Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Houston, we have a problem

And a mighty big one at that. See, I was fumbling with my Switch yesterday, trying to erase my Project Octopath Traveler demo save data, and... Heck, I sure you guess what happened, dear fellow gamers: clumsy little me selected the wrong save data, and that's how I ended up accidentally wiping my XC2 save data off the face of the earth.

I should be absolutely crestfallen, even furious; but weirdly enough, I'm not. I daresay that I actually feel a bit relieved by that turn of events. The Spirit Crucible Elpys dungeon at the end of Chapter 7 was a bit of a turning point for me, because it forced me to a) switch to Morag as my MC because I couldn't stand the way Roc's wings blocked my view when handling Rex, and b) bond and assign Blades to stack up enough elemental ability levels to progress. As I did that, a whole new world of gameplay opportunities opened in front of my very eyes, and I suddenly realized how much I had missed in the preceeding 60 hours by refusing to experiment with Blades: exclusive elemental combos, passive buffs, restricted areas only accessible with Blade abilities, you name them. It was a bit of a bittersweet moment, and I couldn't help but wish I had pored over the whole Blade system and made it mine long before the game actually forced me to do so. Of course, it's entirely XC2's fault for letting me run free for so long before suddenly coercing me into Ability harnessing and Blade bonding, but still... That whole affair severed the fast-paced flow I had managed to create pretty much since the beginning of my playthrough, and generated mixed feelings I certainly didn't need.

I was also growing tired of the story, which in my opinion took a turn for the worse in Chapter 7. (SPOILERS!) I joked in my last post about how Pyra "Tits are life" and Mythra "Ass is hometown" were really two facets of the same steamy coin; well, lo and behold, the game did it again with Nia! While regular Nia is your token cat girl in a body suit, Blade Nia is your no less token bunny girl in a leotard. Honestly, that design choice soiled her character ever-so-slightly for me. I also really don't like where the story is headed when it comes to Blades and their relation to humans, and I have that horrible inkling that the game is going to reuse concepts and story elements from Xenoblade Chronicles — which would be the most dreadful outcome ever as far as I'm concerned, because I found that game's story cheesy and clichéd beyond belief. I sincerely hope that the Architect will not turn out to be one of XC's main characters; and yet, I know I have to steel myself for such an outcome, because this is technically a sequel we're dealing with. (End of SPOILERS.)

So what's in store for XC2, you may ask? Well, I don't know yet. I need a couple of days to digest that brutal interruption; but technically, I still crave some XC2 action. In fact, I'm really eager to replay the game's early stages with all my accumulated mastery of its many systems, and get a blast out of knowing exactly what to do and doing it swiftly. Also, I switched to the British dub at the beginning of Chapter 7 (I had rolled with the Japanese dub until then) and found myself really loving it, so I'd like to watch again all the cutscenes in english. And talking about cutscenes, maybe I'd like to skip them and watch them later, when I feel like taking a break from the game's grindy action. Oh, and I'd also like to handle Morag more, because a) she's an awesome fighter and b) she looks amazing, and I'd rather stare at her poised and noble figure than at Rex's ass crack and speedos. In short, there are plenty of things I'd like to do differently. This wouldn't be the first time I restart a long and rather complex RPG right after an aborted playthrough, mind you. I did that with DQIX and Fire Emblem Fates; and from my experience, it's a great way to maintain my drive to play (the last boss is still standing, dammit!) while allowing for a much cushier and smoother ride thanks to the game's mechanics being still so fresh in my mind. At any rate, I'll mull over this and see you later with more XC2 tidings, dear fellow gamers. In case you were eagerly waiting for my progress reports and final impressions about the game, I apologize profusely for my clumsiness; and as usual, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Of demos and hauls that never were

I just took a break from the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 grinding by playing the Project Octopath Traveler demo, which delighted and annoyed me in equal parts. I love the atmosphere, the soundtrack, the mix of 3D elements and pixel art and the many playable characters à la Seiken Densetsu 3; on the other hand, I hate how dark and blurry the graphics are, and I despise the lack of instant save. Come on Squeenix, which year do you think it is? Save points are simply unacceptable in 2018, even for nostalgia's sake. Having said that, I'm probably going to buy the game anyway, if only because it oozes some genuine retro charm. Games that try to capitalize on nostalgia by boasting pixel art and old-school gameplay mechanics are a dime a dozen these days, but most of them don't feel like genuine 16-bit offerings; POT, on the other hand, does feel like it's been lifted straight from the '90s. After the (huge) disappointment of seeing the Western 3DS release of DQXI cancelled, I'm expecting a lot from Squeenix on this one, and I sure hope they will fix the demo's issues as promised.

