This review is a bit late, and I apologize. The thing is, it is also going to go very in depth with the mechanics of the game and some general throughts. It is a VERY long review, as it is a long game but it will be spoiler free when it comes to the story^^
Let me start by talking about the music. I have seen many people praise the music, especially the composer Sawano, for being utterly brilliant. I have to disagree. The music, with the sole exception of seven tracks, is horrible. It is a complete disaster and I am pretty sure if people praise the music, they talk about those seven songs, five of which are the main themes played on the worldmap. Because the overworld music is very good and makes the game sound even more epic than it already is. Everything else is crap. Anime j-Pop with singers who can’t sing, some wannabe Linkin Park idiocy as battle themes and crying howling of more japano-style singsang during cutscenes that make the ears bleed. Of the 100 or so music tracks in the game I’d say 90 are complete shit, 3 are meh, 2 are okay and 5 are great. Those five, as said, are the overworld themes luckily enough so at least it sounds great while traveling through the world. The worst piece of shit music is probably the one you’ll hear the most in the late game, once you start flying. It is a techno j-Pop droning with bad vocals equally bad sung and it will loop forever until you land. After the magnificence that was the first game’s soundtrack, this is the worst part the game has to offer, no doubt.
Which brings me to my next point. The sound mixing is this game is a joke. First, the game only comes in STEREO, not surround sound. Second, the sound mixing is completely broken. The music during cutscenes is so loud, you can’t understand a word people are saying. What makes matters worse, the music, is usually some acoustically challenged singsang. Who thought it’s a good idea to put a song with lyrics into a cutscene where people talk? The music is obnoxious and loud and without subtitles you will not understand a single thing going on in the story. How come in five years development time and six months localisation time, nobody caught that? Nobody caught that the music is too loud and the soundmix is designed for a 5.1 game that only outputs in stereo? Seriously, a soundmixer on his first day of internship can tell you that this sucks. How was that mistake made? And if you are unable to fix that mistake, why not just add in a music volume slider?
Another glaring flaw is that the text in the game that, with the sole exception of said subtitles, is incredibly small. In fact it is not only small, it is hard to read even if you sit close to the TV. It seems to me that the menu text is just a texture or a sprite scaled to the size and location of that menu and that scaling is done badly, as sometimes you can even see the compression artifacts. Again, how come nobody has caught this during localisation? The japanese text apparently fares a bit better so I blame the localisation department. That’s two huge mistakes that are on that department and sadly, not the last.
Because as far as mistakes in localizing go, the game has even more huge problems. First of all it is censored. The japanese version had a slider to change the breast size of the female characters. It is a very useless feature no doubt but it is censorship and as you should know by now I am against any form of censorship. They also changed a sumo related outfit to now include ugly ass pants. Not only that, they also changed a character model. I get the reasoning, a 13 year old girl dressed in a bikini might raise some questions, but only if you live in a bubble and have never been to a beach, or europe. Because when I was 13 and still went to beaches (I rarely go to the beach) 13 year olds did wear bikinis when they were swimming and I suppose that hasn’t changed. It is just unnecessary censorship, based on a very american and very narrow worldview. The slider they removed could even have been put to use as music volume slider. How come in a world where people in Witcher and Dragon Age run around naked in all sizes and forms, we still censor shit like that? Are they afraid people could oogle at those characters? Have you been to the internet? You do know there is free porn out there and rule 34 exists, yes?
And if you think we are done with bashing the localisation team, let me tell you that you are, unfortunately, wrong. The year is 2015 and in a world where games began to properly lip-synch their characters 15 years ago and videogame voice actors get the credit they rightfully deserve, this team of people decided that lip synching is a useless feature and so are good voice actors. Most of the actors are okay but there are some characters that are just so incredibly bad and annoying, it hurts. If a japanese voice is silly and obnoxious it was mostly a conscious choice brought to life with a good voice actor that know when to go silly or over the top but this english version misses all nuances and just goes full retard. And as we know, never go full retard. It doesn’t help that the characters in question are total idiots. The fact that sometimes any of the characters talk while they are obviously not talking and then their mouths move long before or after the voices stopped clearly shows that they missed the mark completely, especially if you consider how well the brits did it last time around.
