Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X are two incredibly massive and excellent RPGs from the second party Nintendo developer Monolithsoft. But for many people, being able to sink so many hours into two games seems daunting at best. So with the choices of playing these two games, which one is most worth your time?
If you’ve read one or both of my reviews, you’ll find that I gave Xenoblade Chronicles a 9.7 and Xenoblade Chronicles X a 9.2. But a mere half a point difference between the two games isn’t necessarily the best indicator of which game is better to play. For that, I’ll give a spoiler-free breakdown of some of the main aspects of each game worth noting and which is better.
Without giving any specific details, both games are rather different in terms of story with Chronicles having more of a fantasy bent and X more sci-fi. Chronicles is very heavily story-driven and the main story on its own spans around 70-90 hours in order to complete.
X, on the other hand, has the story as less of the central focus and on its own will take around 50-60 hours (if not less). For some, both of these lengths sound rather daunting, but the stories themselves never feel long at all.
As an important side note, while X could be considered a spiritual successor to Chronicles, they are in no way connected, meaning that apart from picking up on some little nods and easter eggs in X, you don’t need to have played or completed Chronicles in order to enjoy X.
Both stories are very interesting, but because the story of Chronicles is so central to everything in the game and is considerably longer than that of X, it’s considerably better. While X has a good amount of intrigue and gets more interesting as you go along, Chronicles has a continual driving force from the beginning of the game and it only gets better. Though at the end of both stories, I was satisfied overall, Chronicles was still the better of the two by far.
Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles
The Battle System
Chronicles and X both have truly excellent battle systems, with it being clear that X is essentially an evolution of Chronicles. Both rely on auto-attacks with the usage of Arts (on timed cooldown periods) which have different types and different effects depending on character positioning.
Chronicles’ Monado-based aspects of combat definitely separate it from X, but both the chain attacks of Chronicles and X’s similar system (which, for spoilers’ sake, won’t be named) work beautifully for teamwork-based damage. Both Chronicles and X have other teamwork-related aspects in combat, but while the Soul Voice system of X (explained in my review) makes healing easier than having to have a healer in your party (like in Chronicles and most RPGs), Chronicles feels more like actual teamwork because of how the characters interact.
However, X also has the advantages of a faster pace to combat and the ability to switch
between melee and ranged attacks on the fly, giving a bit more depth to strategies than when characters are limited to close or long-range, as they mostly were in Chronicles. X also has a lot more options for combat in the simple fact that your character can try out 16 different character classes, each with different weapons, Arts, and skills. Since it also becomes possible to use weapons from previously mastered classes while trying out a new class, there’s even more variety. Furthermore, with the addition of the mechs (a.k.a. Skells) in X (whose weapons, which are customizable, determine the Arts they have available to use), there is even more variety and added strategy in combat.
In the end, it’s really hard to say one is better than the other, because both are truly excellent and work extremely well in their respective games. But in the end, X wins out by a slight margin due to the simple fact that it has more variety, the strengths of the Soul Voice system, and Skells.
Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles X
In Chronicles, the world is undoubtedly massive and beautiful. There is a great deal to see and a lot of variety to make it worth exploring.Even playing on the New 3DS, I was in awe at how massive everything was. Up to that point, I could not imagine any game with a larger world. And exploration was especially exciting because every time a new location was discovered, I’d get experience and build affinity with the characters in my party.
But with such a massive world, Chronicles was sometimes difficult to explore. First off, Shulk and the rest of the group could not sprint, so getting from one area to another could be a real slog at times. While the jumps were sometimes useful for getting higher up, they often were not useful enough. And there were a lot of areas that were flat-out inaccessible. No matter how much I wanted to get to the top of the claw-like structures in Gaur Plains, I could not. Furthermore, fall damage was enough of an issue to where if I couldn’t figure out how to access an area on foot and knew I wouldn’t survive the fall, I’d give up.
Like Chronicles, X has an incredibly massive and beautiful world to explore. While I can’t say with absolute certainty what the size is, the developer has confirmed that X is 5 times larger than Chronicles. And where the exploration in Chronicles was slowed by the inability to sprint, small jumps, fall damage, and inaccessible areas, X has none of those limits. Every single area of the map is accessible at one point or another, much of it on foot alone and the rest with Skells. And even though there is not necessarily as much variety in the locations as in Chronicles, there is still a lot of variety, even within the individual continents, and the fact that it’s possible to access ALL of it makes exploration that much more enjoyable. Of course, like in Chronicles, experience and affinity are awarded for discovering new areas.
In the end, X is the clear winner without any question.
Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles X
From the moment I started playing Chronicles, the characters drew me in to their story. I felt a real connection with Dunban early on, then Shulk, Reyn, Fiora, and later Sharla, Melia, and even Riki (who annoyed me initially but grew on me over time). Every character felt like they had chemistry (especially Shulk, Reyn, and Fiora) and in many cases, a real history together. Where the history was absent, it still became clear that they were growing together through their experiences. As the story went on, I only grew to love them even more, and even though some of them were used very little in combat by the time I finished the game, I genuinely loved them all.
