Xenoblade Chronicles is much better towards the beginning when it is telling a more personal story (spoilers are marked)

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bigsocrates

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Edited By bigsocrates

Tonight I finished the main game of Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, though I haven't played the new epilogue yet, and while I want to write up full thoughts at some point, for now I just want to complain about the end of the game, or really the back third. I think that XBC falls into the incredibly common JRPG trap of starting out telling a personal story about relatable characters and then ending up just describing the mechanics of its world and the philosophies of characters you don't really care about for hours on end as it draws towards its conclusion.

After the introduction of Dunban and his comrades the game really begins with the story of Shulk and his friends coming of age in a small city in the aftermath of a war. Despite XBC having a fascinating and insane world where everyone lives on the surface of this dead titan in the middle of a boundless sea, it starts with a grounded and relatable scenario. The game takes some time with this setting, giving you some menial tasks and quests and letting you get your feet wet with the combat fighting bunnies and caterpillars. Then, after things change for Shulk and his friends, he sets off on a big adventure to explore his world and seek retribution, while also learning about himself and the Monado, the magical blade that's at the center of the game's story.

For the next 35 or so hours you go from fascinating environment to fascinating environment, learning all about Bionis and its inhabitants, seeing all kinds of really cool art assets, listening to some amazing music, and meeting new people along the way. You follow Shulk's quest through its various twists and turns and his growth as a person and a character and then there's a major development and big event that splits up your party for a little while and explores the characters a bit more deeply before they regroup and start back on their path.

You are, at this point, about 60% through the game (My playthrough was about 56 hours and I got to this point ~35 hours in) and have seen the vast majority of what it has to offer. From here the game switches from a nice mix of combat, exploration, and story, to a much grindier and more combat-driven experience that not only has you fighting similar enemies in similar environments for like 10-15 hours, but drastically scales back side quests, characters outside your established party, and even story cut scenes. These things still exist within the game but they are de-emphasized in favor of running through dungeon zone after dungeon zone fighting similar mobs with similar tactics. You stop getting new abilities, you get fewer fresh equipment drops, and everything stagnates. Even worse, the story stops being about Shulk's relationship to his friends and himself and becomes much more about the antagonists and their various incomprehensible plots and ideas, which are explained in excruciating detail over and over. I don't care that Egil is bitter about Zanza's betrayal. I really don't care about Zanza's stupid justifications for his actions or endless speeches about how all life are just insects for him to devour. The game seems to lose all interest in Shulk, leaving a whole lot of questions about him unanswered, and instead focusing on this massive plot and mythology it is spinning out, none of which really means anything. The game started with a plenty interesting premise. It did not need to spend this much time revising that premise into complete and utter nonsense!

Even the music is not as good.

I don't know if they ran out of money to make a game as huge as they wanted to make, or ran out of time or what, but the back third of this game was so grindy and repetitive that I enjoyed it substantially less than the first two thirds. To add insult to injury I actually had to level grind, partially because there were fewer side quests to level up on and partially because some of the late game boss fights are totally unmanageable with the limited tools the game gives you at a lower level, or at least were for me. If I think back on the memorable moments and character developments they almost all happened in the first 30 hours, which is basically the first half of the game.

A lot of games have better first halves than second halves, for a bunch of reasons. Every player is going to see the start of a game so it makes sense to put your best assets there where everyone will experience them. Games naturally get repetitive and grindy over time, at least if they are long enough. It's much easier to start a game in a compelling way than to end it in one. But when a game is as long as Xenoblade Chronicles is, it's unclear to me why they didn't cut a lot of the fat towards the end and focus on making the end areas more varied and interesting, and on the things that made the game great to begin with, instead of what feels like endless padding, incredibly repetitive combat, and a series of false endings. In addition, personal stories are always much more interesting than big philosophical info dumps, but so many JRPGs don't get this. They make you feel like they only had characters to begin with to grab your attention so they could bore you to tears with nonsensical worldbuilding and villains who absolutely never shut up.

