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Xenoblade Chronicles 2

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Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Game Cover
Icon artwork, featuring the protagonists Rex (left) and Pyra (right) looking at the Urayan Titan.
Developer(s)Monolith Soft
Publisher(s)Nintendo
Director(s)
  • Koh Kojima
  • Genki Yokota
Producer(s)
  • Koh Kojima
  • Hitoshi Yamagami
Designer(s)Koji Hayashi
Programmer(s)Toshiaki Yajima
Artist(s)
Writer(s)
Composer(s)
SeriesXenoblade Chronicles
Platform(s)Nintendo Switch
ReleaseDecember 1, 2017
Genre(s)Action role-playing
Mode(s)Single-player

Xenoblade Chronicles 2[a] is an 2017 action role-playing game developed by Monolith Soft and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch. Released on December 1, it is the third installment in Xenoblade Chronicles and the seventh main entry in the Xeno series. Plans for the game began shortly before the launch of Xenoblade Chronicles X in 2014. Key developers from previous games returned, including franchise creator Tetsuya Takahashi, and directors Koh Kojima and Genki Yokota. The team wanted to develop a story-driven game in the style of the original Xenoblade Chronicles. The game was announced in 2017 with a worldwide release date planned for the same year. As with Xenoblade Chronicles, the game was localized by Nintendo of Europe.

In gameplay, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is similar to previous entries, but with an added summoning mechanic. It features a different setting and characters than the first Xenoblade Chronicles, and it marks the series' return to being story-driven, unlike the previous installment Xenoblade Chronicles X, which was focused on gameplay and open world exploration. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes place in Alrest, a world covered in a sea of clouds. Humans live on top of and inside large living creatures known as Titans. Some people known as Drivers can summon powerful beings known as Blades from crystals. After he is hired for a salvaging mission, a young salvager named Rex comes into contact with a legendary Blade named Pyra, indirectly becoming her Driver, and promises to take her to a fabled paradise called Elysium. Throughout their journey, Rex and his party are pursued by Torna, an organization set to take the power of Pyra for their own means.

The game received generally positive reviews, with praise directed at its story, combat, music, environments, and amount of content. At over 2 million copies sold as of December 2020, it is the best-selling title in the Xeno series, and Monolith Soft's most commercially successful game.[1] Downloadable content was released throughout 2018, and a story-focused expansion was released in September of that year. This side story, Torna – The Golden Country, is set 500 years before the main game and features new gameplay mechanics. A sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, is scheduled to release in July 2022.

Gameplay

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is an action role-playing game, the third title in the Xenoblade series. Similar to previous games, the player controls a main character out of a party of three.[2][3][4] The game employs an open world design, with a day-and-night time cycle that often affects in-game events, including quests, enemy strength, and item availability. Unlike the two previous titles which consisted of a cohesive open world through which player could journey uninterrupted, the game takes place on several lands, between whom the player travels via a fast travel option.[5]

Different from prior titles, characters in the party also control additional beings known as Blades. Each character can only have three Blades active at a time, which determines the character's class, between offensive attacker, healer or defensive tanks.[6] The game's Blades and skills are based on eight elements: fire, water, wind, ice, electric, earth, light and dark.[7][6] There are a total of 40 distinctly unique "rare" Blades to collect throughout the base game with an additional 11 being obtainable either through downloadable content or New Game Plus in later patches. Most of the game's Blades are not a part of the main story, and can be assigned to any Driver; among those is KOS-MOS from the Xeno sub-series Xenosaga.[8]

Battle system

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has an action-based battle system, where the player manually moves the current lead character in real-time, and party members will "auto-attack" when enemies enter their attack radius.[9] Each character has skills called "Arts", that can be used to inflict status effects.[9] Both party members and enemies have a finite amount of health points, and attacks deplete this value. Combat is won when all enemies lose their HP, but the game is lost if the player's character loses all their HP and has no means of being revived. Health may be restored by the player by using healing Arts in battle, or the player may let characters' HP regenerate automatically outside of battle. Winning battles earns the player experience points, which allows the characters to grow stronger by leveling up and learning new Arts.[9] Using Arts repeatedly allows use of special moves. Doing these special moves in the correct order creates a Blade combo, which does large amounts of damage and seals a form of damage against the enemy.[9]

