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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Xenoblade Chronicles X.

Transcript Edit

I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t expecting much of Xenoblade Chronicles X. Firstly, it stuck an X on either side of its name like a Counter-Strike player with divorced parents, and then I assumed it was a JRPG, with all that that brings with it: overreliance on visual spectacle, horrible gameplay, and incredibly contrived plot. Reading a summary of the previous game, presumably Xenoblade Chronicles W, certainly didn’t help. Everybody lives on two giants, and there’s a sword that predicts the future, and it was Earth all along? What?!

But I have to admit, there was something refreshing about Xenoblade Chronicles X. For one thing, it freely admits that the spunky teenage girl character is thirteen, which does make it a little bit creepy that you can dress her up in swimsuits, but I respect the game for not chickening out and claiming she’s eighteen in the English translation. It also has a refreshingly straightforward plot: aliens have blown up the Earth because aliens are bastards; the only surviving human ship crashlands on an alien world, sets up a colony, and must gather the fallen bits of the spaceship from the four corners of the planet, or humans might finally die out. Gotcha. A nice solid maypole for all the plots, subplots, and character arcs to dance around.

That said, the effort to make sure the plot leaves no one behind starts to wear on me quick-like when they mention the Earth getting blown up like nineteen times in the first hour. Then there’s a mission early on where your support characters go, “Wait! We should be careful, there’s a strong monster ahead! Usually these kinds of monsters are not very strong, but this one is quite strong indeed.” “I see, so we should be careful and prepare ourselves for a fight against this strong monster.” Sorry, are you really taking five fucking minutes to explain to me the concept of elite monsters? Why are you banging on about this when no one’s yet told me where I get my giant robot?!

Anyway, X-blade X-icles X is technically a JRPG, but is more accurately an open-world game of the kind somewhat peculiar to the Japanese, like Yakuza or Deadly Premonition, in which the player character fills the dual role of stolid adventurer hero type and unpaid council surveying officer. Yeah, western open-world games love to make you map out territories one by one, but only the Japanese open-world game will make you catalog every enemy, conversation, random pickup, and blade of grass before it deigns to admit itself to be one hundred percent completed.

Xenoblade Chronicles X is a Xenoblade Chronicles X-ponentially dense game whose dialogue wastes so much time establishing the patently bloody obvious that it forgets to tell you about half the fucking gameplay mechanics, so you have to figure it out yourself by holding your nose and diving into the horribly designed interface. For example, once you map out a region, you can optimize the probe networks to either mine more fuel or earn more money, but I quickly had more of both than I knew what to do with, so I gave less of a shit than the CEO of a major pharmaceutical supplier. You invest in weapon and armor companies to expand their stock, create and upgrade weapon augmentations (which is how you’re supposed to use all those random twigs and solidified bunny farts you pick up in the overworld), you’re supposed to be upgrading your weapon attacks and skills from the menu and you have to do that for everyone you take on as a party member because apparently no one can pull up their big girl petticoats unless you specifically tell them to — it’s all very unintuitive, and you get to do all of this while listening to the same four or five music tracks util you want to find whatever hip-hop artist coined the practice of going “UH, UH, YEAH” in place of lyrics and push a small volume of Shakespearean sonnets down his windpipe.

The combat reminds me of Dragon’s Dogma, in that you can hire other players’ avatars as NPC support. They aren’t being controlled by another player, but then they don’t need to be. The combat could be done just as well by a fucking adding machine. It’s very muhmorpuhger-y, you’ve got a suite of attack icons and it’s mainly about using them in the right order to maximize efficiency. Here’s one that staggers the enemy, here’s one that does extra damage to staggered enemies: not exactly particle physics. But while technically real-time, it’s totally numbers-based, so attackers do the Final Fantasy thing of vaguely waving their weapons in the vicinity of the attackee, and whether or not they appear to be close enough is a supremely academic matter, which makes it hard to run away from battles when you stumble onto something thirty levels higher the size of the double-decker bus that just plowed through the brick shithouse — which happens all the fucking time because the relation between the levels of monsters and at what point in the game you access the areas they hang around is an estranged one at best. Putting a level sixty elite monster in the middle of a linear path you’re forced to go down for a level twenty story quest is a total Richard Relocation, that is to say, dick move!

So far I’m probably giving the impression that I’m down on this game, but I played it for like thirty hours, so either there’s something I like about it, or I’m severly mentally ill. (pause) (Let’s not dwell on that.) The scenery’s nice, and you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate it as you sprint around it trying to find the path that takes you to the next fucking probe. I like that there’s a minimum sidequesting requirement for the next story mission, so you’ve got a chance to explore. I like how the sidequests usually have a narrative aspect that fleshes out characters and aren’t just filling out checklists. Might’ve been even better if most of the characters hadn’t been boring assholes, and the ones that weren’t boring hadn’t been more irritating than a mouth ulcer during a sherbet lemon eating contest. A bit of interpersonal conflict between main characters wouldn’t have gone amiss, but nope, it’s just cartoonishly evil villains, and everyone else lives in a great big Mormon Boy Scout camp. “Oh, thank you for teaching me this lesson in duty and friendship, licky licky botty botty!”

In fact, you know what? The main thing that kept me going was seeing how long it was gonna take before the game would finally give me the fucking giant robot advertised on the box. For most of it, it was like I was hinting to my parents what I wanted for Christmas, and the game was just going, “Well, maybe if you’re very good, the giant robot fairy will visit someday!” You wanna know how long it took? Twenty-four hours in, six or seven story chapters. Fuck me, the Spanish Inquisition wouldn’t tease you for that long. It came without warning: “Hey,” said the commander dude out of nowhere, “isn’t it time you had your giant robot license?” To which I replied: “YES FUCK YES FUCK FUCK YES FUCK.” “Fair enough, all you have to do is complete eight sidequests.”

You know, I understand the principle that satisfaction grows the more work we have to put into it, but at this rate the giant robot could be made from chewed-up Lego and my spooge would still have blasted my trousers off. But I powered on through, I did those quests, I killed the monsters, I scoured the land for the fetch quest items, I worked every shaft and tickled every ball and finally my hard work paid off. Twenty-five hours, and I had a giant robot to call my very own. Gleefully I took it for a spin around the overworld, leaping, dancing, turning into a car, stepping on the toes of a level sixty elite monster, and getting destroyed in one hit.

Well, that was an anticlimax. Nope, wait: THIS is an anticlimax.

(pause)

Addenda Edit

  • Robot in disguise: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Maybe the friendly aliens wouldn't get victimised so often if they learned to talk a bit less like Jar Jar fucking Binks
  • Hooray for giant robot insurance

Screenshots Edit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells

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