Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U is my definition of “a flawed masterpiece.” It had all the pieces there to make a near perfect game, but didn’t quite connect them. Still, There’s a special place in my heart for it.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is not that. If you are not familiar with the game, it takes place in another world where all civilizations rest on the backs of titans in the sky, endlessly swimming around the World Tree. Besides that you have pretty typical JRPG fare, like unexplained magic, talking animals, and girls with cat ears. It has a lot of good points to it, but at the end of the day, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is just a bad game.
I’m going address the elephant in the room right up front.
Look, I love anime. I’ve seen quite a lot of it. Too much, even, my friends tell me. But there is a line, and maybe I’m the one who’s got to draw it. Pyra’s boobs are literally larger than her head. If you watch a video of Pyra, you’ll see quickly how ridiculous her character is. The proportions of her figure are completely inhuman in any way, shape, or form. JRPGs can get pretty bad with this stuff, but look at this shit. This is the most egregiously over-sexualized depiction of a woman I’ve ever seen. And not just the breasts, but the whole costume ensemble. She’s wearing half a pair of short shorts with a metal bikini top. This character is meant to be the awakened persona of an ancient, powerful weapon, the Aegis. I spent 30 hours trying to take her or this game seriously and was never able to do it. Japan does some fucked up stuff, but when your female characters are this unrealistic I’m unable to suspend my disbelief any further. Any character development done for Pyra is thrown to the wayside as I’m trying to figure out how her back isn’t broken. It’s a damn shame too, because Pyra’s voice actor is excellent and probably the only competent actor in the entire cast.
Unfortunately, for many reasons other than Pyra’s chest size, this game can only be described as an anime garbage cringe fest. This game is everything that the general public thinks anime is: perverted, badly dubbed, full of screaming fights and big explosions, all style and no substance. The over-dramatic reactions to every small line of dialogue, the nonsensical gobbledygook language the characters use when describing ancient wars or distant gods that have no bearing on the present situation, the constant reduction of female characters to sex objects. This is the stuff that people who don’t engage with the medium see when they look at anime, even though it only pertains to a small portion of shows/manga. If you’re not an actual weeaboo in possession of a waifu body pillow and you managed to stomach all this, then I applaud you for your patience. I am a lesser man.
If you have the stomach for this kind of stuff, congrats! Let’s talk about the game. You’ll take control of Rex, a recently resurrected scavenger with a horrible English voice actor, who sets out to return the aforementioned Pyra to Elysium, which is heaven, I guess. Rex is a “Driver,” which is what we call people that can harness the power of Blades. Blades are humanoid people, of which a disproportionate amount are hot teenage girls with big ole anime tiddies. Pyra is a Blade, and is sort of a manifestation of the power of the Aegis, Rex’s big red sword. So long as Rex holds that sword, he is inexorably linked with Pyra.
Pyra wishes to return to the top of the World Tree, so they join up with a cat girl who is riding a talking tiger and a perverted raccoon with a sex robot. I apologize for the bitterness that is so clearly seeping into my review.
The above scene, while only 5 minutes, kind of sums of the vibe of the whole game nicely. This broke me. I think from this point on I was destined to hate the game, and there probably was no going back. I had to call my mom after this, just to tell her I love her. Poppi is indeed a sex-maid robot built in the image of a 10 year old girl that Tora, the raccoon idiot, built to refer to him as Master. What the fuck, MonolithSoft. I will not sit here and let this be normalized.
The game is composed of several small open worlds that are disconnected, and as you progress through the game more of them open up. You can fast travel between worlds to jump between them, but on each one you’ll find plenty of stuff to do. Some are tiny and others large, but the actual design of the landscapes relative to the mobility of your character is great design. MonolithSoft built the map for Breath of the Wild, so it’s not surprising that the map in their own game is so impressive. Even in the first world, you see rolling hills, arching mountains, bottomless lakes, and vividly colored plant life of all kinds. The art direction of the settings is one of the best parts of the game.
The monsters are, as always, amazing. They are carried over mostly from the previous games, and Xenoblade has always had a knack for making believable looking fauna in the right environments. This is the high point of the game. If you want amazing fantasy animals from a distant planet, there is no better place to find them. Seeing new creatures was the only thing that carried me through 30 hours of this game. The music is solid as well, but honestly I really thought it was a downgrade from XCX.
That was the last good thing I’ve got to say. Combat in this game is convoluted beyond belief. There is no way you could understand anything that’s going on without reading about it online, because there are so many systems layered on top of each other that everything you do during a fight loses all meaning. Despite the fact that there are 5 hours of tutorials at the beginning, you’re not adequately taught how to configure your party to achieve the most powerful combos. With accessories, equipment, party callouts, elemental combinations, skill trees, auto-attack cycles, status effects, weapon types, combat arts, art levels, weapon upgrades, and Blade attachments all working in the background together, it takes more than a few hours of mashing buttons in the dark before you have any sense of what Rex is actually doing. I know it seems like a very simple thing, but there’s a huge disconnect between the player and game when your character doesn’t seem to be responding to the inputs you hit. And it’s not because the game doesn’t work, it’s just such an insane explosion of color, badly dubbed screaming, and ugly UI that you don’t actually feel like you’re doing anything.
The UI for menus needs to be mentioned. It moves really slowly for some reason. It’s ugly, it’s hard to navigate, and totally unintuitive.
The game also runs at 480p undocked, leaving all the tiny onscreen text literally unreadable. Are we meant to scan through three different onscreen menus during fights without being able to even read the text? The game also runs at 30 FPS maximum but is bugged with constant frame rate drops. I don’t think I made it more than 20 minutes in handheld without a single digit frame rate drop. Maybe that’s been fixed by now, you can correct me if it has.
Final Verdict: 2/10 — The Worst AAA Game I’ve ever Played
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is both a technical and narrative failure. This game absolutely fails its predecessors and has cheapened the brand. While the worlds and monsters are imaginative and beautiful, the cringey anime garbage stuff is enough to turn off most people. If you overlook that, the actual gameplay creates a huge disconnect between the player and Rex. Combat relies on over a dozen different bloated systems and feels like button mashing, even when you do it strategically. The characters are impossible to relate to or care about, even setting aside the unacceptable designs of the female characters. The English voice acting and dubbing is the worst I have seen in a decade. If I have to watch Poppi, the robot sex-slave maid modeled to look like a 10 year old girl, call that alien raccoon “Master” one more time, I will throw up. Do not buy this game.