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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (386)

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Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5

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Xenoblade Chronicles 2   Nintendo Switch 

*whew* That Was a Slog.    2.5/5 stars

The ‘Xenoblade’ IP is the brainchild of MonolithSoft, a current Nintendo second-party consisting of developers who originally worked for Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) on the original “Xenogears” back in the 5th Generation. Unable to complete their grand vision in 7 parts under the auspices of Square, the MonolithSoft employees would break away and move their endeavors to Namco (now Namco-Bandai/Bandai-Namco), where they produced the ‘Xenosaga’ trilogy. ‘Xenosaga’ was intended, like “Xenogears,” to be a much larger and sprawling series, taking place over 6 games, but was appended to three when the sales and critical reception for the games they did manage to release just weren’t there.

Leaving behind much of their IP with each successive publisher hop, MonolithSoft has had to rework their ‘Xeno’ sci-fantasy ideas repeatedly. While the original “Xenogears” was an intriguing mech-themed game with mythology steeped in Christian symbolism (following on the heels of the anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” which was wildly popular and did pretty much the same thing), ‘Xenosaga’ changed gears to focus on the Jungian psychology aspect that “Xenogears” touched upon. With the ‘Xenoblade’ IP under Nintendo’s publishing umbrella, MonolithSoft’s world-building has swung drastically away from real-world mythological systems and scientific theories toward original ideas… and has suffered greatly for it.

I can’t say that I’m a fan of ‘Xenoblade.’ While I was initially a proponent of Operation Rainfall, the Internet petition movement to have a handful of Japanese RPGs and Action/Adventure titles localized for the Wii in the West, when everything shook-out in the end, “Xenoblade Chronicles” was the least impressive of the lot. When the WiiU came along and MonolithSoft had a new ‘Xenoblade’ game ready for it, “Xenoblade Chronicles X,” I was prepared to give them a second chance, and while I ultimately enjoyed that game slightly more than the original, the overwhelming number of issues the series has prevented it from blowing me away.

With the next Nintendo console, the Switch, came yet another ‘Xenoblade’ game, “Xenoblade Chronicles 2,” allegedly a more direct sequel to the original game. With most IPs where I’m on the fence about whether I enjoy them or not, I’m willing to give the series three chances to impress me: A “Three Strikes, You’re Out” scenario, taken from baseball. More than one inexplicably beloved RPG franchise has fallen completely off my radar because of this rule, including the likes of ‘Grandia,’ ‘Tales of _____,’ and ‘Golden Sun.’ With this being my third ‘Xenoblade’ game, and me still being on the fence, it’s make-or-break time.

“Xenoblade Chronicles 2” is all over the place with regard to its presentation. While the environments and enemy designs are still of the same quality as the prior two ‘Xenoblade’ titles, this is solely because of asset recycling. Sure, the environments are different, but they’re done in such a similar style to the other games that they may as well have been churned out by a procedural generation algorithm. Likewise, the creatures that inhabit these environments, while nearly as impressive as James Cameron’s “Avatar” the first time I saw them in “Xenoblade Chronicles,” seeing these same exact creatures for the third time makes the asset recycling incredibly obvious. And while the upgraded 3D engine used in “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” finally managed to get rid of the omnipresent jaggies that have always plagued the series, it replaced them with a moderate blurriness that becomes painfully obvious when switching between playing this game on a Switch and playing a different modern game on another platform. Heck, even stairs still wig-out and turn into squiggly oil slicks in “Xenoblade Chronicles 2,” much like they did on the Nintendo 64!

Of course, the most inscrutable thing about “Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s” visual presentation is the nonsensical disparity of character designs. Probably 90% of the characters in the game are rendered in a fairly generic 3D style that looks like a natural evolution of the styles used in previous ‘Xenoblade’ titles. However, important characters, including the playable characters, but, inexplicably not the cadre of villains, are rendered in a super-stylized and cel-shaded anime style. When characters rendered in these two disparate styles interact, it throws consistency completely out the window. I can’t understand why MonolithSoft didn’t use the super-anime cel-shaded style for everyone, since it looks slightly better (or at least less lazy) than the generic style, and would have helped to remove most of the cognitive dissonance a player will experience due to this lack of artistic consistency. From a design perspective, even, characters rendered in the ‘generic’ style look incredibly bland, and there aren’t nearly enough unique models for unique characters. On the other hand, the super-anime style character designs are all over the place and almost get a little bit too weird at times, which is probably a side effect of MonolithSoft recruiting a whole slew of different manga-ka to design characters for the game. I can’t complain too much about these disparate artists, though, as the result of their collaboration is the fact that most of the cast of “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” consists of sexy anime women in a variety of revealing costumes, invariably with pneumatic, gravity-defying tits or flat ironing-boards, because in Japan there is no middle ground, and they love their lolis.

