This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Xenoblade Chronicles X.
I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t expecting much of Xenoblade Chronicles X. Firstly, it stuck an X on either side of its name like a Counter-Strike player with divorced parents, and then I assumed it was a JRPG, with all that that brings with it: overreliance on visual spectacle, horrible gameplay, and incredibly contrived plot. Reading a summary of the previous game, presumably Xenoblade Chronicles W, certainly didn’t help. Everybody lives on two giants, and there’s a sword that predicts the future, and it was Earth all along? What?!
But I have to admit, there was something refreshing about Xenoblade Chronicles X. For one thing, it freely admits that the spunky teenage girl character is thirteen, which does make it a little bit creepy that you can dress her up in swimsuits, but I respect the game for not chickening out and claiming she’s eighteen in the English translation. It also has a refreshingly straightforward plot: aliens have blown up the Earth because aliens are bastards; the only surviving human ship crashlands on an alien world, sets up a colony, and must gather the fallen bits of the spaceship from the four corners of the planet, or humans might finally die out. Gotcha. A nice solid maypole for all the plots, subplots, and character arcs to dance around.
That said, the effort to make sure the plot leaves no one behind starts to wear on me quick-like when they mention the Earth getting blown up like nineteen times in the first hour. Then there’s a mission early on where your support characters go, “Wait! We should be careful, there’s a strong monster ahead! Usually these kinds of monsters are not very strong, but this one is quite strong indeed.” “I see, so we should be careful and prepare ourselves for a fight against this strong monster.” Sorry, are you really taking five fucking minutes to explain to me the concept of elite monsters? Why are you banging on about this when no one’s yet told me where I get my giant robot?!
Anyway, X-blade X-icles X is technically a JRPG, but is more accurately an open-world game of the kind somewhat peculiar to the Japanese, like Yakuza or Deadly Premonition, in which the player character fills the dual role of stolid adventurer hero type and unpaid council surveying officer. Yeah, western open-world games love to make you map out territories one by one, but only the Japanese open-world game will make you catalog every enemy, conversation, random pickup, and blade of grass before it deigns to admit itself to be one hundred percent completed.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a Xenoblade Chronicles X-ponentially dense game whose dialogue wastes so much time establishing the patently bloody obvious that it forgets to tell you about half the fucking gameplay mechanics, so you have to figure it out yourself by holding your nose and diving into the horribly designed interface. For example, once you map out a region, you can optimize the probe networks to either mine more fuel or earn more money, but I quickly had more of both than I knew what to do with, so I gave less of a shit than the CEO of a major pharmaceutical supplier. You invest in weapon and armor companies to expand their stock, create and upgrade weapon augmentations (which is how you’re supposed to use all those random twigs and solidified bunny farts you pick up in the overworld), you’re supposed to be upgrading your weapon attacks and skills from the menu and you have to do that for everyone you take on as a party member because apparently no one can pull up their big girl petticoats unless you specifically tell them to — it’s all very unintuitive, and you get to do all of this while listening to the same four or five music tracks until you want to find whatever hip-hop artist coined the practice of going “UH, UH, YEAH” in place of lyrics and push a small volume of Shakespearean sonnets down his windpipe.
The combat reminds me of Dragon’s Dogma, in that you can hire other players’ avatars as NPC support. They aren’t being controlled by another player, but then they don’t need to be. The combat could be done just as well by a fucking adding machine. It’s very muhmorpuhger-y, you’ve got a suite of attack icons and it’s mainly about using them in the right order to maximize efficiency. Here’s one that staggers the enemy, here’s one that does extra damage to staggered enemies: not exactly particle physics. But while technically real-time, it’s totally numbers-based, so attackers do the Final Fantasy thing of vaguely waving their weapons in the vicinity of the attackee, and whether or not they appear to be close enough is a supremely academic matter, which makes it hard to run away from battles when you stumble onto something thirty levels higher the size of the double-decker bus that just plowed through the brick shithouse — which happens all the fucking time because the relation between the levels of monsters and at what point in the game you access the areas they hang around is an estranged one at best. Putting a level sixty elite monster in the middle of a linear path you’re forced to go down for a level twenty story quest is a total Richard Relocation, that is to say, dick move!
So far I’m probably giving the impression that I’m down on this game, but I played it for like thirty hours, so either there’s something I like about it, or I’m severly mentally ill. (pause) (Let’s not dwell on that.) The scenery’s nice, and you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate it as you sprint around it trying to find the path that takes you to the next fucking probe. I like that there’s a minimum sidequesting requirement for the next story mission, so you’ve got a chance to explore. I like how the sidequests usually have a narrative aspect that fleshes out characters and aren’t just filling out checklists. Might’ve been even better if most of the characters hadn’t been boring assholes, and the ones that weren’t boring hadn’t been more irritating than a mouth ulcer during a sherbet lemon eating contest. A bit of interpersonal conflict between main characters wouldn’t have gone amiss, but nope, it’s just cartoonishly evil villains, and everyone else lives in a great big Mormon Boy Scout camp. “Oh, thank you for teaching me this lesson in duty and friendship, licky licky botty botty!”
In fact, you know what? The main thing that kept me going was seeing how long it was gonna take before the game would finally give me the fucking giant robot advertised on the box. For most of it, it was like I was hinting to my parents what I wanted for Christmas, and the game was just going, “Well, maybe if you’re very good, the giant robot fairy will visit someday!” You wanna know how long it took? Twenty-four hours in, six or seven story chapters. Fuck me, the Spanish Inquisition wouldn’t tease you for that long. It came without warning: “Hey,” said the commander dude out of nowhere, “isn’t it time you had your giant robot license?” To which I replied: “YES FUCK YES FUCK FUCK YES FUCK.” “Fair enough, all you have to do is complete eight sidequests.”
You know, I understand the principle that satisfaction grows the more work we have to put into it, but at this rate the giant robot could be made from chewed-up Lego and my spooge would still have blasted my trousers off. But I powered on through, I did those quests, I killed the monsters, I scoured the land for the fetch quest items, I worked every shaft and tickled every ball and finally my hard work paid off. Twenty-five hours, and I had a giant robot to call my very own. Gleefully I took it for a spin around the overworld, leaping, dancing, turning into a car, stepping on the toes of a level sixty elite monster, and getting destroyed in one hit.
Well, that was an anticlimax. Nope, wait: THIS is an anticlimax.
- Robot in disguise: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Maybe the friendly aliens wouldn't get victimised so often if they learned to talk a bit less like Jar Jar fucking Binks
- Hooray for giant robot insurance