Still on the demo front, I gave another chance to the World of Final Fantasy demo and found myself really liking it, to my utter surprise. I lapped up the game's grindiness and straightforward fighting system, and all the issues that bothered me during my first try went unnoticed this time around. Weird, really. At any rate, this means one more entry on my To-Get-My-Paws-On List, and one more opportunity for Squeenix to redeem itself in my jaded eyes.

But enough of Squeenix for now, dear fellow gamers. It so happened that I took a small European holiday, which led me to cross paths with a brick and mortar game store. That store boasted a crap ton of Switch games, amongst which several offerings coveted by yours truly — Lost Sphear, Disgaea 5 Complete, Nights of Azure 2, The Longest 5 Minutes, Atelier Lydie and Suelle, you name them. I was about to go for a shopping rampage and snatch all of them; but then the price tags stopped me dead in my tracks. Those darn games boasted prices ranging between 50 and 65 euros, and that just obliterated my purchasing drive on the spot. Brand-new Vita and 3DS games cost between 30 and 40 euros, and I had no problems purchasing five or six at once; but I find much harder to indulge in such purchasing sprees with Switch games that are nearly twice as expensive. This may lead me to ponder my future Switch acquisitions much more carefully, and to invest in Switch games only if I'm 100% sure I'll like them. That would sure be a massive change from the not-so-distant time when I used to purchase any game that looked even remotely like an RPG.

But what about 3DS and Vita games, you may ask? Well, I already owned all the 3DS games available in that store; as for Vita games, there were simply none. The Vita display was gone: no more games, no more accessories, as though the console never existed. This was eerie, let me tell you that. The Vita was always a niche console, and we all know it's headed towards retirement: but the complete and total absence of any Vita-related product in a game store really drove the point home.

With that, dear fellow gamers, I'm going back to my Switch and to XC2 — which is still my one and only Switch game, grumble grumble. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Xenoblade Chronicles 2: 50 hours

My Switch's battery is currently charging, after yet another long XC2 session that nearly totally depleted it; and as I just passed the 50-hour mark in the game, now's the perfect time to take a break and write a progress report.

I'm currently exploring the snowy depths of Tantal, with my crew boasting levels in the mid-50s. I was already kinda overleveled at the 30-hour mark, and I got even more severely overleveled after I spent a couple of hours killing everything that moved in Leftheria. Then I spent another couple of hours unwinding in Temperentia, which made me even more ridiculously overleveled. As a result, I'm now towering a good 20 levels over tantalian foes and fighting for peanuts, with battles yielding little more than 50-70 XP. If I'm lucky enough and take down a huge beast, I might get 120-150 XP; not really worth the hassle, methinks. On top of that, none of the regular foes attack me anymore because of my high levels; as a result, I cannot help but feel like a nasty bully when I let my crew gang up on some poor unsuspecting beast that was not minding me in the slightest. I think I'm going to blitz through the game until I encounter juicier enemies that deliver more XP and have a bit more bite.

As much as it pains me to admit it, I've virtually given up on side quests during the last 20 hours. I've reached a point where I can barely clear one side quest out of five, just because I lack the Blade abilities that would allow me to progress in most quests. I still accept them and fulfill them when I can, which does happen sometimes: while in Temperentia, I got a nicely relaxing fetch quest that allowed me to put to good use all the items I had foraged during my exhausive exploration of the place. But unfortunately, simple and straightforward quests like that are the exception rather than the rule. I won't criticize XC2's side quests for being long, complex and demanding, because that's very much a design choice that's just as valid as simple and short side quests; I'll just say that since I usually tackle side quests in RPGs to unwind and get a break from the main story, XC2's convoluted side quests are not exactly my cup of tea.

