The highly anticipated sequel to one of the Wii’s biggest sleeper hits—and our number one game of 2012—is one of the year’s most overindulgent RPGs. Accompanied by a long series of irritating tutorials, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 throws all that it can at you, from complex battle tactics to about a dozen merchant types when only three or four would have sufficed. And that’s not even the worst part: This nonstop assault of options and conversations comes with a tone that would better serve a 30-minute television program for preschoolers than an epic RPG about classic themes like loyalty and hope.
To make a jargon-heavy story sound straightforward, the game concerns the bond between Rex, a salvager of deep-sea materials turned warrior, and Pyra, a powerful being who can manipulate fire. Essentially, Pyra agrees to resurrect Rex from the dead if he will protect her on a journey to discover Elysium, a heaven-like place. If they can reach Elysium, Pyra claims, they can perhaps save a world of dwindling resources and struggling civilizations.
As you guide Rex and Pyra, you gain other party members, as you typically do in an RPG such as this. Only Xenoblade Chronicles 2 overcomplicates simple concepts for no discernible reason. For instance, equipping items is critical to success, but if you want to put gear on a magical being like Pyra, there’s the extra step of “charging” the equipment, via a specific merchant, with different kinds of junk that you find throughout the world. This requirement doesn’t pose much of a challenge, so it’s an unnecessary annoyance, if anything.
The game’s tutorial messages, which at times bizarrely address you in the first person, will keep you informed of such details. But whereas Japanese RPGs were once known for clever, unobtrusive tutorials (think Final Fantasy VI’s academy or Chrono Trigger’s Millennial Fair), Xenoblade Chronicles 2 informs you about systems and features hours into the proceedings. This approach is often sloppy and nonsensical, as when I entered a town for the first time and purchased items from not one, but two sellers, only for a dialogue box to pop up and announce: “Have you been shopping yet? If you make it to a new town, be sure to check out what the local merchants have to offer!”
It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to feel like you’re in a different world, much less experiencing a story, when such elements call attention to the contrived nature of the whole shebang. Cutscenes interrupt action to an unnecessary degree. In one laughable segment, you watch a cinematic and walk a very short distance before another one starts. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 also doesn’t do itself any favors by carrying over the “Heart-to-Heart” character interactions from its predecessor. Sometimes while walking around the game’s world, you’ll see an arrow pointing to a spot on the ground where you can stop and activate a supposedly telling moment between party members. Yet these moments feel disposable given the often childish nature of the scenarios, such as people trying to convince the scantily clad and luridly buxom Pyra that she needs to be more “maid-like” for Rex.
For a game about a world moving toward a tragic fate, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 brings to mind children’s programming like Barney & Friends with its mawkishly cute tendencies. This is apparent in the often unassuming choice of songs, as when cheery music plays while characters recount a battle, and in the way that the cast speaks, especially the Nopons, a species of fat and fuzzy things whose chatter, from “No time for explain!” to the ever-irritating mantra of “meh-meh,” could have been ghostwritten by George Lucas. Such infantile moments distract from the more inspired parts of the story, such as Rex’s undying faith or Vandham’s down-to-earth wisdom.
At least, though, the game has a rousing soundtrack, thanks to the leadership of legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda, and its battle system, while unbelievably convoluted, does offer some incredible possibilities once you learn how to integrate physical and magical combos in such a way that they devastate your stunned enemies. Then again, the most interesting aspects of the combat lie dormant for hours and hours until the tutorial decides that it’s okay for you to become aware of an essential component. The fact that one has to spend so much time with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 until its most attractive qualities emerge—amid all the busybody activities and foolish yapping of folks who sound like they’re not ready for kindergarten—confirms that the game could have benefited from major editing.