In the distant future, the world is devoid of solid land, all surviving beings have settled on the backs of celestial beasts drifting in the clouds called Arusu. A young boy named Rex lives alone on one of the smaller Arusu and supports himself as a mercenary. During one expedition, in the town of Goldmund, he encounters a principal offering a fortune for completing a commission. Without hesitation, Rex accepts the challenge and travels with a team consisting of a cat girl named Nia, her sword Byakko, and men named Shin and Metsu to the agreed upon location. After clearing all the nooks and crannies of the monsters lurking in them, they finally end up in a room with an image of a beautiful woman and a sword stuck in the floor, which together turn out to be the Holy Grail. The young man draws the blade without hesitation, which results in one of the crew angrily dealing him a fatal blow. Rex wakes up in the grass of a vast meadow, in the middle of which there is a tree and a woman beneath that tree. She introduces herself as Homura and explains to the boy that he is in a Paradise created by God, where people have lived in harmony and happiness for centuries. A moment later she corrects herself saying that everything he saw was just an illusion – a memory preserved from the old times. At the same moment she asks Rex to find the way to the true Paradise and lead her there…
First of all, I’d like to point out that I’m reviewing the Japanese version of the game (collector’s edition), so the differences between the western edition are huge, also in crucial aspects (which I’ll also mention here and there, basing on what I’ve seen in youtube videos of Western version). Of course, this also applies to character voices – every time I mention them, I will be referring to the original voices, not the poor English dubbing. This review will contain minor spoilers, although I will try my best not to reveal any key plot content.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Japanese Collector’s Edition unboxing
I ordered the game from a Japanese store Solaris Japan in perfect condition. Unfortunately the box was slightly damaged during transport (specifically one of its corners). Cost? ¥9200 + ¥1000 shipping. Everything went smoothly, the package was delivered after five days.
Perhaps I should also explain why I chose the Japanese version? Firstly, because I found out that all the names have been changed in the Western edition. There is nothing worse than hearing completely different spoken names than the ones you read in the subtitles (of course, I wouldn’t hurt my ears with any dubbing, like any sane consumer). After ordering it, I dug a little deeper into the subject of the western localization and realized that I couldn’t have made a better decision than to get the original version (especially since the western version completely cuts out the Japanese language, so it’s simply impossible to switch to the original text). In short: censorship, rewritten dialogues, completely changed setting, terminology, characters, overtones of given scenes and finally cutting out all references to anime/manga and Japanese pop culture, with which the game is overflowing and which were the main reason of my interest in this game. It could just as well be called Shounen Fantasy Story: The Game. Shounen at its best (until now I thought it was an oxymoron). I’ll mention this in general a bit later, but I can already say that I haven’t seen a worse localization of a game in my life (yes, even Fire Emblem If or Tokyo Mirage Sessions), and my complaining about last year’s translation of Nier: Automata is a mere niggle compared to the scale of censorship and carnage done to Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Contents of the Japanese collector’s edition
At the very beginning the box itself, which is really big. To illustrate the size in the picture below I present a comparison with the Bayonetta Collector’s Edition and the typical manga volume.
After opening it, we see two boxes. One with the game, the other with the soundtrack.
In the box with the soundtrack (which isn’t really a soundtrack at all – it’s more of a compilation of tracks from the whole game – which isn’t surprising, as the soundtrack was released separately on several discs and costs quite a fortune) you’ll find the disc, the tracklist and an alternative cover for the game’s box.
Once we take out the cardboard box, in which the above-mentioned boxes were placed, you will see the cover of the artbook.
I have included several photos from the above wonderfully published artbook in the spoiler below (due to the amount of space the photos take up).
I am only posting selected pages here, there is a lot of stuff inside.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Audiovisual design
Finally, we come to the cherry on the cake in terms of art. The soundtrack is an absolute masterpiece. Many games offer a few tracks that we remember. Most often in key locations or scenes. What is the situation in Xenoblade Chronicles 2? Here, literally every location contains music that stays in your head forever. The same applies to the themes used during the fights. Regardless of whether they are symphonic arrangements or not (me praising orchestral arrangements – a rarity). Of course – as it usually happens in Japanese works – everything is seasoned with the appropriate amount of violin parts. Each of the locations (well, almost) has two versions of the same theme. During the day, however, it plays in a very lively/solemn rhythm, while at night it’s quiet. The first time I landed on the fields of Guura territory, I got goosebumps. The soundtrack undeniably plays a key role here and effectively completes the sense of epicness.
