Video Game Review — Xenoblade Chronicles 2

A couple years ago I discovered the “Xeno” series, and have played through all the games, starting with Xenogears, playing my way through the Xenosaga trilogy, Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and finally Xenoblade Chronicles X.Although these games aren’t a conventional series by any means, with no real connection between any of them rather than the combat system and a few thematic links and characer names, I’m so glad I played them in order. Each one has been more fully realized than the last, exploring deeper questions, bringing more polished gameplay, more developed characters and worlds, and stories both more complex and more comprehensible. It’s all culminated in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which is a nearly perfect game and may be my new favourite. Playing through the other games in the series first made me fully appreciate what makes a “Xeno” game and how that all came together in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Let’s look at it piece by piece.


All of the “Xeno” games have super complex stories full of philosophical themes, like what is a god and where is our place in the Universe. This is what drew me to the games initially, and what’s kept me engaged with each entry. In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you play as a boy named Rex, who is a salvager in what is called the Cloud Sea, a very cool setting. It’s a world that is essentially only made of clouds, and the only “land” is on the backs of giant creatures called titans. The story is full of depth, complete with character growth and thought-provoking twists that always kept me hungry for more, right up until the final credits.


Rex is accompanied by a cast of several other playable characters. Each of them is well-developed and fully realized in their own right. The designs are very heavily anime inspired, and are colourful and varied. Each character has a unique personality that is developed over the course of the game, and I found each of them growing on me as I learned more about them. One of my favourite characters is Nia, who joins the party early. Her personal journey is full of twists and turns, and I liked her more and more as the game went on. Also, she is accompanied by a giant cat, so what’s not to love?


At first, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 seems like any other open-world JRPG, but there is a lot going on here. The combat focuses on beings called Blades. The playable characters are Drivers, people capable of wielding these Blade characters. They reminded me a lot of “Daemons” from His Dark Materialsseries. (If you haven’t read those books you should check them out right now.) There are dozens of blades, and they can be customized in various ways, affecting every aspect of the game from combat to exploration.

The combat is where the gameplay really shines though. It seems like every RPG these days is trying to bring in a new, more MMO-like active battle system, discarding the proven turn-based system RPGs have relied on for decades. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the only one I’ve played that nails it. It feels like a combination of the immediacy and precision of an action RPG with the careful strategy of a turn-based system. This is achieved through the auto-attack system, which is essentially the turn-based element. Once enough auto-attacks connect, your abilities charge up. So essentially the auto-attacking is just a timer dictating how often you can carry out an action (take your turn).

There are many complexities to this battle system that keep you on your toes. I’ve heard a lot of criticism that the auto-attacks mean you can just let the game play itself, but in reality it doesn’t take you out of the action, but allows you to focus on your strategy and all of the complicated combo possibilities.


Pretty much everything can be customized in this game. Your character can learn different abilities and attacks, equip different items and Blades, and the Blades themselves can be equipped and their abilities can be customized as well. New Blades are obtained through core crystals. And each core crystal contains a random blade, so finding crystals is exciting because you never know what you’ll get. In a full playthrough of the game I only unlocked about half of the Blades. Since they are unique characters and also a huge part of combat, it’s really fun to collect new ones and train them as you see fit. It’s like a super-complex version of Pokémon.


Not much to say here. The game looks amazing, the world is beautiful and imaginative, and the soundtrack is wonderful. It feels like a AAA experience through and through. I still find myself humming the themes and remembering the stunning vistas of the cloud sea.

The Negatives

Sure there were some downsides, like the over-leveled enemies that wander the world and wipe you out with no warning (something I found to be true in all Xenoblade games), the lengthy main quest (it’s totally worth it but it is an endurance test), and the over-the-top anime tropes that lead to some strange moments and ridiculous representations of female anatomy (luckily there are also tastefully designed characters like Nia).


Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is an amazing game. The story and characters alone are reason enough to play it, and the unique battle system is just icing on the cake. I would recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of imaginative worlds, deep plots, complex customization options, and strategic battles. I would not recommend it to people looking for a quick pick-up-and-play experience as getting into the game is a time commitment and it takes many hours just to understand the various customization options and battle systems. If you have the patience to immerse yourself, you’re in for an amazing experience!

