Saturday 17 March 2018

Xenoblade Chronicles II ★★★★★

Colourful, chunky and full of life, Xenoblade Chronicles II is the best pure RPG experience that you’ll find on the Nintendo Switch.

You’ll need no knowledge of the original Xenoblade Chronicles to enjoy a stunning single-player campaign that takes roughly sixty hours to complete, as you travel across an expansive landscape in an effort to find a way to save the world. While it sounds like typical fantasy shlock, it’s actually a reasonably interesting story, with a decent cast of characters to flesh out the journey.

The protagonist is a scavenger called Rex, forced into action after accepting a deal with a bunch of dodgy mercs. He ends up being stabbed in the back quite literally, coming back from the dead thanks to the ‘legendary Aegis’ Pyra who takes up the focus of the story. Pyra is a Blade, which are living weapons used by ‘Drivers’ in a dying world where everyone lives on the backs of giant creatures. Each character can equip a Blade, giving them abilities that can be used in and out of battle.

Collecting Blades is a pain as they’re stuck behind a RNG system, but there’s a touch of the Persona series as you toggle through your options in the midst of battle to use different abilities. As you might expect, the party continues to grow with new members at a solid rate, but it’s the Blades that steal the show. They’re split between attacker, healer, and tank classes, giving you the opportunity to change the flow of battle with a quick change.

Combat is arguably easy to pick up, but it’s difficult to master. There’s generally too much information on screen at any given time, and you’ll mostly be maneuvering Rex behind enemies as the game auto-attacks for you in the style of an MMO. It’s not going to be to everyone’s tastes, but it is more tactical than just moving your character into position. Special attacks are assigned to the face buttons, with cooldown rates for each one, as well as aggro to control and various new elements added as you continue through the story.

Fully playable in handheld mode, it’s astounding that you’ll be able to explore a massive world packed with enemies and side quests. You can buy the deeds to shops for a larger inventory, and you’re free to go back to previously visited locations to complete quests. Cut scenes look great, with emotive character models and anime inspired fight scenes. With no context the skimpy costumes might not look great on public transport, but it’s unashamed when it comes to its influences, and it has no trouble with poking fun at itself.

Lastly, much has been made of the decision to cast a voice actor from Yorkshire as Rex for the English dub, but it’s fine aside from his lackluster battlecries. The original voice acting is available as a free download, so you don’t have to sit through it if it’s that much of an issue. On the subject of problems, the map is also unintuitive, which led to a lot of unnecessary backtracking as I hadn’t taken the optimal route. Aside from that, there wasn’t much else to complain about.

The best JRPG I’ve played in a long time, XCII is highly recommended for anyone with a passing interest in roleplaying on the Switch. It’s a niche title that will never move as many units as Mario and Zelda, but it’s worth looking past a few minor flaws for a worthwhile overall experience.

James Millin-Ashmore

Xenoblade Chronicles II at CeX

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