(Note: Not all photographs in this article are mine. Please forgive the ones that are, however, as I had to use my phone to get this published in a timely manner.)
Let me start by saying, unequivocally, that I adore this game. I’m well over one hundred hours into it and have thoroughly enjoyed almost every moment.
I could talk for at least an hour (or type for pages) on the intricacies of Xenoblade Chronicles X and what I enjoy about it, and provide a critical breakdown of its elements.
Which, I’m not going to do.
Rico already provided a brief overview when he started playing the game, so I thought I’d do something different.
I’m going to complain! Seriously though, no game is perfect, and here are my top annoying things about Xenoblade Chronicles X.
UNSAVED ZOOM SETTINGS
I really don’t like to play third-person RPGs with the view stuck directly behind the character. It limits visibility and is a hindrance in combat, which is in real-time in this game. This is even more true when piloting a skell (the game’s mechs,) which are so large, staying zoomed in makes the game nearly impossible to play, as your skell literally takes up half the screen.
So, it’s maddening that the game not only doesn’t save your camera settings between play sessions, but also resets it almost every time you have an event conversation with an NPC. This might not seem like a big deal until you find it happening constantly while doing some of the quests.
As a side note, the mini-map has three levels of zoom, and the game doesn’t save that between sessions, either.
BIZARRE SIDE QUEST ALLOTMENT
Xenoblade Chronicles X is full of dangerous moments. You’ll very often find high-level enemies very close to low-level ones, and much of the game’s story content will force you to carefully avoid enemies you have no chance of beating yet to get to the current goal. This is all part of the intention of displaying the game’s environment, the planet Mira, as a living, breathing, ecosystem, rather than the standard RPG system of monsters gaining in power radially away from whatever random town you begin in.
What’s bizarre, however, is how the game allocates side quests. Although there seems to be some logic behind it, as, for instance, I didn’t encounter any missions in Sylvalum and Cauldros (the game’s latter continents) during the first few story chapters, it quickly becomes nonsensical.
There’s a board which presents to you the majority of the side missions, which the game calls Bounty Missions. It will, at any given time, display missions seemingly at random out of those you have yet to complete. However, it seems to take no heed of your level or even around what level you might be at given your progression through the game’s story. I constantly see a mix of missions I probably can’t beat until post-endgame, along side ones I should have been given several chapters ago.
Worse, you can only hold twenty bonus quests at once, which seems reasonable until you realize there are hundreds, so it’s entirely possible to fill your log with ones you can’t complete for quite some time if you’re not paying attention.
I just…I just don’t get it.
Combat in Xenoblade Chronicles X is fast and frantic with a lot of information being conveyed to the player at a lightning quick pace. The learning curve is a little steep, but it’s very rewarding once mastered. The A.I. for your party members is very good as well and adapts to the skill sets you provide them with. I’ve said of this game and frequently said of Xenoblade Chronicles that if Final Fantasy 12 had taken an approach like this to combat, then that, coupled with that game’s amazingly lively and populated, realistic world-building, would easily have made it one of my favorite JRPG’s of all time.
The problem comes down to actually targeting the enemies in combat. XCX (we’re going to call it that from now on,) enables you to target not just enemies, but their appendages as well. This is a stellar concept as it allows you to actually cripple an enemy’s fighting abilities. Certain Arts (the game’s combat maneuvers) are tied to specific limbs, and destroying that limb prevents the enemy from using that Art. It isn’t lost time either, as the hit points removed from the limb are also removed from the enemy proper. There are also certain drops that only come from destroyed appendages, so it’s in the player’s best interest to always knock off an appendage or two before going after the foe’s body.
However, the targeting of appendages, and enemies in particular, comes off as sloppy.
First, targeting an enemy at all requires a shoulder button press. This gives you a soft lock-on. You can then tap the stick in to get a hard lock-on, or you can try and face the appendage you want to attack, shifting the target to it, and then tapping in for the hard lock-on. In theory this is a great idea and in practice it usually works, but when it doesn’t, it fails miserably.
