Xenoblade Chronicles 2: First Impressions by R.P. Lauer - Distant Web

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Xenoblade Chronicles 2: First Impressions
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: First Impressions by R.P. Lauer - Distant Web
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12/4/2019
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First and foremost, this is not a 'review'. At best, this is simply a quick 'first impressions' rambling. Second, as far as I am aware, I have never played a 'Xenoblade' related game before. I have played Xenogears, and Xenosaga, but as far as I am aware, these games are all 100% (canonically at least) unrelated. However, as a Nintendo Switch owner, who is a fan of the Nintendo Switch, and this is a Switch exclusive for the big 'N' by Monolith, it's always been on my radar.

Over the summer, my local Target store went through some major remodeling. Part of this involved massively condensing parts of the store, including various areas of the Electronics department, meaning a ton of merchandise got drastically reduced in price to get rid of stock. One of these items was the $100 Xenoblade Chronicles 2 collector's edition. It took a while, but that $100 item finally got reduced enough for me to say 'why not' (and apparently no one else).

So now that that's over with, let's get into this.

There is a lot of backstory to this game right out of the gate, and I believe that previous entries hold the key; entries that, as I said, I have never played. But basically in this world, there is no 'land', it's only water, with giant creatures called 'Titans' roaming around. These Titans act as land masses for 'people' (we'll call them that) to live on, and use as taxis, boats, whatever.

There are a select few who hold the ability to wield a specific type of weapon known as a 'Blade'. Blades are sentient beings ranging from human like people to various animal type creatures who start as a 'Core Crystal'. When a special type of person touches one of these crystals, it releases the Blade, and then that special person becomes known as a 'Driver' (because they 'drive' the Blade?). If the Driver dies, the Blade condenses back into a Core Crystal and forgets everything that ever happened to them, and in the crystal they await another Driver to come along and free them, allowing them to be reborn.

As I stated, the Blades are sentient beings who are actual characters in the game. They talk and contribute to the story/dialog and basically from a bond with their Driver. And that kind of helps contribute to one of the problems I have with this game.

There will come a time, and this will happen excruciatingly often, when you will find yourself in a battle where all 3 of your Drivers, and all 3 (at minimum) of their Blades, as well as possible guests to the battle, mixed in with whatever or whoever you are fighting, will all join together in this massive mess of clutter that makes MY brain just pop. Imagine if you will, the busiest Wal-Mart in the world at the height of the biggest Black Friday (or similar non USA area event) sale, and you are there in the middle of that. Well, that is nothing compared to how cluttered and insane any given battle in this game can get.

I cannot stress enough just how cluttered battles can get. I personally have never played a game before that has this much going on all at once.

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(This screenshot is not meant to give the full picture of how cluttered it can get. It's just the best I could do quickly, as I never thought while playing to snap a screenshot while everything is going on, as I was just playing the game at the time.)

You will have your three Drivers all doing their attacks which range from melee attacks to 'Arts' to Specials to Combos (basically magic, magic and more magic), each Blade is constantly 'Zapping' their Driver, and all 6 of your characters are fighting each other for audio time to get their own quips and catch phrases heard. Even if they were saying something important it would still be lost in the commotion of everyone talking at once, but as it is I don't know if anyone ever HAS said anything important. In fact, I think that it's just a random number generator turning any dialog into a grab bag. I cannot tell you how many times one character or another has said something along the lines of 'You're About To DIE' just to find out that that is not even true! This one guy constantly says that we need to retreat, yet all of our health bars are at or near full and we are totally kicking ass. Why do we need to retreat?

Then you will have various status effects and other types of triggers popping up, along with requests from your other Drivers to perform special attacks (because they can't do them without permission?), as well as other types of battle info that is too complex to just explain. Add to that a bevy of QTEs for various purposes.

Oh yeah, QTEs play a pretty large role in this game, and honestly, I despise QTEs. QTEs, for the uninitiated, are Quick Time Events; a bubble will pop up telling you which button you need to press to successfully pull something off, and that button has to be pressed at just the right time. And in this game it's a little different from other games I personally have played. Normally, as soon as you see that button displayed, you press it. Here you have to wait for this outer ring to collapse in on a set of inner spheres, but sometimes you have to ignore the outer most inner sphere, but you also have to press it before the inner most sphere.

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I'm probably missing something, both due to my personal distaste for QTEs and the rapid fire nature of everything that pops up at all times and the randomness of some of those QTEs and just how quick it comes and goes.

