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Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Puts Fans Back Where They Belong: On the Shoulders of Giants

Monolith Soft's imagination goes wild in its follow-up to Xenoblade Chronicles.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

When I first started playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I made up a unique milestone. I said, "I want this game to give me a 'Guar Plains moment.'"

Those of you who've played the original Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii are probably nodding in understanding, whereas the rest of you think I've had a knock to the head. Here's what I mean. There's a moment early on in Xenoblade Chronicles when you step onto the Guar Plains, a sprawling grassland area brimming with life of all kinds. This area of the game frames Xenoblade Chronicles' unique setting more than any other: We see the Titans looming above us (the Bionis, forever locked in combat with the Mechonis), and we're instantly made to understand our characters are tiny, insignificant guests crawling on the back of something much, much bigger.

The Guar Plains realization is an awe-inspiring experience, and one that no other RPG I've played to date has managed to replicate with the same weight. Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U has praise-worthy ambition and imagination, but it never gave me a Guar Plains moment.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2, on the other hand, places you on the back of a massive Titan (a living island) early in the game. Mother Armus graze with their babies beside them, and wolflike Volffs menace you. High above, the Titan you're riding slowly sways its head back and forth as it slowly shuffles through the Cloud Sea, paying its tiny inhabitants no mind. It's very much a Guar Plains moment. In HD.

No claustrophobia here.

In fact, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is seemingly tailored to give fans of the first game a big, warm "Welcome Home" feeling. While there's no trace of the Bionis, Mechonis, Shulk, Reyn, or Dunban (yet), it's clear from the game's opening moments that Monolith Soft wants to steer Xenoblade's fans towards the series' more fantastic elements and away from X's generic sci-fi setting.

In other words, this really is Xenoblade Chronicles 2—and you get everything that comes with the first true sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles. Bizarre monsters with strange names. A literal living world. A spunky hyper-anime protagonist with a doofy British accent. Scantily-clad female sidekicks. Side quests for years. Non-stop battle banter. Kick-ass swords. A skills system that initially makes you turn up your palms and say "Whaaaaat?", but slowly becomes second nature.

"Oh, I saw this bit in a movie once. It had a dragon played by Sean Connery."

You also get a plot that's initially a bit hard to follow, but holds your attention with the help of its unusual setting. You play as Rex, an orphaned boy who makes a living salvaging scrap from the bottom of the Cloud Sea. When he's not salvaging, Rex drifts on the waves on the back of an ironically small Titan nicknamed "Gramps." Like all anime heroes, Rex has a dream: To reach Elysium, the paradise rumored to be atop of the World Tree in the center of the Cloud Sea.

Rex, being a money-driven sort, soon finds himself wrapped up in a salvaging job that ends with him being double-crossed and back-stabbed. His life is saved by a living blade named Pyra. They vow to reach Elysium together, but they're quickly forced to detour because bad guys are doing bad guy stuff.

While the story, setting, and general tone of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 feels familiar, the battle system might give you pause. The basics are still intact, i.e. you auto-attack and fill up your special attacks ("Arts") as you bash foes. However, your living blade companions are tethered to you on the battlefield and provide support as you fight. When you're fully in sync (which is achieved by using Arts with good timing), you can unleash massive elemental attacks. If other party members are also in sync with their blades, you can chain your specials for extra damage.

If you value your kneecaps, don't piss off that Nopon wielding the drill.

No lie: Finding your footing in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes some time, and the game throws a lot at you in its first hours. If there's a way to re-access the tutorials that are fed to you as you go, I haven't found it. On the bright side, you pick up the gist of the game's mechanics by making mistakes and trying again (Miss Frizzle would be pleased). The first time I took on a major boss, I got planted. The second time, I did much better. On the third try, I prevailed by a comfortable margin. Thinking back, it took me a while to get the hang of previous releases, too.

Thankfully, as with the first Xenoblade game, the consequences for death are relatively minor. You're sent back to the last checkpoint you triggered, and there are plenty to spare. This is a good thing, because the enemies don't level up alongside you. It's not uncommon to chase after a level 5 bunny rabbit, get too close to the nest of a level 70 hell-raptor, and wind up as an entrée.

