My Top Ten Games of 2015
#10 MASSIVE CHALICE
#5 Yo-Kai Watch
#4 Fallout 4
#3 Xenoblade Chronicles X
I’ve gained a real cynicism and disdain for Japanese games over the last decade. JRPGs were and are among some of my all time favorite games – back in the 90s.
Since then I’ve largely fallen out of love with them. Their storytelling goes in increasingly bizarre and goofy directions, and my distaste for anime is exemplified by grating cutscenes, voice-work, and writing that was previously the marquee of cutesy pixels and simple text.
So, it’s a pretty damn big deal that not only did I enjoy Xenoblade Chronicles X, but that I’ve ranked it so high on my Game of the Year list.
I never played the first Xenoblade Chronicles for most of the reasons I listed above, though I kept hearing really intriguing things about it. One of the sites I freelance for asked if I wanted to review Xenoblade Chronicles X, and I jumped at the opportunity and excuse to try it out. I’m incredibly glad I did.
Although it looks and acts like a traditional JRPG, Xenoblade plays out much more like a grand, single-player MMOPRPG – not unlike an underrated Western RPG that succeeded at this type of gameplay: Kingdoms of Amalur.
You start by creating your own custom-built character, which immediately put me in the right frame of mood. Though your character is awkwardly silent, being able to make my own gruff badass instead of a wide-eyed 12 year old put me on the right track to enjoyment, and really shows off the game’s willingness to incorporate other genres and gameplay styles. I will mention that of all the preset looks, only the one labeled “Old Man” looked right to me, and he looked like he was in his 30s. Ah well.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is all about its giant alien world. Earth was destroyed by marauding aliens, and only a single giant colonizing ship was able to escape the mass exodus. The aliens caught up and the ship was shot down over the planet Mira. Mira is absolutely teeming with life, most of which is big and deadly – think James Cameron’s Avatar.
The story of reclaiming lost pieces of the ship does a great job showing off different locales, from the starter grasslands of Primordia, home to the domed human city of New LA to the jungles of Noctilum and deserts of Oblivia. Five total continents with astonishingly interesting architecture and design are waiting to be explored, any one of which could fill the average open-world game.
Numerous side quests await once your join the BLADEs, a paramilitary organization that basically Gets Shit Done. It’s an interesting combination of MMORPG-style fetch, gathering, and kill quests, as well as BioWare-esque companion quests with the large number of potential party members scattered around the city. I definitely get that fun vibe of gathering a bunch of quests for a certain area, then going out and adventuring.
Combat is also heavily inspired by MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Abilities are cooldown-based but timing becomes incredibly important thanks to Soul Voices. Your companions will shout out color-coordinated commands, and there’s a mini-game of sorts with choosing the right Art to use at the right time to maximize damage and restore HP. I was a bit bummed that you coudn’t directly control party members like Dragon Age, but the speed and positioning of a battle makes controlling your own character plenty challenging.
Gone are having to use potions mid-battle or make efficient use of mana. Every battle you unleash everything you have and everyone fully heals afterward, making each encounter engaging and enjoyable. Not to mention the fact that you’re often battling giant alien dinosaurs, some of which are literally the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Oh, and you eventually acquire your own badass transformer mech suit, which is an entirely new gameplay mechanic that makes Fallout 4‘s power armor look quaint in comparison.
I haven’t enjoyed a JRPG this much in years, but I hesitate to even classify Xenoblade Chronicles X as such. It feels like a damn find blend of both Eastern and Western RPG design philosophies. The biggest reason I love open-world RPGs like Skryim is that magical feeling of exploring new areas, and Xenoblade dishes out those moments at a constant, wonderful rate. For that, it’s one of my favorite games of the year.