I'm drastically condensing a lot of information here, but hey, they game does that as well so why not? The bottom line is that for me at least, the average battle has WAY too much going on and I just wish I could at the very least mute all players during battle unless they happen to be saying something that's actually important (though I don't think I've ever actually had that happen yet so maybe it never does). The entire screen really does become a jumbled mess to my eyes and brain and I wish there could be a more streamlined approach.

Speaking of the battle system, it's quite remarkable actually. It manages to be painfully simplistic and massively overly complicated at the exact same time. That is quite the feet. Your most basic attack is basically doing absolutely nothing. Your primary attack, your most basic melee, is an auto attack system where you have to simply stand still because moving does absolutely nothing for you unless you need to pick up that health potion lying on the ground that everyone else is ignoring. If you move, you stop attacking. And even though this is a melee system, you don't actually have to be close enough to the enemy to touch them, you just have to be inside the attack 'radius'.

If you move, you stop attacking, and there is no avoiding an incoming attack. If you get targeted, you WILL get hit, no matter what. So yes, moving does no good. Your strategy for melee combat is basically stand still and don't touch anything as long as you are within 'range' (which is decent enough). So that really is as simplistic as it can get.

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Then you have the complicated part.

You have 3 assignable 'Art' attacks, magic if you will. Each successful melee attack will raise the meters for each Art. When the meters are full, you can use that Art. Then you have 'Special' attacks, where the damage is caused directly from your Blade. Each successful Art will raise your Special. You can use it as soon as the meter is full, or you can continue charging it from level 1 all the way to level 3. All 3 of these leveled Specials will bring up at least 1 (sometimes more) QTEs. There is a fourth level, which will be charged by your Blade being close enough and at full 'Affinity' (basically your Blade being happy with you, though that is over simplifying it lol). For every second or so that your Blade is happy and close, it will charge the special to level 4, which is a set of QTEs and a special animation.

Every now and then, your other characters will ask to pull of a Special or a Combo (honestly I didn't understand that part). Their attacks will give an enemy various status effects, which you can then take advantage of with an attack to do other types of damage. And depending on what you do, and when you do it, a variety of outcomes are possible, some subtle, other times the battle basically stops while the game tells you of some ultra mega special thing that's going on. I'm sure that there is something special going on in these cases, but for me it just adds more clutter to an already over populated screen. And I am leaving out a lot here, but only because it becomes so convoluted that it's just not worth it digging deeper in a simple First Impressions rambling.

The bottom line is that for me, battling is more of a chore than anything else, with so many elements that it really does become a jumbled mess to my brain.

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There are a ton of other aspects of this game that just don't sit right with me, from basic game structure to traversing the terrain. I don't want to spend too much time with this, but I will go through at least some basic elements.

Leveling up for example is weird. So just like with any standard RPG, you gain EXP through battles, as well as completing various tasks like quests and such. You need a certain amount of EXP to level up, however, unlike pretty much ALL other RPGs I have played, you do not level up as soon as you get enough EXP. Instead, you have to sleep at an Inn. Yes, you have to sleep at an Inn to level up! I have NEVER heard of anything like that before!

As you gain EXP, that EXP is not actually given to you directly, it goes in a kind of folder. The only way to access that folder (the folder here is a metaphor) is by paying to sleep at an Inn. Only then can you actually use that EXP and level up. This mechanic seriously baffles me; so far I can not see any reason for this other than going out of your way to be different. Yes, sometimes different can be good. But just as equally, going out of your way to be different can be really, really stupid. And here specifically, I just don't get it.

Another mechanic that makes me scratch my head revolves around the abilities you can unlock for your Blades (your characters have them too, but they unlock normally; manually with battle earned points). So your Blade has an 'Affinity Wheel' which is a group of abilities, like causing more damage to beasts for example, that will unlock under various criteria. Sometimes it is killing X amount of a specific enemy, or using a specific item in your pouch (another mechanic I don't plan to touch). The game will tell you when that ability become available, but at that point, it is not actually unlocked. In order to unlock it, you have to open up the menu (outside of battle only), select the Blade and go into the Affinity Wheel. Then, and ONLY then, will it actually unlock to be used.

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For some reason, the game doesn't actually unlock these abilities until you simply view the Affinity Wheel in the menus. It doesn't even make you press a button or anything, just view it. Why couldn't it just unlock when the display pops up saying it's unlocked? I don't know...

One last (I hope) brief explanation of gameplay elements/mechanics before I get into some random gripes involves how battles commence. Outside of the standard forced battle because of the story (a cut scene plays out and then you are in a battle, for example), you walk around any given area and there may be any number of enemies roaming around. Sometimes one will detect you and force a battle and you can either engage, or try and run out of its range. Otherwise, you can choose to manually initiate a battle.

