Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a Japanese action role-playing game set in a vast open world. You play as Rex, a young, optimistic treasure hunter traveling with his companions in search of the fabled paradise known as Elysium.
Pro Exploring the open world gives you a great sense of adventure
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has an incredibly huge and unique open world filled with dense locations, giving you the feeling that you're truly on an epic quest. You'll cross sprawling maps filled with docile creatures, hostile monsters, and secret locations with valuable treasure, until you find one of the game's many living, breathing settlements. Smaller, tight-knit towns are as impressive as the game's bigger, more technologically-advanced cities because of how lively everything feels, packed with many bustling shops to buy gear and food, and NPCs to chat with and pick up side quests from.
The ground you walk on is actually on the backs and the insides of gigantic Titans--huge, peaceful dinosaur-like creatures tall enough to reach the clouds. You can find a whole kingdom with a purple sky and red trees on the inside of one Titan, and an entire holy city with impressive classical architecture on the back of another Titan. The world's scope and size really instills the sense that you're on an amazing adventure with so much to explore and discover.
Pro Likable cast of main characters
Each of the protagonists in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 are positive and optimistic in their own ways, standing out as a bright and sunny cast throughout the story. The main character, Rex, is a young guy who loves treasure hunting and exploring, and he believes in always doing the right thing. His optimism is infectious and helps drive the main quest forward. His main companion, Pyra, is a peaceful young woman entrusted with a dangerous power that she wished she didn't have, making her fear her own destructive potential. She and Rex find strength and hope from one another to keep pressing on.
The rest of the main cast are just as upbeat, if not more, like the cheery engineer named Tora who works hard to keep up with how powerful Rex and Pyra are as a team. The healer of the group, Nia, tends to be grumpy, but she's cool with joking around and smiling when she wants to. Everyone's positive attitudes are uplifting and refreshing, making them enjoyable to spend time with.
Pro Beautiful soundtrack that gives more life to each environment
Xenoblade Chronicles 2's gorgeous music adds a lot to the game's expansive world, making the levels seem larger and the towns and cities feel more alive. There are daytime and nighttime versions for most tracks, helping to set the tone either for sunny days or moody nights wherever you are. Exploring the glittering lakes and lush forests inside of a Titan while the nighttime version of "Kingdom of Uraya" plays is a great experience, with a mesmerizing chorus singing over romantic and adventurous pianos and wind instruments. If you arrive to the kingdom's capital at night, right away you'll get a sense of the city's mystery from the soft acoustic guitar and nostalgic, echoing sound effects in the background. These types of moments with the music help to flesh out the world even more, telling a story through the soundtrack that sticks with you alongside the visuals.
Pro Lots of opportunities for fun banter between party members
There are many chances for your companions to chit-chat or blurt out whatever's on their mind while you explore together, letting you get to know them better outside of cutscenes in the main quest. Your party members will cheer each other on in battle or caution you to retreat when your health runs low, say good morning to everyone when you wake up at an inn, or talk one-on-one for regular conversations at certain times.
Spread throughout the world are optional markers that you can select for Heart-to-Heart moments where some or all of your party members can talk to each other about almost anything. They'll reminisce about their pasts, or tease your other companions and joke around. Sometimes you'll even get to see new sides of characters that help flesh them out even more.
All of these small details and conversations help your party feel like actual friends and teammates, not just a band of characters that happen to be on the same journey.
Pro Action-packed and engaging real-time combat
Combat here is frantic and busy, with many abilities to keep track of, as well as special attacks and party-wide finishers that do more damage based on how well you time a few QTE sequences. Things start out basic with simple auto attacks, and as you land these, your abilities become available to use for either more damage, more crowd control and enmity gain, or healing spells. Quite a few damage-based abilities are stronger when you're in front of an enemy, behind it, or on their flank, so you'll want to constantly change up where you stand to maximize your damage output.
You also have your special attacks that are freed up as you keep using abilities. Timing your button presses during QTEs for an Excellent rating will do the most damage, and it will also fill up your party gauge the fastest. Once your party gauge is full, you can chain special attacks together from each of your companions to unleash a powerful attack, with the giant damage number popping up on the screen to show how well you did. It sounds like a complicated system, but the game does a good job of introducing things one at a time with easy-to-follow tutorials, helping you to learn everything as you go.
Pro Tons of content and high replay value with New Game+
The main story will easily take you over 60 hours to complete, not including side activities, and the New Game+ mode unlocks even more optional content. The story itself is packed with action-filled and emotional cutscenes, and beyond those, there are lots of side quests and secrets elsewhere that you can explore at your leisure. Special, hard-to-reach areas of the map have valuable treasure with money and rare items, and there are a bunch of side quests that you can find from NPCs in town or out in the open world.
