Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the most recent of MonolithSoft's three MASSIVE RPGs exclusive to Nintendo's platforms and the seventh game in the Xeno series (eighth if you include Xenosaga Freaks). I've not played the Xenosaga games, and I don't even own Xenogears, but I've played Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X, and my playthrough of XC2 (coming in right at 120 hours) was probably twice as long as my playthrough of XC (roughly 60 hours) and I'd guesstimate about 30% longer than my playthrough of XCX (somewhere between 90 and 100 hours). Needless to say, this game will keep you busy for a good while especially if you play it like a normal person instead of like an obsessive lunatic like me.
The game play is pretty much exactly like Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X - your standard attack is done automatically and charges your combat skills (or arts). The tweak to the formula here is your Blade - essentially a living weapon tied to you - that determines what your arts are, the element of your arts, and your special attacks that the use of your arts charge. The combat is based on timers, not turns I'm still repping Team Not-Turn-Based from the Great Racketboy Turn War of 2017), but the fighting will get so in-depth between the different recharge times of arts, swapping out Blades to take advantage of an enemy elemental weakness or line up a Blade combo, and reviving fallen allies that it will often feel like a truly fluid real time battle.
The sound design is a bit of a mixed bag. I'd give the audio a 4 out of 5. On the one hand, the soundtrack is absolutely stellar. It's a definite improvement over the...interesting...musical choices of Xenoblade Chronicles X (which I, personally, loved, but it could definitely feel a little out of place). On the other hand, the voice acting is totally hit or miss. Some characters' voice actors do a fantastic job, some are just god awful, and some can't seem to decide if they're great or terrible. One cringe-inducing trait that I noticed repeatedly was group exclamations. When, for example, the team is falling from a ship or a cliff or whatever in a cut scene, the characters will sound completely amateur. Like, imagine telling a drama class full of bored high school students who didn't want to take that damn class to pretend you're falling off a cliff. "Ahhhh....." Fortunately, however, I found the voice acting to be pretty competent probably 95% of the time.
Let's take a minute for the narrative. That is, after all, the most important aspect of an RPG as far as I'm concerned. The narrative here is...okay. The characters are great - especially Pyra and Nia - but the actual story itself? It's just okay. The basic premise is that you get hired by some sketchy guys to go salvage some stuff from some derelict ship. You find some super Blade who wants to go to Valhalla or Sto'vo'kor or some shit, but there some bad dudes (not bad enough dudes to rescue the president, though) and they want to do bad guy stuff or whatever. Honestly the best part of the story is just that it serves as a backdrop for interactions between the characters. The story isn't bad, but it never feels particularly original. There are a couple of nods to the first Xenoblade Chronicles, but it's done like Bioshock Infinite's nod to Bioshock - subtly in a way that it won't feel out of place for those who haven't played the first game but that will definitely be noticed by those who have.
The game's biggest issue is performance. The game is perfectly playable, but there are some pretty serious performance issues nonetheless. The frame rate targets 30, but it usually stays around 25 or so. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for that to drop to 20 or even 15 frames per second. That's not the worst of the performance issues, however, although some may disagree with me on that. Far worse in my opinion is the texture pop-in. You'll get past a loading screen, and the whole world is covered in smooth, flat colors. Ten or fifteen seconds later, the actual world texture will abruptly pop in. This happens after pretty much every loading screen. I'd much rather the loading screens last another five or ten seconds and have the world actually exist when the loading screens is over. None of those performance issues ruin the game, per se, but they do break the immersion pretty badly at times.
The visuals are an interesting story. Obviously the game's resolution is higher when docked and outputting to a television - that's true of most games - but despite the lower resolution, most games tend to look better in my opinion playing handheld due to the smaller screen size (a 6" 720p screen vs a 65" 2160p screen). Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was the opposite. You could tell that it rendered a little below 720p with some further drops during particularly heavy scenes, but it looked pretty good overall. Playing handheld, however, the game looks like straight rubbish. It's not at all uncommon during fights for the resolution to drop to 360p or even 240p. At no point playing docked did I ever think to myself "This game doesn't look good." On the contrary, I found myself thinking about how good the game looked on a few different occasions. While there were certain times that the game looked okay in handheld, but I repeatedly found myself thinking "Dear god, this looks like a Wii game." I loved the Wii, but this the successor of the Wii's successor.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is, all things considered, an extremely competent entry in the Xeno series, and it's the RPG that Switch fans have been craving for nine months. In my personal ranking of the three Xenoblade Chronicles games, I'd place it ahead of Xenoblade Chronicles but behind Xenoblade Chronicles X. That's not the most popular opinion, I know - I'm one of the few who really LOVED Xenoblade Chronicles X - and there are aspects of the game, such as story and performance, where both of its predecessors surpassed it, but in terms of overall enjoyment, I'd place it right in the middle. It's a definite must-own for Switch players.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.