It took me nine years to finish the original version of Xenoblade Chronicles. The first game was great in my opinion, but for some reason I couldn’t finish it in one setting. You could blame me for not understanding MMO battle mechanics at the time. Regardless of that, I was hooked on the struggle of the characters, the journey of revenge that they set out on, and the amazing and mysterious setting that the adventure takes place on. With how good everything felt to me, the idea of not finishing it sooner feels weird. Good games should have some draw to it that makes you want to see it to the end no matter how long it takes. It is a balanced formula that makes the game fun and entertaining to the player.
With that in mind, I should have stopped playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 early on. The numbered sequel to one of the Nintendo Wii’s best games had a lot of promise. Where would the story go after the conclusion of the first game? What secrets did these new Titans hold? And why does everything look more like an anime? I was interested in playing the sequel, but held off until I finished the first game. I managed to avoid any spoilers minus a few memes that I saw posted on the internet. With the urge to play after seeing the trailer for the third game, I decided it was time to play XC2 so that I could keep up with the series. After playing the first three chapters in the game, I was not impressed.
The first half of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 felt like a disservice to what it becomes later. The combat felt shallow, the characters felt flat, and the general setup didn’t feel like it was worth my investment. It left a bad taste in my mouth that I started to wonder why people were saying that this was just as good as the first game. Was I missing something? Was the first game not as good as I remembered? What was going on that other people were seeing that I was missing out on. The environments definitely felt like Xenoblade, but the change in combat, the Blade system, and general tone of the game just didn’t feel entertaining to me. It wasn’t until around chapter five that things started to finally click, and I started to understand what makes this game great. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes place in a whole new different world, so the strife and dangers in the formal were nonexistent in this world. The only issues that this world faces is the number of resources dwindling and the war going on in the background. The game was trying to make me feel like this was going to be a heartbreaking story, but either dire situations were handled too quickly or secrets that the game was trying to hide were easy to solve.
Let’s talk about tone. Tone can be described as setting the atmosphere to express a piece of work. A tone should carry out how you want to express your mood or emotions to your audience. It helps to establish it as soon as possible, but you are allowed to change it up while reminding the audience what the initial tone is. Works of art, music, and film can go a long way if your audience knows what tone the author/performer is trying to convey.
The tone in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is not consistent. The Xenoblade series has always been one with mysteries about, so that is nothing out of the ordinary. At the end of the first chapter, it establishes a dark tone by showing Jin killing Rex and how he is saved by Pyra. You would think this would be a quest about returning the favor, but Rex doesn’t seem to mind being killed. He just seems to ignore that fact and is now focused on taking Pyra to Elysium. At this point, I felt like there were no stakes and the plot of the story was just to protect Pyra and reach Elysium. It would help if I understood the villain’s motives, but at times I couldn’t tell what they were. At one moment they don’t care about Pyra, and then the next minute they do, and then they changed their minds again for plot convenience. The tone that the game was trying to go with just felt distorted and tried to contradict itself.
Halfway through the game, the tone changed completely at the end of Chapter 5. The game finally established what could happen once the group reached Elysium. The antagonist’s motives are finally clear and all the scattered pieces of the world start to make sense. You start to learn who the true villains may be and start to wonder and doubt what anything around you means and what the right choices are. The lighthearted tone is still there, but it fits better with the story now since they are written at the right moment. There was now this unknown feeling of what is going on and how someone inexperienced with combat and diplomacy could change the world for the better. The tone that the writers were trying to establish at the beginning of the game was here and would remained until the final chapter. After reaching this point, I became invested in the game again. I was ready to tackle these unknown factors and it finally felt like the game was ready to lead me to those answers. I don’t want to say that everything in the first half of the game was bad, but the second half made everything better for me personally.
Now, I’m not saying that games can’t mix things up when establishing their tone. There have been plenty of games that have successfully established their tone at the beginning, deviate into a different tone, and keep the initial tone the same throughout. The best game I have for this example is Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. The game starts off with a dark and unsettling undertone that carries throughout the entire game. I think of moments like Glitzville and the game suddenly becoming a tale about wrestling. It is a fun moment, but it keeps the initial tone of being dark and unsettling with the wrestlers going missing. Or while in Twilight Town (the creepiest place in any video game I’ve been into) there are moments where the vibe is loosen a bit when trying to get the missing letter to spell Doopliss’ name. There are great moments where things come off as funny, but once you take a closer look at it, there is still this unsettling tone to it all.