Of course, that leaves the matter of voices. When reviewing anime, I mention many times that the voices are perfectly matched to the characters – generally flawless. Here we are climbing to an even higher – basically perfect level. I don’t know at this point if it’s possible to match the voices to the characters better, and I mean literally EVERYONE – including the supporting characters. Rex (Shimono Hiro) – a perfect voice for the hero of a shounen series. Serious at times, frivolous at others. On top of that, the portrayal of emotions – thus enhancing the experience of scenes that play heavily on feelings. Homura (Shimoji Shino) – emotionally stable, but a bit shy and very feminine girl
and her alter ego – Hikari in ojou-sama style.
Nia (Oowada Hitomi) – a tsundere (soon to be dere though) cat girl (probably my favorite voice in the entire game) and her sword Byakko voiced by a kind-hearted, devoted servant (Inada Tooru). Tora and his sword Hana (Kuno Misaki) – a clumsy maid turning in the third person, Idaten (one of the swords) voiced by Hirano Aya (remember Suzumiya Haruhi?) + all the Nopons and the rest.
Graphically, the game looks great in docked mode, even on my 55 inch TV (I play from about 4.5 meters away). Especially the locations with lots of vegetation. Personally, I don’t have too high requirements for graphics, because what matters to me is the story, gameplay and sound experience (that’s why I love Nintendo and thier exclusive games – because they never fail in this matter). Unfortunately, in portable mode, the resolution is reduced to really low levels so you can see the jagged edges (90% of the time, however, I played in TV mode, so it didn’t bother me). Also noteworthy are the brilliantly directed and animated cutscenes during fights and short story interludes. Not to forget the gorgeous character designs, both during normal gameplay (3D) and in the menu (2D).
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Plot outline and Characters
This is where it comes down to mention the key differences in terminology (I apologize in advance for the rather emotional tone of this paragraph, but it just makes my blood boil when I see what Western Nintendo division does with their games).
A mod has been created that restores the original names to the Western version. The translation of the rest (including what I mention below), unfortunately remains unchanged, but it will save you a lot of cringe and cognitive dissonance anyway.
You can download it here. It works with emulators and CFW on Switch. Unfortunately there is no way to apply this patch using unmodified Switch.
All of the large creatures that the survivors live on are called 巨神獣/ Kyoshinjuu (giant celestial beasts) however a furigana reading of the word was often given – Arusu and this term is used throughout the game (at this point I’ll also mention that there was a great use of furigana also in the case when characters addressed God as father – in the subtitles it was 神様/kami-sama + furigana above it depending on who used the phrase “father” and with what degree of respect). Homura – the main heroine in the original script is literally called the Holy Grail (天の聖杯/ten no seihai – Fate universe fans probably know this word well). The creator of the world is called the God of Creation (literally) – in English it’s called the Architect. As if someone didn’t realize who the Architect is – the object of worship of Freemasonry, literally Lucifer. A subtle change, isn’t it? The names of the areas (and more) in the original script refer to the seven deadly sins. Next we have the land that our team is to reach. In the original script, it appears as 楽園/rakuen, which means Heaven/Eden. Considering the previous references to Christian symbols I am sure that rakuen was used exactly in this context. In the western version – Elysium. I don’t know about Greek mythology – I’ve always been bored with it, but I read on wiki that it was a part of the underworld/hades, where more distinguished people went? Then we have the Serpent (サーペント/serpent – literally) – another obvious reference to the beginning of creation, turned into Ophion (probably also something from Greek or Irish mythology). The end of the third act is generally a masterpiece.
Hikari – Homura’s alter ego is presented as a full-fledged form of the Holy Grail, her name means light – in one of the last scenes of this act she sends a bright ray from the sky aimed at one of the main antagonists who is hungry for power and money – the embodiment of evil, after which the camera is quickly directed towards a dove for a moment – another obvious biblical symbol.
Speaking of mythology – all references to Sino-Japanese traditions/stories and beliefs have been replaced with Western variants (often completely off the top of my head). After all, all the key elements of the game have been completely censored and altered (please don’t tell me that this is how localization should look like – it’s a nonsense repeated a million times and it’s a miserable excuse for censorship – people forget that censorship is not only about the visual layer – if something is changed because people – in this case – in the west won’t be able to understand/accept it in its original state, then you have to call it by its name – censorship. There’s probably no more obvious definition of the word censorship, frankly speaking). Of course, the team of Western publishers didn’t stop at these changes. The dialogues themselves (especially those that build the bond between the characters) are almost completely rewritten. The apogee of this tragic translation is the scene in the onsen (Japanese hot springs) where one of the heroines says her line, informing (in the original) that this is her first visit to the onsen in 500 years. The English translation states that it is her first bath in 500 years.