A "Party Gauge" slowly fills as party members successfully land hits on the enemy players, and filling the gauge allows the player to chain multiple attacks together, for extra damage.[9] Using a full Party Gauge allows the player to use all of the Blades to do a Chain Attack, which does extra damage as it destroys previously created seals.[9] The three-tiered gauge gradually depletes outside of battle, and one tier is needed to either revive characters or alert a teammate to a vision. When all three tiers are full, the party can execute a chain attack.[9] All party members have an "aggro ring" around them as well; the more actions a character performs, the larger it grows. Larger aggro rings lead enemies to focus their efforts on that respective character, leading to a strategic aspect of luring and diverting attention of enemies.[9]

Synopsis

Setting and characters

The game is set in the fictional land of Alrest, a sea topped with clouds, called the "Cloud Sea", inhabited by massive creatures known as Titans on which humanity lives. Legends claim humanity once lived atop the "World Tree", a massive tree in the center of Alrest in a paradise called Elysium with their creator, the Architect, but they were exiled for unknown reasons and given the Titans to live on. Blades are powerful beings summoned from "Core Crystals" who channel power into their weapons through a force called ether. Their masters are called Drivers; when a Driver dies, their Blade reverts to a Core Crystal and loses their memory. After some time, another Driver can awaken them so long as the crystal is intact. Two nations, Mor Ardain and Uraya are on the brink of war throughout the story.

The main character is Rex (voice in Japanese by Hiro Shimono and English by Al Weaver), who is the driver of the Aegis, a powerful and legendary Blade. The Aegis has two personalities, Pyra and Mythra (Japanese: Shino Shimoji; English: Skye Bennett), who share conscience, but different abilities. As an orphan, Rex grew up in Fonsett village in the Leftherian Archipelago, a place on several Titans that are close together, which are connected by bridges and other structures. Rex became very accustomed to the Cloud Sea and would salvage parts found beneath. He is very close with Azurda, a Titan whom Rex calls "Gramps", where Rex lives a portion of his life upon. A group of Drivers called Torna set out to destroy the Aegis, leading Rex and party to flee and find a way to the World Tree, a legendary paradise. Other important characters include: Malos, another Aegis and main antagonist; Jin, a Blade from Torna who aids Malos; Nia, a rebel from Torna, and her Blade Dromarch; Tora, a Nopon specialising in artificial Blades, and his Blade Poppi; Mòrag, a feared Driver from Mor Ardain, and her blade Brighid; and Zeke, the prince of the hermit country of Tantal, and his Blade Pandoria.

The downloadable content Torna – The Golden Country adds a new story, set 500 years prior. This focuses on Lora and her Blade Jin and allies in their battles against Malos in Torna, a country not accessible in the main game.

Plot

Rex, an orphaned salvager who collects treasure from below the Cloud Sea for money, is hired by Argentum Trade Guild Chairman Bana to aid the Drivers Jin, Malos, and Nia, part of a group named Torna, in the salvage of an ancient ship. In the ship, they find Pyra, a legendary Blade known as the Aegis. When Rex reaches out to touch Pyra's sword, Jin fatally stabs him. Rex awakens on a field with Pyra, who reveals they are in a memory of her old home Elysium. She asks him to bring her to Elysium and in exchange gives him half of her Core Crystal to revive him. With help from his Titan companion Azurda and Nia, who has defected from Torna, Rex escapes to the Titan Gormott, but Azurda is wounded and reverts to his larval stage. Soon after, they arrive in Gormott's capital Torigoth and are joined by the Nopon Driver Tora and his artificial Blade Poppi. The group try to get to Elysium, but are stopped by the artifice Ophion and swallowed by the Titan Uraya.

After the group battles the mercenary Driver Vandham while escaping Uraya's stomach, he joins the party and Rex begins to look to him as a mentor. The group later learns that Jin and Malos are the leaders of Torna, a terrorist group named after a Titan destroyed in the Aegis War 494 years ago. Led by Jin, an embittered veteran Blade of the Aegis War, and Malos, later revealed as the other Aegis, they seek to destroy humanity by unleashing the artifice Aion on Elysium. During a battle with Malos and fellow Torna member Akhos, Vandham is killed and Pyra unveils her true form Mythra. They have shared memory and consider themselves sisters, switching back and forth as needed.

The group's search for a way past Ophion leads them to join forces with Mòrag, special inquisitor of Mor Ardain and elder sister of the Ardainian Emperor, Niall; and Zeke, prince of Tantal. In Tantal, the group battles Jin, who forces Pyra to surrender. While Azurda leads the group to the third Aegis sword to save Pyra, Malos siphons Pyra's power to regain his full strength. After the group finds the third sword, phantoms of Pyra's former Driver nearly kill Rex, but he is deemed worthy of the third sword. The group confronts Jin and Malos at the Cliffs of Morytha, during which Rex unlocks Pyra and Mythra's true form Pneuma. Rex, now matched with Jin's power, forces Malos to summon Ophion, who knocks the group into Morytha, the devastated land beneath Cloud Sea.