New Game+ gives you the chance to find even rarer items and new unlocks in your characters' skill trees, letting you take on stronger monsters that you might not have been ready for in your first playthrough. You could also bring along different party members for side events and get to see any of their unique dialog that you missed out on the first time. There's so much to do and discover that a completionist will no doubt find 200+ hours of content here.
Con Overly positive themes take away from the more serious story moments
It's great that this game is so positive, but the story has trouble balancing the upbeat themes with its more serious, dramatic moments. This happens on both a small scale with specific plot points and on a larger scale where it becomes harder and harder to suspend your disbelief as the story goes on. At one point, there's a tense scene filled with urgency where you need to rush off to save someone as soon as possible. Then, as soon as those cutscenes are over, some of your party members suggest that you go have fun with a side activity that's tone deaf and inappropriate for a time like this.
Because everyone's so cheery and optimistic, it's tough to take the game seriously when it explores more grounded themes like war, corrupt religions, and philosophical science fiction. The times when the story tries to be dark and mature, it comes off as fake and comical, especially later on in the game. It's a shame that there's no balance between the two, resulting in dramatic or touching story moments that might only make you scoff or roll your eyes.
Con English voice acting is hit-or-miss
Even though some of the voice acting in English is amazing, there are other characters whose voices just sound bad in comparison. Characters like Rex and Nia who have Yorkshire and Welsh accents, respectively, sound fresh and charming, but the ones with American accents usually sound out of place or forced. Luckily, you have the option of playing with the Japanese voices instead if you'd rather not take the chance on the English voice acting.
Con Some character designs are distracting
There are a few female characters in the game whose proportions don't look right at all. Pyra and a couple of other characters have small frames and oversized breasts that look ridiculous. Their tight-fitting clothes and exposed skin make the proportions even more obvious, causing distractions during cutscenes. It's possible to tune these things out after a while, but it's still a strange design choice.
Con Performance problems in both docked and handheld mode
Even after a few patches, there are still some framerate issues while playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on a TV or in handheld mode. While playing on a TV, there are some framerate drops, but they're not so bad. They only happen when there's a lot going on, like during hectic battles with a bunch of abilities firing off with particle effects everywhere. On handheld mode, the framerate drops in the same instances, and it's pretty noticeable. Some more patches should fix the drops in due time, but until then, you'll have to expect some dips in performance here and there, especially in handheld mode.
Con Objective markers on the map are frustrating and unhelpful
Trying to find your way to quest markers is really frustrating because of how poorly-designed the overhead map is. All you have is a vertical line at the top of the screen that shifts with your orientation, and a red square with an exclamation point that's meant to point you toward the next main quest, or blue squares for side quests. Your only indications of where to go are the number telling you how far away you are and an arrow to guide you up or down.
While trying to go in the general direction of the marker, you'll run into obstacles or dead-ends, forcing you to backtrack and wander around for about an hour before finding where you need to go. Because the open world is so huge with a crazy amount of verticality, these objective markers are way too simple, making exploration a pain for those who don't want to look up guides online.
Con Annoying anime and JRPG tropes
The anime and JRPG tropes can make Xenoblade Chronicles 2's story and characters downright unbearable, even for players who enjoy Japanese media. The antagonists are mostly one-dimensional with impractical, edgy designs. Rex gets embarrassed in exaggerated ways whenever he's close to Pyra, some of your companions exist mostly as dumb comic relief, and there's an android-type character that's heavily implied to exist as someone's maid. These issues bog down the plot in cheap ways, lifted straight out of any generic anime you might come across.
The game also goes all-in on the tired JRPG trope of a group of friends joining together to defeat a god--even one of Rex's combat lines talks about how they'll actually defeat their enemies "with the power of friendship." This route would have been fine if the game had tried to spice things up, but sadly, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 feels like more of the same. These stereotypes are overdone and cringey, and they'll more than likely be a deal-breaker for players who already dislike these types of tropes.
Con Terrible pacing issues toward the end of the story
The final section of the game is an absolute slog, filled with way too many cutscenes and frustrating barriers, ruining the flow of the plot. As you play through the last levels, you'll run for a few minutes through an area, sit through a long cutscene, run again, get stopped by another cutscene, and so on until you reach the final boss.
The worst offenders are the environmental barriers that you can't get past unless your party members have certain passive abilities unlocked from their skill trees, like having Wind Mastery to make an air duct push you up higher over a wall. You'll have to go back and grind the requirements for these abilities if you haven't already, forcing the story's momentum to a halt.
The barrage of cutscenes and the unskippable environmental barriers are awful design decisions that could ruin your time with the finale.