Audio-wise, “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” is likewise a mixed bag. While the original “Xenoblade Chronicles” was localized in Great Britain and employed fantastic British voice-actors for the dub, “Xenoblade Chronciles X”… wasn’t and didn’t, sounding more like a typical anime dub. “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” blends the two dubbing styles of its predecessors, once again resulting in dramatic inconsistency and dissonance. Half of the characters in the game speak with heavy United Kingdom regional accents, while the other half speak with American no-accents. Regardless of accent, very few of the dubbers actually give a solid performance, likely due to the horrendous lip-synch, which would naturally make “matching the flap” far more difficult than necessary, and result in a variety of weird, stilted, Shatner-esque deliveries of lines. Really, the only good vocal performance in the game is for the character Nia, a flat-chested, wide-hipped Gormotti (read: cat-girl) whose Welsh accent is so thick you could cut it with a scimitar, and whose long-distance fast travel comment provided this review with its title.

Thankfully, the soundtrack in “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” is utterly fantastic. This is Yasunori Mitsuda at his very best. Each region in the game, as is series tradition, has its own unique “Day” them and “Night” theme, all of which are incredibly well done. Several of these themes include English vocals as well, but unlike the horrendous English-language hip-hop in “Xenoblade Chronicles X” that made me want to ice-pick my eardrums, the songs in “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” are outright beautiful. I might have to track down the Original Soundtrack for this one!

Technically, there’s not all that much wrong with “Xenoblade Chronicles 2,” other than the fact that it’s a Switch game, and it is therefore impossible to backup your save file… and the game only has one save slot. Other niggles include the Switch’s default lack of a true d-pad for a certain annoying mini-game, and the fact that, even on the THIRD game in the series using more-or-less the same engine, there’s still a noticeable lag in menu transitions, though “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” even goes so far as to make a little irritated buzzing noise when the player tries to move between menus “too quickly” before the system is ready.

While “Xenoblade Chronciles X” made no bones about the fact that its narrative was completely unrelated to its predecessor, even going so far as to put a weird ‘X’ in the title (which is NOT a Roman numeral ‘10’), “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” implies that it is directly related to the first game, in which the adventures of Shulk and co. took center stage.

That’s not entirely honest. I will attempt to avoid spoilers here, but the only connection between the two is that one character, who doesn’t show up until near the end of the game, is an alternate-universe version of Shulk. Wee.

Anyway, the world of “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” is something of a rip-off of the world of the original “Xenoblade Chronicles.” Instead of a pair of dead titans, one biological and one mechanical, locked in their death throes serving at the land upon which people live, the world of “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” is a massive, seemingly-endless sea of dense ether clouds, through which a series of theriomorphic titans slowly plod, absorbing energy from the Cloud Sea, whilst orbiting a massive object at the center of the world, the World Tree. A variety of human sub-races live and have built civilizations on (or in) the largest titans, whilst incorporating smaller titans into mechanical designs for ships that can ply the Cloud Sea.

Living alongside the humans are Blades: Immortal super-powered “people” who manifest from magic rocks called Core Crystals when said crystals are resonated by a human with a specific genetic marker, known as a Driver. Blades are incredibly powerful, and the militaries of each titan continent consist mostly of Blade/Driver teams. Of course, the different continents are at war with each other because many of the continental and subcontinental titans have been dying abruptly and sinking beneath the Cloud Sea, leaving humanity in a crisis, as the very “land” beneath their feet could disappear at a moment’s notice. The downside to being a Blade, and one of the things most of them dread, is the fact that they de-resonate and turn back into Core Crystals if their Driver dies, and in the process lose all the memories of their prior life.