I'm frustrated because while I still enjoyed the game overall, I wish it were like 10 hours shorter and more focused, and almost all of that came towards the end. Specially while the climb up Mechonis' leg was kind of interesting, the endless mechon factories and cities were very boring, especially since you just fought the mechon in Sword Valley. Then everything after Egil is just a mess. It almost feels like Bloodstained in terms of its all over the place tone and re-used environments as you jump from the super lame skinny pathways of Bionis' lungs and heart to the weirdly huge castle and cathedral environments on Prison Island. Seriously, why is everything so big in that place? None of the characters even mention the insane proportions! Then the final revelation of the game is just crazy and nonsensical.

I think Xenoblade Chronicles would have been one of my favorite games of all time if it were a 40 hour JRPG instead of a 55 hour one, and that's very frustrating. I think the game loses track of the story it's telling and tells a different story that's frankly not as good. I think it runs out of interesting visual ideas, new enemies, and ways to keep combat fresh and engaging, but keeps going anyway because more is more.

It's a good game, but it really needed an editor.

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Efesell

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I thoroughly require all Xeno games to dip completely into nonsense by the end.

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#2  Edited By GunstarRed

I think the game is better when it's doing huge scale anime nonsense with big twists and even bigger mechs. One of the main reasons why I like XC2 a lot more. I haven't finished the game, but I assume I'm about to go into the endgame now, and I have done as many side missions as possible, some of which only open up when you run around talking to people or by backtracking, and I've always been somewhere between 5 and 8 levels above nearly every enemy, including bosses. There hasn't been a single point where I haven't felt like the game wants to continually feed me side content.

Also, most of the cast are fine, pretty standard for the genre, but they seem a little boring compared to the bunch of weirdos in the second game. I'm a little baffled that people really like Melia, she's a real bore, and considering she's voiced by the most well known actor in the cast, her delivery is terrible.

Fiora when she returns is cool though.

Nopons suck.

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#3  Edited By Zeik  Online

I found the game got much too easy by the end when I played it originally, as it is very easy to overlevel in this game if you do enough of the side quests. Which is why I was very happy they added the expert mode that lets you adjust levels at will. I've consistently kept my levels a good 3-5 levels below my actual level just to stay within a proper range of enemies and maintain a more consistent challenge.

Anyway, the final stretch of the story isn't necessarily the high point of the game for me, but there was enough there I liked that it didn't hold me back from enjoying the game overall (I think the only part I actively disliked was how they handled Dickson), and the final ending twist is exactly the kind of nonsense I want in my Xeno game. I actually would have loved to see them lean more into that stuff a bit sooner.

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north6

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I played the original, I agree 100%. When I first played this game I was blown away (not the least of which that it was technically astounding for wii). It has one of the strongest openings of any RPG I can recall, and I'd never seen anything like it. I did get about 75% through it, but woof, did it fall off at the end, and ultimately I hit one of those grindy endgame bosses where I couldn't reconcile the numbers of levels I'd need to make it happen.

That said, this is making me want to pick this up and play through that great beginning again. Thanks for the write up!

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The plot pre-Eryth Sea is good, but pretty stock standard JRPG stuff. Home town, best friend, personal loss and then grand adventure. You could describe many, many JRPG's opening hours with those outlines, the thing setting it apart being the fact it takes place on a Titan and not a planet. Everything after Eryth Sea is where it gets genuinely interesting. I loved the absolutely ridiculous twist towards the end and actually wished the game delved deeper into that.

I think the world and mythology surrounding it are just as interesting as the characters and their personal stories.

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imhungry

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personal stories are always much more interesting than big philosophical info dumps

is fine as a statement of personal preference but seems like a bizarre thing to declare as unequivocal fact. I liked the back part of the game well enough, the environments are somewhat less varied but the shift to exploring a completely different culture and people was enough to keep me interested.

