In search for the paradise of Elysium
The overwhelming success of the Nintendo Switch in 2017 has been largely prominent due to the unique hybrid design, enhanced next-gen graphics and, of course, the exclusive titles only Nintendo can provide. While The Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey are excellent contenders for GOTY, Nintendo waited until the closing month of the year to release its JRPG titan – Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – on the anxious Nintendo fan base; and it was well worth the wait.
Exploring the Xenoblade universe, players embark on rich journeys atop massive titans in a sea of clouds. The beauty of the immersive worlds ache for adventure, and the Japanese style of combat provides a battle system not present in westernized RPGs. Equipping powerful battle buddies known as Blades, players become Drivers to harness the power from the Blades, together fighting as a duo with mighty abilities to take down the many, many monsters and beasts that fill the land of Alrest. Rex, the young, but skilled salvager must adapt to his new role as a Driver, and embark on a journey to find the lost paradise of Elysium.
The game opens up simple enough with one-on-one battles, extremely helpful tutorial hints and a handful of side quests to help get the player acquainted with the mechanics. Though it takes a few hours to dive into the vast open world that XC2 has to offer, the opening hours are crucial in figuring out some of the most complex steps in combat, character/blade development and weapon modifications. Exploring the world of Alrest and completing various quests for its restless citizens grows more and more addicting as the combat mechanics become more fluid, and your collection of Blades inevitably grows in number.
After a number of cut scenes depicting the turn of the story, Rex summons his very own Blade, Pyra, and together they journey across Alrest in search of the coveted paradise, Elysium. The Titans that home the civilians of Alrest are dying off, soon to become completely extinct. Knowing this, Rex comes to realization that humanity will have nowhere to live, and in turn will die off along with them. Elysium, known as a mysterious paradise, is the perfect place to call home for humanity, but finding it becomes much harder than Rex and his crew may have bargained for.
A complex, but deep method of combat mechanics
The enemies and fights prove tough without proper strategy and preparedness before each battle. Trekking across the open world, players will encounter tons of imaginative monsters, surreal animals and many other foes to be weary of. Enemy levels in any given open area can range from easily defeatable under-leveled enemies, to outrageously strong monsters that easily conquer your whole party in one fell swoop. This can grow frustrating over time, constantly dodging supremely strong enemies, or worse, a powerful foe steps into your one-on-one battle, striking your from behind, only to restart from the last checkpoint.
However, there are still plenty of battles and opportunities to gain experience, strengthen your bonds with your Blades and discover new areas in the huge open world of XC2. Engaging in these battles against foes to which you stand a chance against is easy as locking on and drawing your weapon. The game uses the action/strategy approach from the other Xenoblade titles, with the standard auto-attack, a series of Arts and other special abilities available through successful combat maneuvers. As you lock onto an enemy, Rex (or whoever the player is controlling) swings three consecutive attacks, each one stronger than the next. Dodging attacks and finding weak spots on enemies, as well as triggering special moves is the name of the game when partaking in the rather complex battle system of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
Blades are combat partners controlled by AI that don’t typically partake in any physical strikes and reserve their damage dealing to limited special abilities triggered only after specific actions have been completed. Aiding the player in combat, blades connect with drivers’ bonds and create powerful opportunities after correctly timed attacks, as well as provide elemental damage for each driver. This brings a unique form of battle strategy to the complex combat system in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and will take a lot of time perfecting, or even understanding, how to properly take advantage of your Driver/Blade combination.
Loads of skills and abilities to use…
The combat can be rather dry and slow at first, but once the game picks up, more Arts abilities are learned, and more Blades are created using Core Crystals, XC2 shows off its unique combat and rewarding combat. Though time-consuming, the combat offers a range of useful skills and healing options to keep battles ongoing and fulfilling. As Arts skills become available, players will want to use these powerful skills at just the right time to deal a heavy amount of damage. Timing the abilities can be rewarding and adds a sense of skill to the otherwise lackluster basic combat. Other skills like specials and blade combos add even more depth to the tedious combat system.
