Mira, the vast alien world of Nintendo’s and Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles X, doesn’t care about your well-being. Humans are interlopers here, a mere inconvenience to a planet deep in its Jurassic era. Insects are human-sized, most of the smaller reptile-like creatures are the size of elephants, and the rest are amazing alien riffs on Earth’s gigantic prehistoric fossil records.

Mira is, without a doubt, one of the most invigorating and addicting open-worlds in all of gaming and Xenoblade wisely uses this scope to its advantage. Right from the start, you’ll technically have a full run of the planet. The game gives you more than enough rope to explore where and how you want, and there’s always something new to see.

Xenoblade Chronicles X is simply unlike anything else out there. It’s a game where the world itself is the main character and you’re there to experience it. Xenoblade is maxing the Wii U out with its massive scope and visual splendor, and it’s a hell of an exclusive, worth getting the system for even if you’re not tempted by Nintendo’s usual offerings—colorful, bouncy romps featuring Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong and all the rest. Those typical Nintendo games offer fun jaunts through linear worlds; Xenoblade offers freedom.

With that freedom comes frequent and certain death. Xenoblade Chronicles X revels in it. You can go over to that dark and scary part of the continent, with amazing swamps, glowing flora (and fauna) and huge cave systems, but should you? Every creature you’ll encounter on Mira conveniently has a number floating above it telling you how powerful it is. This means that if you’re just starting out and you start a fight with an innocuous looking beetle, but neglect to heed the “Level 35” above its head, you’re dead.

There’s a lot of that sort of thing here. Most of the creatures tend to ignore you unless given a reason not to. Others will attack you on sight—and chase you when you run. A strategy of escape is imperative, since you’ll spend so much of the game being less powerful than most of the beasts around you. Even the missions you’re assigned don’t much care about your survival. A simple fetch quest—a common time-waster in big video games like this one—might be a walk in the park until you reach a land bridge guarded by some impossibly nasty predators.

Do you a) try to run past and hope for the best b) find a different route or c) just keep battling lesser monsters until your character is powerful enough to take those big, bad things out? Xenoblade is full of these choices, and it creates a unique experience. There’s a plot about an alien race trying to kill all the humans and various little twists and turns, but really, Xenoblade’s greatest challenge to the player is simply learning to co-exist with nature.

All the missions you’ll undertake to earn more skills, money and weapons are just gravy on top of one of the most beautiful and bizarre virtual landscapes ever created. Even tens of hours in, wonders still await discovery. Every time you think you’ve seen the most bizarre creature yet, the game somehow spits out another even more incredible looking animal. The varied parts of the world let you run through beautiful serene ocean shores, pastoral fields, surreal forests, and creepy wastes, each with its own eco-system.

Just when you might think you’ve explored as much as you can on foot, you get a Skell—a massive robotic powersuit that lets you reach new heights and areas previously unattainable. The Skells make Xenoblade feel new again and completely change the play dynamics you’ve spent the last 20 hours perfecting. Just remember where you parked it.

Keeping track of everything in Xenoblade is a monumental task, not helped by the absurdly obscure background mechanics for the combat and character building. Countless hours in, I have still have no idea what some of the minutia-laden rules are or why I should even care. Most of these obscurities can be safely ignored, although the lack of transparency in how certain aspects of the combat system work (such as healing) is troublesome.

Granted, there’s an on-screen manual included for those who really want to figure things out. But I’m much too busy exploring to care.

Jason D'Aprile has been covering games and entertainment for the last three decades across a variety of platforms, many of which are now extinct. In addition to covering gaming (both obscure and otherwise), he also writes a bit of the odd fiction and tries hard to avoid social media.

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