Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is Busy and Boring, But I’m Determined to Press On

Let me begin by saying that I consider myself a Xeno– fan. Xenogears on the PS1 is not only one of the greatest RPGs I’ve ever played, but also one of my favorite games of all time. I enjoyed the Xenosaga trilogy on PS2, Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii, and what little I managed to play of Xenoblade Chronicles X on Wii U. However, after spending 7 hours with the Nintendo Switch’s Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I’m struggling to remain interested in just about everything the game has to offer.

For starters, the story feels like it’s going absolutely nowhere — fair warning, I’m about to spoil the game’s first 60 minutes.

You begin Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as Rex, a take-things-as-they-come teenage salvager living atop a dragon-like “titan” affectionately named Gramps. Titans are massive beings that the citizens of Alrest live atop, and among these people are combat specialists called Drivers. Drivers battle using Blades, which are mystical beings that double as party members and weapons. As these titans begin to die out, they’re leaving the world at large covered in a sea of clouds. In short, humans are running out of places to live.

During a salvaging mission, Rex is murdered by one of his employers. However, a particularly special Blade named Pyra awakens from her slumber and brings him back to the land of the living by giving Rex half of her life force. This turns Rex into a Driver, with Pyra as his new fire-branded Blade. All Pyra wants in return is for Rex to help her find Elysium, which is apparently some sort of magical land that’ll help find humanity somewhere to live when the titans die out.

Cool, right?

The four hours after this event are largely forgettable, though, as they’re burdened by a constant barrage of lengthy cutscenes, overly verbose character dialogue, and tutorial pop-ups. I shit you not, the game gives you a new tutorial or a cutscene every 5 feet for a good hour or two. I’ve been playing in 30-45 minute chunks and there were two or three sessions where I only saw 5 minutes of actual gameplay. It’s rough.

I’m very familiar with the Xeno-prefix series of games and I’ve spent many an hour watching lengthy cutscenes throughout the Xenosaga trilogy on PS2. This isn’t new. However, those games were at least interesting.

Rex is an incredibly dull hero, with Pyra serving as the game’s only saving grace thus far — despite the majority of internet comments focusing solely on her massive chest size, she’s actually a pretty solid addition to the cast for reasons beyond her “assets.” Nia, a young and sassy catgirl, isn’t too bad, but she exits your party early on and goes missing for an hour or two. You also eventually meet up with Tora, one of a race of Nopon who act as your typical JRPG race that speaks in an annoying manner (think Tama from World of Final Fantasy). Nopon dialogue removes every other word from a sentence, so it’s just as frustrating to read as it is to hear spoken aloud.

Tora himself isn’t a Driver, but has somehow managed to engineer an artificial Blade for himself named Poppi, who can only be upgraded by playing an awful mini-game called Tiger!, Tiger! Rex’s Blades can be upgraded by simply harvesting materials out in the wild, completing quests with Blades equipped, and plain ol’ using them in combat. Giving an overly annoying character an equally annoying method of upgrading their artificial weapon has got to be grounds for cruel and unusual punishment somewhere in the world.

Questionable characters aside, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has an excruciatingly busy user interface that unnecessarily clutters the screen and makes navigating towns a giant pain in the ass. Cities are littered with vendors, which appear as large icons that rest alongside their shop name. As you can imagine, it’s pretty jarring.

Take a look at this eyesore, for example…

The way Xenoblade implements its map system is also a bit puzzling. As you can see in the above screenshot, the minimap shows the location of talkative NPCs (green dots), NPCs offering side-quests (blue diamonds), and your primary quest objective (pink diamond). There is no in-game map that you can open in order to observe a top-down layout of the entire town. You can press in the left analog stick to blow up the mini-map, which covers the entire screen and has such a thick opacity that you can’t really navigate properly, but that’s it. With side-quests scattered around, there’s no *good* way to track them down.

At the top of the screen is an Elder Scrolls-like navigation bar, which serves to point you in the direction of your currently tracked side-quest and primary mission objective. If the appropriate icon has an up arrow, that indicates your target is above you, while the opposite is true for a down-facing arrow. However, with the first town in the game having numerous floors, bridges, and a hidden room, it becomes an unreliable method of stringing you along.

The combat in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a ho-hum affair early on, with Rex delivering strings of auto-attacks while waiting for abilities to recharge. Similar to Xenoblade Chronicles on Wii, certain abilities deal increased damage when used from the side or behind an enemy, but unlike said game, Rex can only have three abilities equipped at once. He eventually unlocks another Blade slot, which lets him obtain additional weapons through a randomized lootbox-style system, but without the ability to switch between Blades in the early goings of an encounter (you have to wait for your secondary Blade to charge up first, and by then most things are already dead) I’ve still found myself waiting around for his abilities to charge up between lengthy strings of yawn-inducing auto attacks.

