This week we received an interesting email from one of our readers, Victor, which made a very good point. The text in Xenoblade Chronicles X is too small, and it should be improved; it was a lightbulb moment when we realised we should have brought it up far sooner - I certainly should have.
In my preview I referred to the game's user interface (UI) "being a little confusing in nature" while referencing just how dense the menus and systems are, while in the review I barely mentioned it directly. While the nature of the UI (or Graphical User Interface, if you want to be picky, we're using UI as a broad term) contributed to the 9 score we posted, I missed the opportunity to raise what is, actually, an important issue.
As Victor highlighted, about two weeks ago - right as the game launched - some gamers took to online boards to highlight problems actually reading the text in the game, which can be a vital issue considering there's so much of it. The likes of Miiverse, GameFAQs and Reddit have had these debates, all generally calling for an update that gives options that allow text size to be increased. The game allows you to customise the UI a little, in terms of what is displayed, but the text itself remains too small.
Now, as any screenshot of the game in action shows, the reason for the tiny text is simply the fact that Monolith Soft is trying to share a lot of information. Online messages, button mapping, a minimap, the in-world time and location. Yet it's not optimal, and it's worth pointing out that even sub-menus such as mission listings are hard to read; looking back at my time with the game I've certainly had to adjust my view on plenty of occasions, switching seats so I'm sitting less than a meter from the TV. I may be a 30-something that wears glasses, but when it's necessary to sit so close to a 40-inch+ TV to read some text, there's clearly an issue.
Of course, this isn't just a problem in Xenoblade Chronicles X, as it joins The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as a game where I need to sit in my second-favourite gaming spot. Of course, some may dismiss this as a trivial problem, especially as increasing familiarity with either game makes the text less important anyway, but it has reminded me that, actually, games need to do more to accommodate players of all types. There are often campaigns and points made that not enough games necessarily support those that are colour blind, or extremely short sighted, or perhaps having difficulty in playing with a disability. This issue of font size isn't relevant to all of those issues, of course, but a minor inconvenience can be a reminder that, for some, gaming as a whole is a challenge - a pleasurable pastime that can nevertheless be tough to enjoy.
From my perspective I certainly dropped the ball in not highlighting this properly in the preview or review, though it wouldn't have changed the score. I failed to take into account that while I can freely sit in comfort closer to my screen others don't have the same setup, or perhaps are shortsighted and struggling with this game regardless.
I can imagine it's easy for developers to miss, too. A studio's workspace will typically have its teams sitting at normal desks, working off monitors that are barely a foot or two away from the keyboard. What seems like a sensible UI on a development PC can seem out of place in a TV sitting area, as seems to be the case with The Witcher 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles X. The more complex the game, too, the harder it is to communicate effectively in the UI, and developers don't always get it right.
But it's another aspect of games that needs to be considered more by developers, publishers and perhaps critics. The UI is a silent but important partner in a gaming experience; we may only pay attention to it in a relatively passive way, aware of its presence and instinctively reading text, browsing menus and looking at minimaps. It's tempting, therefore, to take it for granted, or to adjust in order to make it work, and likewise developers may not always consider those that need a little extra help. Visible and clear user interfaces should, perhaps, be considered as mandatory as subtitles - not all can squint their way through a 100 hour RPG, for example.
Hopefully Monolith Soft will consider patching in an update to alleviate the issue. Sometimes the smallest things can be a big problem.
Let us know whether this is an issue you can relate to in the poll and comments below.