What Makes Xenoblade Chronicles 2 So Special?
Nintendo gave Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which came out for the Switch on December 1, a lot of attention. Some of the attention comes from XC2's unique place in the current Switch library. It's the only large scale, big budget JRPG to date for the Switch. True, three Dragon Quest games are scheduled for the Switch in 2018, but that's a ways away yet, and until then, XC2 is representing the JRPG genre.
But why did Nintendo give XC2 all this hype? XC2 doesn't just complement the Switch library for the practical reasons. It also complements because it can pull players in for other reasons that just don't exist with other Switch titles.
Anyone Can Pick Up Xenoblade Chronicles 2
If you've never played a Xeno game before, XC2 would be a fine title with which to start. XC2 features brand new characters, a brand new world, and doesn't connect story-wise to Xenoblade Chronicles or Xenoblade Chronicles X. The games are similar thematically, and XC2 makes some small references to the previous games, but that's about it. Those who haven't played the previous games certainly wouldn't be missing out if they started with XC2.
XC2 is also good for both short and long gaming sessions, which may seem strange to say for a JRPG, but that's part of what makes it unique. Although there's more than 90 hours of content in the game, there are side quests and exploring that can be completed in less than an hour, and they aren't fluff quests either. Many side quests help level up Blades or gain vital experience for the party. If a player's only game for the Switch was XC2, then it's flexible enough for both types of sessions, which is no mean accomplishment.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Isn't Like Other RPGs
But that's not a bad thing. I do mean more than just the "J" part, even though XC2 is really Japanese. It differs from other RPGs on the Switch in that the role playing element is much more in the combat. The combat system in XC2 is elaborate and overwhelming at first (but we've got a guide to help with that). Players run into a ton of tutorials in the beginning, and keeping track of how everything works, of all those parts for each character, is a lot to manage. However, once the player overcomes the learning curve, the complexity allows players to experiment with varied combat styles and build characters matching their playing style.
Fans of western RPGs may miss the visual customization of the characters. There's no role playing in XC2 in that regard. The way your party works is also different from an RPG like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, where there are so many followers to choose from. In XC2, the party is the party. The combat system can help players tailor the party to their tastes, though, so it's well balanced, even if it lacks the assortment of personalities in games like Skyrim.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is Very, Very Story Driven
Here, story driven shouldn't be understood as "you create the story." Not to say other RPGs aren't story driven or don't have great stories. There's a ton of story to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for example. But in many RPGs, part of the drive comes from the opening in the story to allow the player to ascribe values and decisions to the main character. Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher 3 can be a major Gwent enthusiast, a merciful witcher, or someone who will negotiate top dollar for every job. All of those characteristics are up to the player.
With XC2, though, role playing through choice isn't, well, a choice. The main character, Rex, is always going to be Rex. There aren't dialogue options. There's no Gwent. Rex can never be evil. And players can't cover up Pyra because she may be chilly in that outfit. However, the lack of choice isn't a bad thing. XC2 drives the story through gameplay itself, rather than role play. There's more emphasis on the story because, in a way, the story is inescapable and is what the rest of the game springs from.
Overall, Nintendo didn't put its money in a bad place. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a way to reach new audiences, while also providing a quality game to the current fan base. XC2 fills a niche in the Nintendo Switch library in more ways than one. It may not be Breath of the Wild, but plenty will find XC2 worth going wild over.