Combat becomes more engaging (thus, more entertaining) as the game goes on, though. Timing abilities after a third auto-attack swing increases their effectiveness and contributes more to Pyra’s (or whatever Blade’s) special attack meter. These special attacks come in different elemental affinities, and using certain ones in order delivers a super combo of sorts. It’s a tad confusing at first, but a non-issue once you’ve managed to deliver one or two. These aren’t attacks you’ll be dishing out every battle, since (like Rex’s normal abilities) they take quite a while to charge up — and each combo requires a longer recharge. Essentially, the longer the battle the more cool stuff you can do. But since you spend such a significant amount of time killing standard enemies in the opening hours, you’re mostly going to watch him swing away at things until they’re dead.

Like I mentioned earlier, the game is littered with tutorial pop-ups. Whether it’s how the game’s trading system works, how to use salvage points, access a character’s ability screen, or whatever, there are probably 50 tutorials to read through within the first 5 hours of gameplay. It’s not fun. To top it off, however, the game offers no way to review tutorials that you’ve already seen. So while it bombards you with necessary information, if you forget something your only option is to hit up the Googles dot com. Why this stuff isn’t tucked away inside of a help menu somewhere is absolutely baffling in this post-instruction manual era.

I don’t have any screenshots of the game during combat, so this comes by way of Kotaku. Look how busy that UI is! There is such a *small* window of visibility smack dab in the center, while the rest of your screen is buried under icons and health bars. You can imagine this is exacerbated in handheld mode.

As of now, I’ve spent 7 hours with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. 90% of the characters that I’ve encountered I just don’t care about. The story seems to have fallen off a cliff and died somewhere in the sea of clouds and combat is an absolute bore outside of boss encounters, but I can’t bring myself to stop playing. As a fan of this series, I keep pushing on in hope of things getting better. It’s that fear of missing out that’s become my only source of motivation, which sucks so bad. There have been games that righted the ship after a handful of hours, like Mass Effect: Andromeda, and I sincerely hope Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is one of them.

But if I reach the 10-hour mark and it’s still business as usual, I’ll probably throw in the towel. There are far more rewarding games to play instead.

23 thoughts on “Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is Busy and Boring, But I’m Determined to Press On

  1. That first town absolutely destroyed me. I swear it has 10 floors and the map is criminally unhelpful. That prompted my angry ranting on Discord last week, in fact!

    One of the things that I’m still working on getting used to is not “over-battling”, and by that I mean, trying to spin these perfect combos every time. It’s just not necessary for 99.9% of fights, because by the time you finally charge up enough to pull off a sick combo, the dude you’re fighting is already dead.

    Also, when you have a full party and are fighting multiple enemies, holy _crap_ the screen is messy, but to be honest I actually like it that way. I totally understand why others would not like that kind of chaos but it forces me to really focus which is part of the challenge to me. Maintaining an advantageous position is hard to pull off but there’s always something to do. In other words, not much waiting around for stuff to charge.

    I’m really excited for the map update coming on the 22md because that should really resolve a huge bulk of the annoyances I run into in-game. I’d also appreciate if they made the tutorials accessible after the fact. Can’t tell you how many I breezed through at 11:30PM and instantly forgot about.

    I just hit 17 hours this morning and I’m loving the game now. Around 6-8 hours was what you heard me ranting against the other night! :) Really hope it turns around for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re not the first person to say it gets better, which is part of the reason I’m trying to tough out the abysmal-as-fuck opening 10-or-so hours. I find I don’t get as annoyed by the screen clutter on my TV as I do in handheld mode, but unfortunately that’s how I’ve been playing the game as of late. I hate clutter so much!

      I saw the update’s patch notes and an additional map zoom is a welcome change, but I’d really like them to understand how terrible their map system is and add a functional interactive map with icons and stuff. It’s 2017. I can get over the game not having an auto-save feature, but not having a real map or a help menu with saved tutorials? Really?

      An easy mode for Tiger, Tiger should help too because I hate that mini-game with a passion. About as much as I hate Tora and Poppi, actually.

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  2. Man, it’s shocking to hear everything is that bland, especially after the Wii U spinoff was regarded so highly. I never got far into that one because I’m terrible at it. But I can say I at least had fun getting a quarter of the way in.

