This article contains spoilers for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It has been out for five years now, but it is a long game, so if you want to get through it clean, be aware. You have been warned!
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 sets unreasonable expectations for…
No, not body types. That is part and parcel with the genre. XC2 sets unreasonable expectations for…
These dorks. These expectations for the concept of friendship are impossible.
No one is going to blame you if you never played through Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The game takes a bare minimum of 60 hours to complete, the battle system is complicated and poorly conveyed (there are distinct techniques you can use to maximize damage, but they are about as transparent as the Kingdom Hearts plot), and the general aesthetic of the adventure is best described as “bubblegum horny”. It is a bad sign when your heroines are popular enough to appear in another, tremendously more popular franchise, but they must put some extra clothes on to get through the door. As an adult that has some modicum of respect for my own time (lies) and people who could rock shiny, red bikinis (but choose not to), I will personally forgive anyone that passed on Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
But I am also glad I finally pulled the trigger on Xenoblade Chronicles 2, as the parallels between this title and my beloved Xenosaga franchise are significant. In fact, if it were anyone but Monolith Soft putting out this title, XC2 would lead to a team of lawyers being dispatched for copyright infringement. Tell me if you have heard this one before: A woman who can be identified as a living weapon is awakened, and she simultaneously has the knowledge of a newborn (“Oh, where am I? What is this thing?”) and a being that is thousands of years old. She is paired with a woman that is somehow both herself and her complete opposite, and the cosmos at large is afraid because she is destined to destroy some worlds along the way. And speaking of worlds, this is all set against a backdrop of various kingdoms mysteriously dying and/or being outright obliterated, and everyone is trying to get back to a sacred “promised land’ that is both the origin of humanity and its salvation. In the end, paradise will not be the panacea everyone expected, but the girl in question will save the universe through a heroic sacrifice that proves she was a benevolent walking weapon all along. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is basically Xenosaga if you swap a few religious references (paradise is Elysium is Jerusalem), transport the whole thing from a “real” space universe to a fantasy sky (with titan “planets”), and make the final boss a graduated Testament instead of a wannabe god (small distinction). Heck, you even have the shoehorned connection between Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles (1) to mirror the forced ties between Xenosaga and Xenogears! Oh! And there’s magical cannibalism, too! It’s a long story!
But there is one significant difference between Xenosaga and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 that cannot be ignored. Xenosaga is a space opera with monster-whale creatures menacing immortal albinos that may or may not be Jesus, but the most human thing in Xenosaga is the relationship between Shion and KOS-MOS. Whether you see their relationship as friendly, parental, educational, or romantic, one thing is certain: KOS-MOS and Shion care for each other in equal measure, and repeatedly prove they would die for each other without hesitation. And, while KOS-MOS is technically less than two years old, she has an old soul (long story), so both Shion and her favorite bot are effectively adults. Shion is an accomplished scientist who was nearly married a couple years back, and KOS-MOS has a shockingly high amount of experience palling around with Jesus for a few decades. These are two mature people that are more likely to be concerned about a mortgage than acne, and, by the finale of Xenosaga, they have spent months together (possibly years, if you count time spent in virtual realities pre-bootup).
The parallel characters for Shion and KOS-MOS in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 are Rex and Pyra. By the finale of XC2, those two teenagers have spent a solid… let’s do the math here… Probably about three cumulative days together.
And that feels a little dishonest.
But this isn’t to say any of Rex’s other friends make out any better. If you look at the playable party at the finale of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you will note that Rex knew exactly zero of these characters at the start of his adventure. Morag is a general that fought Rex initially, but joined up when duty and their interests aligned. Zeke fought Rex for less rational reasons (something about someone handling his one-eyed turtle), but also eventually joined because it seemed like a gas. Tora rescued Rex at their first meeting, but only did so because he knew Rex would be an eternal sucker for running mundane errands. And Nia has known Rex the longest, but it is worth noting that they met at the start of his journey right around when one of Nia’s teammates stabbed Rex through the chest. It is laudable that this got Nia to jump ship over to Rex’s side, but it is a might concerning that her previous pals were so murderous out of the gate (and we’ll just entirely ignore that one of ‘em winds up being the genocidal final boss). In short, all of Rex’s companions are fair-weather friends that decided to aid him for a handful of marginally aligned interests.
Oh, wait, nearly forgot about a few of Rex’s other “friends”. Rex and his previously mentioned companions have a full complement of slaves.