A recent game that I started playing is Final Fantasy V. This game starts off with an unsettling tone with the world slowly dying thanks to the crystals shattering. Within the first few hours of the game, there have been death, loss, and overcoming situations that are daring. You wouldn’t think this game had a completely different tone than what is presented. This game is bright. The music is upbeat, and the characters have a lot of fun with each other during the journey. The game makes you believe that these four warriors of light will save the day at the end of the journey, but if you have played FFV, you know that is not the case. The tone was established at the beginning, and even though it tries to disguise itself, it is always there and constantly reminds the player that things are not going to end well.
Maybe my problem could come from the other Xenoblade games that came before this. In the first game, you are immediately shown what the state of the world is currently in. The Mechons and Humes are at war with each other with the Mechons being the stronger force. You see the despair in the soldiers who helplessly fight against them. You see how powerful the Monado is against them, and the cost of using such power. You feel the anger and sadness Shulk feels when he loses Fiora. The events at the beginning set the tone for how you should view this world and how your emotions get shifted with each new revelation. The game does a great job of connecting you and helps make the rest of the journey exciting to the very end.
I have not played a lot of Xenoblade Chronicles X. Being a Sci-Fi game at the very beginning made me lose my interest a little, but I immediately understood the tone of the game. Humans are looking for a new home and you have no idea the dangers of this planet. You are lucky to be alive since others in the pods by you were not so lucky. I understand the narrative of the game from the git go. The rest of the game should carry that through to the climax and make the audience feel some type of emotion for seeing it through.
I will finish Xenoblade Chronicles X one day. I just don’t like Sci-Fi settings as much.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has some good things going on within it, it just took me a while to see it all. Everything just clicked in the second half and I was invested from then on. I started to understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and somehow combat became more entertaining. Somehow, I started to care a little bit more about each character even though I found them uninteresting. I really wanted to like Nia, but her secret was easy to see coming and the reveal took too long. I wanted to develop Poppi more, but having to go back to Tora’s house to play Tiger Tiger for a while made the pacing slow down when I could easily develop Morag and Brighid to be a better tank (Poppi is still one of the best characters in the game). I feel like I didn’t take the time to understand a lot of concepts like developing towns or optimizing blade loadouts since I was so disconnected from the game at the beginning. I was just pushing through without caring about unlocking blade skills and really maximizing everyone’s potentials just because I wanted to get the game over with quickly just so I could see how the games tied to one another. And that was a giant disservice to the game because the game is pretty great.
I hope my rambling about tone made sense. It can make or break the storytelling of a game and affect how you approach something. I am glad XC2 turned around for me since all the events afterwards just kept me hooked to the end. I wouldn’t say that this is better than the first game, but it has made me hyped for the third game now since I want to see the results of both game’s conclusions. Maybe if I get around to playing it a second time, I would like to see if my attitude is different or if I find myself dreading the first half again. There are still some story bits that didn’t make sense to me at the end, but that didn’t sour my mood when I reached the end credits. I ended up enjoying the game, and one day I will give New Game+ a go as well as the Torna DLC. It will probably happen sooner or later since I read a conspiracy theory on the entire Xeno series…
Did anyone else find Nia’s love confession to Rex weird and out of place or was that just me?
- Start Date: 2/18/2022
- End Date: 3/11/2022
- Total Play Time: 68 hours
- Main Team: Rex (Pyra/Mythra, Wulfric, Godfrey); Nia (Dromarch, Vess, Ursula); Morag (Brighid, Aegaeon, Perun)
- Number of unique Blades acquired: 21
- Best Thing About The Game: The Music (I bought the OST because it was that good)
- Least Favorite Thing: Side quest that never end for little reward.
You made me think more about the importance of tone and tonal shift in a game (or any story) and how it can help or hurt. Thanks for that.
I’ve only played XCX so far (didn’t finish) and plan to start XC:DE on Switch this year and hope to finish before XC3 in September. I’m glad you liked XC2, but the fact that many players dislike it or think it’s less good than the first XC is one reason why I don’t plan to put time into it. Plus I have several other big RPGs on my backlog…
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It is hard to get into the second game when the first was so good in my opinion. If XC2 had kept the combat system like the first game and XCX, then I think it would have resonated more with players. Once you understand how chaining and combos work in this game, there is fun to have destroying higher level enemies. I wish I could recommend this game to more people, but you have to enjoy the characters and ascetics to keep up with it.
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