Video Game Review: No Man’s Sky

In a lot of ways, No Man’s Sky is the game I’ve always wanted. When I played the Mass Effect trilogy—one of my all-time favourite game series—I spent hours scanning planets in the star map, reading about their geology and weather, and imagining the infinite possibilities beyond our world. In No Man’s Sky, I hoped for a game that would allow me to not just scan and read about these infinite worlds, but to visit them. I think a lot of people had the same expectations for the game, and those high expectations, combined with the realistic constraints of an indie studio with a grand vision, disappointed a lot of people on launch.


The game has been on my radar since well before its launch, so I was excited to finally pick it up when it finally launched for Xbox One this summer, after some big updates. Disclaimer: I never played the launch version, so my review will cover the game as it plays with the NEXT update.

An Infinite Universe

There is a lot to talk about with this game. It’s huge. So let’s start there. One of the things the game gets right is its scale. When I opened up the galaxy map for the first time I felt completely lost in an endless sea of stars. I still feel that way after sinking dozens of hours into the game. Each system is unique, and there is a great sense of the vastness of the universe and your uncertain place in it. Within the star systems there is a seamless transition between space flight, entering a planet’s atmosphere, and walking around on that planet.

IMG_1007And the planets themselves are vast—and beautiful. (I spent hours using the photo mode to pretend I was a space photographer. All the images here are from my experience.) Each planet is unique, a feat which is amazing when you consider the overwhelming amount of star systems and planets in the game. Some are covered in sweeping oceans or dense jungles, others are full of rocky mountains. Some of the worlds are populated by large herds of lifeforms, others are barren. And the evolution on each planet is unique and cohesive. On some all the plant life is fungal, with tiny mushrooms growing around rocks, and giant tree-sized ones stretching toward a ringed planet that hangs in the sky. On others all the animals have evolved to have tentacles, from small rabbit-sized creatures to giant dinosaur-sized ones. Some have flocks of giant flying centipedes that soar the skies. One of my favourite discoveries was a t-rex rat!

The minerals are diverse too. Thay can take the form rocks, pillars, or odd formations of crystals. The sheer variety is overwhelming at first, but once I learned what types of flora and minerals yielded certain resources, it wasn’t hard to find what I needed.

The Story

The game is set in a beautiful, though often brutal universe, enhanced by a soundscape that has a great synthesized classic sci-fi feel, furthering the sensation of being alone in a strange universe of infinite possibilities. Despite the rich atmosphere and my love of exploration, I don’t like to wander aimlessly, so I soon began following a main quest line, the Artemis path. This quest line guided me through things I never would have figured out on my own, like crafting a base, exploring space stations, and taking on various side missions.


The story itself is fascinating, and is full of the existential questions. The kind that enter your mind when you’re lost in a strange universe, humbled by the constant reminder that you are a tiny part of existence, trying to find your purpose—if you even have one. The downside to the story, however, is that it almost feels like a text adventure. You travel great distances to meet aliens, and then just scroll through text boxes. I think I enjoyed the game more than I would have at launch because I need that focus of a main quest, but though it presents stimulating ideas, it ultimately feels underwhelming (though I appreciate the fact it led me through the universe). Keep in mind I’m only talking about one of the main quests. If I try another I’ll update this review if it changes my mind.

Open Worlds

No Man’s Sky made me think a lot about what a game is and what it can be. It reminded me of my experiences with the Grand Theft Auto franchise. I’m fascinated by each new entry in the series and the huge worlds they create, complete with TV channels and radio stations, unique brands, characters, districts, technology, and a lot more. They bring a whole city to life, creating what feels like a truly infinite open world.

I’ve always used video games as a healthy—I hope—outlet for my obsessive compulsiveness, completing every quest, unlocking every achievement. I’ve lost countless hours of sleep creating spreadsheets to track achievements and researching how to defeat bosses on extreme difficulty levels, all in an effort to do every last thing, just because it would drive me crazy if I didn’t.

