Xenoblade Chronicles X: review

 photo XenobladeChroniclesX_zpsllc3vusz.jpg

  • Format: Wii U
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Monolith Soft/Nintendo
  • Players: 1 (offline), 1-4 (online)
  • Site: http://xenobladechroniclesx.nintendo.com/
  • Game code provided by the publisher

There are loads of RPGs that you can play on the Wii U; but almost all of them are virtual console retro titles, or Wii games (remember kids, Nintendo did backwards compatibility before it was cool – and does it properly). It doesn’t mean that much, therefore, to say that Xenoblade Chronicles X is the best RPG on the Wii U. But how about if we told you that Xenoblade Chronicles X is already in the running for best RPG of the current generation?

XCX is a Wii U exclusive. This should mean that it is by default uglier than the competition but, as is so often the case with top-tier Wii U games, it actually looks better than most games on more powerful machines. The character models aren’t great, and facial animation is almost non-existent. Characters and enemies sometimes fade into existence as you approach from a distance. Yet the visual design is so wonderful, everything instantly comes alive. From the grassy plains of Primordia to the fiery wastes of Cauldros, it all looks and feels so alive.

Your character starts off with amnesia but no, wait, come back! The story’s actually pretty good, with some genuinely surprising twists (and one very unsurprising one) that you’ll appreciate if Google hasn’t ruined them for you. We’re not cruel enough to go into great detail, but it’s safe to say that humanity has been driven from Earth after getting caught in the middle of a ferocious intergalactic war. Your new home is a world known as Mira, full of strange and often dangerous beasties. You’ve more to worry about than the natives, though – it seems that humanity’s part in the war may not be over yet…

This RPG is much more Monster Hunter than Zelda. There’s levelling, and classes, and an army of different weapons and armour pieces, and items and gear dropped by enemies. Whereas Monster Hunter demands hours of tedious grinding (and sorry guys and gals, it is pretty tedious sometimes) for most of the gear and XP, XCX allows you to avoid that if you wish. It’s keen to avoid you wasting time on repeating the same actions over and over and over and over again when you’d much rather be doing something else. You have to work your way up through the various levels of each class, but can change classes at any time. Plenty of decent gear can simply be bought. Die in a mission three times in a row, and you’ll be given the option of temporarily lowering the difficulty. An RPG that wants as many people as possible to enjoy themselves. Crazy, huh?

With all the stats, and enemies with level number and health bar above their heads, you might think this looks like an MMO. It is not an MMO. You can play the entire game by yourself, and in fact most of the time that’s what you’ll do. You can have a maximum of four in your party including yourself, but your compadres will almost always be AI. There are plenty of in-game characters – some of whom are compulsory for story or side missions – but you can also ‘scout’ other players. Well, sort of; what you actually scout is their registered avatar, who joins your party for a maximum of 30 real-life minutes. It’s an interesting way to give a weak party a boost though, and if your avatar is scouted you can collect rewards for being desired.

You can still play with other people ‘properly’, but only in specific missions accessed via the network console in your barracks. It can be hard to get a game in this way to be honest, as the number of players made available to you is pretty small; and as you might expect, it’s generally a good idea to be very, very well prepared for these fights. This may disappoint some, but XCX is primarily a singleplayer game.

Woah. Right?

What about combat? There’s a lot of it. First and foremost, Mira is crammed full of creatures – but many of them will ignore you completely unless you start the fight. And if a level 60 behemoth goes after your piddly little level 9 party, you can simply run away heroically. When you do fight, you’ll be armed with one ranged weapon, one melee weapon, and a bunch of special attacks or ‘arts’. You can switch between weapons at will, and your character will auto-attack once every few seconds or so – but damage from these attacks is minimal. Fights are largely won through the arts of you and your party. Each art has a cooldown period, and an extra benefit for allowing it to charge twice before use. In addition to that, each art can be upgraded, and offensive ones deal more damage under certain conditions and using them when prompted by your teammates can trigger healing and buffs. Tactical use of arts is the key to victory; fights are sometimes half gamble, half puzzle. And it’s great.

Then there’s the Skells (read: mechs). For at least 20 hours, your adventure will take place on foot. When you finally get your Skell, it’s incredibly empowering. Enemies a few levels above you are no longer the threat they were, especially if everyone in your party has a Skell. And when, even further down the line, your Skell can fly? It’s liberating. Nowhere is unreachable. You have to play for dozens of hours to reach that point, and it’s totally worth the wait.

It took us close to 70 hours to see the end of the story, and we only have the game about 40% complete. The final story chapter is disappointingly stacked against you (we advise against trying it until you’re above level 50), and yet we somehow couldn’t hold that against the game for long. This experience will suck you in with no escape; XCX emerges as the best game of 2015.

Critical Hitcritical score 10

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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