The world of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is based on the existence of three distinct races. Arguably the most important are titans, which are gigantic beings created directly by this world’s god to exist as sentient landmasses. Then we have what would best be described as “people”: humans, humans with rock parts for some reason, elves, and whatever those chuchu looking fuzzballs are supposed to be (they say “pon” a lot). These “people” all live on the titans, and enjoy an existence that seems roughly analogous to how humans live in our world. And then there are the Blades. Blades may eventually grow to be titans, but, for the moment, they are (generally) human-sized. And while some Blades may appear to be human-like (in grand Mega Man tradition, all the “leaders” of the Blades look human, while the supporting players are animals/robots), they all have distinctly “magical” abilities, like summoning elements, or super-jumping through the sky. Oh, and they come with less combative abilities, too, like lockpicking or “girl talk”. And we must emphasize “they come with” here, as all Blades are born with skills, but without memories when they are awakened by a driver (someone that fits into that “people” category). Blades are ageless, and often centuries old, but they are mentally reborn every time they are passed from Driver to Driver. In other words, they literally live for their Drivers, and can have no greater purpose or aspiration than making their Driver happy. After all, if your very existence is tied to one specific person continuing to live, you better believe you are going to see that person contented and breathing comfortably.
So, yeah, they’re slaves.
And don’t worry: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 does recognize this! A very important character notes that it is terrible that Blades are 100% beholden to their masters, and he publicly disparages the fact that Blades cannot have a culture of their own while they are forced into eternal servitude. Unfortunately, the people that keep talking about this are distinctly the villains of the story, and it is even particularly noted that the lead villain in this case was likely driven to his homicidal beliefs because he was attached to his own misanthrope Driver (who, incidentally, is the space pope). So there are four Blades that object to living as eternal slaves, but they are also the Blades you fight most often, so their positions as villains are firmly cemented for 90% of the tale. And let us emphasize once again that one of ‘em straight up murders the hero before the prologue is out, which leaves a bit of an impression (and scar). So the message is clear: freedom is nice an’ all, but every good Blade is happy with being a servant. They’re all so fortunate to be here and fighting with you!
So Rex fights for his friends, but at least half of his friends would literally die if they didn’t help. And even their masters only met Rex a couple days back. Imagine being forced to risk your life for some child in a steampunk vest because your boss took a liking to him after a couple of (root) beers…
And then there is the Pyra of the situation.
Above all else, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 fancies itself a love story. The interactions between Rex and Pyra are central to nearly everything that happens, and, if that was too subtle, the final chapter is literally titled “Boy Meets Girl”. And it is not a bad love story! In fact, while claiming “it’s no Romeo & Juliet” would feel like an appropriate way to deride this extremely shonen story, it basically is Romeo and Juliet. Two star-crossed lovers come from different societies, they have every reason to work against each other, and they know each other for a collective twenty minutes, but they are willing to die for each other, dammit. And, while that is romance in its most classical form, Shakespeare did wisely forgo the part in Romeo & Juliet where Juliet is a literal slave that must do Romeo’s bidding. Sure, there is a bit of a weird power dynamic with Pyra having the ability to command giant robots and technically being tens of thousands of years old (depending on who you ask, she is either just born at the start of the story, 502 years old, or literally older than the planet), which seems like it should leave the 15-year-old Rex at a bit of a disadvantage. However, since Pyra chooses Rex as her Driver at their first meeting (possibly because the alternative would be letting a kid die), she is eternally bound to the boy, and… that’s about the last choice she gets to make on her own. Pyra and Rex even share injuries and physical sensations! While the exact mechanics of that “curse” are not explored in the same way that Disney’s Kim Possible was never going to think too hard about that episode where Kim and her (male) sidekick switch bodies; this is noted because it means that Pyra is not only a slave, but a slave that does not even have bodily autonomy.
But Rex would never abuse this relationship! He’s a good person!
And, in the end, that is the scariest thing about Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Rex starts his journey with a stable income/job (as a Salvager), and has his own titan (basically a sentient airplane). While he loses his ride (he shrinks down to become the game’s familiar mascot furball), he soon claims unimaginable offensive power, practical immortality, a mercenary gang of interchangeable Blades, the full-throated support of a few countries, and, by the end of the tale, 2.5 slave women. Rex fights for his friends! Because if he fought for himself, he would be Genghis Khan!
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a shonen story. It is the tale of a boy meeting a girl and saving the world through friendship. But if you consider the sheer amount of world-killing power that Rex has amassed even a few hours into his adventure, everything is a bit less innocent. And, while this kind of thinking may seem spurious, this is a game rated T for teens like Rex. Should there be more pubescent boys out there that expect the world to fall to their feet, or for their “girls” to be their slaves, just because they are true to their friends? Definitive no on that one. But Rex gets it all because he’s just such a nice guy.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a great videogame; but, everyone, please remember that it is wholly fiction. Do not expect to live your life like Rex. You are one of those dorks standing around handing out sidequests. You are not going to get the girl, the giant robot, and the friend circle just because you are a sociable teenager. Be happy with the sixteen doomsday radishes that kid brings back to you, and you’ll find all those other things in good time.
… And then you can let me borrow your giant robot. Because we’re friends.
SBC #04 Pyra & Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Pyra in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
- She any Good? Yes. Goddammit yes. I have been waiting for a female character that feels like they have some decent hitting power since Zero Suit Samus was such a whiff, and now we have Pyra to whack around the boys like Ganondorf ain’t no thang. And that spinny blade thingy? Sublime.
