While I expected Fallout 4 to be my video game time sink spanning from December to the early months of this year, it so happened that that wasn’t the case. Its main plot was quick and I found myself not really interested in the story Bethesda forced on players (though if the future DLCs are good, I could see myself getting drawn back in). Instead, much of my attention turned to Xenoblade Chronicles X. Before this game, I’d never really been interested in the series itself; I only knew vague plot points from Xenoblade Chronicles from catching my brother playing it while I was working on something else, and I only really knew about Shulk from his cameo in the most recent Smash Bros. Giant mech isn’t really a genre I care about, but upon seeing my brother’s first venture into the gorgeous world of Mira, I knew I had to create my own BLADE operative and start up a file myself. Yet, no matter how I enjoyed the game, I’m conflicted on saying that it was “good”.
Spoilers under the cut.
Distantly related to Chronicles, Chronicles X shows us a universe where Earth (our Earth) is suddenly attacked by an alien race called the Ganglion. It’s only by a miracle that the people of Earth have time to escape the planet before it’s destroyed. However, even having escaped Earth’s atmosphere, all is not well—not long after, the USA’s evacuation ship is shot down and makes an emergency landing on the planet Mira. Surprisingly, Mira seems perfect for human life (if you ignore some of the hostile native beasts), but intelligent humans aren’t walking around in their bodies. Instead they use robot replicas called mimeosomes with their memories downloaded into them, at least until sustainable life is achieved on Mira.
You, the player, and your mimeosome are discovered by BLADE operative Elma. Although you remember nothing about your life before landing planetside, Elma seems hopeful that you’ll remember as time goes by and brings you to the human settlement New L.A., where she hopes you’ll become a member of BLADE with her. BLADE—not so better known as “Builders of the Legacy After the Destruction of Earth” (in the English version of the game)—is essentially the military, which is now devoted to protecting New L.A., discovering different parts of Mira, and figuring out why the Ganglion attacked Earth unprovoked. Though you never get your memories back, you end up traveling with Elma and engineering prodigy Lin Lee Koo uncovering the Ganglion plot and sniffing out double agents in BLADE itself, all while racing against the clock to find the part of evacuation ship which holds the memories of all the humans in New L.A.. If not found in time, then the power will run out, causing all mimeosomes immediately cease functionality and losing what little remains of humanity forever.
Where Chronicles X succeeds and fails are so entwined with each other that it’s difficult to talk about one without talking about the other at the same time.The plot itself was interesting and compelling. Even though the “twists” are so similar to generic RPG/JRPG twists that they weren’t surprising at all, I was still invested in discovering why the Ganglion wanted to see the human race destroyed, and seeing how BLADE was going to beat the clock, down to the second, to find that piece of the ship they needed. Unfortunately, none of this curiosity and set-up pays off. The Ganglion hate the human race because the Ganglion were destined to be killed by the human race. And while, sure, that wouldn’t get me to like a certain species either, I’m not sure going off and attacking them was the best way to avoid the prophecy coming true. Although one’s position in this argument more likely stems from personal opinions on if offense is a better defense or not.
However, the bigger fault lies in that absolutely nothing else in the plot was tied up. The BLADE operative who was acting as double agent to the Ganglion ends up getting absorbed by some DNA goo at the end of the game, removing him of his human form but not killing him. He’s not dead, and potentially has immense, threatening powers, but apparently this isn’t important enough to follow up on. Elma herself ends up being an alien (and not human, as she had presented herself as the entire game); however, this doesn’t mean anything since we don’t learn anything about her race, where she came from, or what she’s even capable of. As far as that goes, it’s just a really convenient plot point to give humans advanced tech they shouldn’t have had otherwise. But the most egregious plot point that doesn’t get explained at all is that the memories that BLADE was searching for in the first place? The ones that keep the mimeosomes alive and functioning? They’ve been destroyed since the beginning of the game. Planet Mira is apparently *~*magic*~*, and that’s the only explanation there is. I do think the creators were expecting to release a sequel to this game, but this is not how you set up for that: by solving nothing in the first game, playing it feels useless and like nothing was actually accomplished. This is not how you want your players to feel.
More than that, though, I think laying out the plot as such did a huge disservice to Elma, who is unarguably the main character of this game. Among BLADE, Elma is the most skilled operative, one who works tirelessly to make sure things are running smoothly in New L.A.. She is the one people go to when they want something done, and who people look up to and trust. I, personally, would be hard pressed to think of another game where one of the most influential people in a military organization is a woman, especially a Black woman. By revealing that she was an alien the whole time, not only does this remove some of the already scant Black representation, but it doesn’t add anything either, because Elma being an alien doesn’t change anything she did. She struggles as a normal human would, and she never comments on things you think she would know as an alien with access to more complex technology. Her lack of logical input or knowledge of her purpose of being there/helping humanity makes her character confusing, and ultimately less compelling.
In terms of representation, Chronicles X is just as frustrating. I love that both of the main characters, Elma and Lin, are ladies, and are both vital to not only finishing the story missions, but keeping New L.A. running as a city. While Elma takes care of the more combat driven things, Lin is one of the most talented engineers who constantly takes it upon herself to improve the infrastructure of New L.A. She’s also solely responsible for giving the skells (your giant mechs) the ability to fly, which is the most vital upgrade in the game. She’s never talked down to for her passions, or for pursuing them at such a young age (she’s thirteen). While her reasons are not entirely borne out of enjoyment, it’s great to see her grow. Many of the other women and girls are interesting, powerful, and capable. This holds true even for the Ganglion, as their higher-ups are typically women. Yet, despite this, the designs are much less progressive. Ganglion executive Goetia is
designed explicitly for fanservice. While Luxxar—fellow Ganglion, but male—looks somewhat like a frog, Goetia is a typical blue alien woman with a revealing swimsuit-like outfit and camera shots that lovingly pan up her ass. The same sexist dimorphism happens in most of the other alien races as well. The Prone, for instance, have large burly males and very tiny, petite, curvy women, which doesn’t exactly make sense for a race that is completely devoted to hunting and being super strong. As for racial representation, Chronicles X has a good amount of positive, non-stereotypical representation for East Asians; however, those from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and darker PoC in general aren’t so easily found, which seems like a narrower pool of people than the real L.A. has. Yet fans are holding out hope: since this game focused only on the escape ship from this one specific part of the USA, it’s possible that the sequel may focus on an escape ship from another part of the world entirely.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a game that’s built entirely off of possibilities. It’s the possibility of eradication that drives the characters to find the parts of their ship that have been displaced; it’s the possibility of actually forging a new life on Mira that allows the characters to settle down a bit; it’s the possibility of discovering secrets that bids the player to continue on. But a game shouldn’t ever be entirely comprised of possibility—there’s got to be some point where what “could be” becomes reality in one shape or another. Chronicles X never seems to stick that landing, instead opting for “no, but you guys, it’s going to be really cool in the next game.” If you’re looking for a game with beautiful scenery, a fun battling system, and interesting places to explore, absolutely get this game (if you have a WiiU). If you want something that delivers on story and impactful character development, there is only disappointment to be found here.