Xenoblade Chronicles 2 review for Nintendo Switch

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Monolith Soft
Medium: Digital/Cartridge
Players: 1
Online: N/A

Back on the Wii Nintendo introduced the Xenoblade series with Xenoblacde Chronicles. The game was later ported to the New 3DS and we got a spiritual successor a couple years ago. Well now Xenoblade Chronicles returns with more of a true sequel to the original. Yep that’s what the number 2 means.

It’s also a Nintendo Switch exclusive. It boggles my mind that within the first year of this system’s debut that we’ve already gotten some major releases. Well Xenoblade Chronicles 2 didn’t miss the deadline and here it is, another huge RPG on this little system. I’m also surprised at how great it runs considering the scale of the game’s environments but I’ll get back to that later.

So the game starts with this guy Rex who scavenges for scrap and other things that scavengers like. The world is set on the backs of living titans who put the monsters in Shadow of the Colossus to shame. I mean, did you see any villages on the back of the colossi? I know I didn’t! But here in the world of Alrest, that’s the only kind of real estate you can hope to find. The rest of the place is covered in a cloud sea.

Anyway, you’re just trying to get by until you get tied up in some rough stuff. Next thing you know, Rex is becoming a Driver who may be the last hope for a world that is running out of room to live and no hope for the future! There’s obviously a lot more going on here, but watching the story play out is part of the fun so I’ll just say that I was hooked pretty quickly and I think you might be too.

As far as the game is concerned, there’s a whole hell of a lot going on here. Maybe you’re like me and didn’t know what a Driver or their Blades were. Well in Alrest, a select few have the ability to bond with mysterious core crystals. If you don’t possess this ability then you’re in for a slap in the face if you do try, but for those who can for a bond with a core crystal they will create a Blade out of this process.

Blades are kind of like Pokemon or any other game where you use creatures or summons to give you magic powers. In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you’ll be able to bond with lots of core crystals and discover all kinds of Blades. You’ll want to do this as each Blade has a different personality, element type, and certain weapons that they use. This will come in handy when you’re learning more about getting combos in battle. And since Rex is the main character, his Blade (Pyra) is very unique and also sexy. Hmm, maybe I should be a protagonist sometime.

One thing I really like in this game is how streamlined everything is. It’s almost more complicated to try explaining everything about how it plays than it is to sit down and play it, but since you might be curious I’ll give it a shot. Before I do, I just want to say that everything the game introduces happens at a nice and slow rate where even old guys like me have lots of time to get used to new mechanics without feeling rushed to understand everything at once.

The battles play out in a way that might be familiar to those who played Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii. I say this because I didn’t play that game, but I did play the Wii U game and this feels very different. Everything is mapped to buttons instead of being split between screens, and it works great. Basically your characters will auto-attack whenever they enter a battle, but each time they do it will add some power to your special attacks, or Arts as the game calls them. These will power up at their own rates, but once one is ready then you can trigger it by pressing the face button to which it is assigned.

The Arts you have available are based on which Blade you are using. As you bond with more blades, you will find yourself switching between them to access Arts as they are needed. This becomes a game of strategy once you learn to use your Blade’s special attack which can then be combo’d by another member of your party. Special attacks are powered up by using your Arts, just like how your Arts are powered up by auto-attacks. These special combos must take place in order of special attack power level. If Rex has Pyra use her special attack to start a combo, it has to be followed by Level 2 of her or any other Blade’s special, and then Level 3 of the next special attack.

This is a lot of fun, but I felt pretty limited in what combos I could finish early on. This is due to a cool down timer which is the window in which the special attack can be completed. Wait too long and you won’t have a chance to get that Level 3 attack in, and then you have to start over. If you use an Art just after landing an auto-attack, it will boost the meter on your special attack. Since other members of your party don’t seem to know this, they usually take too long to be ready for a combo and you will find yourself limited to your own abilities for a while. Luckily you can use items to extend the window for combos, but the whole thing is something I’m still learning about.

Oh and if you have trouble figuring out the best time to use an art after the auto-attack, just keep an eye out for damage numbers colored in white!

There are also Chain Attacks which use the Party meter to enter a sequence of special Arts quickly combo’d through your party. This isn’t the only use for the Party meter either since it can be used to help up any KO’d party members if you have enough power.

Seeing as how it took over three paragraphs just to touch on the basics of Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s battle system, I’ll leave it at that. Just trust that the game doesn’t expect you to know all of this at once and does a really good job of introducing new stuff at an even pace. If you do want to know more, there’s a good Nintendo Treehouse post here on the combat, or you could just play the game yourself. If you like the series or RPGs, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

It should come as no surprise that this is one deep game. Trying to talk about any part of it is like explaining to my kids how money works. Yeah, it’s used to buy things but the thousands of other effects it has on people and the world are so complicated that I just give them $5 a week and let them learn at their own pace. Eventually they’ll grow up to be the power-hungry criminals that run things and then I can be a proud father.

So how does this game run on the Switch? Well see for yourself. It looks pretty nice overall but you will notice something when playing as a handheld device. Suddenly the game looks a lot… crunchier is the best word I can think of. This can get pretty ugly with the more intense battles, but it does look fine overall. This drop in resolution is the tradeoff of having the portability of a console which is trying not to set fire or deplete its batteries instantly when playing on the go. Can you tell the difference in this cutscene?

Normally I would remark at how it blows my mind that such a massive game is playable both on the go and at home. It is valid, but less so as we were able to play a port of Xenoblade Chronicles on the New 3DS already. And if you could stand how ugly that was, then even at its worst Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will look like a shiny new car. And not to mention that the game is set on the back of living creatures. At first you think you’re just on solid ground in a town and then you look up to see this huge creature’s head moving around and totally alive!! AAAHH!

That said, I did notice some slowdown in some areas you might expect, and a few which didn’t seem that complicated. No matter the case, I didn’t let technical issues bring down my enjoyment of this game and it was easy to overlook the tradeoffs for the overall experience of playing a quality RPG. If that’s something that keeps you up at night, make your life easier and don’t play this one.

I do like the visuals in this game, and I also like a lot of the audio! The music is fitting and makes you feel like you’re on a great adventure. I wish there were more sounds for all the wildlife that you encounter as I don’t remember much about them other than their looks. The voice work fo this game is another story, as I hate the cast on the English audio. Some characters do have good voices, but most of them are a weird fit and just odd.

Since Nintendo were good about getting us a copy a few weeks ago, I was totally confused for the first few days as I thought for sure there was a Japanese audio option. Well there is! It just wasn’t available until today as it is an additional download. I recommend giving it a shot, since I tried my best to keep the English voice audio lowered. I’ll be giving the Japanese audio a shot over the next few days and will add an update when I can. This didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the game and won’t be changing the score. I’ve definitely heard worse voice acting.

I’m sure there’s a ton I’m forgetting to talk about, but just know that that’s a good thing. Overall this is a game for any RPG fan. Heck, you don’t even have to play as Rex if you want to use a different party member as the party leader. I don’t even think Rex wants to play as himself, but he does have Pyra and that creates a tough choice.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a massive RPG that takes all the stuff I love about classic RPG formulas and keeps it fresh. It’s also on the Switch, which has a small but great library of core games. Well this is one of them! There’s nothing better than taking the journey from the couch to your bed while you cozy up and fall asleep. Next thing you know, you’re counting your lucky stars that you only just missed stepping on the console because you were too exhausted to set it on your side table. Hey, it’s a risk I don’t mind taking with games like this.

Grade: A-