Let’s get this out of the way first: Xenoblade Chronicles X is big. Really big.
Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii was a pretty damn massive 100+ hour adventure, but its sequel (of sorts) knocks its predecessor into a cocked hat in terms of scale. At around 50 hours in, there was still an entire continent I hadn’t even set foot on.
Getting to that 50-hour mark, however, took a lot of perseverance. Having played the previous game in the series, I thought I’d be able to slip into the gameplay fairly quickly, but no – X throws a cavalcade of new, complicated systems at you with only the briefest of explanations as to how they work, and I spent the first few hours in a state of utter bamboozlement. At least the fighting system remains broadly similar, so I sort of knew what I was doing when trying to beat things up. But it took me many, many hours to learn the tricks of that arcane system of Arts and Auras on the Wii game – I genuinely don’t know how someone new to the series could possibly hope to work out what the hell was going on in Xenoblade Chronicles X without extensive reading of the manual and online forums.
Speaking of which, you really need to read the in-game manual from (virtual) cover to cover to have any clue as what to do. It’s the first time I can remember actually reading a game manual in a very, very long time – probably since when they used to have exciting cartoon pictures of what the pixelly things on screen were ‘meant’ to look like, and space at the back to note down passwords. The fact I haven’t read a manual in years is a testament to how most modern games have improved by providing thorough tutorials and help, allowing you to play with confidence without the need for written explanations – in this sense, Xenoblade Chronicles X is thoroughly old school.
So, it’s not the easiest of games to get into, then. But my word, what rewards it offers to those who can master its complexities.
The story is compelling – it starts off with Earth being destroyed, which, as an opener, surely takes some beating. The survivors take off in various ark ships in search of a new home, but they are followed by the aliens that laid waste to the Earth. One ark ship – New LA – crash lands on a planet called Mira after being attacked, and the game sees you exploring the new planet in an attempt to find the ‘Lifehold’ section of the ship that contains stasis pods in which the residents of New LA are sleeping. But the aliens are also attempting to find the Lifehold in an effort to wipe out the human race, for reasons which remain unclear.
But because its Xenoblade, you’re also trying to gather up jewels to decorate dresses, building a Back-to-the-Future style time machine and putting on firework displays for the potato-like Nopon folk, because what would a JRPG be without oddball subquests?
And speaking of quests, my god there’s a lot of them. Xenoblade Chronicles had a ridiculous number of missions along the lines of ‘kill X of these monsters’ and ‘collect X of these things’, and Xenoblade Chronicles X ups the ante even further. I’ve no idea of the total number of quests in the game, but it’s certainly considerably more than the previous one. After playing for over 130 hours and completing the main story, I still have an untold number of missions to complete. You could literally play this game for years – especially as it introduces online multiplayer and ridiculously hard ‘Nemesis’ battles that occur around once a month. (I barely scratched the online components, but there’s a healthy number of people playing it, even a couple of years after the game’s release.)
So it’s big and intimidating, but Xenoblade Chronicles X is also one of the most rewarding and compelling games I’ve ever played. Getting my own Skell – a sort of giant bipedal mech – at around 5o hours in was one of the most exciting gaming moments I’ve ever experienced. Some have criticised the length of time it takes for the game to give you one of these metal beasts, but I think the waiting just makes the eventual moment all the more satisfying. Having a Skell completely changes the way you perceive the map, and it suddenly lets you confront the huge beasts you’ve been running away from for most of the game. It’s a pivotal moment, but it’s not the only one – there’s an even better part a few tens of hours further on, which I won’t spoil for you here.
You’ve probably realised by now that I’m pretty fond of the game. It’s not without its flaws: intimidating complexity, some naff music, repetitive quests and a morosely unfunny running gag about eating a Nopon ‘friend’ who tags along with you are just some of them. But the amount of things to do is mind-boggling – and it captures the excitement of exploring an unfamiliar alien world better than any game I’ve played before.