Xenoblade Chronicles X doesn’t start strong. This is hardly a condemnation of the entire game; many great RPGs start slow and don’t hit their groove until hours into the experience. That doesn’t change the fact that my report on the first few hours is going to be a bit of a downer though. This begins the chronicle of my time on the planet Mira.
Xenoblade Chronicles X stars a player created avatar and creating that character is where you start. As far as character creators go, it’s okay. It doesn’t allow for nearly the level of customization that other open world games sometimes do but the upside is that every character you can create fits within the aesthetic of the game. This is an anime lookin’ game and the hair/face/eye options basically leave you with creating an anime lookin’ character. The only issue I have to report with the character creation is that the guitar riff that loops in the background gets super annoying.
It’s once I had my character free to move about the world that things took a turn for the worse. Like Xenoblade Chronicles before it, Xenoblade Chronicles X is an extremely systems heavy game with an emphasis on exploration. There are BLADE points to collect, XP points towards universal level ups, classes to level up, faction rankings, battle points that are allocated to leveling skills and arts separately, three different tiers of quests… it’s an intimidating network of interconnected systems.
Xenoblade was a fairly linear game in that the player moved through the large zones in a fixed order and the game was able to introduce each new system as it became necessary for the new challenges. Xenoblade X is far less structured than that, and the player is free to wander without restriction anywhere they please. This is awesome, but it means that the game kind of needs to impart all the systems and rules at once up front so that the player can go and participate in anything and everything that’s out there. On top of that, the game is also trying to tell a story and introduce characters.
All this leads to a glut of awkward cutscenes and text dumps for the first four or five hours of the game. And even if to a certain extent this was necessary, it isn’t particularly elegantly done. Flashbacks to a cutscene you saw 10 minutes ago? It happens. Forced “choice” where both dialogue options lead to the same outcome? Used liberally. One particularly painful cutscene had two party members explaining “tyrant” enemies in fearful tones for several minutes and all I could think was, “Yeah, I played Xenoblade. There are enemies with special names who give better loot and activate special battle music. Got it.” But Elma just kept on going on.
The quests in the beginning aren’t improving things either. The joy of an open world game is stumbling across objectives and distractions organically and forging your own path. That isn’t really possible on planet Mira when you’re level 3 though. I quickly learned that it’s best to keep my head down and focus on the mission at hand as they would lead me to the few safe areas on the map with level appropriate creatures. I was forced to play this open world game like any linear JRPG, and frankly it isn’t a very good one.
The game gets better. Way better. Once you have some levels, a party, some gear, and access to the full repertoire of game systems Xenoblade Chronicle X is pretty rad. I’m looking forward to writing all about it. But we live in an era where entire single player campaigns can last five hours, and this game takes almost that long just to get going. We aren’t at Final Fantasy XIII levels of delaying gratification, but this is still a bumpy start.