Xenoblade Chronicles X
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, on the 5th anniversary of Xenoblade Chronicles 2's release, Alana wants to celebrate the influence of its predecessor and series spin-off...

Xenoblade Chronicles X wasn't really what anyone was expecting. People were excited for a sequel to Monolith Soft's Xenoblade Chronicles on Wii, and X came in and defied most expectations. People wanted Xenoblade Chronicles 2 — instead, they got a sprawling, open-world RPG where the main star of the game is an alien planet called Mira. And the series is all the better for its existence.

Tetsuya Takahashi, founder and director of Monolith Soft, told Satoru Iwata in an interview that "I've always believed that the setting is important in RPGs." You can make that case for Xenoblade Chronicles, of course, where the games are set on two dead titans, but Mira goes beyond just being a fascinating world — Mira is a character, a vessel for the characters on it, a world that tells its own story in a very unique way.

It makes sense, because like with Xenoblade Chronicles and the Bionis and Mechonis, the creation of Mira came before the plot. Takahashi said in that same Iwata Asks that he needed a world that could "withstand various situations," which lead to a passionate and excited team creating an entire planet. Scenario writer Kazuho Hyodo recalled feeling "startled" when he was told to "'make as many [characters] as you want,'" and director Koh Kojima remembers there were fewer restrictions on what the team could and couldn't include in the world.

Xenoblade Chronicles X may have challenged expectations, but it still managed to both take aspects of the original Xenoblade and improve them and also influence many aspects of the series' future games — Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Torna - The Golden Country, and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 — in different ways.

The world is your oyster

Noctilum Xenoblade X
Image: Nintendo / Monolith Soft

This is a game that's all about the unknown — from new races, locations, and people, every turn may have something dangerous lurking behind it.

I've emphasised this enough, but Mira really is the reason you're playing Xenoblade Chronicles X. This planet is an unexplored treasure trove to both you and your character, and your goal is to scout it as part of BLADE (Builders of the Legacy After the Destruction of Earth, because it wouldn't be an RPG without an unnecessarily over-the-top acronym) for resources for New Los Angeles (NLA), and find the missing passengers from the ark, the White Whale.

The Bionis and Mechonis in the original Xenoblade was just the start of Monolith Soft's worldbuilding magic. From Gaur Plains, you could see Sword Valley and the Mechonis stretching out towards you, and from Eryth Sea, you could spot Valak Mountain towering above. But each area was segmented, split by loading screens or tucked away as you traversed through the Bionis' intestines to reach the next place. But often in X, you have to explore or go off the beaten path just to open up the next chapter — not necessarily just move to the next appointed location.

That means that you can go absolutely anywhere in Xenoblade Chronicles X at any time — as long as you have the tools to get there. Primordia, the first continent, is where you'll likely want to stay for the first few hours, but, if you really want to, you can stumble into Sylvalum whenever you want, and approach this weirdly barren, insipid continent with alien trees and unusual lights. The lava-filed lands of Cauldros have really yet to be replicated in the series, but Torna's Dannagh Region, and Xenoblade 3's Eagus Wilderness and Dannagh Desert (despite those Fallen Arm and Torna connections) both take heavy inspiration from Oblivia, the sprawling mass of arid land and dangerous plateaus.

In fact, Xenoblade Chronicles 3's Aionios, despite being a mishmash of all things Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and 2, is actually much closer in scope and layout to X's Mira. Aionios is round, and the locations are given 'continent names' rather than being known as Maktha Wildwood or Great Gotte Falls on the map; instead, it's the Pentelas Region or the Cadensia Region. 3's world is also absolutely massive — sailing across the Erythia Sea definitely evoked memories of the ocean in X, which you could also use to get to other continents.

For those who've played all previous Xenoblade games, there's definitely something a bit alien about seeing things from 1, 2, and Torna throughout Aionios, but couple this with the land's scale and continuity, it manages to capture what makes Mira so great.

Skell Xenoblade X
Hey, Monolith Soft, where are our Skells? — Image: Nintendo / Monolith Soft

A Home is a hub

Xenoblade Chronicles X is the only game in the series where you really have a hub — a place you keep coming back to. You're not someone progressing through a world — you need to explore it, and as such, you need somewhere to keep coming back to.

