Xenoblade Chronicles X has been a long time coming for Western Wii U owners, and arguably it’s the biggest title arriving on Nintendo’s home console this Christmas. Whilst not a direct sequel to the Wii’s critically acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles, it shares a number of that game’s most important features, which Monolith Soft has bundled up in the franchise’s first HD game.
Following an alien war that descends on Earth, your spacecraft is amongst the few to make its escape, hoping to flee and colonise another world. Sadly, the war follows humanity through space, with the remaining populace finding themselves stranded on the planet Mira, as you ship crashes.
Rather than taking control of a character like Xenoblade Chronicle’s Shulk, you’re instead able to create your own avatar – you’re an amnesiac survivor jettisoned from the crashed ship, after all – with some variety available to you. In a lot of ways, the opening, setting, and the character models put me in mind of Phantasy Star Online, for which a spiritual successor has long been hoped for in the West.
What’s immediately impressive is the beauty and scale of the world and how smoothly it runs, especially given that this map, which is allegedly bigger than Fallout 4, Skyrim and The Witcher 3 combined, is running on the Wii U. After a brief introduction to combat in the dark rain-filled night, the skies clear as the sun rises and you’re granted your first look at the alien world of Mira and its indigenous species. This opening cutscene is truly epic, with powerful orchestral music combining with the visuals to make it feel as though you’re starting on a truly special journey.
The music stands out, switching from orchestral to rock, and even some rap infused tracks, and while it’s eclectic, the overtly modern flavour seem to fit with the visuals well, at least through the opening sections of the game. The English voice acting is also solid and well-delivered, which is a blessing without the option to use the original Japanese track, while retaining the light humour that was such an integral part of Xenoblade Chronicles.
For anyone that’s played the previous game, you’ll be familiar with the returning combat system. As you roam about the open world, you can target any of the creatures you see and then decide whether or not to engage them, which is key as there’ll be creatures you can’t remotely hope to beat at the beginning of the game. The key difference here is the ability to switch on the fly between ranged and melee weapons with a touch of the X button, which opens up a number of new approaches.
You also have your abilities, known as Arts, laid out at the bottom of the screen on your action bar like any number of MMO’s, and which you select with the D-pad to various effect, whether they be attacks, buffs or healing-based. Combat remains as tight, if chaotic, as it did in the previous game, and you can expect plenty of abilities to upgrade as you work your way through.
After your introduction to combat by Elma, you make your way to New Los Angeles, humanity’s base of operations on Mira. It’s here in the Industrial District that you get your first look at the Skells. These are the huge mechs that you can pilot later in the game, and which look to form an integral part of taking on some of the largest enemies on Mira.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is clearly aiming to be an utterly enthralling experience. Alongside the storyline and engaging combat, there are systems upon systems to explore. Returning features from Xenoblade Chronicles include the character affinity chart, whereby improving relationships has benefits in combat, as well as an extensive range of collectibles and loot. There’s even an in-game set of achievements, which, as in Bayonetta 2, takes a little getting used to on Nintendo’s console, though is thoroughly welcome.
We’ve yet to dive into the online functionality, whether it’s the BLADE reports ties into the Miiverse. The faux-MMO trappings look to be coming full circle, with private groups of up to 32, in which you will be able to trade items between players, but the most important point is that you will be able to team up with other players in groups of four, to take part in missions together. I have a feeling that this will be a very popular feature following the game’s release.
Again, the sense that Phantasy Star Online players will get a lot out of the game returns here, while Nintendo’s faithful Monster Hunter contingent may also be drawn in by the scale and co-operative battling against huge creatures. We can only hope that Xenoblade Chronicles X is as effective as the early promise of what we’ve seen.