In Morytha, the group is forced to work with a weakened Jin. Malos' driver, Amalthus attacks by controlling various Titans. The group severs his connection to the Titans, only for him to kill all Torna members except Malos and Jin, with Jin defeating Amalthus as he dies. The group arrives in Elysium and meet the Architect, a scientist named Klaus who explains that he had discovered a device that sends objects into different dimensions, the use of which split his body in two and destroyed the old world.[b]

Sensing that his other half is about to die,[c] which will result in his own death, Klaus sends the group to stop Malos, who was corrupted by Amalthus's malice and has obtained Aion. After Malos's defeat and death, Klaus dies, but not before granting Rex and the party a "final gift". Klaus's death causes Elysium to begin crumbling. Pneuma helps the group escape, but sacrifices herself to detonate the World Tree, preventing its debris from destroying Alrest. The group barely survives when Azurda, thanks to Pneuma, returns to his adult form and flies everyone down to Alrest. On returning to Alrest, the Cloud Sea fades to reveal a rejuvenated world, the Titans merging to form a new landmass. Afterwards, Pyra and Mythra are revived in separate bodies and reunite with Rex.

Development

The game was developed for the Nintendo Switch by Monolith Soft and is the third entry in their Xenoblade Chronicles series, following the original Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X.[10] Plans for the game began in July 2014, during the latter half of development of Xenoblade Chronicles X.[11] While the original Xenoblade Chronicles followed the typical structure of a general story-driven JRPG, Xenoblade Chronicles X received far less emphasis on story, and was organized in more of a mission-based structure, focused primarily on exploring the game's massive open world.[10] The development team were unhappy upon hearing the fanbase complain about the changes, and started work on another story-driven title.[11] Because the gameplay was more of a continuation of the first game, they decided to title it Xenoblade Chronicles 2.[11] Xenoblade Chronicles 2 took shorter to develop than previous games, although development was difficult in the beginning due to a lack of finalization of the Switch's technical specifications.[11] The architecture of Xenoblade Chronicles X was used for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to speed up development.[12][13] Another motivating factor was the agreement made by the team with Nintendo specifically to deliver the game early on in the Nintendo Switch's lifecycle.[12]

One of Monolith Soft's objectives for the game was to give the characters a wider range of facial expressions compared to past Xenoblade titles. The lead character designer was Masatsugu Saito, who was designing characters for a video game for the first time.[13] The developers chose him to give the protagonists a more expressive anime-like art style than prior Xenoblade entries, which featured a more realistic type of modeling that they found a bit too stiff.[10][14] Square Enix artist Tetsuya Nomura was responsible for the characters within the Torna organization.[12][15] Takahashi had wanted to work with Nomura, but as he was busy with other games at Square Enix, he hesitantly approached the company with the hopes of letting him work as a guest artist. To Takahashi's surprise, they accepted the negotiation. Other guest artists also contributed, such as Xeno series veterans Kunihiko Tanaka and Soraya Saga, who designed some of the game's Blades, weapon-like life forms.[16][17][18] Tanaka designed a blade of KOS-MOS, one of the protagonists of the Xenosaga trilogy.[19] The game's story was conceived by Takahashi, with assistance from screenwriters Yuichiro Takeda and Kazuho Hyodo.[20] Takeda, who also worked as a writer on the last two Xenoblade games, stated that the writing techniques and workflow for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was similar to that of a movie.[20] While it is a sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles, it features a new world and cast of characters.[21]

Music

Composition of the game's soundtrack was led by Yasunori Mitsuda

The game's original score was written by Yasunori Mitsuda, Kenji Hiramatsu, and Manami Kiyota and the duo of ACE (Tomori Kudo and Hiroyo Yamanaka).[22] Mitsuda, who was also in charge of the audio budget, musician booking, schedule management, and sheet music proofreading, was first invited to the project by Takahashi in December 2014.[23][24] Throughout the following year, Mitsuda and Takahashi held numerous meetings discussing the overall direction of the music, eventually inviting musical group ACE and Kenji Hiramatsu, who had also worked on the first Xenoblade Chronicles.[24] At the meetings, each composer's contribution to the soundtrack was decided, with ACE primarily handling the field music, and Hiramatsu handling the battle music.[11][24] According to Mitsuda, it was done in a way that would satisfy the fans, as they did not want to "ruin the image" that was set by the first Xenoblade Chronicles.[24] With contributions from over 300 total musicians and 20,000 sheets worth of music, Mitsuda considered it the largest project he had ever worked on, with files and data from Pro Tools, his music production software, surpassing one terabyte in size.[23][25] Overall, there were approximately 120 tracks recorded for the game, with around 25 of them being from Mitsuda.[11]

