Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in: Systems Shock

Avatar image for mento
Mento

4368

Forum Posts

509404

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 39

User Lists: 182

Edited By Mento  Moderator
No Caption Provided

There's a common apprehension against what are colloquially referred to as anime fighters for their surfeit of mechanical complexity, leading to a longer than usual learning curve, that will often have players - even seasoned fighter game pros - running for the hills after one air juggle super cancel tutorial or superfluous charge gauge explanation too many. It's not that these games are necessarily difficult to pick up, but they are initially intimidating and unless you're approaching from the angle of having played several similar games it'll no doubt involve a decent amount of time until you're confident you have at least the basics down, and that's before you start learning individual characters and who best to draw them against.

There could be several reasons for why these games adopt prohibitively high levels of complexity, but a common one is that the genre - due to its popularity - has continued tweaking and evolving based on the mainstays that have come before. Any Guilty Gear or BlazBlue or an Arc Systems Works fighter of your choosing is the result of a fandom with decades of Capcom and SNK fighters and thousands of hours spent in same to master their every aspect. Fighters are fairly niche, so they've long since joined the likes of shoot 'em ups as games that are generally played by those already deeply invested in them and are thus always looking for the next level of challenge. (Of course, there are exceptions, and any game that goes out of its way to be "entry-level friendly" seems to do fine also.)

You could apply the pattern to RPGs, specifically Japanese ones. Though their drop in appeal isn't quite as precipitious as the many hand-wringing "the death of the JRPG" article would have you believe, we've long passed their peak era of the mid-90s to early-00s, around the time when Final Fantasy VII captured the global mainstream zeitgeist like no other JRPG had done before. I'm not going to sit here and claim there aren't newbie-friendly JRPGs coming out every year, but a significant portion of that industry has determined that it makes better business sense to pander to the established base, either through copious amounts of fanservice, a steady creep in mechanical complexity, or both.

All the above is just my half-educated musing about why it is that Xenoblade Chronicles 2, even more so than its already mechanically dense forebears, has so many layers of mechanical depth going on. In a sense, it's not too dissimilar to Bandai Namco's Tales franchise: a series that continues to see tweaks to its core real-time combat system (the legendary LMBS) with each new entry, with these advancements only having significance to the people who buy each new game and maybe less so to an unversed player who maybe only views the series as a homogenous mass of anime tropes. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has its fair share of anime angst also, but I wanted to discuss specifically how long it takes to figure out its battle system and the many approaches and features and menus you need to be cognizant of if you intend to make any serious progress quickly and not get trapped in a series of overly long fights with inconsequential mobs. While the game only beats my ass down when I wander off the beaten path and get attacked by something several dozen levels higher than my party, it's taken a while for me to figure out how to end random battles at a fair clip - and the game hasn't stopped rolling out features yet. I suspect the two types of comment I'll get from this are "what the hell does any of this mean?" and "oh yeah, of course, it's all pretty simple stuff when you get the hang of it, my dear idiot".

The Titans are a little more animate in this game than the colossi were in XC1. It's a little disconcerting to see their gigantic heads bobbing around or their tails wagging in your periphery.
The Titans are a little more animate in this game than the colossi were in XC1. It's a little disconcerting to see their gigantic heads bobbing around or their tails wagging in your periphery.

The Basics, or "I Coulda Done That Blindfolded!"

The Xenoblade series are pseudo-MMOs, so the combat is a mix of real-time auto-attacking and occasional tactical consideration. Characters attack automatically when in range of their quarry, but it's down to the player to decide when to use the stronger "Arts" (which covers both spells and special attacks). Arts regenerate their charge through normal attacks. There are also "ether" attacks that are dependent on the element of the character's Blade.