I won’t even mention the complete removal of all references and anime tropes, or the complete change of characters of many main characters, because I have the impression that this text will be too long even without that. It’s perfectly described by a user on this forum (linking to alternate reality forums like resetera doesn’t happen here very often, but – as you can see – someone occasionally writes something reasonable there, but he’s now banned, not really surprising though) – I don’t think that I could put it better myself. What happened during the localization of Fire Emblem If is really nothing compared to Xenoblade 2.
Back to the review, I will only introduce the main characters of our team and their swords. Antagonists and side characters are better to get to know on your own. I’ll just mention the two more important antagonists briefly (you can check out their appearance in the artbook photos uploaded above – the photos are captioned – more specifically – who is in them). Benkei and Yoshitsune – they refer to historical figures. Benkei (a female character in the game) was a monk and warrior, Yoshitsune (more specifically Minamoto no Yoshitsune) was an important commander of the Minamoto clan (lived 1155-1189). Benkei had respect for Yoshitsune and fought battles under his command.
Heroes in the game who use swords (which are aided by their personifications) are called Drivers. They summon the swords using items called Core Crystal (I’ll write more about the summoning mechanic itself later).
Rex is a character taken straight out of a shounen story. He goes a long way in transforming himself. Here, I would like to praise the authors of the script – I liked the way Rex was presented as a young boy full of energy and enthusiasm, taking action first and thinking later. A classic, however, with one small detail – he didn’t irritate me with his excessive smart-assery or complete stupidity, which is rare in this type of stories. The events of the prologue (description at the top) cause him to become the owner of a sword personified by Homura, the Holy Grail. Homura is a very feminine character, a bit mysterious and shy, capable, possessing a great inner peace, and a great cook. Sharp spoiler.
in the third chapter we learn about the existence of Hikari, Homura’s alter ego – character type – ojou-sama, direct, demanding, giving the impression of coming from the better classes, but also shy and shy, to top it off, there is also a third incarnation – not hard to catch another obvious reference.
We are then introduced to a heroine named Nia. Nia is a young cat girl with a clear tsundere character type. Here I also have to praise the authors of the script – despite the fact that we are dealing with a tsundere heroine, she didn’t irritate me with her way of being. Additionally, she quickly reveals her dere side to the main character, which makes her reactions simply cute. Nia wields a sword personified by Byakko – a creature found in Chinese and Japanese folk tales that takes the form of a white tiger – one of the four Guardians of Heaven, specifically the Guardian of the West (as you can see, the choice of name was not accidental).
Another hero – Tora – a representative of the Nopon species (quite small fluffy balls). Due to the fact that he is not compatible with Core Crystal and cannot summon any sword, he decides to create his own. With a little help from our protagonists, he manages to get it to work and calls her Hana. Tora loves a maid type characters, so he built his sword with that in mind as well. Here some interesting facts. Hana is a clumsy maid type. She expresses herself in the third person by using her own name instead of “I” (a common practice that strongly emphasizes characterization of a character). Given this, it is natural for her to add desu at the end of each sentence. The Nopon species, however, has a habit of overusing the mo particle. They usually add it at the end of every sentence. Therefore, Hana – created in the image and likeness of the Torah – adds mo (desumo) at the end of sentences in addition to just desu. To upgrade Hana, we need Ether, which we can get by playing a slot game (of course inside the game) created by Tora (stylized on 8-bit aracade items straight from Famicom/NES).
I will write about the mechanics of upgrading Hana itself in a later section, here I wanted to focus on the title of this game – Tiger Tiger. Tora means tiger in Japanese, so if we put it all together, we get Tora Tora Tora. Back to Hana. As a result of certain events, Hana transforms into another version of herself. These are successively Hana JS, where JS is the Japanese abbreviation for 女子小学生/ joshi shougakusei meaning elementary school student. Another form is Hana JK, analogously 女子高生/ joshikousei meaning high school student and Hana JD – 女子大学生/ joshi daigakusei meaning college student.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Gameplay
Let’s start with exploration. All locations are placed on the previously mentioned Arusu. We can move freely between them throughout the game. If we want – even during the key moments of the main plot, which is continuous. Here comes another part of the main game mechanics. When we die, we don’t see a screen saying game over, but we are moved to the nearest key point in the area. We discover these points gradually as we progress through the exploration of the area. They are marked on the map with an icon resembling a tornado.
