Back in April, we reviewed Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, a portable remake of the Wii game of the same name, and we rated it quite favourably. Following that, we now have Xenoblade Chronicles X (pronounced as “Xenoblade Chronicles Cross”) for the Wii U, a spiritual sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. If you enjoy massive games with a huge emphasis on exploration, pay attention. Oh, and transforming mechs. It has transforming mechs. Who doesn’t love a good, transforming mech?

Xenoblade Chronicles X tells the story of a ship in exodus from Earth, attempting to escape a massive battle, and then crash landing on an alien planet called Mira. The only part of the ship that survived was the habitation area, and its citizens call it New Los Angeles (or New LA). The administrative branch of the interrim government, called BLADE, handles all sorts of tasks from policing to putting down rogue wild animals to procuring raw materials to joyriding in the mechs (called “Skells”). Your character is a new inductee into BLADE, and main story aside, you’re fairly free to perform any of BLADE’s functions as you see fit. The overarching story is the quest for the Lifehold, the large part of the ship that held all the people in suspended animation while the ship was finding a new home.

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If you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles, you’ll be almost immediately familiar with the gameplay. Battles are a bizarre mix of turn-based and real-time (so standing further from the enemy doesn’t mean you don’t hit it), using abilities called “Arts”. When not actively using an Art, your character automatically fights when in attack mode. There are no random battles, but much in the vein of Final Fantasy XII, lower-level beasts often roam the same landscape as massive, overpowered behemoths, meaning you can’t just attack everything in sight and hope to survive. Thankfully, death is not the end, and you’ll simply respawn a safe distance away. This also means that beasts respawn too, so anything you’ve killed up to then comes back. You soon learn your limits in terms of what you can and can’t attack until you level up.

What makes Xenoblade Chronicles X different from Xenoblade Chronicles / 3D is just how much MORE game there is. For instance, the game attempts to be an MMO without being a true MMO, allowing you to recruit other players from around the world into your single-player team, meaning that there’s an ever-changing roster of BLADEs to meet and recruit. Also, your options for mucking with equipment is epic in scale, and just playing with those settings will give you a fair amount to do should you want to. The scope of just about everything in the game is truly impressive, and just learning the game’s systems is a learning curve of its own. You’ll be forgiven for feeling a bit lost initially, but as with many games of this level of complexity, things eventually become clear enough. You can speed this up by actually reading the game’s manual for once. There’s a weird critical point where the manual becomes insanely useful; before this point, it contains way too much information, and after this point, you’ve become familiar enough with the game that you’re not learning much new. What I did note is that, despite the length of the manual, there are still some things that aren’t explained and that only come to you as “aha!” moments later on. Just something to note that Xenoblade Chronicles X is NOT related to the original Xenoblade Chronicles except in name and the odd nod to the original here and there.

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The scope of the gameplay isn’t the only thing that’s mind-bogglingly huge about this game. The amount of explorable area is crazy, and I felt at times that this game was a strange cross between Rogue Galaxy, Skyrim, and Dark Souls, and it smacked very strongly of Final Fantasy XII. The monsters all have a reason for existing and for being so utterly alien; they’re alien, of course. And if you’re a completionist, finding and killing every kind of monster and collecting every kind of object will set you back a bit. To give you an idea of the size of Xenoblade Chronicles X’s map, here are a few comparison numbers: Skyrim’s map clocks in at a piddly 40 km2, Grand Theft Auto V’s map pulls in at 80 km2, and the formidable world of The Witcher 3 rocks up a huge 135 km2. Chronicles X tips the scales at a hefty 400km2. Not the largest game, certainly (one of the few games with a larger map is Just Cause, with a ridiculous 1036 km2 area to play in, but then it doesn’t have transformable mechs), but definitely among the biggest. Surprising for a game on the Wii U, isn’t it?

Of course, all that stuff and all the detail attached comes at a cost. Because I played the digital version, I didn’t notice any load times between areas; for the disc version, you can download special packs from the eShop to speed up loading. While I didn’t notice loading when changing regions, I did notice a ridiculous amount of model and texture pop-in as you run around, especially in the city. In fact, some characters in New LA don’t appear until you’ve just about pushed them out the way. This can sometimes be a problem out in the field when certain fiends are about, but outside of the city this is less of a problem, thankfully. Speaking out out in the city, some of the environments are utterly gorgeous, and often so utterly and crazily alien. Big kudos to the creature and world design teams.

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Yes, the sheer amount of stuff can be overwhelming, but once you unlock the Skell mech–did I mention that the game has glorious, giant, transforming mechs?–suddenly it becomes one of the most amazing JRPGs ever. With the mech, suddenly the world opens up and you become a great deal stronger, able to deal with the troublesome enemies that kept flattening you earlier in the game. You’re also able to traverse the world much faster in motorcycle mode, and even explore underwater. Places that were once out of reach can be flown to and you’ll suddenly find you’re in love with being on Mira. It’s liberating as hell.

There’s a lot to say about Xenoblade Chronicles X. The story is typical fare, and some of the characters can be a little flat–annoying, even (I’m looking at you, Tatsu!)–but this is countered so much by the beauty of the landscapes and the brilliance of just how much world there is and how much there is to do and explore. For once, you’re not here to play a JRPG for the story. The story also ends on a strange note that feels like there’s more to come (let’s hope!). It definitely tops the list of must-play RPGs ever. If you’re a JRPG fan, or a fan of massive, open world games, and you don’t yet have a Wii U, this is going to be a very compelling reason to get one. The game can easily set you back around 300 hours, so don’t think this is a quick in-and-out mission here. You can spend many happy hours in Mira. And if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a mech to go pilot.

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