I thought the plot shifted fairly naturally into focusing on world-shattering consequence, both as the continuation of themes the game had been laying down since hour 2 and the culmination of foreshadowing since even the early hours of the game. And I appreciate that when it took it's big dumb JRPG plot swing it really committed with the big dumb twist at the end, enough that I wish it had dropped that earlier on to do more with.

I haven't touched the game since playing through the original when it came out, so I don't have much to say about the balance of combat/exploration since I largely don't remember what the balance was, but I certainly don't remember having to grind, nor would I call your toolset 'limited' at all by the time you reach Mechonis. It's arguably where the game really starts to let you feel truly powerful, giving you options to tighten up your cycles and optimize gems in order to let the MMO-style combat truly shine. I definitely understand the combat being repetitive, because once you perfect a cycle that's pretty much all you do unless it's ineffective on a particular boss, but the combat system is definitely robust enough in the late game to overcome level differences.

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bigsocrates

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I'm genuinely surprised at the number of people who seem to have done a large percentage of the sidequests. The vast majority of sidequests in the game are not at all interesting (kill X number of Y, collect W number of Z etc...) and don't really give you anything of note (cash or a non-unique item and maybe some XP.) They are useful for grinding rep if you want, and the Colony 6 quests have better rewards, as do a few others, but I feel like trying to do them all would be super boring.

Regardless, even if you like the side quests, there are so many fewer of them later in the game. The last few sections don't have any at all.

I agree that if the game had leaned more into its big twists and revelations and especially built out the characters involved more it could have worked better, but it really seems to lose interest in storytelling of any kind in the later game. There are tons of character threads that are never resolved or are resolved without explanation. Apparently there's a separate book that explains how Fiora got her old body back. There are a few cut scenes and data dumps but none of the implications of what's being said are really processed or discussed. Instead the story is more like reading a Wikipedia article about a story, with lots of summary of stuff that happened and no real contextualization or import.

@doctordonkey: I don't think the end plot is less standard JRPG than the beginning. I can think of a ton of JRPGs that do something pretty similar, minus the final Planet of the Apes twist. I actually played through Final Fantasy IX a few weeks ago and without getting into too many spoilers for that game there are substantial parallels between the two. Final Fantasy IX doesn't really lose track of its personal story while it's telling its overarching narrative though. If Xenoblade Chronicles had dug deeper into that stuff and drawn it into the characters' personal stories, like it did with its first major antagonist, it would have been great. For me it's more about how the story was told than the specifics of it.

I also disagree that the first half is very generic. I think the unique setting and especially the way that setting is explored and built on is pretty special. The environments are wildly varied and expansive. It doesn't reinvent the wheel but it executes really well. The end doesn't reinvent the wheel either, but it's much less varied and weirdly paced.

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bigsocrates

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@imhungry: It's not an unequivocal fact because there are always people with different preferences, but it's a basic rule of storytelling that you want to ground your story in character and then build the world around those characters and how they relate to it rather than just lecture about the world in the abstract. Sure there are people who would rather read the Star Trek technical manual than watch the show tell stories about its characters, but those people are in the vast minority. The back third of this game is mostly characters talking about the world and how it works, and trying and mostly failing to connect it back to the cast, but regularly losing track of what's actually going on with that cast and failing to explain what's going on with it.

I think exploring a different culture and people is very interesting but the game doesn't really do that. The back third of the game is very sparsely populated with NPCs. It makes sense from a story perspective but it also means that you spend a huge amount of your time just fighting without new towns to explore or people to talk to. Even when you get to Agniratha there aren't really stories about individual Machina people, just a data dump about what happened there.