Blades are an unusual combination of summons and weapons. Characters able to use Blades (called Drivers) will swing weapons based on the type of Blade they're using, and Blades can also have one of three roles in battle: Healer, Tank, and Attacker (or DPS). The type of weapon the Driver uses, the elemental damage they do, and the combat role they perform are all determined by the character's currently equipped Blade. Drivers can have up to three Blades equipped at a time, switching between them in a battle to suit the current foe: for example, if you have a fire-based Blade out while fighting a fire-based enemy, it might be prudent to switch to a water-based Blade for the elemental superiority.

Otherwise, the conceit of the MMO trinity holds true: Tanks soak up aggro, drawing enemy attacks which they can whether through defensive skills or their higher than usual HP and defense stats; Attackers use the distraction to position themselves to do the most amount of damage to end battles quickly; Healers keep the other two alive through curative skills, and can hopefully contribute to damage when no-one is in need of intensive care.

This UI is... well, it's a lot. At least initially. I mostly know what all these HUD icons do/mean now. Mostly.
This UI is... well, it's a lot. At least initially. I mostly know what all these HUD icons do/mean now. Mostly.

The Intermediate Stage, or "Let's Not Lose Our Heads, Though!"

All right, so we've established that combat follows the standard MMO pattern of a trinity of basic classes and explained what Blades are. To speed up battles there's a few avenues:

The first are Blade Arts and combos. Similar to Driver Arts, these are built up through performing auto-attacks, but they can continue building up past one tier all the way up to four. If a character uses a lower tier attack, a different character can follow it up with the next tier, and so on through the group. Each successive tier does more damage, but the level IV Blade Art can also be devastating too if you decide to save up for it. Like the Blades, these Blade Arts are all elemental themes, which also determines which ones can flow into others (a Fire-based Blade Art can be followed by a Water-based one to produce a "Steam Bomb", for example).

Then you have a system brought over from the first Xenoblade Chronicles, where you manage the enemy's condition through a successive process of knocking them down and setting them up to be stomped. This starts with a "Break" condition that makes the enemy unstable and susceptible to being "Toppled". Toppled enemies cannot attack and instead lie there for a few seconds while you drop damage on them. However, you could also follow Toppled with "Launch" - you need a burly Driver/Blade for this - which sends them flying into the air. You then have a very short window to use a "Smash" attack, which brings them crashing back down to earth and completes the series. Smash attacks do an incredible amount of damage, but obviously the difficulty is cycling through all four stages in a relatively brisk timeframe. Worse is that certain stronger enemies seem to be resistant to any of those four states. I've not found anyone with a Smash Art yet, but seeing enemies Launched is already pretty amusing. They really go flying.

Then you have Chain Attacks. There's a three-block gauge, up in the top left corner, that slowly builds in combat and can be used to resurrect fallen party members once per block. However, filling all three blocks allows you to pause the battle for a Chain Attack: this involves all three characters landing a special Art one after the other to create a chain. Chains will end after everyone's attacked once, but there's a way to extend it further.

Then there's some minor but still effective battle tips like cancelling an auto-attack at the right moment to use an Art, maneuvering to the enemy's flank or rear for specific Arts' damage boosts, remembering to kite enemies from afar so you aren't stuck fighting them in groups, and so on.

It's taken some time, but I've just about got the hang of all the above. They do speed battle along somewhat, as you start doing several thousand damage with the right conditions, but you'll still do marginal harm if you haven't bothered to go into your menus for some vital character customization and development. I've been picking up on the importance of the following:

