Of all the games I missed in 2015, Xenoblade Chronicles X was a bit of an misnomer. Having never played any games in the series, I didn't know what to expect - all I'd heard was that it was huge and pretty. After having a hankering for some RPG action after realizing Fire Emblem Fates wasn't out in March in Australia (damn you Nintendo and your weird release schedules) I figured eh, why not. What I did not expect, after sinking countless late night hours into this game, was a brilliant and vibrant world mixed with an unforgettable experience - one that is secretly one of, if not the best RPG experience of 2015.
There have been plenty of games during this (and last) generation that have blown my expectations out of the water in regards to world building, but what has been produced here is utterly incredible coming from the Wii U. The world that is built within Xenoblade Chronicle X is nothing short of breathtaking. Most of my first 20 hours playing were spent exploring (what I thought was) the entirety of the map - only for me to realise I had just explored one of five continents.
Now, a massive world is all well and good - a pretty world is even better - but all that falls apart when then world is boring to explore. Mira, the planet setting for XCX, is the exact opposite of boring. This beautiful world is home to a crazy assortment of creatures large and small, ranging from weak insects to giant dinosaurs that will crush you in an instant. Even at max level, some creatures will overpower you easily if you aren’t prepared. On the flip side, more than half of the creatures you run past simply don’t give a crap about you. This gives Mira a feeling of both hostility and wonder, and will have you stopping just to watch the world pass you by (while you take plenty of screenshots.)
Not only is Mira meticulously built visually, but the systems embedded deep throughout the game are similarly complex. Even after 186 hours spent in this world, I’d say I’m across about 60% of what the game has to offer. Don’t let that worry you though - XCX does a fantastic job of drip feeding it’s systems slowly to you over time, allowing you to build up knowledge and understanding at your own pace about how this game, your character and the world around you work.
It’s been widely reported that you don’t get access to a skell, the game’s version of a mech suit, until post hour 30 - believe me when I say this is a good thing. So often games today are thrusting more and more power on you earlier and earlier - Xenoblade X demands that you understand the weight of such an awesome (and game-changing, literally) piece of tech, splitting the difference between not forcing you to learn yet another system to early on and making you truly earn the ability to use one.
I distinctly remember thinking a very specific thought after around chapter 5 in regards to the story of Xenoblade X - “Man, this game is so anime… in all the best ways.” Somehow the writers managed to create something that was equal parts unbelievable, relatable, philosophical and ridiculous, which totally works in it’s favour. It helps that the game is made up of a cast of fantastic characters, some of which are over-exaggerations on stereotypes while others are completely unexpected.
One bloody fantastic point that doesn’t get mentioned enough is how the best party members in this game - both in a strength and a character sense - are ladies. The main members who are a part of your squad consist of a young mechanical progeny in Lin and a boss as lady colonel in Elma. My favourite character in the game, Alexa, would often come along for the ride - and (no spoilers) probably is involved in the best love triangle of all time.
While you are an important character in that you help create a world to call home, it is fascinating (and fantastic) that you really aren’t the “hero” character. As you progress through the main missions, you’ll notice that most of the discussion and talking is directed at Elma - to the point of most people referring to your group as “Elma’s squad”. Hell, no one ever even mentions your name! It’s so refreshing to, for once, to not be the hero character that comes in and saves the day - rather you are a regular soldier who joins a movement that involves everyone doing their part in carving out a new place to build a future.
While not strictly necessary, this game benefits greatly from having gamepad functionality. The second screen is used effectively as an interactive map, providing a ton of information that would be tedious to access through in game menus. The game can also be switched to off-screen play at any time, which assuredly come in handy on multiple occasions.
Even though this game falls into “JRPG” territory, it pulls obvious inspiration from a multitude of places. The “see that mountaintop, you can go there!” aspect of many Western RPG’s is definitely present, though with a decidedly eastern flavour. More often than not I found myself comparing this game not to a traditional single player RPG like Skyrim, but more to that of an MMO. The world is full of zoned areas with monsters that are all set at specific levels, there is a never-ending list of quests generated to give you something to do - it even feels like the game would be at home having other players actually running around the world with you. While that might sound derogatory, it actually is a massive benefit, helping to add to the feeling of enormity the world produces - just like any regular MMO world, you don’t ever “conquer” Mira, you simply reside in it.
This game might not feature 1000’s of other players running around the world with you, but it does handle multiplayer in a very clever fashion. When you first log in to a play session, you are placed in a group of 30 players, all playing separate in their own worlds. Every now and then a system known as Squad Tasks will pop up, tasking your group to complete 5 different tasks and tackle a group of missions. Each members progress is recorded and shared with the group, rewarding everyone - It’s a little bonus that adds a reason for performing similar tasks repeatedly over time. There are quite a few other ways in which multiplayer factors in - you can actually get together with friends to fight bosses, for example - but for a regular single player type of guy, this was a favourite.
While I am a massive fan of RPG’s from all around the world, I don’t often find myself really digging into the big JRPG’s all that much - Final Fantasy has never been my jam, for example - but this game is, well... Something else. Xenoblade Chronicles X finds it’s niche somewhere between JRPG, western RPG and MMO, all the while creating quite a compelling argument for the purchase of a Wii U. If you’re a fan of the Wii Xenoblade, enjoy JRPG’s and/or MMO’s, love digging into complex systems in games, want to enjoy a fantastic story with great characters while working hard for your rewards, or simply love the idea of exploring an exotic, beautiful world for hours on end - Xenoblade Chronicles X for Wii U is a must play.