I suppose that's par for the course as far as the Xenoblade series is concerned, though. You're invited to explore your surroundings, but if you don't make careful observations as you go, you're going to get skewered. If that's the sort of thing you love, rest assured Xenoblade Chronicles 2 dishes it up in heaping piles. I'm only a handful of hours into the game, and as a Xenoblade Chronicles fangirl, I couldn't be more chuffed about where this game is taking me. Yes, the characters look like dorks. Yes, they talk like dorks. Isn't it lovely?

Oh, and I suppose this won't come as a surprise, but: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a great match for a handheld system like the Switch. While it's not the most technically beautiful game on the market (you'll see some jagged edges and occasional frame hitches), it's certainly better-looking than Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. Hooray for the end of blurry Vaseline-smeared faces.

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Comments 12

  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #1 Godots17thCup A month ago
    I really can't wait to just chill out in bed late at night and explore this game's world in handheld mode; probably my favorite thing about the original Xenoblade (among many favorite things) was putting aside the main story for long stretches of time to explore the Bionis.

    Sometimes that meant finding a great vista or a secret area, other times it meant that I was turned into Hom-paste, but whether it was Gaur Plain, Makna Forest or Eryth Sea, I found exploration to be a very relaxing pastime in that game.
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  • Avatar for Wellman2nd #2 Wellman2nd A month ago
    I love and hate his year, I am still playing Mario, have a back catalog of games to finish, including the first Xenoblade plus Dragon Quest 7, and this comes along early December.
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  • Avatar for erichni #3 erichni A month ago
    To me the first thing that come to mind when I think of Gaur Plains is the theme song. So beautiful

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  • Avatar for riderkicker #4 riderkicker A month ago
    Nintendo should've made the Wii to Switch port a priority for the B team or something because I skipped that and the oop 3DS version and have no desire to play either. But I should not give up hope.

    This seems like a very cool game, and can't wait to hear the discussion on the pod!
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #5 MetManMas A month ago
    I like the Nopon with a drill, but I can't say I'm a big fan of the art style shift from 1's more grounded PS2 Final Fantasy-esque look to 2's "like every other anime RPG out there" look. Or that the cast skews much younger this time around. Or the fashion choices.

    Also, generic or no I liked Xenoblade 1's sci-fi focus. We could use more sci-fi jRPGs, 'cuz Sega sure as hell ain't localizing Phantasy Star Online 2. =/
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  • Avatar for link6616 #6 link6616 A month ago
    I'm looking forward to burning all my switch's storage with all the screenshot's I'll be taking.
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  • Avatar for moochan #7 moochan A month ago
    I really enjoyed Xenoblade 1 and X is one of the few open world game I really loved so I'm excited about 2. It's nice going back to normal JRPG type gameplay (more linear with a more focus story). Hoping they try going open world again in the future but for now I'm loving what I see. Keep us posted on how's the game going and what you might find odd about it without any spoilers please.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #8 NiceGuyNeon 30 days ago
    Hhhhhnnnnnggghhh I want this. I love my saucy English accents with flamboyant pants designs straight out of Japan on the back of giant organisms that may or may not need to eat to keep the little parasites scampering on their bodies sheltered.

    I want it. I want it, but I haven't played The Witcher 3 yet. But I waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaant it.

    Oh also, I never got to Xenoblade X, which is totally still in shrinkwrap. Because I never had time. YOU KNOW WHAT SUCKS? BEING AN RPG FAN. THAT'S WHAT SUCKS.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #9 Tetragrammaton 30 days ago
    I will confess my sins: I am so hyped for this I have not only preordered a digital copy of the game, but also the DLC. I don't do that for ANY game. I happily did it for this.

    Seeing the early impressions has me chewing on furniture because I want it so badly. I'll try to distract myself with fantasy books and my gaming backlog, but I'm not sure it'll work.
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  • Avatar for SpoonyBardOL #10 SpoonyBardOL 30 days ago
    I was interested in this game, but then every time I saw one of the designs for the Blade characters I died a little inside. They're all ridiculous, and while some are just harmlessly ridiculous, most that I've seen are 'designed by a horny 14 year old' ridiculous.

    There's still a good chance I'll pick this up because I did love the original. The blade designs haven't killed my interest, but my interest has been dampened by quite a bit.
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  • Avatar for garion333 #11 garion333 30 days ago
    Glad yall have someone reviewing this massive title. Wasn't sure if you guys would give it a go due to the length.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #12 cldmstrsn 30 days ago
    @erichni such a damn good OST!
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