Xenoblade Chronicles X
Mechs, monsters and aliens collide in Wii U’s most capacious RPG
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.