I've dabbled a bit in Salvaging, mostly to unlock one of Poppi's abilities; and now that I'm done with that, I won't touch Salvaging again unless it's absolutely necessary. I've realized that I can perfectly live without the items that come from Salvaging, and even more without the QTE that come with it. As a matter of fact, I've realized that I can perfectly live without 95% of the items offered by that game; and as a result, I've decluttered my inventory and gotten rid of massive amounts of stuff that I'm pretty sure I would never have used anyway. That gave me plenty o' money to invest in Pouch items, which are a neat way to get passive buffs without having to lift a finger in battle. All in all, the only items I keep track of are Pouch Items, Core Chips and Accessories; the rest, I ignore or check once in a blue moon. Hey, maybe it's time to pore over my selection of Aux Cores again, just in case I got something juicy in the last 15 hours.

It's smooth sailing on the story front. (SPOILERS!) The decaying state of humanity and the sheer desperation of the last remaining countries are becoming more blatant by the chapter. Alrest looked like a peaceful world at first, but the cracks are now plainly showing: some villages and towns are on the brink of starvation, whole Titans are becoming uninhabitable, and wars are about to be waged for tiny expanses of land. It's a dire reality, and one that the game presents with a lot of tact and restraint while still not occulting any of the issues at hand. But no matter how grim things are in Alrest, we still get privy to juicy romantic development between Rex and his two well-endowed Blades. There is definitely a love triangle at work there, as well as a funny dichotomy between the exposure of Pyra's and Mythra's assets, shall we say: while Pyra's outfit and the way the camera films her are all about exposing her bosom, Mythra's outfit and associated camera shots focus much more distinctly on her bottom and thigh gap. Will Rex be forced to choose between Team Butt and Team Tits, or can he get the best of two worlds? Only time will tell! Hopefully time will also tell if Nia is indeed a Blade as the game seems to imply, and what are Blades exactly. (End of SPOILERS)

One development that took me by surprise are the technical issues. Ever since I set foot in Mor Ardain a couple of hours ago, things have gotten pretty hairy on that front, and a lot of hitches that were totally absent prior to that point started to appear and are now rampant. Clipping reigns supreme, graphics are getting fuzzier and grainier, textures pop in and out of existence and often take a couple of seconds to load after Instant Travel; and to my utter chagrin, the game's initially bright colours are becoming increasingly dull and washed-out, as though someone applied a crappy Instagram filter on my XC2. Gameplay is also affected to some extent, with hardcore slowdowns in hectic battles, the targeting feature routinely locking on some enemy roaming in the background instead of targeting the one that's right under my crew's noses, or foes slipping through the floor after a hit and delivering blows from there while I cannot retaliate. I don't know if these technical hiccups are to blame on Monolith Soft running out of budget or on my Switch being overwhelmed by my battery-draining gaming sessions, but I have to admit that these issues bother me ever-so-slightly. I'm not a graphical whore by any means, but seeing a game kind of unravel in front of my very eyes as I'm playing it is a rather unpleasant experience. I just hope things won't get significantly worse before the grand finale.

That's it for that 50-hours progress report, dear fellow gamers! See you soon for the next chapter of my XC2 epic; and as usual, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Details, details

You know it's a fetish of mine to linger and agonize over details in video games, dear fellow gamers. Without further ado, here's the XC2 edition of my beloved "Hell is in the details — and heaven too" feature!

"Yes please": 

—Instant save system AND instant travel! Oh, the extasy! I fully expected a long JRPG like XC2 to feature (too sparse) save points and to force some slow and unpractical travelling contraption on me, and I nearly cried with happiness when discovery the game's delicious player-friendliness.

—Not status effects in battle. I don't think I've ever mentioned that before, but I hate status effects in battle in general, and I despise them twice as much in real-time fighting. There's nothing that breaks the flow of combat quite like having to fumble through one's inventory to snatch an antidote; and gosh, am I immensely glad to be spared that chore in XC2.

