Xenoblade Chron­i­cles X

Mechs, mon­sters and aliens col­lide in Wii U’s most ca­pa­cious RPG

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Nin­tendo De­vel­oper Mono­lith Soft For­mat Wii U Ori­gin Ja­pan Re­lease Out now (JP), De­cem­ber 4

Wii U

On the face of it, it feels ridicu­lous to write that Xenoblade Chron­i­cles X’s Primordia re­gion is colos­sal. Af­ter all, what’s this JRPG’s vast, var­ied plain next to Skyrim’s realm of mul­ti­fac­eted crags, The

Crew’s size­able chunk of a real con­ti­nent, or the prom­ise of func­tion­ally in­fi­nite worlds made by No Man’s Sky? But you step out onto the planet Mira’s springy green turf for the first time and try telling your eyes that what lies be­fore them isn’t stu­pe­fy­ingly huge. If

Oca­rina Of Time’s Hyrule Field used the sheer won­der of na­ture to make Nin­tendo fans want to go fetch the hori­zon in 1998, and Mono­lith reis­sued the chal­lenge with Gaur Plain in the orig­i­nal Xenoblade Chron­i­cles on Wii, then Primordia makes both put to­gether look like your lo­cal cricket pitch.

Yes, the re­gion takes up a lot of floor space but its real tricks are its bog­gling scale and sense of oth­er­ness. As you first emerge from a rocky pass, you’re treated to a few post­cards: thun­der­ing herds of wildlife, white sands be­neath towering cliffs, co­ral-like pro­tru­sions and lush ver­dant turf stretch­ing into the dis­tance. Later, you learn that the ‘lit­tle’ alien wolves (Grex) you saw teased each stand well over a head taller than your puny cus­tom­made avatar. Those bron­tosauruses with ham­mer­head shark nog­gins? Well, they drink from lakes large enough to host boat races.

Not every­thing sim­ply dwarfs you. Rather, this is a world built in lay­ers: bizarre alien hens with bul­bous wat­tles skit­tle around freely be­tween the trunk-like legs of slug­faced her­bi­vores nib­bling from the tree­tops. Over­head, towering dome rock for­ma­tions and wend­ing nat­u­ral shelves break up the sil­hou­ette of the stricken ring city of New LA – your new home – on the hori­zon. And that’s just the start­ing re­gion, with Noc­tilum, Syl­valum, Oblivia and Caul­dros all marked on our GamePad world map await­ing dis­cov­ery.

‘Dis­cov­ery’ is the op­er­a­tive word here. Mira is not just a new world to you, or the se­ries: hu­man­ity it­self only crash-landed on it two months ago. Or what’s left of hu­man­ity, any­way. There few sur­viv­ing homo sapi­ens af­ter an alien con­flict has re­duced the Earth to ashes in its cross­fire, our race flee­ing its husk via ark ships. Yours, the White Whale, af­ter two years on the lam, was fi­nally caught by pur­su­ing forces, but got off lightly, merely be­ing torn up in at­mos­phere to shower de­bris and sta­sis pods across Mira’s sur­face. Those alive and awake have clus­tered in New LA un­der the aus­pices of BLADE (Builders of a new Legacy Af­ter the De­struc­tion of Earth), a prob­lem-solv­ing force into which you’re quickly drafted to help our species come to terms with life on this hos­tile new world.

Your cus­tom-built avatar can run at Usain Bolt speeds, and bounds like Spi­der-Man

Given its size, that task could eas­ily have felt un­man­age­able. Still, while it’s ev­i­dent that Mira’s been de­signed to be tack­led from the cock­pit of a fly­ing, trans­form­ing Skell mech, Mono­lith has smoothed your path in the 30-odd hours be­fore you’re granted ac­cess to X’s sig­na­ture ro­botic suits. Some mea­sures are sim­ple: your cus­tom-built avatar can run at Usain Bolt speeds, and bounds like Spi­der­Man, plus there’s an au­torun op­tion to save aching thumbs. Oth­ers are in­te­grated into the fic­tion and me­chan­ics: po­ten­tial fast travel points are every­where, ac­cessed via a hexbased grid over­lay on each area’s map. But those out in the field have to be un­locked by bury­ing your pick of Fron­tierNav probes in spots marked by laser-like beams of red light.