New Los Angeles
Image: via Xenoblade Wiki / Nintendo / Monolith Soft

NLA is that hub, a home amidst the confounding landscape of Mira. It's a huge city, and it only gets bigger and more populated as you progress through the game. This is where all of the friends you make reside, where all of the races you befriend populate, and where allies make homes and take up arms. Most of your cutscenes with Elma, Lin, and Tatsu take place here, and it's where some of the lighter moments and relief come.

That safe space in future games is Inns in Xenoblade 2, and camps in Torna and Xenoblade 3. Moments where you can bond, and places where you can gather thoughts, talk about the world, and progress the story. A city and a campfire can't really be compared, sure, but these feel like a natural progression of that 'safe space' that NLA acts as for future games — where you're constantly on the run from something rather than trying to make a home. Some of Xenoblade 3's campfire scenes are the best in the game — where Eunie and Taion share a cup of tea; where Noah and Mio talk about an Off-Seer's duty. And in Torna, where you have no home, camp is a place of respite.

Torna Campsite
Image: via Twitter / Nintendo / Monolith Soft

Populating cities has always been a thing (Colony 6, anyone?), and NLA can also be compared to Garfont Village, an Urayan town in 2 where all of your Blades hang out. This is where you send your Blades out to do missions, which help unlock their Affinity Charts and — as a result — sidequests. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 also has a late-game Colony buildings sidequest that, while smaller in scope, still keep in mind the idea of home and community building.

But will we ever get anything like NLA in a future Xenoblade game? Cities are a thing of the past in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (save one obvious example in the second half of the game), and there's something very particular about X's interpretation and celebration of a hub that hasn't fully been recaptured in the games since. For now, setting up camp and getting some sleep is all our weary JRPG teenagers can do to bond, craft, and keep safe.

Sumptuous story sidequests

Speaking of recruitment quests and Colony building, Xenoblade's reputation for sidequests precedes it. And, if there's one thing lots of Xenoblade fans agree on, it's that the sidequests in the original Xenoblade are often tedious. Even when the writing is brilliant, and even when they focus on community, worldbuilding, and relationships, there are so many of them that it's overwhelming.

In Xenoblade Chronicles X, the sidequests are something of a misnomer, as they are essential. There are multiple times where you have to do sidequests to progress the game, such as recruiting characters, but for understanding the people of NLA, your mission, and — most importantly — Mira, yes, the sidequests are essential.

Celica Xenoblade X
Celica, a Qlurian and a recruitable character. — Image: Nintendo / Monolith Soft

Some questlines bring entire alien races to NLA — the Ma-non are one such race. Not native to Mira, these small aliens are peaceful and are experts in mechanical engineering, but they truly love pizza. There's an entire quest around their love of pizza, resulting in a murder mystery that can culminate in you exposing the truth or losing a friend. Yes, NPCs die in Xenoblade Chronicles X, and sometimes, you can influence that. Every quest you undertake has an effect on the world around you, and if you ignore the quests, then you're missing out on some valuable tidbits on Mira and the characters, and it makes the world feel a bit flatter.

This isn't really a new thing, but lots of people don't realise that Xenoblade X has some of the best sidequests in the series. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 owes a lot to this game for that reason. I think it's doing something similar to X in that the quests feel vital; key people certainly don't die as often, but in terms of unifying different races (or, in this case, Agnus and Keves), forming relationships, and fleshing out the world and its laws throughout (which we won't spoil here), it's clear Xenoblade X's worldbuilding sidequests have had a strong influence on the latest game in the series.

Go to class, get a job

While every character had a specific role to play in the original Xenoblade — Shulk was an attacker, Reyn a tank, Dunban an evasion tank, etc. — Xenoblade Chronicles X, with its customisable main character, lets you pick your own class. You can also change your class as you progress through the game.

Initially, you start off as a Drifter, a class that offers up a balanced selection of Arts and moves. But it's the base class, and it isn't meant to be used. When you max it out, this branches out into three different 'types' — Striker, Commando, and Enforcer. And, from those three, two more classes branch out from each discipline.

