I had a hard time immersing myself in a JRPG because I found them long and intimidating, and actively avoided them with the exception of Character. However, over the past few years I’ve started to develop a flair for the genre, exploring games that I wouldn’t normally consider playing. As a result, I recently started playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on Nintendo Switch, a game I wish I had played earlier. Although I haven’t finished it yet, world building and exploration in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 have left me in awe. With that in mind, I will investigate Xenoblade Chronicles 2 from an outsider’s perspective to see why it works so well in attracting newcomers to the genre, as well as elements that other RPGs might fit in well.
Alrest, the world among the clouds
After playing several JRPGs, I realized that the intro is probably one of the most important things. For example, if a game fails to explain the “rules” of the world and set the scene in a timely manner, the player may lose interest. Likewise, making an audiovisual spectacle of the first moments can really sell the promise of adventure to come to uncertain newcomers.
Even if Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes a while to start, the opening cutscene introduces you to some of Alrest’s most important basics, such as the role of the Titans and some basic world tree info. It’s also a stylish intro, as you descend through the clouds during a storm before finally settling on a nicer view. Plus, the soundtrack is phenomenal. Everything is engaging in itself and only becomes more so as the pace picks up and introduces the concept of Drivers. Not all RPGs need to go like this right away, but it’s definitely a great way to grab the attention of newcomers.
Alrest himself is captivating – the idea of a world consumed by clouds is fascinating, and it is presented in a way that piques the player’s interest. I believe this is because of the way the new domains are introduced. For example, you are first sent to the Argentum Trade Guild, which made me think of an outpost like Star wars. Having this robust organization in the middle of the clouds provides the player with an intriguing narrative way to digest information about the game world in the opening section. It creates player anticipation for any future locations it teases. Again, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 uses world building to sell the promise of adventure, without giving a newcomer time to lose interest.
Gormott Defines Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s Approach to World Building
Crossing every major civilization in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is spectacular, both visually and in gameplay. People live on massive Titans, and everyone feels distinct in their exploration and the types of stories they tell. In particular, Gormott, one of the first major sites you visit in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, is a great case study on how to perfect the first major area of an RPG.
When you first arrive in Gormott, you are surrounded only by forests and separated from Nia and Dromarch. This opening section introduces you to more basic crossing methods, such as rock climbing, before entering the sprawling Gormott landscape. The moment you see the vast field is extraordinary, as you can see the abundance of creatures roaming the fields, in addition to the high mountains in the distance. In just one sight, it arouses the excitement of exploring every nook and cranny.
There is a lot to do in Gormott; it doesn’t look like an empty sandbox. As is the norm with JRPGs, there is a wide range of side quests, in addition to a plethora of enemies. Gormott’s creatures are aesthetically new, each with their own unique behaviors and patterns of movement. Each Gormott landmark also has its own story to tell, but the game often leaves the player to decide what that narrative is. Any RPG would benefit from engaging in an environmental storytelling like this.
The inhabitants of Gormott are the Gormotti, of the same race as Nia, who reside in the town of Torigoth. During his travels, Rex learns how this great corporation came under Ardainian control some 50 years before Pyra awakened. It inspires player sympathy to see the residents bemoan this situation, and there are other ways to take care of the characters. For example, a quest focuses on a Romeo and Juliet type relationship between an Ardainian and Gormotti. These kinds of moments are powerful world-building tools in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 that some games just fail to include.
Meanwhile, the music continues to effectively invoke the emotion of the player. “Gormott” by ACE totally embodies the thrill of adventure when exploring in broad daylight. Then “Gormott / Night” presents it differently, taking advantage of your curiosity as a player with something more dreamy. The music combined with the efficient world building and environment makes Gormott one of the best areas I’ve come across in a video game.
An influential JRPG
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a great case study on how worldbuilding can satisfy a player’s thirst for adventure. It does what it takes to capture and hold the attention of people new to RPGs, such as establishing the basic details early on and painting a compelling picture of epic things to come. The developers realized that it was necessary to actively persuade the player that a long RPG is worth every second of his time. In these ways, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has quickly established itself as one of my all-time favorite games, although I haven’t seen the credits yet.