In X, things were different. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t like the characters (because I did), but I didn’t feel attached to them in the same way. Sure, characters like Elma and Lin (both of which are required for much of the story missions) were definitely my favorites and most used, but where Chronicles kept me invested in the characters just by telling the story, X requires more effort by doing Affinity Missions. On the one hand, that feels a little more natural to some extent because in real life, you get to know people more by spending time with them. But at the same time, I have still never felt connected in the same way I did with Chronicles’ characters. I mean, they are likable without question. I haven’t gotten tired of Lin teasing about cooking Tatsu. L’s interesting mishmash of commonly used sayings like “Let’s put a sock on them!” and “It’s not over until the fat baby sings…” always make me smile. But I don’t think that any of the characters will ever become as beloved to me as those of Chronicles.
While both games have interesting characters, much of what makes the characters special and likable is much more front and center in Chronicles than X, and as such, Chronicles is the clear winner.
Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles
Chronicles has an outstanding soundtrack, with music composed primarily by Manami Kiyota, music team ACE+ (made up of Tomori Kudo, Hiroyo “CHiCO” Yamanaka, and Kenji Hiramatsu), Yoko Shimomura (best known for her work on Kingdom Hearts), but also featuring a piece written by Yasunori Mitsuda (best known for the music of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross). For me, the vast majority of the songs in the soundtrack are truly excellent, with the themes for Colony 9 and Gaur Plains being standout “field” themes and the battle themes “You Will Know Our Names,” “One Who Gets in Our Way,” and “Mechanical Rhythm” also being truly spectacular on every single listen, it’s impossible to not love Chronicles’ soundtrack.
X’s soundtrack (composed by Hiroyuki Sawano, best known for his work on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance) is also outstanding, but where Chronicles is one that is universally praised, some of the vocal-based tracks of X have been divisive for many people. However, even the tracks that I was hesitant about liking initially I have grown to absolutely love, from the rap of the main battle theme to the “Ah, ah, whoooaaa”s of the New LA theme and the somewhat cheesy lines in the Skell flying theme. And while these and other vocal tracks stand out as being very different from Chronicles, they fit extremely well in-game (and are a joy to listen to outside of it as well). And the music for every other area, especially the “field” themes for each of the continents–my favorites of which are Primordia, Noctilum, and Oblivia’s daytime themes–are all truly outstanding.
In the end, I don’t think I can really say that one soundtrack is better than the other. They’re different, but both fit the games extremely well. I’d call it a draw.
Winner: Draw – Both soundtracks are superb and fit extremely well with their respective games.
While Chronicles art direction is largely considered to be excellent, the graphics are not entirely considered to be good due to being standard definition when released in the time of high definition games. Furthermore, it’s not necessarily one of the better-looking of Wii games. On the New 3DS port, the textures were downgraded quite a bit in order to keep a constant 3D effect without compromising on framerate. That being said, I never disliked the visuals, especially in the New 3DS version with the 3D effect making up for the downgraded textures. When looking at the better textures of the Wii version, I really think the game looks quite good.
X’s art direction is largely stellar, though in many cases the character faces leave something to be desired. But even so, where Chronicles’ graphics were standard definition and somewhat dull to many, X has high-definition graphics and is in many ways one of the best-looking games on Wii U, especially in terms of environments, creatures, and especially the Skells.
In the end, X’s high-definition visuals win out as they take the art direction to its best possible conclusion.
Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles X
The Side Quests
Chronicles in many ways revolutionized what side quests could be. By eliminating much of the need for backtracking to “turn in” side quests, especially collection and monster-slaying, it did something that many RPGs prior really should have done. Despite this, Chronicles unfortunately does not have a lot of variety in side quests and the quests that have to be turned in to the quest giver end up a hassle if you don’t remember where the quest giver was, as there is no indicator of where or when to find them. Furthermore, there is little incentive to go back and do all the side quests after completing the game (or even before facing the final boss).
X has a considerably larger variety of quests to complete, and unlike Chronicles, the quests often have actual impact on the citizens of New LA. X maintains the improvements to side quests found in Chronicles, but also makes finding quest givers considerably less frustrating and mentally exhausting than they could be at times in Chronicles. What’s even better, though, is that much like in the Mass Effect games, once you complete the main story, you can still go and do whatever side quests you wish without being sent back to before defeating the final boss. There is so much more to do and some quests (including certain Affinity Missions) actually open up after completing the story.
In the end, X is the clear winner.
Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles X
And the Overall Winner is…
Xenoblade Chronicles: 3 points*
Xenoblade Chronicles X: 5 points*
*Both games received a full point for the music category
Although it appears there is a clear winner, the reality is that both games are superb. Ultimately, the determining factor when you have to choose one or the other should be your preference over story & characters versus gameplay. That’s not to say that Chronicles gameplay is not excellent and that X’s story and characters aren’t also excellent, but simply that Chronicles’ story and characters are far better than X’s and that X improves on the gameplay of Chronicles in every way.
No matter if you choose to just play Chronicles, X, or both, you’re in for at least one lengthy but excellent RPG experience.
Xenoblade Chronicles is available for both Wii in disc format (which is considerably cheaper than it was prior to the New 3DS version’s release) and for the New 3DS in both cartridge and digital formats. In Japan, Europe, and the UK, it’s also possible to buy the Wii version of the game digitally on Wii U as a Virtual Console title. Likely, North America will also get it in the near future.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is solely available for Wii U, but is available both on disc and through the Nintendo eShop.