- That final smash work? Yes! Mostly! Hitting + to activate a grand team attack is a Xenoblade tradition, and it is only dulled by the lack of a full team here. Inevitably, a “Super Smash Bros Ultimate 2” would have the time to include models for the rest of a Xenoblade Chronicles 2 party, and then we could have Nia dancing in the background like a good Welsh catgirl.
- The background work? “The Cloud Sea of Alrest” is the defining landmark of the world of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. That said, you explore this cloud sea on the back of Azurda, and Gramps only exists as a location in XC2 for about 2% of the game. At least the Titan randomly producing canned commentary is appropriate to the Xenoblade franchise.
- Classic Mode: “Shared Destinies” includes 2 vs. 1.5 fights featuring a series of characters that are somehow intertwined. Sheik and Zelda is a shoe in, but the various “shadow” pairs are a bit of a stretch. Link and Dark Link aren’t even separate characters on the roster!
- Smash Trivia: Pyra has the ability to switch with Mythra. Previous characters that had switching ability were Samus/Zero Suit Samus, Zelda/Sheik, and Pokémon Trainer. If you consider the Pokémon to be essentially genderless (or at least they have no confirmed/consistent gender in Smash), it appears that being able to switch between characters in the Smash universe is a female trait. I am not certain what this means…
- Amiibo Corner: Pyra and Mythra are a dedicated pair, and noticeably have poses that mirror each other. They also both have functional detailing on their signature blades, so there is nothing to complain about there. Pyra has an expression that is a little more submissive than I would have expected, but it does fit her personality.
- Does the character work to represent this game? Kinda sorta. Pyra is a Blade, and, weirdly enough, Blades don’t so much actively participate in battles in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. They mostly just send good vibes at their Drivers. That said, there are a number of cinema scenes where Pyra gets more active, so at least there is an excuse for this behavior. Technically, a “real” Xenoblade Chronicles 2 rep should probably be something closer to an assist trophy Blade that powers up your final smash gauge.
Pyra in Xenoblade Chronicles 2
- System: Nintendo Switch. Those sidequests sure do go down a lot easier in handheld mode!
- Number of players: Do you think there’s a universe where Xenoblade mechanics could effectively adapt to multiple players? What’s that? It’s already practically a MMORPG? Huh.
- Let’s fight: Speaking of that battle system, I generally enjoy fighting in Xenoblade titles. It initially appears to be very “hands off” (like Final Fantasy 12) but the subtleties of attack canceling and walloping an opponent feels very… crunchy. Good crunchy. Like a candy bar. That said, I swear every time I tried to take on a “challenge” monster in XC2 that was a few levels higher than my party, I’d get about 60% through its health, and then something Level 120 and named Gorface the Face F%$*er would show up, and I’d be ground into a fine paste. So maybe someone could look into private fight areas?
- Gotcha: Acquiring new blades requires gacha, “random” mechanics. At first, this is just annoying. But once it starts pairing with the fact that you can only have a limited number of Blades at any given time, and many quests require extremely specific Blade types, well… My OCD does not go well with that. I have a generic ice Blade with spear skills and the ability to understand rocks. I can get rid of that… right? I won’t ever need him again, right? I won’t find a sidequest ten minutes later that requires I “pull” another 80 core crystals just to get him again? Please promise me…
- Cinematic Problems: Nearly every boss fight starts with a cinema scene where the party confronts the opponent, all sorts of taunts are tossed around, and then Rex and friends draw their weapons. And then the battle starts… and you have to press a button to manually draw the weapons. Look, I get it, the game is giving you a moment to prepare; but maybe just hold off on brandishing all that steel until it actually happens? I cannot tell you how many times I rammed my team into a threshing machine because my brain was telling me they were already ready for battle…
- Anatomy Problems: Nia’s ears are facing the wrong direction. This is never addressed. Why is this never addressed!?
- Did you know? Vanderkam was a jerk who loved oversized cannons and had a cross tattooed on his face in Xenogears. Then we had Vanderkam (different guy) who was a jerk who loved oversized cannons and had a cross tattooed on his face in Xenosaga. Then we got Vangarre, the opening town’s drill sergeant who had a very peculiar, cross-like moustache in Xenoblade Chronicles. Then there was Commander Jack Vandham of BLADE who was your eternal annoying commanding officer with a cross-like moustache in Xenoblade Chronicles X. And now there is Vandham, who leads a band of mercenaries and ditches the moustache to reclaim a cross-shaped facial scar in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. And, after two games of his archetype being a general “friendly”, he actually joins the party! Yay! This whole process naturally concludes in Xenoblade Chronicles 3, where Guernica Vandham has a facial scar and whacky facial hair.
- Would I play again: I like it! Despite my problems with the plots, I do enjoy playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and, if I had infinity time in my life, I would complete all the sidequests. Unfortunately, there are always more Xeno games to play, so I may have to move on…
What’s next? So we move on to Mythra! Please look forward to it!