But as open world games have become the trend, and games get too big to complete 100%, I’ve found myself learning to be content with carving my own unique path through the game, and learning to live with leaving quests undone and items uncollected, because there is just too much. I think this has helped me learn to let things go, as game worlds more and more closely mirror real life. We have to choose our paths, we have to prioritize what is important or fun in our own lives. And with No Man’s Sky, for the first time, I feel like this isn’t a choice. The game is so huge there will never be any way to explore it all. And that, in a way, is liberating. I don’t have to complete everything in the game, or visit every planet. I can be content with my own journey, wherever it takes me.


The Tedious

So those were all things the game did well, but it also drove me crazy on many occasions. The way you mine resources is similar to Minecraft, you’re tearing apart your environment to build new things out of the building blocks, but it is extremely tedious. During one of my most frustrating experiences, I was searching for oxygen, and using up my life support in the search. So any oxygen I found had to go to breathing. Then sentinel drones who enforce order on each planet (and kill you if you don’t run) started chasing me, so I ran back to my ship. But the ship was out of launch fuel, so I couldn’t escape. I had to then search for the components of the launch fuel while I was being hunted by the drone, then craft that to escape from the drone and begin my futile search for oxygen all over again.

Another peeve was that my inventory filled up extremely quickly, so I avoided collecting a lot of things I otherwise would have. I’m sure I could have expanded my inventory and been more efficient about collecting resources, but it all felt very tedious to me, so I didn’t want to spend any more time learning about these cumbersome, complicated systems than I had to. I love collectibles in games, but I generally find crafting to be boring, so that one’s all on me. And to the game’s credit, I still enjoyed it and found a lot to love despite not being a big fan of one of its core mechanics.

Overall, even after numerous updates, the game felt a bit buggy, and I was never sure if my more difficult moments were due to bugs or not, which led to wandering around aimlessly and resetting quests when markers disappeared.



Though I struggled at times, my experience with No Man’s Sky wasn’t really about gameplay. Like I said, the exploration was my dream, and it scratched that itch, even if it meant doing it in a slower, more grinding, realistic way than I would have chosen. No Man’s Sky is an experience you can’t have anywhere else, and that’s what motivates you to keep exploring. The best moments are landing on new planets full of unique vistas, colorful plants, wide oceans, and chasing the weird lifeforms around to scan them.

In a sense, No Man’s Sky is more simulation or experience than game. Though there is a narrative and main quest, it often feels tedious. If you like collecting, resource management, crafting, and exploration you will love this game. If not, you still may be drawn in by the vastness and wonder of it all like I was.


Video Game Review: Final Fantasy XV

I’ve been a fan of the Final Fantasy series from the time I first played Final Fantasy VII as a teenager. Since that time, I’ve played through all of the main series games from I to XV, and have replayed most of the games several times over.


A note to the player at the beginning of Final Fantasy XV declares that this is “A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers.” Since I definitely fall in the fan category, I’ll be looking at how the game measures up to the other Final Fantasy games.

The Story

Final Fantasy XV tells the tale of Noctis, heir to the throne of Insomnia. His father’s kingdom has been at war with the oppressive Imperial army when the game opens, and in the early moments Noctis sets out on a lighthearted roadtrip with his friends to attend his wedding to Lunafreya, a union that will bring peace to the world.

As far as the story goes it is very solid, and full of final fantasy tropes, but plays it pretty safe. My favorite Final Fantasies are the ones with complex and bizarre plots. It gets there at the end, but overall, the story is very tight and is one of the only Final Fantasy plots I understood on the first playthrough. I think part of that was due to the tight story (which only takes about 25 hours of gameplay to complete), but also in large part due to the fact that the second half of the game doesn’t allow you to get lost or get distracted by sidequests. You stay focused on the story, which I found perplexing at first, but ultimately I really liked it because it let me experience the story in a way I rarely do with video games, because I wanted to see what would happen next more than I wanted to get to the next level or fight the next boss.

The game is basically on rails for the second half of the story missions. It’s weird, but it works. And it’s not as limiting as it sounds, because you can go back to the overworld after completing the main story. It’s really the best of both worlds. Solid storytelling and open world freedom—just not always at the same time.