—Being able to jump from considerable heights without dying is deliciously heady. Oh, sure, you can die if you really jump from too high; but overall, XC2 is much more forgiving in that department than, say, Tomb Raider or Breath of the Wild. I just love diving from a cliff into a lake 1000 feet below in Uraya, or taking a shortcut by jumping from the 3rd floor at the Argentum Guild. Cherry on the cake, you can find secret places and extra safes by taking such leaps of faith!

—No equipement galore (insert eyes teary with happiness). Characters can equip two pieces of gear and Blades two Aux Cores, and that's it. I had read many complaints about the menus and customization systems being overblown prior to playing the game, and I feared some overkill in the equipment department; so imagine my surprise and relief when discovering those mere two slots.

"No thanks": 

—The game is often too dark, especially in towns, caves, buildings and at night time overall. I find myself staring at my reflection in the Switch's screen while I'm playing way too often for my taste, and I sometimes cannot play at all unless I retreat in a dark room.

—I hate how loot flies all around the place when I kill foes, forage or open safes, forcing me to gather items one by one afterwards. It's messy, sloppy and it makes me lose some precious time. It's especially annoying when fighting several foes in a row, because all that shit clutters the battlefield and I'm always wondering if some of the items will despawn if I take too long to wrap up the fight. I've also lost some (presumably) excellent loot because of that stupid feature, just because some items fell off a cliff or into deep water, or because a cutscene was triggered before I could pick up everything. Oh, and let's not forget all those times I fell to my death trying to gather loot next to a cliff.

—Pyra is too unremarkable compared to other Blades. She's supposed to be that top-tier Blade, a league of her own; yet nearly all rare Blades look cooler, fancier and edgier than her. I have a hard time seeing her as an exceptional, mythical Blade when she's strutting around dressed like a dorky Europop singer. And no, her "alternate outfit" is no better.

—I cannot fathom why Rex doesn't automatically draw his sword when being targeted by foes. I always take a couple of unnecessary hits because of that omission, not to mention that having to draw my sword in a hurry is so darn stressful that I often find myself fumbling with the buttons and taking even more damage.

That's it for the hellish&heavenly details, dear fellow gamers; I'll see you soon with more XC2 goodness! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Xenoblade Chronicles 2: 30 hours

I was planning to write a progress report much sooner; but somehow, I found myself wanting to play just a little more instead, then a little more after that... And before I knew it, I had poured 30 hours into the game. On the other hand, 30 hours of XC2 probably amount to 5 hours in a regular RPG, so that's fine. Without further ado, here's the first of (I bet) many XC2 progress reports, dear fellow gamers! (SPOILERS!)

So, where to start? The premise, maybe. I was not expecting to care about the story, like, at all; but to my utter surprise, I find myself actually sympathizing with Rex and understanding his plight and his subsequent eagerness to trust and follow Pyra. I mean, the kid probably did the math and realize that at the rate the Titans go down, he won't be around to see his grandchildren grow up; that's a terrible prospect for anybody, and an even worse one for a (presumably) virgin teenage boy who spend most of his life slaving away to feed his village. So when a ray of hope suddenly appears, can you really blame him for wanting to cling to it as if his life depended on it — which it might well literally do in that case? As for Pyra herself, I understand her even better now that I've played through chapter 3: she's basically in forced exile, an unwilling outcast who's been torn away from her homeland and wants to go back there at all costs. And talking about Pyra's home, the separation between the Titans and Elysium reminds me eerily of the whole Salem/Scrapyard situation in Gunnm (a.k.a. Battle Angel Alita). I have an inkling that if we do indeed reach Elysium, we're gonna discover that it's not as holy a land as we thought and that we were better off on the Titans after all. And since I'm mentioning the Titans, I cannot help but think that they were designed as a bunch of Noah's arks. I mean, they are floating on an endless ocean, with all those animals cohabiting peacefully on their backs... I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out later that they were indeed designed specifically to rescue the last remnants of a dying civilization.