In terms of limited toolset...I strongly disagree with you. If you're sufficiently leveled up then your toolset is mostly adequate, but if you're underleveled then you can get one shotted by bosses really easily, or your whole party can get afflicted with various debuffs that literally make it impossible for you to do anything. If you had the ability to switch characters then you could deal with that stuff more effectively but you end up having to rely on NPCs to make the save, and they often don't act optimally. If you're willing to die to bosses to learn their attacks then you can compensate with resistance gems, but getting the materials for those gear sets is just another form of grinding. I don't know what your experience was like; I finished the game in 56 hours, which is below average, so maybe you explored more or did more quests, but there were definitely a few bosses that were unmanageable for me unless I got within like 3 levels of them. The grinding itself (which was only a few hours total throughout the game) wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't come at a point when the game was already extremely combat heavy.

Some more examples of what I mean by limited toolset:

  • There are no healing items in the game so you can't get through difficult fights by stockpiling potions and such, like you can in other RPGs.
  • You can't switch characters or even control mid-fight.
  • There are unblockable attacks that can kill your party members and while you get warnings about them, there are only a certain number of actions you can take to stop them, often using a Monado skill. If you happen to have just discharged your Monado charge before the boss triggers one of those attacks there's often nothing you can do to stop it.
  • You can't switch skills mid fight so if you happen to be relying on skills that the boss has a high resistance to you can be screwed over.
  • Shulk specifically only ever gets 4 attack skills outside the Monado. That means that he's very limited in how he can reliably build team charge (though there are also QTEs seemingly at random), which is the only way you can revive downed characters. For bosses who are resistant to those skills he is pretty weak, but there's no way to know who that will be going into the fight, and you can't do anything about it once the fight has started.

Now if you're willing to die a few times to learn a boss' patterns you can compensate for this stuff by switching up characters and skill loadouts, but I found it easier to grind out a couple levels so the boss was at least yellow to me than to painstakingly construct a new set of builds to take on a red boss, only to have to revert to my standard build after that boss was dead because the next enemies didn't even use confuse or arts seal or whatever power the boss used to wipe my party. This is especially true because the game's gem management system is a mess and there's no way to save different equipment sets so you have to hand build and disassemble resistance load outs every time you want to use one.

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Efesell

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I've never controlled Shulk as the main outside of when you have to which always seems like the best way to handle boss super moves. It just spends a chunk of meter and freezes time while you select the counter, pretty sure it auto charges AI Shulks Monado whenever activated as well.

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bigsocrates

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@efesell: I have a tendency to just control the main character in most RPGs because it immerses me more in the story. Of course in games where you can switch on the fly, like YS VIII or Final Fantasy 9 Remake, I use that, but obviously Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't permit that. I didn't realize that the game gave Shulk free Monado charges if he was AI controlled. It's pretty fair in terms of cooldowns for skills for other AI characters as far as I could tell (though maybe it cheats those too?) so I thought it worked the same way.

Regardless, it's not a super hard game so it's not that I'm complaining about the difficulty per se. I just personally got frustrated with Lorithia, and the area around her has literally zero side quests and very little to do so it sucks for grinding. Compare that to an area like Makna Forest, which is huge and absolutely full of sidequests to pursue and variety of enemies and I would much rather have been grinding there.

That's kind of my point. You have theses massive diverse areas earlier on, like Makna, Satori, and Gauer, all with lots of stuff to do, and then in the back half you just have a bunch of samey looking monotonous areas with a much more limited enemy set and incredibly sparse side content.

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Efesell

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#11  Edited By Efesell

@bigsocrates: I'm not ABSOLUTELY sure that it charges it automatically when you direct him but I do know that the AI loves to spam all arts mindlessly as they're available (which is why AI Melia still sucks goddammit you made an epilogue starring her and you didn't go back to fix anything) and I've never seen an instance of the Warn Shulk prompt not immediately bringing up a fully loaded Monado.

It may just use a version of what the Chain Attack does but for his menu, since when you initiate a chain attack it restocks everyones arts to use as well.

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bigsocrates

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@efesell: Here's the funny thing. Chain attacks don't actually restock the Monado if you're using Shulk. To my knowledge they don't restock anyone's Talent Art, because I'd often use chain attack and not be able to access Yoink! or whatever, even on an AI character. I do know that the warn mechanic ignores cooldowns (because you'd always be able to access any skill) but I don't remember if it restocked talent arts as well.

