Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Switch) Review

Completing the Switch Trifecta

The Nintendo Switch has had quite the launch year, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey leading an impressive array of games. Nintendo and developer Monolith Soft aim to finish the year strong with their massive RPG adventure, Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Though branded as a sequel, its story stands alone from the previous Xenoblade titles. While it shares similarities with its predecessors, its modified combat system and anime-inspired artstyle set it apart.

Check out the Video Version for spoiler-free footage and gameplay!

The story takes place in a world where civilizations live on Titans, humongous creatures that float atop a sea of clouds. The tale follows the young, energetic boy Rex. While hunting for treasure, he meets a girl named Pyra, who seeks the fabled paradise of Elysium to save the world from its fated demise. What awaits is a narrative with a grand sense of adventure and meaningful messages about the value of one’s life. There are more lighthearted moments than in the first game, which fit the cutesy anime artstyle. But there is also a balance of serious drama and action throughout the cutscenes. I was entranced by the excellently choreographed fight sequences and felt like a kid excitedly watching Dragon Ball Z. And I was just as moved by every emotional beat, thanks to the character-driven story.

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Remember the Titans.

The core cast is full of personality, and their relationships are shaped by their roles as Drivers – the frontline fighters, and Blades – life forms that grant them power and weaponry. For instance, the Blade Pyra strengthens her Driver Rex. I grew attached to every partnership as they developed throughout the story and Heart-to-Heart events. The characters kept me invested in the journey to Elysium.

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Rex and his merry band of Drivers and Blades.

The party travels through numerous Titans, each its own large landmass. Since the Titans are separate continents, the world feels less connected than in the first Xenoblade. As such, I didn’t get the same experience of “if you can see it, you can reach it.” But I still had that “wow” moment once I hit my first vast plain. The series’ sense of scale remains remarkable, and seeing the Titans move as you traverse their bodies is a sight to behold. I liked going off the beaten path to seek out hidden treasure, collectible loot, and Landmarks, which also function as convenient fast travel locations. Since the only penalty for dying was respawning at the last Landmark, I felt empowered to explore. A handy objective marker prevents you from getting lost. Each area is teeming with wildlife, from docile to dangerous creatures that will one-shot you if you breathe near them. Once an enemy becomes aggressive, a battle begins.

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Battles look exciting even when…static.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s combat is fairly complex – so much so that I can’t meaningfully explain every component. Here are the basics: you control one Driver teamed up with a Blade partner. You’re free to move around, but you power up faster when close to your Blade. When near an enemy, you automatically attack. From there are successive layers of battle progression. As you auto-attack, you build up a meter that lets you use Arts, techniques that may grant bonuses like extra damage for back-attacks. Using Arts opens up powerful elemental Specials, which can then be combined with your party members’ Specials to perform hard-hitting combos. It’s an interactive battle flow that forces you to think about positioning and timing. Unfortunately, you have no control over whether your two A.I. teammates will complete your combos.

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Toppling enemies requires team coordination.

There’s never a shortage of actions during combat. I always felt engaged in battle, and it was gratifying to build up successive attacks. However, it’s hard to keep track of everything at once. The issue is that after each initial tutorial, there is no in-game way to refresh yourself on battle mechanics. If you didn’t understand the first time or forgot them, you may be lost in subsequent battles. Although the user interface and large text are easy to read, there are nuances that can get lost in the shuffle. For example, the affinity between Driver and Blade, is designated by a line that connects them, which you may not notice amidst the action. That said, the wealth of options and the complexity of the combat system give way to excellent strategy, and it’s a genuine blast – if you can get the hang of it.

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I’M REALLY FEELING IT!

Unlike the original Xenoblade with its array of Arts, you are now limited to three Arts per character. They’re each mapped to different face buttons, making it easier to activate them. To compensate for less Arts, you can switch midbattle to a different Blade, each with its own fighting style and loadout. Unfortunately, unlocking Blades is a hassle, since each collectible Core Crystal wields a random one. There’s a Pokémon-like joy in getting a rare Blade, but more often, disappointment in receiving a generic one. At least you can send them out on missions and utilize their unique skills on the field, like burning a tree blocking the path – creative ways that make them useful.