I have often been directly facing an enemy, but because the game judges it to be too far away (or something) I will find myself locking onto something to the right or left, many times something that is completely off-screen. Switching targets in a multiple-enemy fight is a chore as there is no way to just cycle through them, you have to run around and try to face the one you want to target, which can be maddening at times.
Targeting appendages isn’t always any easier, as verticality and closeness of target points will completely disallow you to even target some unless you’re in a skell, and at other times, the cursor will madly hop between targets. Sometimes a target is so large you’ll have to jump even when within a skell to target an appendage, a process so floaty and twitchy that it’s much harder than it has any right to be.
Continuing with combat….
XCX has two kinds of in-combat QTE’s (Quick Time Events) that provide you with perks as you fight. The primary point of these is healing; there are very few actual healing abilities, most of them weak, and healing items are daily rewards for your character’s division doing well, and can’t be purchased en masse.
The first is a thick circle that appears with a shrinking ring. If you hit “B” when within the circle, you get a perfect result, with a nice bonus; inside the circle, you get a good result. Hit the button too early or too late and you fail. This isn’t too bad, although sometimes I could SWEAR it was not taking my button input.
The second is called a “Soul Voice.” Whenever a character takes an action or certain criteria is met, a character has a chance to yell out a line, which will be accompanied on screen with a colored tooltip. The color refers to the various colors of your arts (orange are melee, yellow are ranged, purple are debuffs, etc.) It encourages you to keep a variety of skills on your action bar.
When a soul voice is active, the relevant arts on your action bar will have a very visible glow around them. Use one, and the game pauses for a second, glowing rings of your art’s color appear on-screen, and everyone receives some healing. Party members can use soul voices as well; the game won’t pause, but you’ll still see the rings and the healing. Soul voices remain active until used, replaced by another soul voice, or until a small amount of time has passed.
I can’t tell you the number of times a soul voice was called out, an art started glowing, I used that art, and…it kept glowing, and the soul voice didn’t activate. It’s unforgivable as it can often mean the difference between losing a battle and eking out a win.
Cockpit time, according to the official guide, is a mode that can occur randomly when a skell uses an art, and “all cooldown timers on your Arts are reset, and you become temporarily invincible!”
It’s also, in my experience, absolute shit.
First off, as the cockpit chair takes up half the screen, it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on. You can’t move or acquire new targets, so if you were just about to do that, you’re shit out of luck. And, as the picture above shows, it’s been my personal experience that all of your arts are basically unusable despite having all cooldown timers reset. I can usually manage to get ONE off before the mode ends.
Seriously, it’s crap. If I could turn it off, I would.
MAP AND BESTIARY SHORTCOMINGS
XCX has an immensely detailed map that covers almost every part of the game’s landscape (besides the secret islands) and a bestiary that records the stats and drops of enemies you defeat.
It’s…nice, but both fail in ways that could really have helped streamline exploration and missions in the game.
As often as the game places you near a monster you simply can’t hope to defeat yet, it also frequently places you near treasure boxes you can’t open yet, either because your relevant skill isn’t a high enough level, the box is guarded by higher level monsters, or you simply can’t get to it without a skell (or flying skell.)
These containers show up on your mini-map as little yellow squares, and are a source of excitement as they contain experience points, credits, battle points (what you use to level up arts and skills,) and sometimes data probes, which you use to gather resources and credits.
With a map as big as Mira is, it would be very nice if the game would keep track of unopened chests you’ve found…but it doesn’t. A missed opportunity.
The bestiary similarly fails with location. There are hundreds of enemy variants across Mira, and there are generally two reasons you’d want to fight a specific one.
First, a quest might direct you to fight a specific monster. Secondly, you might need a drop from one for a crafting schematic or a mission. In the first case, the game shows you exactly where on the map you need to go; otherwise, it’s up to blind exploration or your memory, as drop missions don’t show you anything as far as location, and the bestiary (and official guide, for Pete’s sake!) show nothing more than the continent a monster may be found on.