  • Driver Affinity Charts: These are Driver specific passive skills that can significantly boost stats, immediately unlock specific Arts at the start of combat (rather than building up to them through normal attacks), build resistances, and other techniques. These use an exclusive development currency to build up called WP. Drivers can also individually upgrade their Arts (per Blade) via a different currency, SP. SP seems to accumulate for each equipped Blade individually, so there's no need to stockpile it.
  • Blade Affinity Charts: Far more extensive than the Driver charts for some reason, Blade charts aren't increased through spending points but by completing objectives. These might be as benign as talking to people, finding resources, using Blade arts, defeating certain monster types, or using pouch items (more on those in a second). However, upper echelons of the skill tree aren't available until you've gained enough "trust" between the Blade and the Driver (which increases slowly over time, though it goes faster if you complete side-quests).
  • Core Chips and Auxiliary Chips: Blades are like digital computer people, or something, so if you feed them specific computer chips they acquire stat boosts. When used, core chips make significant changes to the weapon associated to the Blade, often vastly increasing damage output and stats like critical chance and block rate. Auxiliary chips are more like accessories that you can equip and unequip.
  • Pouch Items: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has a huge amount of temporary buff items, which can range from food and drink to stuff like artwork, musical instruments, books, and textiles (I've no idea why these are consumable, but non-food items will last up to a couple of real-time hours). Blades all have their own pouch item preferences, increasing the gain they get from those specific items. Fortunately, the Blade's affinity chart gives you some hint as to what they're into. I'm usually resistant to worrying about temporary gains - I'm the type of guy who hoards healing items "in case I need them later" - but it's not a system you can afford to ignore here.
The key to Blade development is going out of your way for these mini-achievements. Much is still currently locked until I've spent more time with this big fluffy cat.
The key to Blade development is going out of your way for these mini-achievements. Much is still currently locked until I've spent more time with this big fluffy cat.

The Advanced Stage, or "It's Fine! We'll Get 'Em Yet!"

So a lot of this game is still a mystery to me, even some fifteen hours in. There's an option on the main menu I can't access currently (I'm in Chapter 3) and I've yet to unlock the third Blade slot, meaning my characters can only march into battle with two each - the exception being the nopon Tora, who cannot use normal Blades and had to create an artificial one. From what I've read, the game insists on some strict limits while it's in the process of teaching you the ropes, making every local enemy damage sponges to encourage you to master the above intermediate mechanics to end battles faster.

There are hints of the madness yet to come, however. Crafting auxiliary chips (each needs to be "fed" a bunch of resource items before you can use them), acquiring storefront properties to earn various passive bonuses, playing the salvage mini-game to gain money quickly as long as you're adept at QTEs, completing Blade affinity chart objectives to fast-track their growth, completing side-quests to earn XP, spending bonus XP while resting to earn the lion's share of your levelling (it's an odd system where side-quest XP is stored here instead of given to you directly, but I've read that it's like an honor system to prevent power-levelling - if you're already smashing through story encounters, you can save that XP for a time when you aren't). The game has a massive number of Blades you can acquire, from generic "commons" to special "rares" - the rares all have unique personalities, appearances, and sometimes voice actors.

Economy plays a huge part in XC2, and most population centers seem to have at least a dozen storefronts with distinct stock to sell. By improving the economy by helping the populace and buying stuff, these storefronts gain even more inventory.
Economy plays a huge part in XC2, and most population centers seem to have at least a dozen storefronts with distinct stock to sell. By improving the economy by helping the populace and buying stuff, these storefronts gain even more inventory.

It's an especially deep game that has yet to give up all its secrets, making this blog seem premature given that I'm still in the learning phase. However, my goal here was to demonstrate just how much information XC2 has to throw at you at a turning point in the game where the training wheels are about ready to come off. Unlike fighters, RPGs have the benefit of accommodating a long learning curve into an already long narrative process, so you can spend tens of hours and still be introduced to new systems. Of course, there's a way to bungle this up: Final Fantasy XIII is a fairly excellent game (mechanically, let's say) once it's done teaching you everything, but it's a very long and not particularly interesting road to get there because of how slowly it chooses to dole out those mechanics. XC2's not quite as cautious, but it's also in no mood to drop an enormous infodump on you and instead rolls out what it's got in increments that you can more easily absorb. It's a delicate decision process for a designer who maybe put too much game in their game, but I believe players benefit more when there's more to learn and more to integrate into their playstyles and more viable approaches to challenges in their path. Versatility hurts no-one, though too much all at once will just push players away.