I just don’t understand how so many mistakes were made during the localisation process and I can’t help but wonder if those problems exist in the japanese version or would all exist in our version if NoE were responsible for bringing the game to the west like last time. Because as you may know, NoA has a horrible track record with these things while NoE seems to handle themselves quite nicely.
You still with me yet? Good, because we FINALLY come to the parts that actually discuss the game itself. Took us long enough…
If I had to describe the game in one short sentence, it would be this: “An excess in scale.”
The game is just amazingly large. Everything in this game is enormous in scope. The world is so huge, if you stand on a mountain top on a clear day and try to look to the other end, you can’t see the mountains anymore not because the game can’t handle it but because they are so far away they are just a few pixels tall. I have an experiment set up where I will compare the map size to the original Xenoblade by traversing both on foot and measuring the time, calculating how many Gaur Plains fit into one fifth of the world but if I had to make a guess I would say you could fit the whole Bionis and the whole Mechonis at least three times into the world of this game. It is just amazingly large.
Not only that, every single location has meaning, is well designed and not just some random open spec of world. Clearly a lot of love went into that map and the fact that you can traverse it all without any loading times or bottlenecks to mask loading is incredible. Even when flying with my mech, there wasn’t a single issue of stutter, loading or other problem with this world. It is just so flawless, huge and believable it will be very hard for other games to match it.
Furthermore, the game is also incredibly long. I clocked 75 hours on my first run through the original Xenoblade, doing many sidequests and seeing the entire story, filling my collectopedia to the fullest, with the sole exception of one item since I didn’t slay too many dragons. Subsequent runs were faster, of course.
I have yet to complete the main story in this game and I already clocked in the same hours here. The thing is that In terms of overall completion rate, I am roughly 40 percent in. I haven’t done many sidequests and while I am near the end of the main story, the game is not over once the main quest is done. I will probably take another 50-70 hours to do the meaningful sidequests, not to mention the hundreds of hours it will take me to do the random quests or collection stuff.
And if that were not enough, upgading my characters, mechs and map exploration tools will probably eat up even more of my time.
All this scope comes with drawbacks of course. I don’t mind the pop in, but there is some very low level geomety on some rocks and some very low resolution textures on some walls. It’s a small price to pay though but I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to scale the map size down by, say, 10% and fix those few issues instead. The game is just enormous and truth be told, I am not sure if that is always a good thing.
The first Xenoblade was big. It had great music, a nice story and some cool characters *cough*Reyn*cough* to make it a well rounded game.
This Xenoblade is the definition of huge, has horrible music, a nice story that is told in the worst way possible and so many damn characters I haven’t even played since I can’t find their respective mission locations. Which means I am missing out on some story parts, which wouldn’t be that big of a problem if the story were told in a way that is comprehensible for regular human beings that are not me.
You see, I love convoluted stuff. The messier and convoluted a story is, the better. I like to put my brain to work. But the story in this game is not convoluted. It is very straight forward but the way it is told is convoluted due to the nature of the game design.
Allow me to explain: The story is told in 12 parts. Each part requires you to do certain things before it can be opened. Most of the time it is something like be at level 12 and have 10% of the map explored. Other times you need to do a certain quest first that will tie in with the story in some way.
The problem is that there are 30 or more quests that tie in with the story that are completely optional and the main story itself, without those optional missions, is incredibly short and simple.
That means that all nuances, character development or needed exposition may not be available when you first play the story.
In the first Xenoblade you had so many things in the story that was not really needed for the story to work, but they were there to flesh out the world and characters. In this game, all those small things are optional.
I’ll keep using the original Wii game as basis now to better illustrate my point. If you haven’t played that one, why are you reading this review?
Imagine this: Reyn trapped by spiders? Optional. Save Juju from Xord? Optional, both times. Help Melia to defeat the big Telethia? Optional. Help Melia on her quest in the Ancestor’s Tomb? Optional. Help the people on the fallen arm? Optional. Central Factory? You bet your ass it is optional…
See my point yet? What they did for this game was simply cut out all that which is not completely neccesary to get the plot and put it into sidequests. Those are meaningful sidequests, completely voice acted and with cutscenes and all but they are optional. If you don’t actively look for them it’s very easy to miss them. And then you’ll sit there and just let the story happen without much thought because you never had the chance to build a connection to those people. Those sidequests could have easily been integrated into the main plot. Instead of having a main mission go like this – “cutscene, fast travel to location, press A button, cutscene, battle, cutscene” – it could have elevated that mission and each mission is equally short and simple. True, if you are not like me and explore the world when the story tells you to, you don’t fast travel to the cutscene spot. But then all you do in the meantime is run to that cutscene spot. If they integrated the sidequests into the story like last time, you would have had character dialogue while traveling and experience a bit more than just a cutscene and a boss battle or two.
