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So winter is apparently in full effect around where I live, as we got around 8 inches of snow at my house on Thursday, which is probably around double what we get normally. And far earlier into the season as well, as we usually only get a single instance of noticeable snowfall around here towards the end of February. Because we got a lot more than usual, none of us could really leave the house to do anything, so we all spent our entire weekend cooped up inside. Though, to be fair, I would be lying if I said that kind of thing was a change of pace for me…
I was able to keep myself busy over the weekend by bingeing around 60 hours of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which I had gotten as a late Christmas present from my brother-in-law. It’s a pretty good game, though not without a couple of flaws. Also, I just want to put it out there that the game is ANIME AS FUCK. Now, whether or not you consider that a flaw I suppose is going to be purely up to personal preference…
Anyways, like most good JRPGs, the game’s got a pretty engaging story and an interesting world. It takes place on Alrest, a world that is made up entirely of a literal sea of clouds, where the only habitable land for people are on the backs of massive creatures called Titans who float among the cloud sea. The story follows Rex, a young Salvager, someone who dives into the cloud sea to salvage up old artifacts for money, who lives by himself on the back of a small Titan he calls Gramps. He has dreams of reaching a mythical land called Elysium, a vast abundant paradise said to be at the top of Alrest’s world tree where everyone could live without having to compete for land or resources like they currently do, as the Titans that everyone lives on are slowly dying out as the years go by. Rex ends up accepting a fairly shady salvaging job for a pretty large sum of money that ultimately leads him to Pyra, a mysterious red headed girl who also happens to be a Blade, a kind of magic human-like being capable of forming “pacts” with humans they call “Drivers” to provide them with incredible powers that link the Blade and Driver together (Gee, it’s almost like I’ve heard something like that before…). But Pyra is no ordinary Blade. She is actually something called the Aegis, a Blade of legend said to come from Elysium itself. She asks Rex to become her Driver, so that she can return to Elysium. Wanting to fulfill his dream of one day reaching Elysium, he accepts, as the two of them begin their quest to find a way to reach the promised land, along the way being constantly ambushed by a mysterious group of villains known as Torna and their leader, a mysterious masked man named Jin, who seek to use Pyra for their own nefarious ends.
So far, as I still haven’t finished the game yet, the story has kept my interest, as it’s full of twists and turns, and some genuinely emotional moments. That said, I do think the story has a bit too many characters, which I do think is kind of a problem from a characterization stand point. Because everyone has to share the screen time so much with all of the other characters, you don’t really get too big of a sense of depth for any of your party members, which can put a hamper on their ability to endear themselves to you, and makes a lot of them come off as kinda generic and shallow. It’s not that they’re unlikable, it’s just that they’re not super interesting or multi-faceted as a result. Plus, a lot of cutscenes are far more story exposition focused (which isn’t a problem in it of itself necessarily). So far, I’ve seen very few cutscenes that are just there to help characterize these characters, and just let them interact with one another. There are optional conversations you can view called Heart-to-Hearts which do kinda fill this role, but they’re too infrequent (I’ve only seen like 7 of them in my 60 hours of play). I think the game would’ve been a lot better if they made them show up at the frequency Skits from the Tales of series do.
So that’s the story, but what about the gameplay? Well, it’s not god awful, but I do think the Tales of series has spoiled me a bit when it comes to fun JRPG combat. Xenoblade is very MMOish, with stuff like auto-attacks and abilities on cooldown. It’s not nearly as involved as I’m used to and has a lot of waiting around involved, and as a result, battles in the early game felt REALLY slow, though it gets better the further on you go, which I feel is how most combat systems are nowadays when it comes to JRPGs because they have to ease you into EVERYTHING. And speaking of easing you into everything, I feel this game does not do too good of a job explaining some of its more advanced systems. I actually had to look up how the combo system worked online, because I just wasn’t understanding why I wasn’t able to pull it off all the time, and the game had no way to look up old tutorials once you got past them. The combat is still serviceable, and can still be fun a lot of the time, it’s just, not my preferred cup of tea. Plus, if you’re not a “veteran watcher of anime dubs” like I am, the battle dialogue might get on your nerves, mostly because they didn’t record enough line variants to keep you from hearing the same clips over and over, plus most of the characters talk with thick English accents which can take a bit to adjust to. And even still, I wasn’t completely immune to all of it… by the time I finish this game, Tora (one of your party members who you get fairly early one) going “Meh-meh-meh!” whenever he draws aggro from enemies is probably going to be permanently scarred into my brain. That being said, I do personally feel like the rest of the game’s dub is fine, but then again, I am one of those filthy peasants who actually enjoys most dubs…
I think, the biggest problem I have with the game, is that it doesn’t convey and keep track of information well enough for you. Like, I feel like a walk through is necessary for keeping track of most of the side stuff in the game, as well as some points in the main story… You see, this game has some very large areas. When exploring large areas, you usually want a map to show you points of interest as well as to help you better figure out where you’re going. The only problem is, the map in this game sucks ass! You can never view the entire map at once without having to go into a menu, and instead of letting you use the mini map to show the relative location of objectives, you have to use this shitty bar thing that is far harder to navigate with. It’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t really show changes in elevation too well, so you can be going where you think is the right direction, and then it turns out you hit a wall, and you have no idea where on the map you have to go in order to get on top of said wall to get to your destination. It doesn’t show you obstacles like gates, or interactables that would open said gates, at least, not with out having to open up a completely different map in the pause menu that’s a pain to navigate through.
I actually got stuck in one area for 40 minutes trying to figure out how to get to a destination where I couldn’t take the obvious route because it was blocked by a one-way gate. I looked long and hard at the map to try to find alternate routes, and when I eventually thought I found one, it turned out to not be the right way. I tried asking NPCs, but I couldn’t find anyone to tell me how to open the gate, so I eventually gave up and looked-up a walk through. Turns out, there was a building I could’ve entered that actually had an interior that would’ve taken me to my destination. The problem was, that building’s entrance wasn’t marked on the map as a place you could actually go inside of. Not to mention, the interior didn’t have a map of its layout either, and it was swarming with high-level enemies that I just wanted to run past at that point. The whole part just infuriated me… Plus, side quests in this game are just a pain in the ass. It’s very easy to miss the people giving them, most of them have multiple objectives to them that you gotta slog through, and items for the quests aren’t always easily located (the game only tells you what Titan they’re on, and that’s it, which doesn’t REALLY help because all of the Titans are fucking huge). Plus, you can only track one quest at a time, and like I said, the map sucks. The whole thing with the map for me is probably my biggest source of frustration when it comes to this game.
That all being said, it’s still a fine game with an absolutely bitching soundtrack. (Like seriously, this game has some kickass music.) It’s definitely a JRPG for those who like their games a little more on the “dense” side of thing, though it’s still actually fairly easy to get into and start playing at the beginning, which was good for me as I wasn’t 100% familiar with what the game was like. It’s still more on the niche side of things though, so if your only experience with JPRGs is something like Final Fantasy, it might be a harder sell for you. Not saying a complete newbie couldn’t enjoy it though, it just might not click with you in the right way if you’ve never played a JRPG before (or watched any kind of shonen anime). Though, thinking about it now, some experience playing MMOs like World of Warcarft might make this game more palatable as well, as it is very much like a single player MMO.
…Alright. I think I got that all out of my system. I might give my final impressions when I finish the game, we’ll have to wait and see. In regards to the comic, is going to be a similar deal to the last time we focused on Angel, so not too much of a divergence there. Other than that, I’m done typing up shit for now, so until then, I’ll see you next comic.