I’ve never been shy when it comes to my thoughts on the Xenoblade series even going so far as to call Xenoblade Chronicles the best RPG of the past 20 years as well as calling it’s “sequel”, Xenoblade Chronicles X, my personal favorite Wii U game. So you can imagine how, excited I was to find out that the original game is getting a true follow up with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and that it’s coming out in 2017! Now, I know that the Xenoblade name doesn’t have the star-power that Zelda, Mario and even Splatoon bring to the table but despite that lack of hype behind the game, I seriously think that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 might be the Switch’s best game of 2017.
Let’s kick things off by talking about what makes Xenoblade just so darn great. For starters the story – both Chronicles and X have deep narratives that aren’t afraid to ask the big questions. I don’t want to spoil anything but the themes of religion and its validity are the main driving force behind Xenoblade Chronicles and X focuses more on mankind’s place in a larger universe. These are very ‘heavy’ topics and not type of thing you typically find in a ‘Nintendo’ game, where the objective usually doesn’t go far beyond ‘stop the bad guy’ or ‘rescue the princess’, and while some might find them controversial, these are the type of topics that need to be discussed and thought about in order to better understand the world around us, something that the Xenoblade series has become very good at.
But a strong story can only take you so far, you also need strong gameplay and thankfully the Xenoblade series has that in spades. Whereas most JRPGs will typically have combat set in a turn based formula, Monolith Soft has taken inspiration from western games for Xenoblade’s combat, which plays like a mix between a traditional RPG and an MMO with its ‘skill based cooldown’ mechanics and built in real time events. This unique take on RPG combat has helped Xenoblade develop a feel all its own, one that at the same time rewarding, satisfying and engaging. And while we have yet to see what Xenoblade Chronicles 2‘s combat will be like, I expect it to be a further refinement of what’s come before.
Ok, so we’ve established that the Xenobalde series is a pretty good one and that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will likely be a solid game in and of itself, but what about its competition? What titles will it be going up against when considering the best Switch games of 2017? Well it just happens to be Nintendo’s two biggest titles in almost half a decade – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Now some people will argue that Breath of the Wild has already locked up Game of the Year honors (especially since Red Dead Redemption 2 go delayed to 2018) but as I approach my 200th hour in Hyrule its becoming clear to me that the game has several major flaws, namely when it comes to its pacing and gameplay variety. And Mario Odyssey, while seemingly a refreshing take on the series will have a lot to do in order to reach the level of other Mario greats like 64 and Galaxy. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on the other hand simply needs to build upon what its predecessors and smooth over the rough patches. On that note – while some will complain that Xenoblade Chronicles X‘s world was big but empty, remember that Monolith Soft helped develop the open world aspect of Breath of the Wild, so hopefully they can bring some of that experience into the new game.
Of course this is only looking at what we think are going to be the Switch’s biggest games of the year in terms of critical and fan acclaim, something could still come out of left field and blow us away. Arms and Splatoon 2 seems a bit too ‘narrow’ in scale but could surprise us and rumors are swirling that Nintendo is working on enhanced ports of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Super Mario Maker and Pokémon (Sun/Moon), all of which could be in the running. And then their’s third party publishers, who so far have been playing coy with the Nintendo Switch but are supposedly warming up to the platform. Can one of their games win gamers over? Only time will tell.
Now I could gush about Xenoblade all day, talking about the great story, characters, moment, gameplay, combat and exploration but I want to wrap this piece up by saying that even though it doesn’t have the words Zelda, Mario or Fire Emblem in the title, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a game that should be on every Nintendo fans’ radar. The series has become the place where you can find ‘grown up’ Nintendo experiences and mature themes married perfectly with the traditional quality that the Big N’s games are known for. So while 2017 will likely boil down to ‘is Breath of the Wild better than Mario Odyssey?’ arguments, I hope that some of you keep Xenoblade in mind when considering what is the best Nintendo Switch game of 2017.