Platform: Wii U
You stand on a cliff overlooking the Grieving Plains. The grasslands and lakes of Primorida stretch out in every direction. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the fascinating native creatures. Humans are the aliens here. The domed city of New Los Angeles is your last bastion of safety in a dangerous world full of tyrants and treasures.
Welcome to planet Mira. Welcome to Xenoblade Chronicles X. You’re in for quite a ride.
Earth was destroyed by marauding aliens, and only one of our gigantic life-sustaining spaceships got away in time. Unfortunately the nasty aliens caught up and the ship crash landed on Mira. Mira is teeming with an abundance of varied alien life, including towering creatures that would make Godzilla whimper.
Although Xenoblade looks like a traditional Japanese role-playing game, the character creation and open-world exploration are far more Western-inspired. Your fully customizable protagonist is woken up from stasis and recruited into BLADE. BLADE is a military organization that works to create a foothold for humanity and defend New LA from all manner of threats, including hostile indigenous life forms and multiple alien factions.
The main story is divided into chapters, but the game also includes hundreds of side quests, extra missions, and tasks. Many of the Story Missions require you to explore more of Mira’s five continents. All of the continents are huge. Any one of them could make the environment for an open-world game of their own. The story of battling back against your alien exterminators gets a bit lost within the grand scope, but the sheer volume of fun things to do and areas to explore more than makes up for it.
While you can have up to three other party members, you only control your protagonist. Thankfully you can freely switch between the various classes and weapon styles. Eventually you can mix and match skills and abilities to suit your style.
The action-packed combat resembles a massively multiplayer online RPG more than a traditional JRPG. Characters auto-attack with their weapons while you fire off various abilities. Timing and positioning become critical, with coordinated attacks unleashing devastating combos. It can get overwhelming as the game doesn’t do a great job explaining its many interlocking systems. But if you’re willing to dig in, it’s incredibly fun and rewarding.
As a Wii U exclusive, the gamepad is put to good use as your in-game map. The world of Mira is astonishingly huge. The map provides useful information at a glance and remains a crucial asset.
Xenoblade Chronicles X also includes an entirely optional multiplayer component. By joining up with other BLADE squads you can take on random missions together for rewards. You can also share tips and achievements with each other. It’s a neat system that I wouldn’t mind seeing in more single-player RPGs.
Xenoblade Chronicles X has been rated T for Teen by the ESRB for Animated Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, and Violence. While it has the typical anime teens, most of the characters are 20-something adults engaging in comic-book style adventures. Combat is frequent but has very little gore, and bodies (and destroyed appendages) disappear instantly.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a fantastic genre blend of the best elements of Western and Japanese RPGs. It isn’t perfect—localization is impressive but dialogue is often slow and stilted. The layered menu interface is cumbersome, and the controls are confounding enough that the game defaults to showing them on your screen at all times.
In many games these annoyances could threaten to cripple the entire experience, but Xenoblade Chronicles X is more than the sum of its parts. I haven’t been this addicted to exploring a world since the early days of World of Warcraft. Any RPG fan with a Wii U should absolutely visit Mira. Everyone else should buy a Wii U for Xenoblade.