Anyway, I still feel like I have a lot to learn, but I'm loving everything I've encountered so far. The characters are appealing (though I wish the VAs hadn't leaned so hard into nopon characters exclaiming a very Eric Cartman-esque "meeeeh" so much), having multiple titans to explore instead of two gigantic colossi makes for some more varied landscapes, the odd focus on commerce and Blade-raising micromanagement is an overall boon to the series if only because it helps set it apart from its predecessors, and it obviously looks and sounds great as I imagined a HD Xenoblade game would with most of the same production values and talent behind it as the original game. I'll be playing it almost throughout the entirety of March, I suspect, but it's been a fine companion so far.

Avatar image for imhungry
imhungry

1205

Forum Posts

1211

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 3

User Lists: 3

"oh yeah, of course, it's all pretty simple stuff when you get the hang of it, my dear idiot"

I guess I would fall into this camp of comments, except that it sounds like you've pretty much got a handle on what you need for where you're at, so definitely not an idiot! In line with what you're writing though, I would say people having this response is a testament to the game's onboarding process with all its mechanics in that, by the time it's done with you it really is fairly simple despite it being an unintelligible mess from the outside looking in.

I would say the one place where the game falls short in this is giving players a sense of what all the stats and numbers actually mean. To be fair, this is common with many RPGs that stats are more or less arbitrary numbers that keep going up, but by the time I was done with the game it stuck out to me just because of how brutal the time investment is in unlocking blade affinity charts. When combined with how little I knew of what the various stats and skill powers were actually doing, it made it very hard to parse what blade affinities were actually worth pursuing considering the time investment.

To be clear, that's not to say it didn't feel like I was getting stronger, the game still does as good a job as the series always has in that department with its big monsters. Just that in the phase when I wanted to settle on a team comp, it felt massively disrespectful of my time because ultimately I couldn't ever quite tell whether my increase in strength was due to leveling up or chucking all that time into unlocking blade affinities.

Anyway, I ended up writing more than I planned, but thanks for the good read! Hope you keep enjoying the game as it goes on!

Also Tiger Tiger sucks!!!

Avatar image for efesell
Efesell

4866

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

#2  Edited By Efesell

A full 8 orb chain attack is incredibly satisfying if you have like 20 minutes to meticulously set it up. It's such a dumb battle system in spots but I love it.

The 'dlc' as they call it is also super good, its just a small(er) bonus game that does even more fun tweaks to the base games combat.

Avatar image for mento
Mento

4368

Forum Posts

509404

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 39

User Lists: 182

#3 Mento  Moderator

@efesell: Right, the orbs. I didn't mention those above because I didn't quite have a handle on them yet. I've had the tutorial for them though so I guess I've no excuse. Just another thing I gotta remember using until it becomes second nature.

@imhungry: I've been getting steadily better at Tiger Tiger but it feels like I'd need to play it a lot for all those currency crystals Poppi needs. Like I get a few hundred per complete run and need 6000 for a skill slot or 5000 for an element change? I hope the amount you earn goes up precipitously when you reach the later stages, because I don't see myself dropping hours into that mini-game.

As for big stat boosts it seems like the core chips are the most significant. There was one time I remembered they existed and found that I'd picked up a core that did almost three times more auto-attack damage than the one I had equipped.

Avatar image for efesell
Efesell

4866

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@mento: The orbs are just based on the final element used in a combo chain and they weaken further attacks using that element. Blowing them up with opposing elements in a chain is how you end up with a chain attack that lasts 10 minutes.

It's a very important mechanic for harder fights because eventually you never want bosses to hang around at low health because they become very dangerous. So huge lengthy damage chains are the way to go.

Avatar image for goosemunch
goosemunch

123

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

I'm in the very minority opinion on this one, but I actively hated this game. The initial impression was pretty positive and I didn't even mind the anime bullshit, but this game just kept layering on system after system after system and my enjoyment crumbled under weight of all the micromanagement.

