It's time to depart in search of Elysium. It's a journey, a new (capless) odyssey, and it's one that you simply shouldn't miss on your Nintendo Switch. After receiving universal acclaim with the series' last adventure on planet Mira, Monolith Soft. returns once again with the signature style that has defined the series. It's a fantasy tale that comes with a prominent Japanese style across all facets of its design and, of course, it's an experience of titanic proportions.
The studio has decided to once again embrace the narrative style you'd find in any Shonen-like release with Rex, a stubborn youngster, who's joined by Pyra for an adventure that takes them through many amazing locations, where they meet an expansive roster of characters along the way. Yeah, you'll see regular clichés on screen (a bath sequence set in hot springs included), but it doesn't feel confined. The characters, in fact, grow and develop throughout, which feels nicely enriching.
The narrative is split into chapters; it starts strong and is full of twists and turns. Each episode shifts focus between the characters and their backgrounds, and the brilliant, dynamic cutscenes move the story forward during big events. It's well-paced and, except for the odd miss (the fourth chapter which revolves around Tora, for example), it always tries to keep you on your toes by means of new characters who make things more complicated.
The starting point for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the search for Elysium, with the drivers, the blades, and the Tree of Life standing as the main pillars of the plot. The former are individuals with a special gift, able to connect to the blades, artificial forms of life confined within Core Crystals.
These weaponised lifeforms are vital to the new game. Each party member is allowed to bring up to three of them, and the blades chosen will often define the weapons that can be used during combat, as well as giving access to different abilities which are specifically linked to each one. It's a system you'll find with every single character, save for exceptions such as Tora the Nopon and his companion Poppi, who have a completely unique system of their own.
These beings carry with them most of the character's equipment, who, at the same time, is allowed to have his or her own item bag and, of course, develop their own abilities. Blades also add variety in terms of look and design (as you'll find no cosmetic variations when it comes to armour). There are blades of all shapes and sizes, each one adding their own unique style to the mix. In other words, Monolith Soft. has opted to keep the look of the main cast throughout the game, and it's the artificial beings who add variation.
Related to different elements, there are both special and common blades that are unlocked via a lucky dip. You never know what you'll be getting when syncing up your crystal, though rarity varies depending on the type of choice made (common or special). To be honest, at times it's pretty frustrating to try again and again only to get the zillionth generic blade.
The growth and evolution of the blades is based on three elements; core chips define the weapon they'll provide, extra crystals add some stat buffs, and finally, there's affinity. The latter turned out to be one of the most interesting new additions, as it's a sort of challenge system that keeps things evolving. Most are simple requirements to fulfill (challenges like speak to 25 people), but others will require more time and effort. It effectively results in a character's evolving abilities being represented as an entity that accompanies them, and in this world and setting, they play a vital role not only in combat but also in how you interact with the environment.
For example, if you're stuck, how about melting down an obstructive door? Or, why not perform a super-long jump? These actions are facilitated by competences, a system which forces you to combine your accompanying blades' abilities to take advantage of them. On top of that, they add a little twist when backtracking through the world, which is a good way to help you to find new secrets. With all this, you might think that navigating the world has evolved with this entry, but the truth is that XC2 is less ambitious in terms of scale than XCX was. Its world, split into titans, leaves behind the fully connected world of its predecessor, and even though it allows you to move freely throughout the titans, it doesn't feel as cohesive as Mira did before.