When you hit the 'R' button, this will target (I believe) the closest enemy. Then you have to hit the 'A' button to bring out your weapon which will initiate combat. Hitting the 'A' button is also how you will engage an enemy that has already targeted you.

Then there are combo button presses, which don't really seem to work half the time, to either try and run or change your target. You have to hold down the 'R' button and then press the 'B' to put your weapon away and try and run, or hold down the 'R' and press the 'Y' to target the next enemy to the left, or 'A' the next enemy to the right.

When it comes to trying to put away the weapon to try and run, I have to press this combo together multiple times before it actually registers the action; something that seems rather often in this game for all types of situation. I would say that this could be my Joycon, and maybe it is, but I have never had this happen before with any other game (over all).

Random Gripes


One big gripe I have with the game is the way it mixes up the enemies. Normally I love variety, and it's especially nice when you can see the enemies before engaging, but this game does it in a really weird way that I do not like. So far, every area with enemies outside of the starting chapter tends to mix them up so vastly LEVEL wise that at least in the beginning, there WILL be enemies that are so ridiculously over-powered that they can and will one shot you. Sometimes they are perfectly visible making it at least somewhat easier to avoid, but other times they are out of view (like flying around for example) that they can just come in, initiate a combat and one shot you before you ever knew that they were there in the first place. Not only that, but even if they are clearly visible, sometimes they move so quickly that they can get from one side of the area to right where you are in a second.

And they don't even need to initiate a combat to be a problem. If you are already engaged in combat with a manageable enemy, this ridiculously over-powered one can swoop in out of nowhere and open fire. Did I mention that they can literally one-shot you? You're standing there with a max HP of say 1000, and they hit you with a single 3000 damage shot.

You can call me a cry baby if you want, I really don't care, but I think it's extremely stupid and bad form to mix such a large variety of enemy strengths in the same areas, especially when you can't actually avoid them sometimes. And yes, you CANNOT avoid them sometimes; I cannot count how many times a level 50+ enemy flew overhead that wasn't in sight before and just hit, whether I was already in battle or not. And this bears repeating; THERE IS NO DODGE OR BLOCK.

Another gripe with combat comes due to the environments. I am currently in this area where I have to get from one side to the other, and it is absolutely filled with enemies, including ones that fly around all over. There are also very narrow bridges that must be transversed that are also covered in enemies. You cannot avoid battle while on these narrow bridges. In a standard turn based RPG that would be fine since battle is stationary. But this is an 'Action RPG'. There are many attacks that will send you flying back, sometimes further than normal. I cannot count how many times I have had solid footing on one of these paths (where battle cannot be avoided) but was still knocked back so far that I fell right off the bridge to the area bellow where the fall itself kills even with full health.

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And in this area, the reason battle cannot be avoided is because of how trying to run from a battle plays out. If an enemy engages you, and you try and run, it will follow. If you pass another enemy, there is a high chance that that enemy, even if it wouldn't normally auto-attack, WILL join the battle. As you run, any engaged enemy can and absolutely will still attack and those attacks will 100% land. Even under the best of circumstances, if you have enough enemies attacking all at once, they WILL drain your HP, killing you. Throw into that even one enemy that can one shot you, and you're basically toast.

This is a really weird design and I just don't get it. It's entirely possible I am in areas I am not supposed to be in, but I cannot see any other way through to where I think I am supposed to go. This leads me to another gripe that is kind of hard to explain without video (and the game does not allow saving video clips), but I will try.

The map system kind of sucks. There is no map that you can bring up in a “pause” kind of way, other than the fast travel system, and that version of the map gives no real detail. The only map in the game is laid out over the screen either in a small bubble to the side (which is not helpful), or two bigger versions that cover the entire screen making it hard to actually see while walking. And if you just stand still while looking at that map, something will probably come along and attack.

The navigation markers are also horrible in my opinion. First of all, there is no option to setup a custom maker; the makers are either related to the current main quest, or any number of side quests. But these markers do not really show the direction on screen of where they point to or anything like that. 90% of the time they are all lumped together in the center of the screen causing an unreadable cluster. So let's say that from where you are standing, a side quest is several hundred steps to your right, another is several hundred steps to your left, and the main quest is several hundred steps straight ahead. All 3 of those markers will be layered on top of each other in the center of the screen, with the number of steps for each on top of each other so you can't actually read them!

THIS MAKES NO SENSE!

I've seen many different ways of displaying the various icons a game might have in this type of situation, but I've never seen anything as jumbled as this. And jumbled really is a reoccurring theme here.

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Then, there are the tutorials.