The soundtrack features performances from the Slovakian Bratislava Symphony Choir, as well as the Irish chamber choir Anúna.[24][26][27] Mitsuda, who had always wanted to work with Anúna after becoming a fan in the 1990s, claimed that their performances for the game made him cry.[24] Two tracks, including the ending theme written by Mitsuda, were sung by Jennifer Bird of the English acoustic duo Tomorrow Bird. Before recording, Mitsuda and Bird corresponded so that she could properly convey the characters' emotions through her singing. While recording, Bird was able to improvise melodic elements of her singing, something that did not usually happen with Mitsuda's arrangements.[28]

Release

The game was announced in January 2017 as part of Nintendo's detailed reveal of the Nintendo Switch, with a gameplay trailer being released on the same day.[2][29][30] Similar to the original Xenoblade, the title was announced as Xenoblade 2 in Japan, but had Chronicles added to its name in English-speaking regions.[31] The game was also a part of Nintendo's presentation at E3 2017, where it was reconfirmed for release by the end of 2017.[32]

Like the original Xenoblade Chronicles, Nintendo's European division took up the reins for the English localization, who regularly communicated with Nintendo's Japanese and American divisions about decisions that could prove controversial, something that was previously an issue with Xenoblade Chronicles X.[33] Unlike the first two games, the localization process took place during development rather than after and was ready in time for a simultaneous worldwide launch on December 1, 2017.[34] Days before the game's launch, a promotional music video featuring a vocal track from the game by Mitsuda, "Shadow of the Lowlands", was uploaded onto Nintendo's official YouTube accounts.[35] The video features a performance by Anúna, and was filmed and directed by Michael McGlynn, leader of the group.[35] An official soundtrack, consisting of over a hundred tracks, was released in both physical and digital formats on May 23, 2018.[36][37] Additional content was added through an expansion pass which released through 2018. Added content includes new items, quests, recruitable Blades, and a challenge battle mode.[38][39] New story-based content, Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country, was released digitally as part of the expansion pass on September 14, 2018, and as a standalone retail release a week later.[40]

A costume based on Rex was added to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a few weeks ahead of the game's launch.[41] Characters from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 were considered for a position as a playable fighter in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's initial roster, but they were ultimately passed over due to poor timing, as according to director Masahiro Sakurai the game was announced to the public far too late in the development of Ultimate.[42] Pyra and Mythra were eventually added to the roster as a 2-in-1 fighter via downloadable content in March 2021, along with a new stage and several music tracks.[43] While Rex was considered, Sakurai deemed it unfeasible to control both of them at the same time, likening the situation to that of the Ice Climbers, so he was reduced to supportive roles in Pyra and Mythra's moveset.[44]

Reception

Pre-launch

Some critics called the initial reveal of the game "unexpected",[14][30] with Jeremy Parish of USGamer favorably compared it to Chrono Cross.[45] At the Gamescom event in August 2017, the game received positive early hands-on impressions from gaming sites, being praised for its streamlined combat system and environments.[46][47]

Post-launch

Upon release, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 received "generally favorable reviews" according to review aggregator website Metacritic, which gave it an overall score of 83% on 93 reviews.[48] The game's story, characters, complex combat system, soundtrack, amount of content, and the beauty and size of the environments were largely praised. John Rairdin of Nintendo World Report considered the game "one of the finest JRPGs of the generation and perhaps of all time" and was highly praising the music, "diverse world", "fresh and engaging combat", and "thrilling storyline".[62] He also expressed doubt that there would be a better JRPG for the Switch.[63] Game Revolution's Jason Faulkner called the game "a joy to review", stating that it was "full of wonder, exploration, and character".[56] Hiroshi Noguchi writing for IGN Japan gave a very positive review, stating that it "offers a timeless tale of adventure and an incredibly deep battle system."[64] Alex Fuller for RPGamer was enthusiastically supportive of the game, saying "2017 has been one of the greatest years in RPG history; Xenoblade Chronicles 2 caps that off in mesmerising fashion by being one of the finest titles of the year".[65]