Not all are equal, either – you’ll find probes suited to pas­sively min­ing resources, those that of­fer buffs in com­bat, and those that dish out a bonus for find­ing se­cret ar­eas – but like-typed units seeded in nearby hexes link them up for an ad­ja­cency bonus that mul­ti­plies their ef­fi­ciency. There’s ev­i­dence of stream­lin­ing else­where, too, with a cen­tralised Mis­sion Con­trol job board to re­duce the time soaked up by trawl­ing the lo­cals for quests, and a Scout Con­sole to join up with other on­line play­ers into squads of up to 32. Story and affin­ity mis­sion re­quire­ments, mean­while, can be viewed straight from the GamePad to save point­less re­turn trips to base, de­spite gen­er­ally snappy load­ing times (we pre­sume our demo unit had all the op­tional data packs in­stalled, which take up some 10GB in to­tal).

All of this girth will mean lit­tle if it isn’t home to a var­ied cast, a strong story and an en­dur­ing bat­tle sys­tem. First con­tact with each, how­ever, is largely promis­ing. Re­turn­ing from Xenoblade Chron­i­cles is its take on re­al­time com­bat, your party au­to­mat­i­cally at­tack­ing once a tar­get is en­gaged. You con­trol one mem­ber’s ori­en­ta­tion and dis­tance from the tar­get while a pal­ette of spe­cial abil­i­ties, dubbed Bat­tle Arts, charges. The or­der you de­ploy them in re­mains vi­tal and so does fac­ing, with Arts such as the start­ing Drifter class’s Slit Edge do­ing far more dam­age when launched from the side or rear. In fact, with the new abil­ity to tar­get spe­cific ap­pendages – slic­ing off a Grex’s tail, say – it can be more im­por­tant than ever in a close-fought bat­tle. Tim­ing has changed a lit­tle too, with Arts over­charg­ing if you leave them be for long enough, giv­ing a huge bonus to their ef­fect.

The story’s early hours, mean­while, are seeded with dra­matic po­ten­tial. It isn’t long be­fore you dis­cover you’re not the only in­ter­lop­ers here – a ‘xeno­form’ menace called the Prone have be­gun to either en­slave or erad­i­cate the lo­cals, and would like to do much the same to you. There are heavy hints about power strug­gles at home, too, when smarmy New LA leader Mau­rice Chaus­son el­e­vates him­self to di­rec­tor gen­eral, a move met with a suc­ces­sion of raised eye­brows.

It’s the di­verse en­sem­ble cast, how­ever, that earths th­ese story beats, de­spite also of­ten be­ing larger than life. Lin, for ex­am­ple, is an ebul­lient young ge­nius who finds a spar­ring part­ner in the Tin­gle-es­que Tatsu, a na­tive who quickly pro­claims him­self a VIP (and gets on her nerves just as fast). Your res­cuer and nom­i­nal squad leader, Colonel Elma, is an ever-pro­fes­sional solider, while her boss, Com­man­der Vand­ham, is a rough­spo­ken ex-me­chanic whose coarse speech pairs with a no-non­sense ap­proach. The dull spot is you: Shulk might have been a di­vi­sive lead, but your voice­less, ges­tur­ing pro­tag­o­nist is an in­con­gru­ous pres­ence in cutscenes with such strong lo­cal­i­sa­tion and voice work.

Six hours, in the con­text of an ad­ven­ture last­ing 70-plus, isn’t long to get to know peo­ple, nor to pare back the mys­ter­ies of a tale penned by re­turn­ing writer/di­rec­tor Tet­suya Takahashi. It is, how­ever, enough time to dis­cover that X is re­viv­ing the wan­der­lust that drove its pre­de­ces­sor, and to be made to feel very small in the face of a world that may not be colos­sal by ab­so­lute stan­dards, but is large enough to im­press on you how many sights and se­crets it has left to dis­close. Given how re­ward­ing mak­ing dis­cov­er­ies was in Takahashi’s pre­vi­ous game, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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