This game is absolutely full of tutorials! I swear it seems like every few minutes another tutorial has engaged, out of nowhere, and the game just stops. It would be like a story stopping every few minutes, mid sentence, just to have a narrator pop in to give some backstory that could have been presented in a batter way, then unpause the story to finish a sentence that was started so long ago you can't remember what was being said.

I wouldn't mind the tutorials if they were presented better, and honestly, this game does need them. A lot of other games will stick a tutorial somewhere outside of the story, outside of a real battle, and create a situation that doesn't actually effect anything so as to teach you in a way that makes sure you get it without damaging anything. If you want to teach me this unique mechanic, put me in a situation where I can keep trying until I get it. The system here just sort of pauses the game, gives you some extremely long bit of text, and then says 'Oh, back to the game'.

I know that I didn't explain that well, but the game doesn't explain things very well in my opinion so what can you do? Every now and then the game will do something helpful, like filling your combo meter or something, but these are usually so few and far between that the bulk of the game is best left figured out on your own negating the constant barrage of tutorials.

Because I have already rambled on WAY longer than I had expected, allow me to just throw out a few quick gripes. The voice acting can range from really good to exceptionally stiff and wooden in a heartbeat. There are moments where the game can go from massively serious to so slap-sticky that it comes across as very jolting. And some of the more slap-stick elements are so corny that I just don't know how to take it; even Loony Tunes would find the slap-stick too much.

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There are some elements of the game that I do like, unfortunately, they are so far buried beneath stuff that I cannot stand that I can't even put my finger on what I actually like or enjoy about it. The one notable thing I can mentions is that the story, where it isn't childishly corny and ridiculous, is interesting. I just don't know if I'll be able to handle the stuff I hate enough to see it all the way through.

If you are reading this, and you love this game, I truly am happy for you. It really does make me happy to see any game bring enjoyment to people, especially in a time where it seems us gamers STILL need to try and justify our enjoyment. I just don't think I can get behind this game myself, and I hope you can respect that, even if you absolutely disagree with me.

As for now, I will probably give it another chance; maybe leave the area I am supposed to be in, do some (ugh) grinding, try and find some side quests not already finished (if there are any) and just try and stick with it. If I change my mind on anything I will probably write a follow up. Otherwise, just assume I eventually called it quits for good. Even though I really will keep an open mind, I'm not going to be holding my breath.

On second thought, I will probably skip the grinding. Forgive me, but there is one last gripe I'd like to get out; battles are boooooring. Because of how it's all setup, you (the player) are ultimately just sitting there doing nothing while you wait for various meters to fill. Sure, every once in a while you press a button to perform an Art or allow another player to do a special or that random QTE (that I hate) that will pop up from time to time. But ultimately, yeah, you're just doing nothing while the game mostly plays itself. Ugh.

(Point of irony: I picked up the game just to grab a few screenshots for this post. I picked a lone enemy just to get a few battle shots, and even though there were no other enemies to be seen all 360 degrees around, moments after starting the battle a second enemy flew in out of nowhere. Then a third swooped in, and yet a fourth walked over from literally nowhere; I watched it pop into view from nothingness.)

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Small Update: I'm still playing the game, and honestly, I stand by everything I said. I absolutely hate the way the enemies are mixed around level wise, and especially the ones that fly around. I was on this stupid side quest which was a pain in the ass to begin with (more on that in a second) but I had to wait till morning. It took me forever to navigate my way through the terrain to find where I was supposed to be in the first place, and the quest marker only shows up in this small window. So I figured I'd just wait it out. I killed all the enemies around so it was literally just waiting around for the stupid clock. Out of nowhere a level 71 flying [deleted] swooped in and one shotted me! There was NO warning or avoiding, and that [deleted] was NOT in sight until it popped in!

Navigation is awful. The quest makers suck and are almost more of a hindrance than a help (especially when the stack right on top of each other so you cannot even read the step count). The level design is kind of bland and when you are in any given 'field', everything looks the same! It's so hard to tell where you are because everything just blends together! It's also kind of hard to tell where you can and can't walk, and things like ladders (or anything that acts as a ladder) is almost impossible to see from a distance; you have to be really close before the ladder icon pops up, and with most climbable sections they just blend into the background!

The battles are STILL extremely boring, even as I get more use to how it's done.

The story is the only thing really keeping me going because I am interested in it. But I'd actually rather just watch it as a TV show or something, which is how it feels most of the time anyway; when you get to story spots, they just kind of go on forever. I've had the Switch fade multiple times during the SAME cut scene!

I know people love this game, and more power to them. I just find it more of a chore than anything; I really wish I wasn't curious as to where the story was going so I could just move on and never look back. This is NOT my kind of gaming experience.

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