Games Reviews

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: 255 Hours Later

A Love Letter to Tedium.

As a teacher who elected not to pursue a second job this summer, my time has been chiefly split between three activities: planning lessons, reading, and playing video games. The last option has consumed more of my time than I am proud to admit, yet I am here to admit it nonetheless, and a primary recipient of that time has been the exhaustive JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

Released on December 1st of last year, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes place in a world shrouded in a swirling sea of clouds, punctured only by the island-esque titans that roam about it, all housing the world’s only occupants. Rex, a salvager, uncovers Pyra, an anthropomorphic weapon known as a “blade,” and agrees to take her to the fabled land of Elysium. It is a game complete with all of the exhilarating intricacies you’d expect in a JRPG, including a taxing gachapon system and repetitive skill trees. These are exhilarating… right?

Not really, and while it should be noted that extensive use of the gachapon system or affinity charts is not needed to complete the main story (a 60+ hour feat on its own), for the completionist, mastery of them is a necessity.

Gachapon

For those unfamiliar, gachapon is a term used to describe vending machine capsule games popular in Japan. In XC2, this mechanic manifests itself by being the primary means of acquiring common and rare blades. Certain blades are harder to come by than others, and as your collection of rare blades builds, the remaining rare blades become ever more elusive.

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Don’t worry. One day you will realize your KOS-MOS-colored dreams.

It is with the remaining 6-5 blades that this mechanic becomes particularly strenuous, and a concerted effort to obtain the remaining blades is needed. A cursory glance of XC2’s GameFaqs and subreddit pages reveal a great number of players finding this task to be a foremost occupant of their time, seeking input, hypothesizing algorithms, and employing any combination of methods possible to produce the highest statistical likelihood of achieving the remaining weapons. In my own pursuit, the remaining two blades were to me the purveyors of tedium, outlasting previous acquisitions beyond the scope of Relentless Arduran’s pitiable existence by multitudes. May the Architect bless his weary soul.

Affinity Charts

Awakening a blade, while potentially time-consuming, is merely the first step. It is in that moment that it is in its weakest state, and in order to make it as useful as it can possibly be, you must complete a gamut of tasks to expand its affinity chart (skill tree). These tasks can range from something as simple as using an attack a minimal number of times, to completing a quest or taking down a unique monster. Some charts take it a step beyond and require that you complete a particularly tedious mission (Ursula—and I do mean tedious. “Bearing Her Soul” took me 25+ hours to fully complete!), use a blade’s special ability to create an exhaustive number of something you likely won’t use too often (Vess, Gorg, Vale), or simply spend an exorbitant amount of money (Sheba). Worst of all, perhaps, may be the mechanic of trust. Trust, which is used to expand affinity charts, is acquired gradually by completing sidequests, fighting, and using items. After completing the main story twice and still needing to fulfill trust requirements, this meant hefty and innumerable purchases of low-price items and a steady strategy of softly pushing “A” for various 10-minute intervals as I watched my favorite streamers have much more interesting experiences.

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The end of suffering.

The Good

Indeed, XC2’s post-game can be an exercise in patience. However, despite my frustration and frequent boredom, I persisted, and that is noteworthy. It is indicative of an allure. One such that even after completing the affinity chart for every rare blade (new game plus blades included), I felt determined to again return to the game and pursue some other activity, although I had no clear direction as to what it is I wanted to do. And that is not the completionist in me, as I have completed JRPGs aplenty with no desire to entertain the post-game (Final Fantasy XV is a recent example). It is a quality owned by XC2 that other games strive for and come up resistibly short. The quality to instill in the player a desire to keep going despite the tedium.

The mechanics of XC2 are so interwoven as to keep the experience meaningful, and the player feeling busy and gradually more accomplished than they previously were with each successive gain. Rather than telling the player that they must do such and such exhaustive and individually fruitless activity before they can earn such and such reward, encouraging the player to discontinuation out of sheer monotony, XC2 paces itself by offering the player numerous goals equating to ultimately meaningful experiences. This is helped by the ability to complete more than one task at a given time, primarily through the use of merc missions and shared goal paths. For example, finishing a fight may result in fulfilling a skill requirement, increasing trust, and dropping a core crystal, which could result in a new rare blade.

This, coupled with the impending feeling of discovery brought about by the main story’s resistance to encourage exploration of all discoverable areas, urges the player to continue the adventure, ultimately appealing to the inner sense of pride that is felt when one can acknowledge that they have accomplished the next-highest challenge the game has to offer.

For the students enduring lessons they feel to be a little less inspired than is typical, or the books on my shelf dreary from dust, I apologize. I was lost in the allure of a game egging me to completionism.

I anticipate purchasing the DLC.

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