Both Blades and Drivers grow stronger by activating power-up nodes on their Affinity Charts, essentially skill trees. To unlock a Blade’s nodes, you must fulfill conditions, such as performing a special attack a certain number of times. It’s a neat mini-achievement system. For Drivers, you simply spend points on the skills you want, though I found most boosts underwhelming. Still, there’s a good sense of progression and customization despite the lack of a standard armor system. I could enhance my Arts, strengthen Blades, and equip stat-boosting accessories.

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The Affinity Chart is different than in previous titles.

The game is well-paced, with a few exceptions, particularly when I needed specific items or skills to progress. Also, some bosses gave me a difficult time, requiring me to grind. For that matter, some regular battles also felt like slogs due to many enemies having high HP. I didn’t mind during my first visit to an area, but it became annoying when grinding. This game took me a whopping 80 hours to beat, doing purely story content. I could have easily passed the 100 hour mark if I tried to complete all numerous lengthy sidequests, discover every Landmark, and fight the strongest monsters.

To be fair, a good chunk of that length is attributed to the cutscenes, but they look so nice. Not everyone may like the anime artstyle, but I adored how expressive each character was, lending itself to truly emotional cutscenes. Plus, it’s hard to deny how gorgeous the world looks. I found myself pausing often to soak in every breathtaking view. It’s unfortunate that the resolution takes a hit while undocked, but at least the frame rate remains solid. Also, I noticed some pop-in, usually after I fast traveled and the environment was still loading. Despite reduced visuals, I enjoyed playing in handheld mode, and it was easy to immerse myself in the world, even in short bursts.

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Better than being stuck on a different planet.

Thanks to returning composers, there are many spectacular tunes that hit similar beats to the first game, like the epic plains theme, atmospheric melodies for subdued areas, and multiple spirited battle tracks. It gives the first Xenoblade Chronicles’ beautiful soundtrack a run for its money. The voice acting, on the other hand, took some time to grow on me. Early on, performances seemed forced; but they sounded more natural as I got to know the characters. Although their repetitive stock dialogue during battles remained annoying, I could turn it off in the settings.

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I must have taken hundreds of photos of this beautiful game.

Conclusion

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a worthy sequel that expands upon the series’ open world exploration and compelling stories with a lovable cast of characters and a strong Driver and Blade mechanic. Though I would have appreciated an in-game help guide to keep the inner workings of battles in check, I genuinely enjoyed its complex intricacies once I got the hang of it. Sporting a healthy mix of meaty exploration, intriguing mechanics, and exciting plot, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a superb modern RPG. And I’m happy to say that it completes a Triforce of excellent first-party launch year Nintendo Switch games following Zelda and Mario.

Score: 9/10

A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally written on DarkStation.

What are your thoughts on Xenoblade Chronicles 2? Have you played the first Xenoblade Chronicles or the open-world game Xenoblade Chronicles X? What are your favorite modern RPGs? Please share any thoughts or questions you have in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

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30 thoughts on “Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Switch) Review

    1. I’m in the same boat as you!! I loved X compared to the original because of the open-world and overall better gameplay mechanics. Story was eh, but I loved it for the more exploratory game that it was. That said, I loved Xenoblade Chronicles 2 even more, as in improvement over the first game. It doesn’t hit the same exploratory beats as XBCX, but it’s similar to the first’s exploration. But that alongside a story and cast that resonated more with me helped me to appreciate XBC more. You will likely love this game as a big fan of the series! Can’t wait to hear what you think! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did! I loved Xenoblade Chronicles, it is one of the best games I have ever played. And I liked X. So I am pretty excited about playing a game that leans more towards the former than the latter.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s awesome that you love Xenoblade Chronicles so much!! You will have a lot of fun with this game. Whether you like it more than the first, we’ll have to see. After all, it’s hard to beat out the original sometimes! I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what you think!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Excellent review! I’m really feeling your reviews getting stronger! It’s one of your best ones yet! This certainly seems like the long game, but I guess that’s to be expected from a J-RPG like this one. I like the cutscenes so far! Some of the characters’ thick Scottish accents seem like they take some getting used to, but I hope they will also grow on me over time. I think you explained the battle system very well, but it does look pretty confusing, at least to me. The battle sequences look very busy and there’s a lot to keep track of with the full party on screen. But the landscapes are quite impressive, though I still prefer the Breath of the Wild aesthetic. Congrats on beating this whopper of a game! Fantastic job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much as always!!! I truly appreciate it! It’s a super long game, but at least the cutscenes were fun to watch! I didn’t mind the thick accents so much as the performances, but they did grow on me over time as I grew to love the characters. Battles aren’t too bad, but they can get confusing, particularly trying to keep track of everything at once. Once I got the feel of it (and looked back at my own footage to relearn battle skills), it was so much fun! The world is so beautiful! There’s so much I didn’t show, but I hope you enjoy it when you see it! Thanks again! :D

