2015 – easily, one of the best years for the struggling Wii U. Looking around the net, you’ll see a number of Wii U games popping up on people’s best of 2015 list. Splatoon was a crazy new IP that was novel in it’s approach to an online shooter, Mario Maker was a dream come true for people who wanted to make their own levels, but there is one other you may be finding as well. Xenoblade Chronicles X came out late in 2015, but don’t discount it’s appeal to RPG fans who are starved for a huge open world JRPG. Xenoblade Chronicles X delivers on the RPG premise and does so much more over the countless hours you’ll spend playing the game. It’s not perfect, but it does so much right that I found myself coming back to it each and every night to continue the story of my character and his rag tag group of followers. Just how impressed was I with this game that probably not too many people will end up playing? Let me walk you through it.
The Xenoblade Chronicles title is a little misleading since there was a game back on the Wii with the same name. It involved Shulk and his companions as they fought against a robot menace on a planet I can’t recall the name of nor did I finish the game. A lot of people loved the game and from what I played, I did too. I sunk about 60 hours into it and couldn’t finish it before other games grabbed my attention. I tried to play it again on the New Nintendo 3DS when it was ported, but playing through all of that old content I already completed just didn’t do it for me. I lasted less than 10 hours this time. When I heard that an offshoot of the game, a spiritual successor if you will, was coming to the Nintendo Wii U, I was pretty excited. My Wii U doesn’t get much playtime outside of Mario Kart with my son or some Mario Maker action, so my gamepad was ready for some one on one action with a game that would eventually suck up a good portion of my time.
The game begins with the game detailing events of what is going on in the world. Humans have been chased away from Earth by a war that was brought to their doorsteps by two warring alien races. Things start off grim as most of the ark ships (ships carrying whole cities of people) leaving Earth are destroyed in the fray with only one making it safely away being New Los Angeles. The New Los Angeles drifts at space for a while and then has to crash land on a new planet called Mira after being found by one of the alien races who destroyed Earth. After crash landing, salvage crews are sent out to find survivors as well as equipment and that is when your story begins. Elma, a soldier protecting Mira who is also tasked with finding life pods on the surface, stumbles across your pod and the character creator begins as you take your first steps into the world of Xenoblade Chronicles X.
The character creator isn’t too robust, but you’ll be able to make something you’re happy playing with. Most run the gambit of typical anime stereotypes, but I was able to settle on something a little more like me (i.e. boring.) Once your character is created, you’re on your way to learning the game through intro quests and meeting the team you’ll be spending a bunch of hours with. Elma and Lin are the two main characters you’ll be fighting alongside at first, but you’ll soon find others to fill in that 4th combat spot. Speaking of combat, it’s a mix of turn based with real time movement. It’s very similar to how it’s predecessor, Xenoblade Chronicles, played and you’ll spend your time moving around the battlefield and using commands as they become available. A number of job professions are available with the a large number of weapons that can be unlocked and used. You’ll begin as a Drifter class using just basic weapons, but you’ll soon be able to specialize into jobs that focus on melee weapons, ranged, or something a little in between with buffs and science type weapons. There are a large number of classes to pick from, each with their own skills and required playstyles, and you can easily switch between them. I had a ton of fun finding out which one I liked best and it took me a bit of playing around to really stick with one. But, in the end, ranged gameplay always wins out with me and I chose the Commando line to get bonus to ranged gameplay. You’ll be switching from melee to ranged on the fly, so play around with what works best for you and then decide on your favored gamestyle. Switching is easy, but you’ll want to at least put some points into a class first to unlock skills. Skills unlock as you level up in your class and the higher level skills are a little more desirable than the early ones, so there is something said for specializing in one from the get go.
While combat is fun in Xenoblade Chronicles X, the real star of this show is the world. I had to keep reminding myself that I was playing on the Wii U because the graphics and scale was like something out a much larger, much more powerful type of console game. I truly do not know how they fit all of this game on a Wii U disc. The graphics themselves aren’t mind blowing though, that’s not the point. Character models are nice and weapons and armor look really cool on your character. What I mean by the world is basically everything around you from the cliffs to the cities to the enemies. Find a perch somewhere in the distance and just look off into the world. You’ll see hulking dinosaur like creatures meandering through the plains, with ship sized flying monsters floating through the sky, smaller enemies flying around them looking for food, and waterfalls a few hundreds of yards away. It’s all breathtaking and until you really see the actual scale of the world, it’s really hard to put into words. Running between monsters legs as they tower above you is something out of a big budget movie. Enemies roam the landscapes and at times are hostile and will attack on sight. It’s easy to get caught up on the scenery and without realizing it, get attacked by something 4x your level. Those fights don’t last very long.
