Since finishing up the Xenosaga trilogy, Monolith Soft has been reimagining the JRPG for modern gamers exclusively on Nintendo's consoles. The original Xenoblade Chronicles garnered plenty of fanfare and critical acclaim for its creative design and MMO-style combat. Its follow-up on Wii U, Xenoblade Chronicles X, didn't hit as high of a bar, but still showcased Monolith's knack for creating fun worlds. Now Monolith is going back to its roots with a more story-focused adventure that retains X's sense of discovery.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is one of the first big RPGs hitting Switch, a fast-selling platform still yearning for more exclusives. For a game so close to its launch date, Nintendo has been dishing out details slowly, leaving fans unsure of what to expect.

After spending four hours of hands-on time and chatting with its developers, we have a better understanding of what Xenoblade Chronicles 2 offers in terms of combat, characters, and exploration. Get ready to journey across colossal beasts and customize your party by discovering new Blades, all while seeking out the ultimate paradise for humanity.

Protecting A Blade

While Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is technically the third game in the series, it's the one earning the rightful title of a sequel.

"Xenoblade Chronicles X was a game really focused on exploring and [having an] open world and [defeating] monsters," explains executive director Tetsuya Takahashi. "When we thought about starting to develop the next game, I wanted to go back to a more story-driven design. And so in that sense, this focus on a story-driven game is kind of the legacy of Xenoblade Chronicles 1, so we decided to kind of make it the next iteration of that."

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 fits within the series' universe, but the team didn't want to just rehash what it had already done. Therefore, it crafted a brand-new narrative and characters alongside a revamped combat system complete with the depth and customization the series is known for, connecting its story and combat with the concept of Blades. In this world, you have characters who are "Drivers" and those who are "Blades." Blades imbue Drivers with specific weapons, such as axes and swords, granting special abilities in combat. Every Blade has special attacks that center on an elemental affinity. This all ties into your battle strategy (more on that later).

The story revolves around a world of endless clouds named Alrest, a Driver named Rex, and a Blade named Pyra. At the start of the game, Rex is just an independent salvager, but when he crosses paths with Pyra, he feels compelled to help her, as Pyra is not your typical Blade. She's the Aegis, which means she's capable of absolute destructive power. This drives a mysterious group called Torna to try and manipulate her for their own selfish means. Tired of being sought after by so many vicious people, Pyra wants to escape and go back to her home, Elysium, which is also known as paradise for humanity. No one knows if this fabled land actually exists, but it's said to be the key to everyone's survival. "We [wanted] to make it into kind of a young man's adventure," Takahashi says. "It's kind of lighthearted – there's a lot of discoveries to be made, so we made it almost like an anime you would watch. But you know the kind of person that I am; the story does get a little bit heavier, a little bit darker. If you expect the same kind of evolution from the story that you would expect from a Xenoblade game, you're probably on the right track."

Your main goal in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is to find Elysium, but it's not an easy task with everyone hunting you down while the world is embroiled in political turmoil. Many powers rule over different regions of Alrest, and each differ in how they coexist with their Titans. Having a deep respect for nature, the Kingdom of Uraya boasts advanced bio-technology, for example. In contrast is their rival, the Empire of Mor Adain. Controlling their Titans mechanically, the militaristic Empire packs heavy armaments for protection against potential threats.

Rex and Pyra meet other Drivers and their Blades as they navigate these regions. From the tech-savvy Tora, who creates his own robotic Blade named Poppi, to Nia, a hothead with a mysterious past and a regal Blade named Dromarch, every party member you encounter offers great (and much needed) assistance on your quest.

A New Art Style
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 boasts a more youthful art style, looking closer to anime. It was a change Monolith felt would help make their characters come alive better. “We felt that in Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and X, the facial expressions [were] kind of a little bit hard, a little bit stiff,” says executive director Tetsuya Takahashi. “We really wanted to put a little bit more focus on creating facial expressions and for the characters to be more expressive, and so that's why we went with the direction we did, which I guess you could say is a little bit leaning toward something like Japanese animation.”

In many ways, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 focuses on what worked so well in the first game – providing a sense of purpose with the story. Unlike X, where you wandered around aimlessly for your next objective, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 gives you more direction and a direct connection to its characters and their plight.

This may technically be a sequel, but don't expect obvious nods to the first game. "It's completely different in terms of place, time, and space," Takahashi says. "Obviously I can't divulge all the details, but if you play the game, I think you'll get why this is called Xenoblade Chronicles 2."

This approach doesn't count out references to Takahashi's previous work on Xenogears or Xenosaga. "There's a lot that I can't talk about yet [that] hasn't been revealed, but it will be hopefully soon," Takahashi teases. "I think there's content in there where longtime fans of the series will have a pleasant surprise."

Click to the next page to learn all about the new combat...