For the longest time, the Final Fantasy series was the gold standard of JRPGs for me and nothing else could ever come close to touching it... then came Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii. As one of my favorite RPG series, I've been looking forward to Xenoblade 2 (which is actually the 3rd game in the series) ever since it was announced during the unveiling of the Switch. Right now I'm about 15 hours and 3 chapters into this massive game. Some early impressions:
- The setting, a world in which each nation is on the back of a different giant flying creature is pretty cool and fun to explore. This does make each region feel a little smaller and more linear since each Titan is a self-contained area. I'm totally fine with this though, as I've already explored enough completely vast open worlds this year.
- Like the previous two games, there are a ton of stats, abilities, skill trees, and items to manage. At 15 hours into the game, I still don't even have access to all the games menus.
- It took a while for it to click with me but now that I'm getting the hang of the combat (particularly executing combos), the battle system seems like it will have some potential for interesting strategies. Combat is very chaotic though, so it can be hard to keep track of what's going on.
- The game lacks a manual or in-game menu to reread the tutorial info which makes learning the game's complex systems more difficult than it needs to be.This is an especially strange omission considering that the first two Xenoblade games had such thorough documentation.
- In addition to the lack of a manual or tutorial menu, the UI is also missing other smaller things like controller rumble options and aggro symbols on monsters in the field. Not being able to tell which monsters are aggressive has gotten me killed several times already.
- The story leans heavily into one of my least favorite anime tropes: the magical girlfriend who is also the protagonist's possession, pet, or slave. For now, I'm going to try to have a little faith in the Xenoblade writers and hope that they'll develop Pyra into something more than just a bargaining chip for the hero, Rex, and his enemies to fight over.
- Xenoblade 2's character designs are much more anime-inspired than in previous entries and I've found these designs to be a mixed bag. Several of their outfits look particularly silly. Also, some of the highly sexualized characters seem kind of out of place for the game's tone.
- While many players will be quick to download the Japanese audio patch, the English voice acting has really grown on me. I appreciate the diverse range of accents in the cast; so far I've picked out English, Welsh, Australian, and American. The main downside to the voice acting is that the characters talk way too much during combat. However, this has been an issue since the original Xenoblade.
- The game's music is really beautiful. I'm looking forward to playing the soundtrack at work or in the car.
Overall, I'm really enjoying Xenoblade Chronicles 2 even though the story isn't grabbing me as much as the previous games. If the earlier entries in the Xenoblade series didn't appeal to you, I doubt this one will be the one to win you over. However, series veterans will like what they find here and complete newcomers could easily use this as a starting point since the plot is unrelated to the first two games.