The land, while beautiful, is deceptively evil. Looking at the map of Mira and it’s many zones will not give you any clue to how to navigate it. As you begin the story (more on that in a bit) you’ll be tasked with finding nodes in the world where you can put down mines that also open up the world to exploration. This is an easy system once you figure it out, but at first it’s fairly complicated. You’ll level up your BLADE level (level within your soldier organization) which will unlock abilities you can invest in. I highly recommend you put your first 2 points into mechanical because these nodes use that level to let you interact with them. This might not make sense now, just store it in the back of your mind and when the time comes – choose mechanical. This pinpoints one minor complaint with the game – it’s lack of teaching you it’s intricate mechanics. Xenoblade Chronicles X is a massive game with an equally massive world and mechanics that aren’t inherently spelled out. This was the first game in a very long time where I had to read the in game manual to understand what the heck was going on with some of these systems. Even then, I still had questions that didn’t come until later in the game or I had to utilize many of the online gaming forums/subreddits built around the game. If this doesn’t sound like your type of thing, then I’d skip it. There is a level of dedication required that isn’t found in games nowadays. This game does not hold your hand and you will die countless times throughout your time spent on Mira. Death penalties are non existent and load times are fairly quick, so death is a learning experience, not a punishment. For someone who doesn’t enjoy this type of gameplay, nothing I can say will ease it over. This is a tough game that doesn’t hold your hand and grinding is a necessity to get through some areas of the world. You’ll either love hearing that like I did, or loathe this type of game.
As mentioned earlier, the story begins with your pod opening up on Mira and Elma taking you back to New Los Angeles where you meet some of the big wigs in the city and become a member of BLADE. As a member of BLADE, you’ll carry out missions across Mira while trying to secure this place as a new home for the human race. The aliens who attacked you on Earth have also been spotted in the vicinity and have a vendetta against the humans for some reason you aren’t aware of, but all you know is that the preservation of human life is a top focus for your group and all other missions take a side quest status. You’ll also join a group within BLADE that will give you missions and allow you to level up within the organization. You can switch at any time, but sticking to one and raising it’s level is a good idea. There are groups that attack monsters out in the world, others like Elma who look for life pods, and the one I took – defenders of the city who repel attacks. Each group gives bonuses and the one I decided upon seemed strategic because it boosted ranged attacks. The game will actually introduce this fairly well with a video, so nothing to worry about ahead of this choice.
Xenoblade Chronicles X also has a pretty nifty online feature where you’ll join a squad of sorts when you login to the game. You can prioritize the squad you join based on three options, others who enjoy single player, others who enjoy multiplayer, or your friends. I typically spent my time with others who enjoyed single player and most of the messages sent to each other (via an in game post on the screen) involved gameplay and characters. It’s a neat feature that lets you help others out while in the field with hints and tips (and also useless banter.) You can also find characters from your squad standing around in the world. These NPC versions of their character will be interactable and then allow that person’s avatar to join your party. It sort of reminded me of how Dragon’s Dogma has the pawn system where you could bring others characters into your world, but I didn’t use it more than a handful of times. I would imagine it could be quite useful when taking down some of the more powerful enemies in the world.
I have only touched the surface of what Xenoblade Chronicles X is because going into every nook and cranny of this game would take a novel. It’s big, it’s beautiful, and it’s incredibly fun. This was a game that was always on my radar, but I never imagined it to be this good. After my first night playing it back in December, I was hooked and blown away by what it had to offer. 2015 was the year the Wii U became relevant again for me, and if you are a big fan of RPGs, I can easily recommend buying a Wii U system to play this. This is a once in a generation RPG and I will be spending much more time enjoying this masterpiece. I’m about 50 hours in and there is still a ton of game left to play. It might not be for everyone, but for those of us who enjoy grinding to surmount difficult enemies, huge worlds with beautiful scenery, and epic sci-fi stories – this game is just what we’re looking for. It’s easily one of my favorite games of 2015.
Wii U review code provided by Nintendo