, from 100% to 0%

Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 02 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 06 minutes

Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 22 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 28 minutes

I do admit, they definitely got better Battery Life here with the lowered resolution. With the same graphics as Docked Mode, I imagine the Battery Life would be far lower than 3 hours. It still doesn’t excuse the poor quality, but at least we have an educated guess for why they did it that way.

Summary

In conclusion, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a beautiful RPG that offers open world exploration and a unique combat system. Although the story forces anime tropes on players way too much, the game is absurdly-complex, the dub has a lot of pauses, and the resolution takes a hit during handheld play, it's still a blast to play if you're a fan of the genre.

6.5/10

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