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  2. Great review Panda! I must say, I have seen “Mr. Panda” pop up many, many times on my Switch while I was slogging around in Odyssey, and I was just brimming with jealousy seeing XENOBLADE CHRONICLES 2 under your name. “Lucky bastard must have gotten a review copy!” Lol – so happy you enjoyed the game man. I can’t wait to explore Elysium – Xenoblade Chronicles was just one of my favorite gaming experiences of all time and it sold me on the Switch even more than Zelda if you can believe it.

    The dynamic between characters with the Blade/Driver thing sounds really intriguing. To be honest I tend to stay far away from write-ups for games I’m about to play so that I can go into it blind and not know what to expect, but I’m really glad I read your review as I got a good sense as to how much the battle system changed, which is my favorite part of the series, but also how it sticks to the roots of Xenoblade 1 🙂

    Thanks for putting this review together dude! 1 more day for us common folk! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Geddy! I always appreciate it coming from you! 😀

      Honestly, I felt a little conscious whenever I opened it up because I always felt like someone was going to say something. Then I always felt guilty when I had to talk around it and keep quiet.

      It’s so awesome that you love the original Xenoblade Chronicles! I can say with certainty, you’ll love the gameplay, and it means the world to me that you got a good sense of the battle system! That was the part that was hardest for me to explain without going too deeply or not enough. There’s definitely more under the surface, but I love how complex it was! Story and character-wise, I look forward to seeing what you think!!

      Thank you so much for checking my review out even though you usually go in blind! I always do my best to avoid any spoilers or reveals that would ruin your enjoyment of a game! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done! This game looks awesome, and I love the conceit of Titans making up different worlds! In fact, I’d probably watch an anime about that! I’m not a huge RPG guy but this looks worth checking out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you my friend! Yes, I love that concept too! Makes me wonder how it would be to live on the Titans in Attack on Titan! Haha, just kidding. 😛 But I do think an anime on Xenoblade Chronicles 2 would be great. It’s already anime style and the cutscene fights are very much in the vein of Dragon Ball Z! You may want to look into Xenoblade Chronicles 1 for Wii/New 3DS or Xenoblade Chronicles X for Wii U!

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  4. This game certainly looks amazing and you clearly thought so as well from the review. I’m really tempted to go order this right now. The tough part is that this year is so stacked. DBZ Fighters, Xenoblade 2, Sword Art Online Bullet, and more are all coming out pretty soon and I probably can’t get all of them. Most likely I’m going to have to pick 2 new games for the first half of the year so I’m thinking hard. This sounds like it’ll last a long time though which is good

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed!!! This entire year has been bonkers in the best possible way! I just got three games from Black Friday that could very well be on top lists, Persona 5, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Mario + Rabbids. I haven’t played them yet, but the fact remains that no one could possibly play through every amazing title that released this year. Especially since many of them are really long and meaty like Xenoblade Chronicles 2. And there’s still more to come, even just on Switch. I’m also looking so forward to DB FighterZ! I’m going to have an extensive wish list for Christmas haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s definitely a good problem to have. That’s a monster 3 games that you just got! The first two are also pretty long so those 3 will last you for quite a while. I’ll definitely get the ones that I’m not able too right away on my Birthday or another big event down the line. Eventually I plan to get as many of those big games as possible

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh yeah, I mean that in a great way. That there are so many excellent games to play is an awesome thing for the industry. I’m so excited to dive into these long games. I just need to find the time to do it! I might start with Mario + Rabbids since it’s shorter. Hope you get to play all the big games you want!!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Agreed, I’m glad it’s doing so well! Your plan also makes sense, I typically start with the shortest game as well and then move on to the longer ones. I hope you also get to play a bunch of games and I look forward to your next reviews 🙂

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