"Xenoblade Chronicles X was a game really focused on exploring and [having an] open world and [defeating] monsters," explains executive director Tetsuya Takahashi. "When we thought about starting to develop the next game, I wanted to go back to a more story-driven design. And so in that sense, this focus on a story-driven game is kind of the legacy of Xenoblade Chronicles 1, so we decided to kind of make it the next iteration of that."
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 boasts a more youthful art style, looking closer to anime. It was a change Monolith felt would help make their characters come alive better. We felt that in Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and X, the facial expressions [were] kind of a little bit hard, a little bit stiff, says executive director Tetsuya Takahashi. We really wanted to put a little bit more focus on creating facial expressions and for the characters to be more expressive, and so that's why we went with the direction we did, which I guess you could say is a little bit leaning toward something like Japanese animation.
Monolith says it spent a lot of time thinking about how to revamp the control scheme, and it shows. The controls are also smooth and a lot more direct than past games, which were very menu-heavy. Everything revolves around simple button presses. Now you can use the Arts tied to your weapon simply by pressing the corresponding button on the right Joy-Con. The buttons on the left Joy-Con match up with your blades, allowing you to switch weapons in a jiffy to adapt to situations. "In terms of the UI, this game is on a new console, and so we wanted to make sure it matches that hardware," Takahashi says. "We felt that the way we have it now, it makes it a lot more instinctual it's very natural. And the Switch is also portable, and since you can take it anywhere you want, we made sure the UI is very easy to see, even when you're carrying it around with you."
Finding Blades is just one part of the exploration. Monolith dialed back from Xenoblade X in terms of surface area, but that doesn't mean there's not much to do. "Because this game is story-driven, I don't think that an open world is necessarily appropriate," Takahashi explains. "And I feel that we were able to make a game [with a world] that's really appropriate and really supports the story-driven aspect of this game. For example, if you compare it to Xenoblade 1, there's plenty of places [and worlds] to explore; but when you look at simple surface area, it might be a little bit smaller than Xenoblade Chronicles X. Like I mentioned, I don't think that such a vast space is necessary, so instead of focusing on increasing the raw surface area, we thought it was more important to increase the density and pack in as much variety in design [as possible], and for people to be able to enjoy the changing landscape as they traverse and explore this world."
As the series is known for, Xenoblade 2 has its share of side quests. I saw tons of NPCs with quest markers and notice boards in every town. The basic fetch quests are still there, but the game also has its share that add to the story. You can even unlock some of the rare Blades and learn more about them through side quests. "They're more directly related to their story, and you get to learn about their quirky characteristics [and] their personality traits that they have," Takahashi says. "There's also a lot of subquests that kind of branch off of the main storyline in that there might be a character that only has a small role in the main story, but if you chase that down, you get to learn more about this character and more about who they are."
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Monolith is still dedicated to providing a lengthy RPG. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has only 10 chapters, and when I was brought into chapter four we were only around the 45-hour mark. "As you may or may not have expected, the playtime required to beat this game is a little on the high side," Takahashi says. "If you just play the mainline story, there's still enough to probably be comparable to Xenoblade 1, but like in past Xeno series, if you are just playing the main story, there might be times where you encounter a boss or an enemy that's actually a little bit too tough or very tough for you to beat. I strongly recommend taking side roads, taking the time to explore different areas, defeating monsters, picking up items, leveling your character up, [and] doing quests."