Xenoblade Chronicles X is my game of the year.
That is not some hyperbolic statement, but rather my biased opinion of what I’ve played, a game that is legitimately that good, yet no one talks about it. Perhaps because of the close proximity of its release to the end of the year, or the fact that it is a Wii U exclusive, a mark against widespread sales.
For whatever the reason, a chance to talk about Xenoblade Chronicles X is good enough to convince people as to why it’s worthy of such praise. It seems Monolith Soft has become a second coming in terms of role-playing games made in Japan. Their Nintendo exclusive-titles have been critically acclaimed, but provide fresh ideas that propel Xenoblade Chornicles X to superstar status.
What do I mean exactly? Well, the game hits all the right notes in its presentation. The vast world of the alien planet Mira is simply breathtaking to behold—sprawling landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, an ecosystem in play with day and night cycles witness. Other factors also change the world around you, from the aggressiveness of some alien species to how territorial they can be when crossing certain areas gives the world a living feel to it, a charm that is hard to pull off.
Even little things affect this. Line of sight becomes important, especially with dealing with aggressive creatures for example. In many instances I was able to avoid fighting species above my level just by skulking out of their eye line, completing objectives without even engaging enemies in combat.
Another aspect that separates Xenoblade Chronicles X is the use of Skells. Skells are essentially giant robotic mechs that, halfway through the game, the player is able to purchase and fly around in. The Skells allow for quicker travel flying, and more combat abilities to take down massive, Monster Hunter-sized beasts. The introduction of Skells do change the gameplay for the better, adding another dimension to explore the world of Mira in full.
It really is something that must be experienced, the videos don’t even do it justice. Xenoblade Chronicles X is a perfect example of using world building to its advantage, and Monolith Soft took great care to focus on the design to be as flawless as possible. One of the primary goals, as stated by former Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, was looking for “seamless exploration.” If nothing else, the development team succeeded in this aspect alone to make Xenoblade Chronicles X memorable.
The gameplay itself is quite solid as well. Much like its predecessor, Xenoblade Chronicles, Chronicles X follows a similar system of customization for character progression, with the arts system returning and receiving a massive overhaul. Now more streamlined and customizable, picking and choosing your powers and attack patterns offers more options than the more regimented character builds in Chronicles.
In fact, much of the game has turned into a more customizable experience, from creating your own custom protagonist to your character class and build. Choosing from close-range combat, support or long range attacking, Xenoblade Chronicles X offers a total of three core classes, followed by a progression of skills that you customize for your character. This allows for a more personal touch in your character build, do you use defensive buffs to enhance the attacking powers of your party or do you snipe from long-range for massive damage?
In many ways, Xenoblade Chronicles X borrows heavily from MMO-styled gameplay, mostly stemming from the aforementioned character progression, although switching character classes is fluid and without a penalty in the title. The biggest, MMO-influenced mode comes from the mission parameters. Most of them are in the vein of “collect X amount of Y” or “kill the X beast.” Other questlines are based on passive gameplay. Early on in the title you are supposed to pick a “division” that gives the player a character bonus based on their actions in the field; for example, Pathfinders who put down tons of probes for example will recover HP faster in the field, while Prospectors who use probes to mine for rare ore will take less damage from enemy attacks.
The divisions sort of work as malleable trade skills; all players can do any combination of probing or mining for example, but only can enjoy the benefits of one bonus at the time. It provides incentive and purpose to your time in the field, both for gameplay and for story reasons, and allows for more gameplay elements, some of which were already featured in Xenoblade Chronicles, such as social-linking.
Online play is also quite solid, allowing players to earn in-game rewards and money. Up to 32-team “squads” can be created, although you only join up with three other players (or your NPCs, if you can’t find the extra character) to complete massive objectives that require a full party to do. The game has no voice chat or interaction outside of pre-determined gestures your voiceless protagonist can employ, but these missions are based more on using powers in conjunction with the party over team-based tactics that require micro-management to complete. The enemies are difficult, but not impossible to beat if your team is properly equipped and skilled enough to use special powers to your advantage.
This voiceless protagonist does give us a different experience compared to the other Xeno games. The lack of a definite personality is seen as a detrimental part of the game. In fact, the characters you interact with in Xenoblade Chronicles X show off how glaring this aspect of the game can be. One of the few weaknesses of the title is the lower emphasis on character development with your main party, but a higher number of character interaction. Most of this comes from follower missions and the main questline, while dynamic and with their own mysteries behind them, takes a backseat for the majority of the game. Some of these characters are integral to the main plot, but the vast majority are recruitable side characters with their own interesting story arcs to complete, but overall have no major effect on the main questline.
Pacing is certainly an issue in Xenoblade Chronicles X, but it is not detrimental to the game as a whole. The emphasis on exploration is what drives the game, but it is only through the story that you can experience it in full. Some may see this as more busy-work than actual fun, but the design of the game itself really pushes the storyline forward, despite any shortcomings it may have.
No game is ever perfect, and Xenoblade Chronicles X has flaws, to be sure. But in terms of a game that deserves recognition, I can think of no other this year that has flown so under the radar that deserves to be mentioned as a potential game of the year candidate. Its sales have been small but solid, and reviews have been praise-filled for the presentation and pure craftsmanship put into the title.
But more than all of that, Xenoblade Chronicles X was a great experience. The pure majesty of the world, the rather fluid control system and gameplay mechanics, the abundance of things to do—the game hits that sweet spot of not being overly complex, but having enough depth to avoid feeling shallow. Not only is it a must own for the Wii U, it is a must play for RPG fans out there who enjoy open worlds and robust exploration. So if you do own a Wii U, make sure to pick up this game. Trust me when I say it will be worth your time in the end.
So what do you think? What is your overlooked game of 2015? Leave your comments below.