With all that said, the story itself is not that bad at all. As long as you are willing to do all these optional “affinity missions” before you tackle the next story segment, you’ll probably quite enjoy it. It’s just a shame that you can miss them so easily.
What’s also easy to miss is every single game mechanic the game has to offer. Let me be clear: Before you play, you are expected to read the manual. This is like the old days when we had paper manuals we read on the bus while on our way home. Without reading the manual, you will be completely lost sooner than later and by chapter 6 you will struggle very hard to continue on. It is very essential that you read the manual. The game does tell you a few short tidbits about your systems and classes and skills and arts and the three different levels and overdrive and all those things but if you don’t read the manual you will cry on the internet that you don’t know what to do and people will tell you to read the fucking manual. So you might as well start with that. Again, an excess in scale.
Then of course there is the online stuff which doesn’t even get explained in the game at all. You are supposed to know what to do at this point and while they designed it very clear and intuitively, it can be tricky to know what the hell is going on. Exactly like the world map, online stuff happens on the TV and the gamepad, so looking at both is a thing. Do it. And read the damn manual 😉
Once you have your systems down, know your affinity missions from your regular quests, your character quests and your squad quests, you will find the game to be absolutely brilliant. Once you’re past the convoluted nature of everything you will have a wonderful time walking, exploring, fighting, talking to people and seeing the world grow.
There are also some great improvements in the time saving management and some steps back. It is great how fast you can go now, first with sprinting and then with the mechs, as traversing this huge world at the pace of the first game would suck very hard. But there are also steps back. In the first game, if you died at a boss, you could start right at the boss, in this game you will be sent to the last landmark you visited, which could mean a long travel, again. Also, last time, before you were facing a boss, you had the chance to set up your party members. This time you can’t. It would have been nice if they kept those two particular things in the game. That being said, the fact that you can lower the boss’ difficulty if you fail too many times is very welcome, especially for beginners. Also, you can at any given time chose not to fight said boss and do something else instead, thanks to the new open-ness of the story. So that is a bonus. On the other hand you can’t quit quests in either games, which makes it very frustrating if you hve an ongoing storyquest open and you just found out that for this quest a certain character would be great but you can’t do the character sidequests because you can’t quit the quest you are currently in. Again, if they integrated this character quest into the main story, that wouldn’t be an issue.
As I come to the end of this review, I realize that most of what I said here seems rather negative. But the truth is, the game is phenomenal. It really is. The thing is that it is a very hardcore game, despite the fact that I dislike that term. You need to be willing to invest time into the game and it’s mechanics, starting by reading the manual and doing every little sidequest you can find. You need to be willing to experiment and delve into the menus. Simply start and play does not cut it with this game. However, if you are willing to go deeper, and you have to go deeper, you will find that the game is so large and brilliant and great that it is very hard to put it down. All the negativity I had at the beginning will be lost and fade into the back of your head. The game is really that good.
Now where does that leave us? Well, if they ever do a third one I’d like them to mix things from both Xenoblade. Do a more meaningful way of storytelling but keep the new systems in place. Keep all the little time saving details from the first game and add in the time saving details from the second game. Start right at the boss, let me change my party members, keep the open world and story integration and also integrate characters into the main story. Bring back the people from the first game for the music. Keep the fast travel, the open exploration, the systems and the travel speed. Maybe make the map a little bit smaller or scale down the game 10% or something to make it even more cohesive and less of a pain to travel early on.
And for the love of everything Zanza, don’t fuck up the localisation next time.
Xenoblade Chronciles X is a great game that demands you to invest a lot of time into its systems and mechanics. Read the manual before you start. Once you get into the rythm and manage to forget all the screw-ups the localisation team pulled, the game is incredibly brilliant and definitely worth your time, despite the horrible music.
My take: 92/100