Monolith Soft has managed to add another unique twist to the JRPG genre. If with Xenoblade Chronicles they showed how much could be squeezed out of the already limited Wii, with Xenoblade Chronicles X they pull the very same feat once again: with the possible exception of the next Zelda, which has shown promise in this regard but still has much to prove, you will not see or play anything like this on your Wii U. And now that we think about it, the experience itself is probably unparalleled on any other system.
Xenoblade Chronicles X drops you right in the middle of the planet Mira as part of BLADE team tasked with restoring the city of New Los Angeles, and right from the start the game is fully focussed on this central premise: you're new, you don't know how to do pretty much anything, and thus you have much to learn and, as there's really no other alternative, you'll do it the hard way, almost without tutorials. It has been a long time since we checked a game's manual so frequently, which felt very old-school (in a good way).
The game is teaches us, actively, from the very beginning. After creating your character in the editing facilities, we wake up in the middle of a rainy night in a cryogenic capsule, practically a newborn. Our first steps in Mira are a struggle against the local fauna, that's until we reach a hill from where we first catch a glimpse at the size of the continent of Primordia, the location of our city, the colony where we now live. Vast swathes of land extend off into the distance, populated by monsters that are much stronger than we are right now - and this is only the tip of the iceberg.
There's a lot to do, tasks of varying complexity. There are "collect items" or "kill bugs" missions that can be picked up as you go. However, if you prefer to go for a deeper challenge you'll have to talk to the characters dotted around the city, meeting them and discovering their personal stories. These missions are usually a bit more elaborate and can, for example, unlock new weapons and attacks.
Lastly there are the main missions. You must meet certain requirements to access them, things like having a certain percentage of the surrounding territory explored, or completing secondary missions. Most of the narrative unfolds here, but without spoiling it for you we'll just say that the plot starts off a bit slower than it does in Xenoblade Chronicles, although it does get very interesting after a series of events that leads to the introduction of a large cast of alien species; it makes for a rich and credible narrative universe.
The level of depth that Xenoblade Chronicles X can reach is just insane and sometimes bordering on unbelievable. One example of this are the shops. Yes, you can buy weapons and armour, but you can also invest in the companies that manufacture and provide these weapons, depending on the type of gear you want to equip. If you don't like what's on offer by default, you can always craft and create your own equipment after finding blueprints for weapons and shields, and even design custom passive buffs for the team. All this by using, of course, resources and items scavenged throughout the map or taken from defeated enemies. Xenoblade Chronicles X lets you tinker with every little detail.
The same goes for your badass, beloved Skells. Until well into the adventure we weren't granted permission to pilot these mechs. They take us anywhere in Mira much more safely and quickly. There are several (light, medium and heavy) types and there is nothing more satisfying than when you start building your Skell from scratch: we painted ours with the colour palette of Samus Aran from the Metroid series, and began to arm it to the teeth (with up to two primary weapons and six accessories, each associated to a corresponding ability, and the corresponding armour). You're designing your very own mechanical nightmare of mass destruction, and even the barracks where you park your Skells can be customised.
In so many respects Xeno X goes deeper than its predecessor, in this case expanding on its combat system - a mixture of real-time and turn-based - by adding to the importance of the positioning when squaring up against the enemy, and via tactical dismemberments. The sixteen different kinds of warrior you can pick up and the inclusion of Skells - the aforementioned huge mechs built for combat and exploration - offer varied clashes from pretty much any and every perspective imaginable: from tanks that absorb all the pain, to the support or specialist classes that deliver critical damage.
The combat system is one of the cornerstones on which gameplay is built. To explore Mira means to meet all manner of bugs, and dealing with them is the bread and butter of any good explorer in this world. Going up against a creature of similar level to ourselves (or even below) and attacking from the front usually means an unnecessarily long battle. That, or you might even end up meeting a grizzly end. Each enemy usually has one - or more - weak point, and targeting that area not only drastically weakens it, but also reduces its ability to attack you back. Our advice: before taking on a monster, look for one of its weaknesses and go for that first. Unlike its predecessor, Xeno X lets you switch between melee and ranged weapons at any time. The former are slower and more powerful, perfect for attacking nearby targets, the latter better suited for reaching those enemies you can't get close to as well as flying targets.
Still, the real star here is the planet Mira, which might well be the largest open-world that this generation of consoles has seen. We really appreciated that Xenoblade Chronicles X is a consistent and coherent game and, with the huge open-world being one of its biggest attractions, it doesn't put any invisible walls in the way that might do away with the immersion. If you see a distant place on the map, you can go there by either walking, swimming or, in the more advanced stages of the game, by flying. We wouldn't be sure as to what the actual size of the game is, but there is talk of it being about three times the size of the map from The Witcher 3, something we can't confirm or deny. But know one thing; it's big. Really big.
Each of the five continents that make up Mira has their own characteristics, specific fauna and differing climates, which ultimately affect not only visibility but also our combat skills. Primordia - the first continent - is a plain with a quiet atmosphere where we find large herds of gentle herbivores and a few carnivorous monsters. Other continents differ wildly, such as the desert-covered Oblivia, akin to somewhere like Tatooine, which has us endure sandstorms that make our melee attacks useless or thunderstorms that force us to take refuge in caves (otherwise we'll lose health for every second spent out in the open).
The remarkable technical work carried out here should be noted. The game is rock solid and a technological masterpiece, using a thousand tricks to offer impossible alien landscapes and an astonishing draw distance, while maintaining a solid frame-rate of 30 fps which we never once noticed dropping. And what's more, not a single bug across many, many hours of gameplay! One drawback, it's true that some elements and enemies pop up out of nowhere, especially when you travel at full speed in your Skell; the game simply doesn't have enough time to load the immense world of Mira. It's the price to pay for having a huge world without loading screens.
There are two ways to view Xenoblade Chronicles X. First there's those coming fresh to the JRPGs of Monolith Soft and Tetsuya Takahashi, players who will see it as the great game that it is and who will experience this incredible world without bias or foreknowledge of what's already happened in the series. Meanwhile, there are those who'll come seeking a sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles, and they might just feel a tiny bit disappointed by a slightly diluted plot that, while maintaining a decent quality, doesn't reach the epic scale and impact of its predecessor. The same can be said about the soundtrack: rock and electronic beats feel right at home in this futuristic environment, but you won't find music more memorable or as charming as the Xenoblade Chronicles intro theme.
Multiplayer further extends the experience beyond solo adventuring. We can either join squads with players from around the world or team up with friends, where each person collaborates with other players. Everybody plays in their own game, but from there on in all players share objectives. If they succeed, missions that allow up to four players to participate are enabled. In addition to this we constantly come across the avatars of other players throughout the world, and we can hire them as AI-assisted characters to help us during missions.
There's no such thing as a perfect game, but we believe that, in this case, our score and absolute recommendation is justified. Xenoblade Chronicles X is an amazingly well rounded game. There's so much to do on the planet Mira, from quick-fire quests to experiencing great adventures alone or with four other players in online mode. And that's not mentioning customising your base and your Skells. There's so much to do that we often forget that the future of humanity is in our hands... Time flies when you're having this much fun.