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GunstarRed

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#13  Edited By GunstarRed

@bigsocrates said:

I'm genuinely surprised at the number of people who seem to have done a large percentage of the sidequests. The vast majority of sidequests in the game are not at all interesting (kill X number of Y, collect W number of Z etc...) and don't really give you anything of note (cash or a non-unique item and maybe some XP.) They are useful for grinding rep if you want, and the Colony 6 quests have better rewards, as do a few others, but I feel like trying to do them all would be super boring.

I've played all three of the Switch games at this point, and I can't help that thee kinds of mindless quest are part of the appeal because they encourage exploration of these huge, beautiful environments. I think if you're not doing them you're not getting enough materials to upgrade the colony or fill out the collectapaedia, you're not popping secret area experience (which can be hugely significant in some places), you're not getting as many achievements, and you're probably not getting some of the easily missed extra affinity charts. They all feed into the same thing. Some of those later quests in Alcamoth/Sartorl will net you so much extra experience alone for doing relatively little that I can't see how you'd ever need to grind outside of upping character affinity.

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bigsocrates

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#14  Edited By bigsocrates

@gunstarred: I'm not sure what you're saying here. I definitely did my share of those mindless quests while I was playing but they're pretty rare in the back third of the game, where there are many fewer NPCs. After you return to the Bionis there are the quests for the new replica Monados but I think that's it, and they're not even in the high level areas you're in so they wouldn't give that much EXP once you're in the 70s. Even before that there just aren't many quests available on the Mechonis. I also don't know what you mean by "they all feed into the same thing." As far as I could tell they don't really feed into anything? Maybe I just didn't do quite enough, though I did a fair amount earlier on when they were available, but the only reward for upgrading affinity etc... seemed to be more quests, and more kind of pointless loot.

The game is packed to the gills with stuff at first, and then it just...isn't. All that goes away. The stuff you're talking about, the large interwoven webs of relationships and quests and everything, that's part of why I thought the first two thirds of the game were so much better than the back third where it's mostly just...missing. Or maybe you're supposed to go back to earlier cities and get new quests there? If so the game definitely doesn't sign post it. In addition, a lot of people talk about being overleveled due to questing, and that happened to me a few times too, so I pulled back and focused on the main storyline just to keep things a little bit challenging. For the most part the difficulty curve was fine, there were just a couple places where it seemed off, and unfortunately for me the biggest one was in the least interesting area.

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GunstarRed

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@bigsocrates: I think 2/Torna trained me to expect quests would continually open up in earlier parts of the game, and the easy Monado quests are definitely not the last lot of quests, Though they do lead to an insane superboss The village in Makna has a whole lot of new stuff to do in in Alcamoth After the attack. Then there's the extra Tephra cave which is a really high level area with even more quests. I spent pretty much all of my playtime yesterday clearing all of that stuff up. Tons of new bosses, and the bosses nearly always give upgrades to the skills. They're not easily signposted, but there is a whole lot of extra content at the end of the game.

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#16  Edited By sawtooth

Thanks for writing this duder. I'm happy to see more people getting to play and sharing their thoughts on this game. I get your take on the grind and over-sized scale becoming a slog in the later part of the game, as well as the perception of the story jumping off the rails, but in my opinion it serves the final over-arching story intention very effectively.