Nadia Oxford of USgamer stated that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 "captures nearly everything that made the first game great, borrows the best elements from Chronicles X, and then improves on much of it. Though Blades change up how you fight in Chronicles 2, the game spills over with the traits that make the first Chronicles game a stand-out experience. More story, more enemies to scrap with, more landscapes to tread across. Chronicles 2 is a dialogue-heavy game, but there are many points where Monolith Soft lets its environments narrate the seriousness of Alrest's plight."[59] She highly praised the game's story, stating "The narrative explores patriotism, war, environmental decline, refugees, and examines the little people who get caught in the crush when big powers scrap with one another. There are also a number of moral and philosophical questions raised about Blades [...] Are Blades humanity's partners, or their slaves?"[59] GamesTM called the game the "apex of open-world design", and the exploration made up for any minor issues.[55]

Leif Johnson of IGN praised the game and called it a "standout RPG that manages to keep its story, combat, and exploration interesting over the course of at least 70 hours of adventure through an impressively varied and rich world", though conceded a few frustrations with the game, including a confusing minimap that sometimes led to the reviewer getting lost.[60] Shubhankar Parijat of GamingBolt called it ""A must-play for all Nintendo Switch owners"" and "one of the best JRPGs of this generation" and calling its world "vast and beautiful", its story "complex and layered", and its combat "intricate and addictive", while also noting that the game was occasionally held back by "obtuse design choices" and "a simple lack of polish".[66]

However, the game did have its criticisms. Jason Schreier of Kotaku, who had also disliked the original Xenoblade Chronicles, gave a largely negative review, calling the game "dull, dreary, overly complicated, and unconcerned with wasting the player's time".[67] He heavily criticized the writing, technical issues, pacing, as well as the gameplay, which he considered overly extensive and complicated as well as the "clunky" menus.[67] He was also critical of the story, calling it "an unsubtle script that stomps all over even the most interesting story scenes". However, he praised the "spectacular" music and "beautifully realized" environments.[67] Noguchi of IGN Japan criticized some of the game's mechanics not being well explained and the amount of bugs found in the game at launch, but was looking forward to the early patch of the game to fix many of these issues.[64] Jed Pressgrove, however, writing for Slant Magazine was highly critical of the large amount of tutorials found in the game, stating "It's very difficult, if not impossible, to feel like you’re in a different world, much less experiencing a story, when such elements call attention to the contrived nature of the whole shebang."[68] Pressgrove did approve of the game's "rousing soundtrack", however.[68] Washington Post's Harold Goldberg found the "intricate, unfriendly gameplay" inaccessible, saying "A wondrous game lies in there somewhere.. it's too often too difficult to swim through", and that he wouldn't play the game again after completing it.[69]

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 won awards for excellence at both the 2019 Japan Game Awards and the 2018 Famitsu Awards.[70][71] The game was also nominated for "Best RPG" at IGN's Best of 2017 Awards,[72] and a nomination for game engineering at the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewer Awards in 2018.[73][74]

Sales

The game sold nearly 98,000 copies in its first week in Japan, and 168,000 after a month.[75][76] In the United Kingdom, the game positioned itself at number 19 overall in its first week, which made it debut 9 places higher over Xenoblade Chronicles X.[77] In the United States, it charted at number 16 for the month of December.[78] Within a month, the game had sold over a million copies worldwide.[79][80]

By April 2018, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 had become the best selling game in the Xeno franchise, and the best-selling game of Monolith Soft altogether.[81] In September 2018, Takahashi stated: "Xenoblade Chronicles 2 exceeded my expectations. We really saw more people pick the game up and experience it in the North American and European territories than we thought would do so... the sales of the Torna DLC are exceeding our expectations as well."[82] In an interview with 4Gamer, Takahashi revealed that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 had sold 1.73 million units worldwide as of March 2019.[83][84] The 2021 CESA Games White Papers revealed that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has sold 2.17 million units worldwide, as of December 31, 2020.[1]

Notes

  1. ^ Known in Japan as Xenoblade 2 (Japanese: ゼノブレイド2, Hepburn: Zenobureido Tsū)
  2. ^ The Architect's other half was sent to an alternate dimension, the setting of the first Xenoblade Chronicles, where he became known as Zanza.
  3. ^ Klaus's other half, Zanza, is killed during the events of Xenoblade Chronicles.

References

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