Our hero is Rex, a generic pre-teen shounen who checks each and every box for his character archetype. He’s a war orphan. He’s somehow employed and fully self-sufficient. His skill at his job is highly respected despite his young age. He’s painfully optimistic, sees the good in everyone, and believes in the power of friendship.

As a skilled and respected salvager – a diver who descends deep into the Cloud Sea to recover mysterious artifacts from a lost civilization to sell for profit – Rex is recruited by a group of mysterious individuals to recover an incredibly powerful relic from a shipwreck that occurred 500 years prior, during an event known as the Aegis War, in which two incredibly powerful Blades and their Drivers duked it out over… something and caused a few of the largest titans to die and sink to the bottom of the Cloud Sea. In return, Rex will receive 200,000 Gold, which is more money than he’s ever seen in his life (though a pittance compared to what the player will earn over the course of the game).

Upon reaching this wreck, Rex discovers that the mysterious object his employers are after isn’t a thing, but a person, one of the lost Aegis Blades: A beautiful redheaded girl named Pyra. Things go sideways, Rex’s employers betray him, and he and Pyra end up joining forces, with the singular goal of reaching a legendary land called Elysium, which allegedly exists at the top of the World Tree.

And that’s really all there is to it. There’s a bunch of gallivanting and world travel, which only serves to pad out the game, since nearly every single event in the course of the main story is simply there to throw hurdles in Rex’s and Pyra’s path to Elysium. A number of other characters join the party, from Nia the cat-girl Driver, who was part of the expedition so salvage Pyra and was betrayed by the same people who betrayed Rex; to Tora, a Chris-like Nopon who desperately wishes to be a Driver, but doesn’t have the right genetic marker, and so relies on completing the project started by his grandfather (Grampypon Soosoo) to create an “Artificial” Blade, which is, in reality, a loli sex robot (complete with a closetful of maid uniforms and whatnot); to other bog-standard anime trope characters who join the party just because. Numerous special Blades can also join the party, each one bringing a drawn-out (but mostly optional) side-quest to the table.

On the other side of the coin, we’ve got a fairly large cast of generic, forgettable villains who also fall into typical anime archetypes, with the silver-haired bishounen, Jin, serving as a store-brand version of Sephiroth to make “Final Fantasy 7” fanboys pee themselves a little. Other villains, such as the brash Malos and weasely Ahkos seem like they’d be more at home in the ‘Persona’ series.

Thus we see the main problem with “Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s” writing and narrative: It is wholly dependent upon extant anime/manga tropes and archetypes for absolutely everything it does. As a result, the story is unoriginal and predictable, whilst dotted with cringe-inducing moments and out-of-place attempts at humor. The game also relies heavily on info-dumps, never bothering to organically reveal the great “mysteries” at the heart of the world’s mytho/cosmology, but dumping it on the player via long-winded expository cutscenes.

Then there’s the fact that the game is far, far, FAAAAAAAR too long. I spent roughly 160 hours on it, but I was pretty much disconnected before hitting the 100 hour mark. Spending dozens of hours on boring side-quests, following the tropey, cliché-riddled plot, and dealing with uninteresting archetypal characters is not a recipe for a good time, and with “Xenoblade Chronicles 2,” the mediocrity lasts about 3 times longer than it needs to… and I know I didn’t manage to complete all of the side-quests because I never managed to recruit all of the special Blades. It’s just baffling to me that this game has a season pass and a stand-alone expansion in “Torna: The Golden Country,” as I can’t conceive of someone coming away from the end of “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” and saying, “I could go for some more of that!”

Since its inception on the Wii, the ‘Xenoblade’ series has always been a bit more complex (read: convoluted) that it really needs to be. While “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” does cut out some of the cruft, like the Affinity Chart that connects NPCs all over the world, and some of the more esoteric combat mechanics from the previous games, it makes up for it by adding in its own unique layers of convolution, which nonetheless manage to feel familiar.