You know the old game designers adage "complexity does not equal depth"? I think the people behind this game thought "complexity is depth".

Avatar image for efesell
Efesell

4866

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

While I do love this game I think the biggest problem is not that its systems are actually all that complex but how they present them and how it makes it seem way more complicated than actual practice. A lot of it is different ways to say Equipment and different ways to say Skills.

The main problem I ran into is that everything has its own menu and all of the menus are terrible. I played 100 hours of this game and was never once able to hit the right button to go to the right menu the first time I tried it.

Avatar image for ltsquigs
LtSquigs

306

Forum Posts

5000

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 10

I dont necessarily agree with the opening bit (I would argue that in the last 5-10 years weve seen a lot of JRPGs that are targeted to mainstream audiences, I think the dearth of JRPGs was mostly a 00s thing), but yeah the biggest issue I had with this game is how many systems it has, and how so many them end up feeling useless after a long time.

Like I forget the exact mechanic, but theres the thing where you build up your meter and do big combos with your blades, and once you master that, theres little reason for you to do pretty much anything else. Fights become about filling time in order to get to that point where you can pull off big combos.

That isnt to say that those other mechanics become entirely irrelevant. Like Im sure there are super bosses that require you to have that more technical control over all the systems, but for just getting through the game that one mechanic just sort of dominates over the (too many) other systems.

Xenoblade Chronicles X had kind of the same problem, where for the start of the game your essentially playing the same combat as Xenoblade Chronicles, and then you unlock the Gundam and all of that just kind of goes out of the window. There are a few fights that require you to be not in your mobile suite, but not many, and you really have no incentive to bother getting out (except again, for specific super bosses).

I feel like this is just a problem with the way Monolithsoft is approaching the design of these games, assuming More is always More when it isnt. You see that philosophy even in the story (you could cut about 1/3rd of XC2s story and it would be tighter and better) and in the weird decision to have Gacha mechanics for Blades in spite of it not being a Gacha game (Like I dont understand why you would have them at all, if you arent making money from them, Gacha loot drops arent fun!).

Avatar image for efesell
Efesell

4866

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@ltsquigs: In theory I suspect the gacha aspects of the game were meant to kind of create very individual playthroughs, where everyone got very different Blades and few runs played out exactly the same way.

In practice I think it's perhaps misunderstanding how a lot of players, especially a lot of JRPG players, are very completionist.

Avatar image for goosemunch
goosemunch

123

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@ltsquigs said:

weird decision to have Gacha mechanics for Blades in spite of it not being a Gacha game (Like I dont understand why you would have them at all, if you arent making money from them, Gacha loot drops arent fun!).

Oh man I get angry just thinking about it. I was mostly ignoring this aspect of the game thinking it was optional, and mostly sticking with Blades you receive from the main story. Imagine my surprise when halfway through the game, they start introducing field skill checks in main quests that are impossible to get by unless you engage with the system (if anyone's not familiar with field skill check, it's basically a barrier that lets you pass only if you equip Blades with certain traits). It would've helped if there was some way to create a preset of currently equipped Blades so that you don't have to waste so much time shuffling Blades around whenever you come across a skill check.

Sidequests are the worst offenders in this. Pretty much every sidequest in latter half of the game basically boils down to "go here, here's a skill check. go there, here's a higher level skill check. finally go there, here's even higher level skill check." Most late game sidequests are impossible to finish unless you collect Rare Blades and level them up sufficiently (and some of the require waiting literally hours in real time in order to unlock certain skills). I'm sure somebody finds this fun, but I can't imagine a universe where I do.

Avatar image for ltsquigs
LtSquigs

306

Forum Posts

5000

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 10

@efesell: I can see how that could have been the goal, but gacha still seems like one of the worst ways to implement it lol

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.