Only once in a blue moon does a game come around that I anticipate to such an extent as I did Xenoblade Chronicles X. There is a myriad of reasons for this, from the Wii U’s library sorely lacking RPGs to the beautiful vistas that were shown off in the trailers. However, once I finally got my hands on the game, my main feeling was one of disappointment. It didn’t focus enough on the story for my liking, it lacked the instant emotional connection that I felt with Shulk in the original Xenoblade, and ultimately, it wasn’t what I thought I wanted.
However, that is the charm of Xenoblade Chronicles X — all those things that had initially made the game a disappointment became what made it unique and special. Before I knew it, I was 60 hours deep. The game’s focus is the planet Mira, which the human race calls its new home. This means that the player discovers the wonders that the game holds in tandem with the characters themselves. It takes time for the game to hit its stride, but of course one would need a bit of time to acclimate to a new, exotic world.
The whole game centers around the concepts of exploration and discovery. It is not a traditional Japanese RPG that will guide you from set piece to set piece, fighting enemies along the way. Rather, its inspirations lie much in western role-playing games. The result? A truly brilliant and unique Japanese RPG.
The game offers immersion beyond anything I have ever experienced in an RPG. As formerly mentioned, I initially disliked the lack of emotional connection I felt to the protagonist. He wasn’t a character like Shulk was a character. No, rather he was me, and how could I feel attached to me and my fate? Herein lied a perfect example of Miyamoto’s original aim with Link. He is not a character in a conventional way, but instead an insert from which I can be part of the world. That was who my character was; it allowed for the fellow characters to shine, and more importantly for the world of Mira to take center stage.
Mira is home to sprawling landscapes. The flora and fauna that inhabit the planet vary wildly, and you are allowed the freedom to explore it — all of it, if you can find a way — from the word go. Here Monolith Soft threw out the idea of learning to walk before you run. Run as far as you wish. Exploration does not follow a set path; you choose where, you choose when, and you choose how. The game gives you the keys to the kingdom and lets you run wild with them. The exploration is organic.
However, once you feel that you’ve come to grips with navigating Mira, the game blows the doors off the few limits to exploration it gave you. It does this in possibly the best way it could — by giving you your own mech of course. The Skells, as they’re referred to, offer ways to reach new heights and welcomed boost to your arsenal. Little needs to be said beyond the fact you control a mech, but for what it’s worth, these are particularly cool mechs. Nintendo’s failure to create transformable Skell Amiibo remains a missed opportunity.
Much like the mechs, the game’s characters grow and develop as you progress through the game. Those same characters who I worried would be boring, shallow cardboard cutouts became complex characters with their own motives and distinct personalities. The strange interactions between the cast of characters — the ability to see their quirks, their personal moments — that is where you will find much of the heart in this game. It’s the perfect foil for both the high-octane action of combat and the vast landscapes that Mira offers.
One particular thing that sets the game apart from the other two Xenoblade games is the battle system. The battle system in X is the most satisfying Monolith Soft has ever created, and by some distance. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a game that I thoroughly enjoyed, yet its battle system paled in comparison, and this was something that was jarring throughout. The addition of meaningful gunplay in X adds an amount of depth that should not go without mention. Battles are smooth, and more importantly, they are an absolute joy. Battling in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 can feel slow and heavy; battles in X are fluid.
The Switch has seen many games given a new lease of life, after previously languishing on Nintendo’s ill-fated Wii U, and Xenoblade Chronicles X deserves that chance more than most. Monolith Soft has offered hope; it is clear they want it to happen, and hopefully, a sequel isn’t too far off either. Xenoblade Chronicles X received a lesser reception than its narrative-heavy counterparts in the series upon its release, but it will stand the test of time and, I hope, one day be seen as the classic that it is.