The World

The world itself and the graphics in general are beautiful, as we’ve come to expect from all Final Fantasy games. And as you’d expect from the latest entry in the series, it has some of the best graphics of any game to date.


I’ll get into this more later, but the open world was one of the things the game bragged about the most. Launching on the heels of the poorly-received FFXIII, which was criticized for being on rails, FFXV makes a point of letting you traverse an open world. But while the world is open, you are on the rails of the Regalia, Noctis’ car. The vehicle is used for transportaion, but you can’t actually drive, so you loose the magic of earlier Final Fantasy games. The world felt truly open and epic in those games because you could fly to any point you wanted at any time in an airship, and you got a view of the larger world and how its locales were connected.

While FFXV does feature multiple continents, and the cultures on other continents feels authentically foreign, these other continents are only accessible at certain times in the story, and not accessible by car, i.e., not part of the limited open world. Think about it–how restricted would you feel in real life if you could never go anywhere you couldn’t drive? That’s what it feels like in the game. There is plenty to do and see, but you know you’re missing something across the sea.

Gameplay and Combat

Combat in FFXV is really fun. As heir to the throne, Noctis is favored by the gods and essentially gets super powers. He is able to wield super strong weapons that his ancestors once fought with, and he has an awesome warping ability which lets him teleport out of—or into—danger. Magic is pretty bad in this game, even when the skill is developed, because it’s a limited resource. This was disappointing for me as I’m a black mage at heart and always choose the mage/wizard in any RPG when given the option. But Noctis has his own powers which are very magical and awesome, especially in the later fights. You get put in positions where his warping ability has an opportunity to shine. If I had it to do over, I would focus on the warping ability from the start as it was my favorite part of combat.

In addition to Noctis’ abilities, he also relies on his three companions to perform teamwork abilities that are stronger than the characters’ individual attacks. I neglected these abilities at first, but as I got farther in the game, these attacks became essential.

The Car

imagesA huge theme of this game is “friends on a road trip.” This means that a lot of time is spent in the car. And this brings me to one of the things that really bothered me about this game. You can’t actually drive the car. That’s right. There’s an auto mode that makes you wait as you watch the car drive for several minutes through the countryside. It’s an obvious ploy to make you appreciate the scenery, which is a great idea, but is frustratingly boring after the second car trip. There’s also a manual mode, but the manual part is that you control the accelerator and brakes, except you max out at a low top speed and auto-break and steer when you approach the edge of the road or any obstacle. So the car is essentially on rails at all times. I would be fine with this if it only happened once in a while, but it happens all the time, and I am still finding myself stuck in the car even as I clean up sidequests after completing the main story.

And this leads me to my number one most frustrating experience with Final Fantasy XV…

I was cruising down the road on a long drive headed for a level 25 story mission. About halfway to the destination I was super bored and the characters suggested we stop for a break to do a side mission. I was sick of driving so I agreed to stop the car. This involved doing a U-turn and driving farther away from the distant story mission. When we got to the sidequest, we were instantly swarmed by level 47 soldiers and level 30+ creatures. I ended up wasting items I needed for the story mission just trying to run back to the car. Then when I reached the car, so much time had passed that the sun had set. At night in this world overpowered demons take over, so I then got swarmed by said overpowered demons. The idea is to camp at night to avoid getting massacred, but at this point I was so off track that I didn’t care about what I was supposed to do, I just wanted to get to the $#%@ story mission. There were no camps within walking distance, and the car was blocked by a demon, so after dying and reloading, and eventually waiting til morning, I finally got back on the road and the characters immediately asked to stop again to take a photo. I understand the road trip idea, but driving on rails and camping just slows the game down without adding anything valuable to the experience.