Combat Xenoblade X
Image: Nintendo / Monolith Soft

Striker is like your tank class — good at dealing damage up close, but even better at taking it. Commando gives bonuses to ranged attacks and evasion. Enforcer is the support and healing branch. And, as you get more and more upgrades, these begin to specialise even more in either defending, healing, or dealing long or close-ranged damage. Full Metal Jaguar, for instance, is the strongest ranged attacking class in the game, which Elma specialises in, and it uses guns. Mastermind, on the other hand, is an expert debuffing class.

Combat roles were much less static in the series going forward (though Torna is an exception). Xenoblade Chronicles 2 tied Arts and Skills to Blades, which came in three different classes — Fighter, Healer, and Defender (recognise those?). While Rex was definitely better with Fighter Blades, you could absolutely give him Healer Blades if you wanted to. And even though Mórag specialises as an evasion tank, Fighter Blades will help her keep up aggro before switching back to a Defender Blade.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has a very robust class system that's tied to the game's recruitable Heroes. All six characters start off in an initial class — two Attackers, two Defenders, and two Healers — but you can eventually swap and change them all into any role. Every class has its own Blade (weapon), and while they sit in these three distinct categories, they all have different roles to play — Signifer is a much-more buff-focused healer than War Medic, for example.

Class Xenoblade 3
Image: Nintendo Life

We've got Xenoblade Chronicles X to thank for 3's excellent class system, and we're excited to see where it goes from here.

Grow up in reality

The Xenoblade series deals with some pretty lofty concepts — religion, God, existentialism, self-worth, anxiety, depression, and philosophy (just to name a few) — so this isn't to say that the series hasn't always had moments of maturity, but Xenoblade Chronicles X certainly feels like it took a few more steps towards that.

If we start visually, X is much more realistic — the original Xenoblade certainly didn't have the more anime aesthetic that Definitive Edition or any future entries have now, but those JRPG character design bones were there. And Xenoblade 2 went in completely the opposite direction, embracing those JRPG anime-esque roots, bringing in tons of artists to design different characters, and dousing its entire world and its characters in colour.

Xenoblade 2 Rex
Image: Nintendo / Monolith Soft

But even for a fictional alien planet, nothing in Mira seems out of the ordinary because of the groundwork put down by the team. Mira could be a real planet out there — there's a hue to the grasslands of Primordia that make it look just off-colour enough for it to be uncanny while also reminiscent of our own grass. The whole game has a much more subtle colour palette compared to the rest of the series, and it works perfectly.

This is a game that's all about the unknown — from new races, locations, and people, every turn may have something dangerous lurking behind it. You're navigating your way across the land out of determination to survive and thrive. X certainly has its humorous moments outside of dialogue options (though, the less Tatsu, the better), but for lack of a better word, it feels more grounded in 'realism' and is a lot more mature and interpersonal. The sidequests certainly help with the latter but unlike the other Xenoblade games or even other RPGs. you're not controlling a bunch of teenagers trying to save the world and fight God — this is a story about humanity's survival in extreme circumstances. That's a pretty real and relatable threat when we live in a world where climate change and global warming are changing the very fabric and livable nature of our own world.

Torna and Xenoblade 3 managed to regain that balance between maturity and humour that X so finely walked — 2 also walks the same tightrope, though it often revels in the over-the-top a bit too much. Torna's cast is mostly adults, and even the kids in the group have to navigate an ever-changing world with a degree of maturity. And 3's entire world law (where people are trapped in an eternal war and everyone dies after 10 years of life) captures what Takahashi said about Mira for X — the world will need to "withstand various situations". And even 3's tagline — "Fight to live, live to fight" — emphasises survivability, desperation, and a desire to remain.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is arguably where the series really hit its stride in terms of popularity, but it had a lot of people looking back at X and missing it — despite only coming out two years after its release. Now, months after 3's launch, Xenoblade Chronicles X's influence can be felt even more, and its importance in the Xenoblade series should be celebrated.

That it remains trapped on Wii U when so many of that console's best games have come to Switch is a crying shame, but whatever comes next after 3's DLC — a new numbered entry, or an 'X2', perhaps — Xenoblade Chronicles X will stand as an important tentpole in the series for a long time to come.