Let’s say – we lose a fight with a boss and it turns out that our level is too low to beat him, we’re moved to the teleportation point, the bosses are waiting for us in the previous location and we can move to any place on any Arsu and do side missions or gain some experience points by killing nearby game. To be honest, I really like this solution, because – especially at the beginning of the game, when we don’t have the whole arsenal of swords and our skill tree is devoid of progress – it often happens that we simply die. Whether it’s from one blow of a huge gorilla at level 80 in the Guura area (whoever played, probably knows what I’m talking about), or in a normal fight, if we choose the wrong strategy.
I will come back to the map and the loot later on. Another key thing are the blades, which we awaken using the Core Crystal stones. After awakening, swords take the form of a human or animal, but usually something android-like. Why usually? Because you can awaken something called Rare Blade, or Common Blade. The whole thing takes place on a principle similar to the draw in games like gaccha – where we draw some creatures or cards. In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, fortunately, everything is done only on the basis of waking up found or acquired Core Crystals, so – of course – no micro transactions are involved. Coming back to the drawing itself. Sometimes we can draw Rare Blade – they take different forms – many of them were designed by very good illustrators and voiced by the leading Japanese seiyuu. Of course – as the name suggests – drawing a rare sword doesn’t happen often (the statistics of the character’s luck type are taken into account, of course) and most often we just see an ordinary – aforementioned – generic android-like character. To keep things simple, there are three types of Core Crystal (in order of rarest) – Epic, Rare and Common.
Each sword has an element associated with it – fire, water, wind, earth, electricity, light and darkness. I’ll come back to this when describing the combat system. In addition, there are a lot of statistics and one of the key things in the game – Field Skills. With the help of field skills we can unlock passages, collect more resources from the collection points (places on the map with an icon of a shovel), open various treasures, prepare food or jump somewhere further than we would be able to do it normally. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a lot of swords in your inventory and choose them accordingly to your current needs.
All swords have their own skill trees, which can be unlocked in various ways – by using a character’s favorite items (food, games, books), for certain situations in side quests or for the fight itself. This tree is called the Kizuna Ring, which means the circle of bonds. Each level gives you the opportunity to unlock the next level of a particular skill.
Individual ranks are also unlocked in a variety of ways. For example, for some points you need to find Kizuna Talk spots (as the name suggests, these are short scenes about specific characters that strengthen the bonds), kill specific monsters, use the character’s favorite items or specific attacks.
In addition to the bond tree, we can improve our attacks depending on the type of weapon our summoned blade uses.
In addition, each sword can be strengthened with crystals, which we can find during the game or buy in the city. The number of slots depends on the sword itself. They allow you to increase the bond, give resistance to certain elements, etc. These changes are permanent (until the time the crystal is used), in contrast to the use of ordinary items such as drinks, food, etc. (in Xenoblade 2 you do not buy any potions to restore life points – they fall out of enemies during the fight), which give effects only for a limited time.
Summoned blades can be equipped with weapons that you buy in towns/villages or find. It increases the stats of attack, critical attack, speed, etc. These weapons are universal and adapt to the style of the respective blade.
Things are a little different in the case of Hana – a sword created by Tora. There are separate parts for Hana, which can be attached to individual slots – if you have enough Ether (gained in the Famicom/NES style mini-game available on the slot machine located in Tora’s house – as I mentioned earlier).
Our heroes, or Drivers, also have their own stats and development trees. They allow for stronger attacks, more stamina, or loaded special strikes at the beginning of the fight (more on that later).
Each of the available heroes has its own set of swords. If we use Core Crystal as – let’s say – Nia, it will be attached to her permanently. Well, almost permanently, because during the whole adventure we find four items called Overdrive, allowing us to change their owner. They are so rare that you have to use them wisely.
We can dress our heroes in various items – I used mainly those giving more life points (usually those that increased the percentage), for which we have two slots.
4. Mercenary missions
At a certain stage of the game we get access to perform mercenary missions. They consist in sending our unused swords to specific places. Conditions of participation are varied – from types of weapons used by the swords to the gender or their field skills. For completing them we get skill points and items. Some missions are connected with side quests or even the circle of bonds (mentioned earlier). Additionally, our blades receive valuable experience points and can unlock their skills as if they were fighting together with us.
5. Combat system and combat itself
At the very beginning it’s worth mentioning that the fights don’t take place in a random way, as in many jrpg games. Animals attack us by themselves if the level of our characters is similar or lower than the opponents, but we can attack any creature ourselves. There is an option to escape if we are fast enough (so this tactic will not work for every case). In addition (as I mentioned above) in this game we don’t have to buy any potions that restore life points. They fall out randomly during the fight (together with other items), whenever our enemies are damaged by our team.