Combat in “Xenoblade Chronicles 2,” like its predecessors, relies largely on auto-attacks and special attacks called Arts. Unlike the previous 2 games, however, Arts don’t operate on a strict cooldown. Instead, players must ‘Cancel’ auto-attacks, by hitting a button just as the attack connects, in order to charge Driver Arts (that is, Arts used by the playable characters themselves). In turn, Canceling a Driver Art just as it lands begins charging a Blade Art, which can hold up to 4 levels of charge, and be unleashed anytime (by performing a QTE) after it has at least one level of charge. Using a Blade Art starts a Blade Combo, which allows another character using a Blade with a specific elemental affinity (the typical Fire, Water, Earth, Wind, Lightning, Ice, Dark, and Light) to trigger a higher level Blade Art to continue the combo. If a Blade Combo makes it all the way to rank 3, it triggers and elemental orb, which deals extra damage and starts orbiting the target. Landing hits of any sort in battle fills the Party Meter (yep, it’s back). This three-segment meter can be used to revive a downed character (1 segment) or start a Chain Attack (3 segments), in which each character acts outside of real-time to pound an enemy with a Blade Art. If the enemy has an elemental orb stuck to it from a Blade Combo, though, the Blade Arts used during a Chain Attack can break that orb, giving the party another round of free Blade Arts against the foe (this goes on until there are no more orbs to break, but as an example, I managed to stack three orbs on the final boss and dealt 1.4 million damage with my Chain Attack as a result). Drivers also have their own combos, involving status effects, which must be activated in the correct order in order to have any effect, starting with Break, then Topple, then Launch, then Smash.

Like the previous ‘Xenoblade’ titles, there are no consumables to use in combat. Instead, “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” introduces consumable that can be used outside of combat, called Pouch Items. These items go in a character’s belt pouch and provide a wide variety of passive buffs. Pouch Items also can be used to raise Affinity between a Driver and his or her Blades, which is essential, as it’s the only way to make Blades stronger. (More on that later.)

One of my long-time gripes about ‘Xenoblade’ has been the fact that accuracy is the most important stat in combat. Getting hit is pretty much the end of the line in this series, as the general lack of in-battle healing and enemies that can one-shot (or two-shot) a character has made evasion and accuracy the center of attention. “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” attempts to correct this by employing three character archetypes (drawn from MMO parlance): Attacker, Tank, and Healer. In “Xenoblade Chronicles 2,” the Tank is the only character that is meant to be attacked. Tanks can be evasion-based, but are more often based around a new Block stat that complements evasion. Tanks don’t dish out a whole lot of damage (though it’s still nothing to sneeze at), but they can stand toe-to-toe with vicious enemies and take a beating all day long without going down (unless they get surrounded). Attackers and Healers, on the other hand, are made of tissue paper and will still go down in 1-3 hits, as is series tradition, so ensuring that the Tank in the party draws all of the enemy attention (called Aggro, again using MMO parlance) is essential for success… and actually makes the entire game feel simplistic and repetitive, as every battle just boils down to shoving the party Tank in the enemies’ faces and beating on their spongy health meters with the Attacker and Healer until they die, throwing in convoluted combos when the opportunity presents itself.

The biggest problem with the battle archetype system used in “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” is actually a symptom of the game’s biggest overall mechanical failure. Acquiring Blades to use in combat is almost entirely based on a gachapon system ripped straight from the playbook of Japanese mobile games, in which a player collects currency (in this case Core Crystals), then uses that currency to take a spin on the gacha machine in order to obtain a completely random prize. Most of the Blades awakened from Core Crystals are common Blades… and are complete trash. However, it’s possible to randomly awaken special rare blades who are only slightly weaker than the super rare Blades who are tied to each of the playable characters from the outset. Each character can (and should) equip up to three blades by the midpoint of the story, and is able to swap between them in combat, whilst benefitting from passive buffs provided by all three equipped Blades, regardless of which one is active in combat. As if getting useful Blades out of the gacha machine wasn’t hard enough due to the fact that the system is pure RNG, getting useful Blades ON THE CORRECT DRIVERS is next to impossible. For arbitrary reasons, Driver characters can only equip Blades they’ve personally awakened. So if you’ve got a Driver that came with a really good Tank Blade and awaken a special Healer or Attacker Blade for them, you’ve got diddly squat. Nothing is worse than having an AI companion (because the series insists on only allowing the player to control one character and not switch between characters during combat) who is serving as the party Tank swap to an Attacker while they have all the Aggro and getting stomped into the ground because their Block rating went from 60% to 3%. Sure, there is technically a way to move Blades between Drivers, but it requires a horrifically rare consumable item, so it’s not practical, considering the large number of special blades in the game. Of this large number of special Blades, there are actually a handful that awaken from specific unique Core Crystals, so you always know what you’re getting… if you consult the game’s Wiki in order to learn what Blade (and what battle archetype said Blade has) comes out of each of these unique Core Crystals, since resonating with any Core Crystal causes the game to auto-save and prevents any do-overs.