My interpretation when taking the game in as a whole, is a condemnation of human decadence and obsession with legacy. That final plot twist revealing that the entirety of existence as perceived by the characters is a manifestation of a couple of "real world" humans through the use of future hyper-tech, thereby implicating that all the excessive posturing and dramatization is merely the arguments of two people. Zanza on the one side arguing that his intellect entitles him to create an existence that is completely for his own grandeur and propagation, interestingly represented in a creationist fashion of a divine being that wills into existence all flora and fauna from itself, which are fated to be consumed by and/or returned to the divine source (religion). On the other hand is Meyneth, with a motivation which is nearly completely reactionary to Zanza's oppressive manipulation over a world of their mutual creation, manifesting her will through the technologically based Mechon beings, a direct affront to Zanza's creationist mythology and a glaring reminder that all that he has created is actually a product of the profound technology of the "real world" (technology/logical reason). The escalating scale that is increasingly apparent as the game progresses seems to represent the two sides increasing commitment to opposing each other's arguments, with Zanza fabricating intentionally convoluted lineages, rites of passage and hierarchy of creatures all with the same purpose of carrying out his "divine will", while Meyneth's massive scale of manufacturing Mechon and capturing Zanza's creations to awaken them to their own agency and oppose their creator. I also find it interesting how Zanza's creations are so diversified, seemingly with the intention of dividing them between species (?) which makes Melia such an interesting character where she is devoted to the angel-like race, but is also half-homme, which saves her from being completely enslaved to Zanza's will. As opposed to Meyneth, who's creations are all identified communally as Mechons.

tldr: The story is about the banality and pointless reality of warring over ideologies, with the game play and level design supporting that concept.

edit: Sorry, I am just going off on the philosophical concepts, some of which might not even be intentional on the part of the creators. The argument that this game would be just as, if not more effective with it's messaging had it been edited down by a dozen hours is accurate.

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bigsocrates

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@gunstarred: Interesting. I do remember some character mentioning something about Tephra cave late in the game, but I figured it was a one off late game boss and not a whole new set of quests. I wish the game signposted some of this stuff more clearly, but I guess it's showing its age in terms of that.

Regardless, all the stuff you're talking about requires going off the main story path and seeking out new stuff to do, which doesn't necessarily take less time than just grinding in place, and at that point I was kind of done with the game and wanted to get through it.

I feel like Xenoblade Chronicles' side stuff is a mile wide and an inch deep. There's a ton of it to the point where it can be overwhelming, but none of it seems very involved in terms of the story or character payoffs. Maybe if I had spent more time on it I could have found some of that stuff, but the game doesn't really teach you that either given how many shallow quests it throws at you early in the game.

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Efesell

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I agree that the quests in XC are not.. substantial the vast majority of the time, but that's partially why I kind of like doing all of them. They're very passive simple things that just sort of get done as you go about traversing the world. Especially now that they track much better so you don't even have to go look up where an item is or something.

While I liked XC2 a whole lot this is one of the things that annoyed me a ton, they made all of the side quests substantially worse. There's still not much to them at all but at the same time they're way more involved. They were almost universally a chore to do.

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bigsocrates

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@efesell: I agree that they add a lot to the earlier parts of the game when they're exactly what you describe, just random things to do while you're exploring or pursuing story objectives. You see an exclamation point on the map and you run over and kill something or grab a collectible. In the later game, though, apparently you have to go off to earlier areas to find stuff and if I'm going to do that I want some kind of pay out. I remember one quest where I had to hunt down a drop from an enemy that only spawns in the rain in a low level area and it was super boring just running around looking for stuff to do and I kind of stopped pursuing side quests in older areas after that.

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#20  Edited By Rejizzle

Yeah. Honestly this is basically every JRPG for me. The first two acts set up cool worldbuilding and character dynamics and then they just get left to the wayside as the characters have to go kill God or some nonsense.

Maybe I'm boring, but I wish Persona 5 didn't have any of the mementos stuff in it, I wish Fire Emblem: Three Houses didn't have the secret cult stuff, and I wish Xenoblade didn't dissolve into a twelfth grade philosophy essay towards the end. I would prefer if these games just wrapped up the story they were telling and be twenty hours shorter than turn into a world saving adventure that I have no personal connection to.

...Although the ending of Xenoblade Chronicles is kind of rad. Maybe its the exception that proves the rule.

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Literally most JRPG's. Hell, I'd even lump high fantasy in there too.

There's a reason I'd happily replay the first half of Persona 4 and put it down.

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