Cover photo

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X (WiiU, 2015)

An open world ahead of its time, but not without issues...

Customized Skells with the late-game flight module upgrades, hovering near NLA

Well, I finally finished Xenoblade Chronicles X! (2015)

I started several months ago! Between emulation issues, other games grabbing my attention, and a complete restart, it ended up being a little bit of an ordeal at times.

XCX is a beautiful, open-world game with a massive map and an incredible sense of freedom. My screenshot benefits from some enhancements via emulation, but even the original graphics were impressive for the time and the platform it launched on--the Wii U.

The Wii U itself had an extremely short lifespan, as it was a commercial disaster. This tailspin led to the incredibly quick launch of the Switch, which turned out to be Nintendo's most successful console since the NES. Understandably, a very limited catalog of games exists for the Wii U, but XCX is arguably the most ambitious--and certainly one of the best--titles released for the platform.

For those who have never played a Xenoblade title, XCX has little in common with the mainline titles (1, 2, and 3.) In some ways, this game draws more heavily on Takahashi's earlier work on Xenogears (PS1) and Xenosaga (PS2.)

Mainline Xenoblade titles are known for their unique and fantastical worldbuilding. In a series first, XCX features humans from Earth, traveling to a new planet but very much aware of their Terran origins. The city in the photo--the only city in the game!--is New Los Angeles, or NLA. There's a big ol' United States flag emblazoned on the side of it.

The story follows this small band of humans, who are the only survivors after Earth is destroyed by hostile aliens, as they find their way on the planet Mira, where they have crashed. As they entered the atmosphere of Mira, the ship began to break up. Pieces of the ship, including the Lifehold--where all of the additional survivors are in a state of cryogenic hibernation--are scattered around the planet.

As one of the few conscious humans left in the universe, it's your job to help the small and fragile population of NLA survive on their hostile new home of Mira as they search for the missing Lifehold.

The soundtrack--though a significant departure from previous titles--is very good.

Combat UI

Combat sees you controlling the protagonist with both melee and ranged weapons in a variety of classes, along with up to three companions, who can be swapped freely while at NLA. There are a surprisingly large number of these companions to choose from, each with a somewhat unique take on one of the classes.

Success is found by listening to your companions, who prompt you for certain types of combat abilities (known as Arts) with vocal commands. Respond with the right type of move in time, and your party will benefit in various ways, including the extension of the current party combo.

Closeup of Skells

World exploration is superb, with sprawling landscapes and many secrets to find. At the outset, you explore on foot. With an extremely high jump height and complete lack of fall damage, the game encourages you to see where you can get to. As the narrative progresses, you eventually learn to pilot Skells, the giant mechs shown in the screenshot below. Relatively late in the game, Skells become equipped with a flight module, which truly opens up exploration to every single part of the map.

I can honestly say that the sense of an open world to explore rivals that of many games that have been released in the nearly 9 years since its launch.

Once you have access to Skells, not only does the world open up, but you can also use them in combat! It's a special satisfaction to return to gigantic alien enemies that once towered over you, this time in a gigantic, sword-wielding mechanized armor suit.

There's even some limited base customization! Overall, quite a few things to love here!

However, the game is not without drawbacks.

The audio for the game is...weird. Voice acting is strangely quiet compared to the music in several scenes, and voice acting seemed to be mastered in a strange way.

The narrative is nothing that would win any awards, but it serves perfectly well to move the game along and some aspects were very memorable. Several sidequests were very interesting as well! However, the delivery of these narrative gems often falls flat. Sometimes from a clunky mismatch between voice acting and character model animation, sometimes from a general lack of facial expression on the characters, and sometimes from a weird pacing issue between the English dub and the original intended speech/movement pattern. In these instances, you can feel the age of the game.

A view from NLA

Overall, I'm extremely happy that I played it. The mainline Xenoblade titles are my favorite game franchise, and I sincerely hope that this game receives a proper remake for Nintendo's next console, similar to Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. It could be the birth of the next trilogy from Monolithsoft, and I would be enamored to revisit Mira if this was the case.

(This was originally posted to Facebook, and the date has been set here to match that of the original writing.)

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