Gearing up is surprisingly easy in “Xenoblade Chronicles 2.” Drivers each have a miserable two accessory slots to fill, while Blades have 1-3 Auxiliary Crystal slots as well as a weapon which can be augmented with Crystal Chips to take on various forms with different stats (really, it’s just a matter of finding better Chips as the party moves from region to region, as it has always been in RPGs). Crafting Auxiliary Crystals involves collecting a bunch of monster debris and picking up junk off the ground and rubbing said junk on a framework. Auxiliary frames drop randomly from enemies and out of chests at a near constant rate.

What is NOT easy, however, is powering-up Blades via Affinity. While the convoluted Affinity Chart showing the relationships between every NPC in the game may be gone in “Xenoblade Chronicles 2,” it has been replaced by a unique, rainbow-shaped Affinity Chart for each and every blade that resonates with a Driver. In order to unlock each layer of the rainbow (5 in total), the Driver must first raise Trust with the Blade. This usually just involves using them in battle a lot (and I mean A LOOOOOOOT) and completing side-quests with them, but some special blades have other, unique requirements. Each layer of the rainbow has up to 9 different spokes, each granting a wide array of buffs to combat and non-combat abilities. Tediously, each and every rung on each and every spoke in each and every Affinity Chart requires the player to do something specific with that Blade equipped, ranging from killing x copies of y enemy, killing a unique enemy, collecting garbage off the ground, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

While combat abilities for Blades are self-explanatory, non-combat Blade abilities typically come into play when overcoming Field Challenges or picking up trash off the ground for use in crafting or questing. Field Challenges are things on the map that require the party have a combination of Blades equipped that meets a certain threshold of a given skill(s). For example, diving through an underwater tunnel might require Water Mastery 3 and Fortitude 3. Unfortunately, the Field Skill system is just as tedious and convoluted as every other system in the game, as it requires the player to manually go into the party menu and swap Blades around until a combination of equipped Blades meets the Field Challenge level. It doesn’t matter if these are garbage blades (it gives common Blades something to do), but is incredibly annoying.

The other thing non-combat skills can be used for is Mercenary Missions. Early on in the game, Rex and co. become leaders in a mercenary company, and can send out idle Blades on real-time Mercenary Missions. These missions are another aspect of the game ripped directly from mobile gaming (though the mechanic is also directly comparable to the mission system found in “Dragon Age: Inquisition”), allowing the player to send unused Blades away for a span of time ranging from 10 minutes to 2 hours of REAL TIME, which only counts down while the game is actually being played. Sending Blades on Mercenary Missions is another good way to build Trust, and can be a way to shortcut most Affinity Chart requirements, but is largely random and obviously quite time-consuming.

“Xenoblade Chronicles 2” is, without a doubt, the worst in the series. Between the inconsistent art style, inconsistent voiceacting, tropey and clichéd story, bland and archetypal characters, tiresomely convoluted gameplay systems, and misbegotten mobile gaming mechanics, there’s not a lot to like here. Alas, this is the third strike, and ‘Xenoblade’ is now out for me. I won’t be picking up the stand-alone expansion, “Torna: The Golden Country,” because I no longer have any faith in MonolithSoft’s ability to make a great game. I know there are some people out there who will love this – those who can’t get enough anime tropes or mobile gaming in their daily diet – but I really can’t recommend this game, or even this series, to anyone who is a serious RPG aficionado.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 2/5
Gameplay: 2/5
Overall (not an average): 2.5/5



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