The combat system itself expanded in such a way that the tutorials were still showing up for me around the 80 hour mark of the game, so I’ll only describe the basic mechanics to avoid spoilers.
Let’s start with basic attacks. Heroes hitting enemies with an automatic attack causes the charging of attacks of the given sword available under the keys A, X, Y. Once loaded, we can use them, which in turn loads special attacks (Blade Combo) of levels 1 to 4. Once loaded, we can use them, which in turn loads special attacks (Blade Combo) in levels 1 to 4 (if we use an attack at the exact moment of hitting an opponent with an auto attack, these moves recharge much faster). These attacks are used in exact sequences starting from level 1. You can start creating a sequence when you already have level 2 loaded, but it will still count as level 1. It is not possible to create another element in the sequence using level 1 loaded when you already have the second object in the sequence. Each attack is connected to the sword element, each element of the sequence has its own timer, in which we have to load and execute the attack of the next level of the sequence (don’t worry, the creators gave us the opportunity to use swords – or rather, the attacks of our companions – available under the ZL and ZR keys). The fork tree appears on the top right after starting the sequence from level 1. There are a lot of combinations of elements. At the very beginning of the game, when I had Rex with Homura (fire), Nia with Byakko (water) and Tora with Hana (earth), my most common sequence was (until I summoned other blades):
1. Fire (Homura – Heat), 2nd Water (Byakko – Steam Boom), 3rd Fire (Homura – Steam Explode)
Many of the Blade combo attacks have effects on our team (such as healing) as well as effects on enemies (knocking over, paralyzing, etc).
Performing sequences and finishing them appropriately, as well as using attacks at the right moments, recharges the three strips on the upper left side (Team Gauge). We can use this energy to revive our comrades during the fight (one bar for one revival) or load them up to perform a Chain Attack. Chain attack is a special team attack in which we use all the swords currently used by our heroes (3 per character). To use Chain Attack effectively, before performing it, it’s best to attack our enemy with each of the elements at our disposal (it’s about finishing Blade Combo, or level 3 Blade Combo – because this is the final blow and it gives the whole sequence the right type). How do we know which attacks we’ve already used against our enemy? We can either memorize our attacks, or look at the enemy and the small balls flying around him in the colors of the elements. When we have the appropriate number of them, we turn on Chain Attack (this option appears only in the later part of the game, activated with the + key) and they will appear under the life bar of the creature. At this point, it’s best to use swords with opposite elements to attack, for example, on a fireball – a sword with water element. This way, it only takes two attacks to smash it, thus extending the round and increasing the attack multiplier (this becomes extremely important when you have five or more elementals loaded, because if you don’t destroy any elemental balls in one turn Chain Attack is interrupted). There is another sub-mode associated with Chain Attack, but you’ll find that out for yourself as you play.
Many people accuse this system of being boring or schematic. Frankly speaking, for me it’s one of the best combat systems I’ve had to deal with since the beginning of my adventure with games. It combines the best elements of classic jrpg (great emphasis on strategy and thoughtful movements) with elements known from action rpg (character control, avoiding attacks, collecting items dropped by monsters during the fight). Generally speaking, I have no idea how to call this system boring or inconsiderate, especially taking into account the multitude of combinations and possibilities. Much better than the combat system in the first Xenoblade game.
My final lineup before the final battle (pictures will probably be changed in the future, as the game saves the state before the final battle, so you can still go back to explore and do side quests):
Summary and evaluation
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is one of the best games I’ve had the opportunity to play. It premiered at the end of 2017, and honestly I would have a big problem choosing between this title and Nier: Automata. I would probably put both games on the same podium spot. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 captivated me with its incredibly built world, really great use of Christian symbols, brilliantly written characters that we grow close to from the very beginning, very good script, dialogues (especially the Kizuna Talk scenes), touching and strongly memorable scenes of the main plot, phenomenal character voices (especially the aforementioned Shimoji Shino, Oowada Hitomi, Inada Tooru, Kuno Misaki) and a beautiful soundtrack. The ending alone leaves a lasting mark on the memory. It was one of those adventures that one often returns to in future thoughts with a strong sense of nostalgia. For my part, it receives a rating of 10/10 as the 3rd game in my history (so it’s quite an honor, no matter how you look at it).
(the first few screenshots are taken in portable mode, hence the jagged edges)