The characters, now. Well, I like them overall, and I have a special soft spot for Nia; in fact, I would definitely play as her if not for the fact that she's a healer and doesn't accommodate my bull-like fighting style. So far, I find myself disliking only two characters. One is Akhos, that arrogant, precious stuck-up little Harry Potter clone; and the other... Well, it pains me to admit it, but the other is Mythra herself. Gosh, I vomit her. Why, Monolith Soft? Why did you feel the need to squeeze that immature, touchy, violent tsundere b*tch into your game? Why not stick with Pyra, darn it? Pyra is calm, cool and collected, in a gentle and motherly way; and she was just perfect as the female lead. My party's chemistry was amazing until that broad Mythra popped up and ruined it all with her temper tantrums — like, blaming Rex for having "awakened her" while he was not even aware of her existence, calling him a pervert for oggling at her bosom for a nanosecond while she's the one prancing around half-naked, or slapping him hard for mentioning that she was blushing. The worse part is that so far, there is absolutely no sound justification for her existence, apart from fulfilling the tsundere quota and creating a lame love triangle between her, Pyra and Rex. The story implies that her changing into Pyra is a way to restrict her immense power, but that doesn't explain why she has to change her looks and behaviour in the process. Why did she feel the need to create a mellow alter ego for herself? Did her aggressivity cause a calamity of sorts in the past, or is she just ashamed of her violent personality? Well, she should.

Now let's talk gameplay, folks! You know I like to keep things simple and streamlined when I play RPGs; and to my utter delight, XC2 is very much in the mood to accommodate me. I've been sticking to my initial Blades — Pyra/Mythra, Poppi α and Dromarch — in combat and doing just fine, and I fully intend to keep doing that as long as I can get away with it. So far, I've had no desire to start training with my other Blades; but you never know what might happen in the next hours. That's not to say that I didn't dabble in Blade bonding: I managed to snatch rare Blades Godfrey, Perun and Nim (the latter from a mere Common Crystal!) and they're currently busy slaving away on Merc Missions. I've not been touching Salvaging and Pouch Item management so far, but I fully intend to pore over it in the next hours, all the more so as I amassed a considerable amount of cash already and need some outlets for it. But no rush here, I still have dozens of hours of play ahead!

As for my progression, I'm currently in Mor Ardain, trying to break into that shady factory. (That's chapter 4, although I routinely tend to forget that this game has chapters.) My whole crew is Level 37; and if the levels of the foes I'm currently facing are any indication, I'm a teeny-tiny bit overleveled. It's not like I actively grinded, though: I find myself fighting for fun on my way to places, just because I love combat in that game, and I cannot help but tackle every side quest that comes my way. And talking about side quests, they're very much a mixed bunch. They range from entertaining and forgiving to obnoxious and hardcore, and there's no way to know how they roll before accepting them. I finished roughly half of them so far, leaving the other half for later — or never. (I'm not losing sleep over uncleared side quests, I can assure you.) Overall, I've been progressing without a hitch so far, taking down bosses and unique monsters without breaking a sweat — which may or may not be due to the fact that I'm playing in Easy Mode. That's not too glorious of me, but I didn't want to run the risk of toiling on random encounters and being stuck on hardcore foes in a game that vast and that brimming with features and systems to manage.

And that's it for my 30-hour progress report, dear fellow gamers. I'll see you soon with more XC2 goodness; and as usual, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Xenoblade Chronicles 2: An unexpected crush

This is the game I was telling you about, dear fellow gamers: my very own Switch killer app, the game I wanted to play so badly that no amount of reasoning could deter me from forking out an indecent amount of cash to get my paws on it and its hosting machine.

I had my doubts about this, you know. Heck, I was totally afraid of just throwing my hard-earned money through the window with that move, that's what I was. I mean, the odds were totally stacked against me loving that game at all. For one thing, I hate long story-driven RPGs full of cutscenes as a rule, and open-world games tend to bore and exhaust me at once. For another, I deemed XC2's character design and outfits over-the-top and utterly ridiculous, and the fighting system looked like a hot mess. Last but not least, it so happens that I absolutely loathed the original Xenoblade Chronicles. I just couldn't fathom why my gaming instinct yearned for XC2; and although I finally complied and got my paws on a copy, I half-expected to have a miserable time with the game and give up on it very quickly.