The “Open” Road

The road trip theme is cool in theory, but in reality it’s just boring. Stopping at night further breaks the game’s flow and often just made me impatient and frustrated.
A lot of people said they bonded with the characters while camping or on the road, but a majority of the discussions are hollow dialogue about things like whether Prompto has a shot with the scantily clad mechanic, Cindy, who is probably the most prominent and frequently reoccurring female character in the game other than the leading lady Lunafreya, who rarely appears outside of flashbacks. And wow is Cindy scantily clad. She works on cars in a bikini covered by short shorts and a tiny, tiny jacket that allows her “cleavage” (is it called cleavage if most of the girls are visible?) to lean into the windshield when she wipes the car down every time you bring it in for service. This is even more offensive because there are so few female characters in the game. The only male character who shows close to as much skin is Gladio, but his open shirt suits his carefree tough-guy character. The only thing Cindy’s clothing choice confirms is that the fans and first-timers this game is cindyaimed at are clearly intended to be prepubescent boys, which is a huge turnoff to everyone who doesn’t fall into that category.

The Four Warriors

In addition to the car, the lack of diversity in playable characters was a major turn-off for me. As a gay man, I’ve never felt comfortable around boys-will-be-boys locker room talk settings like the one fostered by the leading boys of the game. I don’t expect to see representation of every type of person in every game, but not even seeing a female playable character makes me and and any one else who’s not a heteronormative guy feel weird and even unwelcome on this brotrip.


Diversity is super important in all media, but it’s especially crucial in fantasy. One of the most prominent fantasy tropes is the team of unlikely heroes of various backgrounds coming together to fight off evil in the world. Elves and dwarves, magic users and mage haters, the list goes on and on. This has been represented in almost all Final Fantasy games as well, with the excitement of meeting new characters along the way and selecting a party you want to travel with. But here we are stuck with these four guys of the same age, background, etc. Maybe I’m just spoiled by games like Dragon Age Inquisition where I was able to have an all queer characters party, but I was disappointed by the lack of diversity and the lack of choice in the characters. Also, the four leading boys wear all black, and this was just one more monotone in a flat character palate. I didn’t know the difference between Ignis and Prompto until the final chapters.

Aren’t RPGs supposed to be about playing out a role, imagining yourself as part of a story? When there are so many barriers to seeing yourself in a story, it’s hard to connect on anything more than a superficial level.

The Bad Guy

The villain is great and reminded me of Kafka from FFVI. He is sick and twisted, and has a great backstory. He gets super creepy in the final chapters, and at one point it feels like you’re trapped in one of the Saw movies. This kind of threw the tone from fantasy to horror for a moment, but it was really only an interlude so I think the variety was actually pretty cool in retrospect. There is a tradition in the series of combining elements of different genres.

Post-Story Content

The First thing I did after I beat the story mode was to hunt down the items needed to update the Regalia into an airship. As soon as it took flight, I was able to finally steer it the way I had wanted to all along. Looking down on the landscape, free from the frustrating monotony of the roads that I couldn’t really drive on, was a great feeling. It was pure joy. Many of the best Final Fantasy games have featured this type of transportation, often as the primary means to get around the world. It’s a great addition to the game and I will be flying the Regalia instead of “driving” it on all the sidequests I have yet to complete. Still, I was disappointed I couldn’t fly through the whole game. This would have turned the often frustrating and boring driving segments into fun, exciting, and nostalgic moments.


A Place in the Series

In trying to determine how FFXV stacks up to the rest of the series, I reevaluated my own rankings. At first, I made a list of all the games and put them in two categories, “good” and “great.” But then I crossed off those categories and replaced them with “classic” and “unique.” “Classic” being the games about crystals and four warriors of light that recycle and update the classic Final Fantasy story and mechanics, and “unique” was for games that tread into new territory.

Some of these games that tried new things include FFII, which fell flat in my opinion, and more recently, FFXIII, which tried a lot of new things and was not very well received. But it tried. Other games I put in the “unique” category include some of the most beloved entries in the series, like VI and VII, proving that sometimes the risk of straying from the known can lead to the creation of something monumental.

After a lot of thought, I placed FFXV in the “classic” category. There are crystals and four warriors, and even the character progression isn’t really new, using the modern staple of the sphere grid mechanic.


The lack of character choice, and female characters in general, feels like a huge leap backwards for any modern game, dragging down what would otherwise be a perfect modern adaption of a classic series. That lack of inclusivity, in combination with the often frustrating raod trip, hinders what could have been one of the best entries in the franchise. As it stands, Final Fantasy XV is another impressive, yet flawed game in an amazing series.