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    1. I like what I played of the Wii U version but I could never get over the mental hurdle of a 150 hour game. I’m currently 82 hours into Persona 5, which is one of my favorite series of all time, and it’s taken me months to get here.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. One of your favorite games of all time, but still in chapter 3, seems like quite a bold statement! I don’t intend on giving up yet. I’m still picking away at it in shorter bursts. If it starts to grab me I’ll start playing it more frequently.

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      1. Trust me…i know.
        I’m liking it so much because I’m actually invested in the story and I am still learning better tactics for battle. I like a game that allows me to try new things and get better through out the story.
        I don’t know where I will be when I beat the game, but I’m optimistic that this might be one of my favorite games.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s good to hear. Whether I enjoy or a game or not I certainly don’t want my opinion (or someone else’s opinion, for that matter) to taint another’s experience. Hopefully you keep enjoying it throughout its entirety!

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  3. I kid you not. I’m in chapter 4 now and I unlocked something in my menu screen, which an NPC laboriously explained to me, and it was STILL followed by a tutorial re-explaining the exact same thing. Even then, when I got into checking this specific thing out, neither the NPC nor the tutorial adequately answered what were some of my most fundamental questions. I’m hard pressed to think of a game with worse tutorializing. That’s on top of all the other problems. This is right up there with Super Bomberman R as the worst Switch exclusive of the year (that I’ve played), imo. Likely I’ll be giving it a 4 or 5 upon reviewing it, presuming I finish it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If I scored games, a 4/10 sounds about right. I see folks gushing over it, and that’s cool — to each their own — but I feel like I’m playing a different game entirely. You were the first person to mirror my disappointment, which is reassuring. I still can’t bring myself to play longer than 30-45 minutes before I remember why I put it down last time. I don’t want to sell it off, but I also don’t want to spend 80 hours miserable when my backlog is so fucking big as it is. I said this to someone else on Twitter, that if Xenoblade 2 weren’t on the Switch I’d have sold it after the first two hours. But since it’s portable and sitting in my console, it’s the game I pick away at. I could easily pop it out and put Skyrim back in or something, but I just keep hoping it’ll get better. If you’re on Chapter 4 and feeling similarly, I may give up sooner rather than later.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m surprised to hear both that you’re seeing folks gush over it and also that I was the first to mirror your disappointment. This is probably just me and my confirmation bias tunnel vision but it seems like I’ve been seeing mostly disappointment and confusion about XenoChron 2. I almost feel like I could count the gushers on one hand. Some people were holding out just in case this game ended up beating Breath of the Wild as GOTY but personally it’s not even close. The portability certainly helps with chipping away at playing this game. It’s one I’m taking my time on, but yes, 4/10, below average.

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        1. I’ve been seeing a lot more open disappointment now that folks have spent more time with the game, but you were the first to mirror my own. The few folks I had spoken to prior to that seemed to like the game quite a bit.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I do wish that the game had a proper map I could bring up because I often get lost. The first town would often see me standing on the quest spot, but not knowing how to go up or down to the pertinent floor.

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    1. The current map system is horrendously implemented. A proper map that you can zoom in and out of, with shop and quest icons, would go a long way. I was pretty lost in the first town with 5 floors and a bridge, trying to navigate purely based on an up or down arrow.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with your complaints, even if my feelings regarding the game aren’t as negative as yours! =P

    I am about to reach the 50-hour mark, and I have been having fun.

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  6. Excellent write-up! There are definitely flaws with the game, and I don’t see its battle system or story resonating with everyone. I also don’t necessarily think that you’d like it any more if you didn’t enjoy the first ten hours. By the way, can I just say that it’s silly that anyone ever has to sit through 10 hours of a game to enjoy it haha. For me, I loved exploring the world and I adored the characters. The battle system took some time to get used to, and it didn’t help that the tutorials can’t be rewatched. That said, once I got the hang of it, it was a wonderful experience. I was addicted to getting combos and dealing massive damage to enemies. It was a fun battle rhythm. Anyway, I hope you can at least salvage (pun intended?) some fun out of what more you play, even if you stop at ten hours. Great read as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Damn…it’s supposed to be a really long game though, right? I didn’t read the spoilerific part, because I’m still interested in it. Maybe I mixed this up with another game, but isn’t this like a hundred hour doozy? Maybe I’m remembering what you said about Persona 5.

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        1. Yeah, I don’t have the mental stamina for longer games anymore so I try to limit myself to one or two per year. This year was Persona 5 and Dragon Age Inquisition. I guess Breath of the Wild counts, but I “beat” it in about 40 hours.

          Liked by 1 person

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