What happened instead is that not only have I been playing XC2 for a couple of hours without a hitch, but I'm also loving it more by the minute. Somehow, all the potential issues that bothered me before purchasing the game were tackled and magically solved:

The cutscenes, pacing and story: The cutscenes are nowhere near as long and numerous as I feared, and they can be paused or skipped entirely. The pacing is certainly slow, but in a mellow, relaxed way: this is not your typical dreadful fake longevity-inducing slowness, but rather the tranquil slowness boasted by games that have a story to tell and an atmosphere to build up and take the time they need to do so. I've encountered that brand of slowness in games like DQIX and Trails in the Sky, and it's a pacing I relish very much indeed — probably because I love taking my sweet time to do things IRL. As for the story, it's as laid-back and unobstrusive as it gets: instead of coercing you into a given course of action, it gives you a general goal at any given time and leaves you free to aim for said goal at your own pace. You're free to go anywhere you want in the meantime and spend as much time doing whatever pleases you. For all intents and purposes, the story and gameplay are completely separate and independent from one another in XC2; and that's something that actually chagrined many a reviewer. As for me, I just love that arrangement, because it allows me to enjoy the better of two worlds at my own pace.

The open world: The notion that XC2 was an open-world game was floating around before the game's release; and after playing it myself, I have to wonder if this was a marketing sham, a concept ditched during development or a misunderstanding of sorts. Because indeed, an open world Alrest is not. It's made of various enclosed and separate islands that only become accessible as you progress the story, and there's no physical in-game way to travel between those islands; instead, you have to use an instant travel system. Sure, the environments are gigantic and bound to give you a heady feeling of freedom; but when all is said and done, XC2's areas function just like traditional dungeons, with their dedicated fauna, decor and inflexible boundaries.

The character design and outfits: Let's be blunt: before playing, I thought the whole crew looked dumb beyond belief. From Pyra's late '90s low-cut hot pants to Rex' spandex shorts, from the copious amounts of inner boob to the Saint Seiya-esque shoulder pads, everything screamed corny and lousy chara design. And yet, weirdly enough, all that corniness and lousiness virtually evaporated once I saw the characters in action. I honestly think Pyra and Rex look darn good in their outfits, and I wouldn't want them to wear anything else. That's not to say that I won't dress them otherwise if I get the opportunity; but if this happens, it will be for the sake of visual change and not because I cannot stand their outfits.

The fighting system: To my utter relief, that whole fighting business was not nearly as messy as it looked on some Let's Play videos. Shutting down all voices during combat was a neat start; and once I got used to adjusting the camera when necessary and visually focusing on Rex while letting the rest of the crew do their thing, fighting became a deliciously smooth and streamlined affair and a continuous source of pleasure and joy. XC2's fighting system does away with mindless button-mashing and chooses instead to showcase and magnify the best elements of real-time combat, which are none other than the sharp timing, the clever positioning, the feverish rythm and the smooth flow of battle. It certainly doesn't hurt that the AI is quite stellar: my crew knows when to avoid blows and when to heal, and I can genuinely trust them and fully rely on them on the battlefield, which is the most wondrous feeling ever. In fact, I daresay that Rex has bitten the dust more often than Nia and Tora despite the fact that he's fully under my control.

The filiation with XC: I didn't play XC enough to compare the two games; but suffice it to say that most of what bothered me in XC is nowhere to be found in XC2. Colours are brighter and prettier, the art style is more distinctive, the learning curve is more forgiving and, last but not least, the fighting system is much easier to grasp. While XC forces the player to scroll through a selection of Arts and select the one they want, XC2 has those same Arts displayed on the screen at all times and tied to specific buttons, and that makes all the difference in the world. As for the huge scales that disorientated me so much when I played XC, well... I somehow got used to them this time around. Maybe that's actually a matter of screen size, now that I think of it.

My playthrough of XC2 is shaping up to be a very long one indeed, and I have tons of things to say about that game, even in these early stages. Expect a lot of posts about that Very First Switch Game of mine, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!