Xenoblade Chronicles 2 came out a couple weeks ago just as end-of-the-year lists were starting to be written, and yet many have already deemed it worthy of inclusion. In a year that saw other excellent JRPGS like Persona 5, Xenoblade Chronicles still stands out for its polish and uniqueness, and it stands out even more on the Switch since it’s the first big, proper JRPG on the console. And the game sets an excellent precedent for future JRPGs on the Switch moving forward.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is excellent due in large part to the way that it lives up to the high standards of some of the best JRPGs ever conceived, and especially tends to feel similar to certain titles from the PS2 era, if not the even more hallowed 16-bit era, drawing on the best aspects of the games from these previous generations while still feeling fresh and contemporary. And it makes sense that it would capture the feeling of games like that given that the director of the game—and the director of Monolith Soft who developed the game—has origins working on some of the most widely respected JRPGs ever created. Indeed, Tetsuya Takahashi first got his hands dirty working on designs for Final Fantasy V and VI before leaving Square Soft (now Enix) to found Monolith Soft, and would go on to create the Xenogears series before partnering with Nintendo to release the first Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii.
He’s also joined by Tetsuya Nomura of Final Fantasy 7 and Kingdom Hearts fame, who lent a handful of character designs to the game, flexing his prodigious ability to conceive of striking and iconic-looking characters. It’s only right that Nomura and Takahashi should work together given that they both started at Square Soft around the same time and it’s great to see such talents who both have deep roots in the genre to be working together on a title like this.
And the game is great looking in general, beyond just Nomura’s designs. Bright, well-used colors and expansive vistas are often the highlight, with an expansive world that is just begging to be explored being one of the more impressive aspects of the presentation. Monolith Soft did help out with Breath of the Wild’s excellent environments after all, and after equally huge games like the first two Xenoblades, they have proven this is one of their strong points.
It should be noted that the game does suffer slightly more than other Switch titles when played in hand-held mode, as it experiences a more noticeable shift in graphical fidelity during this mode compared to how it looks while docked and playing on a nice TV. It doesn’t hinder the overall experience at all though, given that the game itself still plays perfectly well and the lively, anime-inspired characters are well detailed and animated, giving real weight to cut-scenes and battles.
The real highlight of the game beyond the visuals and the amount of exploration though is the three-way tie between music, story and the battling– three areas which any JRPG must deliver on if it is to live up to the classics of the genre. And this game delivers. Riveting instrumental compositions are rife throughout this 60+ hour game, with everything from string and flute laden tracks, to raucous guitar-heavy battle themes, to plaintive piano ballads being featured.
All of the excellent scoring serves well to underscore the drama of the story during both heavier and lighter moments. The game features the light-hearted humor that has come to be expected from this genre, but it mostly serves to break up the more intense moments that make up the plot that becomes increasingly complex over the course of the game. But it’s never overwrought or convoluted, and it’s the kind of plot that will keep you guessing as its many twists and turns occur, and more and more unique characters become introduced.
Central to it all is the battle-system, which is unique and fast-paced and as strategic as you would want any proper JRPG’s battling to be. There’s a good amount of things to keep track of, and the manouvering all occurs in real-time, but the system still captures the strategic elements of classic, more turn-based combat systems of older games, or even the “active-time battling” of classic Final Fantasy titles. The game’s combat feels most similar though to games like Ni No Kuni or The Last Story, stand-outs from a couple generations ago that had fresh-feeling real-time updates to JRPGs that still honored old-school sensabilities. You’ll be spending a lot of time setting up the perfect party, due largely to the strategies that revolve around choosing which “Blades” you’ll be using, which are the humanoid manifestations of weapons that can be equipped by all of your color cast of party members. The Blades function somewhat similarly to the Persona of Persona titles or the creatures you can catch in Ni No Kuni.
Throughout the game’s impressive run-time you’ll have access to a wide array of options regarding how you overcome your foes given that you can play the role of a damage dealer, a healer or a tank, while also having the ability to choose from a variety of the aforementioned elemental Blades which you’ll come across semi-randomly over the course of the game. It’s the kind of meaty, fleshed-out and polished battle-system that fans of old-school role-playing will gladly devour, but it’s presented simply enough, and has a visceral enough feeling to it, that it should make a good impression even on newcomers. Stringing together combos with the right timing is super rewarding, and pulling off combos as effectively as possible takes good timing as well as planning, and everything is presented in a flashy and pleasing way to boot.
This is the kind of game Switch fans will be glad to hold up next to alongside titles like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey as reasons why this first calendar year for the console has been more impressive than we even had reason to suspect it’d be prior to the console’s launch. It also joins recent releases including Fire Emblem Warriors and Skyrim on the Switch, as recent games that fans of role-playing and strategy can rejoice over as much as fans of Nintendo’s bigger flagship titles will. This is the first, big JRPG on the console though, and it’s as deep and rewarding as this year’s Persona 5 is, while featuring combat that is arguably more visceral and timing-sensitive compared to that game’s turn-based combat, while also feeling more strategic than the fully action-based combat of another big recent JRPG, Final Fantasy XV.
All in all, besides being an excellent addition to the Switch’s quickly growing library, this is a fantastic entry from on of the more respected names and developers in JRPG history. With this title, Takahashi, Monolith Soft and Nintendo all deliver brilliantly, and fans of the genre and console alike will have a great time with this game.