Thank god for the increasingly more complete Xenoblade wiki.
Next, however, is what pisses me off the most:
For the most part, the inventory isn’t a big deal. It’s divided into several categories, and has generous space. Every item category that has unique items (such as weapons and armor) allow you to hold 999 of them, and those that aren’t unique–such as collectibles and enemy drops–literally allow you to hold 99 of each one. You can even sell directly from the inventory at any time. (Although, you should never sell collectibles or drops. You never know when you’ll need one for crafting or a mission, and the game is nice enough to auto-sell any you gain above 99.)
The problem is the armor list. I suppose it’s a problem I’ve created for myself, but the game encourages me to.
This is Hope. While I’ve left most of the characters in their (generally conservative) starting gear, I had to sex her up a bit. Something about saving Mira in armored pants, a dress shirt, and a blazer rubbed me the wrong way.
See, the game has what it calls “Fashion Gear,” which will be familiar to many gamers as the same concept behind vanity gear, cosmetic gear, and transmogs. Basically, you can place a piece of equipment to visually override the actual armor you have equipped, without changing its stats. You can use literally any piece of equipment for this, but some treasures and many quests reward you with vanity gear that can include civilian clothes, bathing suits, glasses, etc. that is usually low on stats (though some have odd augments) that are designed to be used as fashion gear.
You don’t have to keep them all, but you can’t regain them once their gone. I currently have over 100.
Additionally, the closer I get to end-game, the more likely it is I’ll keep pieces of alternate armor load-outs. Regular gear for regular combat; skell suits to augment skells; treasure finding gear for improving enemy drops. There are enough party members to outfit several in each style, but that doesn’t help if you need to swap on-the-fly.
The problem? The armor inventory is a jumbled, unorganized mess of all of this. There’s no clear organization, no division between cosmetic gear and real gear other than easy-to-miss naming conventions, no way to tag gear either to remind me to not sell it (like in Borderlands 2) or to remind me who it was intended for. Everything has to be laboriously examined piece by piece.
Oh, and perhaps most heinously of all?
There’s no buy-back button. I strongly suggest you save before selling things.
There are also a few quest weapons that never get removed from your inventory, and can’t be sold. Why is crap like that still in games? Sheesh.
This is really, as far as I can tell, a Wii U issue, rather than a XCX issue, but it’s worth mentioning. It’s possible that a USB stick can go bad, but I’ve read enough posts from people who claim to have tested their sticks after the Wii U failed to recognize them, and they’ve come up fine, to warrant this.
XCX, like other large console RPG’s, has an install method to speed up data access.
There are four data packs on the eShop that provide boosted access speed during gameplay, to things like the inventory, combat, and monster appearance. All told, it’s (if I recall correctly) about 16 GB, so it’s not likely going to fit on many seasoned Wii U players’ systems. You can avoid the issue entirely by buying the digital version of the game, but again, who has room for that?
So, likely, you’re going to put the data on a USB stick, and when that goes south, the Wii U gives you the delightful error “Disc is Removed.” When you look up the code on Nintendo’s website, instead of suggesting, oh, “try removing the USB stick,” it says to call them during business hours.
It’s a good thing I was paying attention when this happened to me. It took me a lot of time to figure this out, especially since viewing the stick via the Wii U’s menus showed nothing wrong (and, in fact, the stick in question has worked fine in subsequent applications.)
The important thing to remember if this happens is that when you view the stick’s memory, you have to go into a game’s data to see individual parts of that data, which you can’t move separately to the console or vice versa. I had to individually delete the eShop downloads and the game updates and then move the save file to my console. If I had deleted the whole thing at once I would have lost, at the time, about 65 hours of play. See, the Wii U likes to keep data for a game in one place, and since I started with the downloads on the USB stick, it put my save file there as well, which I didn’t realize at first.
Now I know.
In conclusion, despite every awful thing I said here, this is a great game, good enough that I’m probably going to skip or severely push back the next Star Ocean title, something I never do. Happy Gaming!