Filling up your Arts meters with successful auto-attacks and landing perfectly timed abilities is only part of the strategy in XC2, as various abilities using blades become even more useful. Performing Cancel attacks – which are Arts skills performed directly after a landed blow – and blade combos serve as massive damage dealers, but require much more player involvement and quick time events to complete. With trying to avoid enemy attacks, racking up auto-attacks to fill your Arts meter, timing Arts skills perfectly to land cancel attacks, or performing one of complex blade combos, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has further deepened the action-oriented, strategy inducing combat system the JRPG crowd has grown to love.
Though the game does offer a healthy amount of tutorial messages and hints the first time around, once you’ve clicked past them they’re gone for the rest of the game. This will leave many players scratching their heads pondering what on earth could they be doing wrong. Either a lot of trial-and-error awaits, or a proper Youtube tutorial or walkthrough will suffice in helping to pull players through the complex battle mechanics in XC2. One thing is certain, the tutorials are a must for getting to know the unique combat strategies and maneuvers in XC2.
…And even more character development options.
Leveling up and character development also comes with many different facets and directions to grow in strength. Rex will gain experience through combat, subtly increasing his strength. However, there is another optional method of leveling, which comes when the player rests at Inns. Through location discovery and successfully completing side quests, Rex will earned bonus experience points which may only be spent upon resting. This is an optional method of further advancing your characters, but helps struggling players deal with some of the more monstrous beasts and enemies.
Blades can also be leveled up individually using Aux Cores, the Affinity chart – and once players unlock the artificial blade, Poppi – the unique leveling system, Poppiswap. Aux cores are accessories that can be equipped by Blades further increasing their abilities and skills. They can be found or bought, but they need to be activated at specific machines to become usable. Also, core chips can be equipped for each blade which changes the weapon which is affiliated with the designated Blade.
The Affinity chart is a skill tree that is unique to each Driver and Blade available. Drivers upgrade their Affinity chart by spending skill points (SP) which is earned in combat. Blades gather new skills from the Affinity chart by pulling off unique skills and abilities in combat. Taking advantage of these Affinity charts greatly strengthens your party, but only serves in leveling up naturally bonded blades, not like the artificial Blade – Poppi – created by Rex’s newly acquired ally, the Nopon – Tora.
Poppi acts as the tank role in combat acting as one of your allies – Tora’s – Blade, dealing heavy damage, but absorbing hits as well. Upgrading Poppi even comes with its own unique method, which will have players playing an old-school style scroll down shooter known as Tiger! Tiger!. Gather Ether Crystals through playing the game, these points are spent on Poppi through the interesting labeled skill chart, Poppiswap. Upgrading Poppi by spending crystals is time-consuming, as the game only nets players a portion of the amount they need in an average run of the game. However, if players manage to claim the reward by completing a level of Tiger! Tiger!, players will unlock powerful equipment upgrades for Poppi, which could have cost players thousands of precious Ether Crystals, which can only be earned through Tiger! Tiger!.
Exploring the massive world that XC2 has to offer will be at the top of the list for most players. It’s gorgeous, captivating and brimming with activity for either the battle enthusiast, or the helpful citizen of Alrest. Plenty of fetch quests linger throughout the world, rewarding your party with unique equipment and coveted bonus experience points. Though the quests aren’t level restricted, is critical to strengthen your party, as enemies of all levels can be found roaming across the path of our under-leveled hero. Combat is the best way to increase your strength in a hard-days work, but quests still provide an excellent source of adventure, and rewarding experience in the world of Xenoblade 2.
An audacious combat system, a world atop Titans amidst an endless sea of clouds, tons of character development and skills to learn using the unique Blades/Driver characters, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a much-needed title for the Switch console. Missing a vital open world RPG experience on the latest piece of Nintendo hardware, Xenoblade 2 comes at a perfect time when Switch owners might start feeling a little underwhelmed.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 provides countless hours poured into crafting the ultimate party full of powerful Drivers, and equally devastating Blades. Though confusing for a solid amount of hours in the beginning, once the obstacles and hurdles are traversed in combat and character development, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 becomes its own rewarding journey. Many may find the teious and complex nature of combat confusing or frustrating at first, the game picks up steam as players progress. Through a world brimming with unimaginable threats, embark on an adventure through Alrest and find the coveted paradise of Elysium to save the future of humanity after the titans have left the world for good.
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