Xenoblade Chronicles X and the illusion of community
Technically, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a multiplayer game. You can connect to the Internet, be part of an ephemeral squad and see other players in your game. Yet, it’s a superficial sense of community. They people who are there? They aren’t really there. And honestly? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Xenoblade Chronicles X puts you into a thriving city of refugees. You see countless people going about their business in New Los Angeles. Despite being NPCs, you don’t get to interact with them in the way you do in other RPGs. You’ll eavesdrop on their conversations, but real connections don’t happen. The only people who “matter” are ones who directly provide work or join your squad. The other people are there. They exist and are part of the community, but there’s no reason for them to become part of your life, or you theirs.
The other people playing Xenoblade Chronicles X function in a similar manner, which is why the game’s unorthodox multiplayer works. You’re each experiencing the single player story on your own terms. You have your own lives to live. Yet, there’s a slight impact on everyone.
With the squad goals, communal accomplishments are completed. You did sign up for a BLADE division upon arriving in NLA. It only makes sense that this would come into play throughout your experience. By having it as more of a passive system, where your own behavior has an influence, as does others, makes the whole more realistic. You see messages from fellow people working to accomplish goals, because you’re all technically on the same team. But really, even if you are working together or part of the same group, you don’t have to have the face-to-face time to make sure what happens matters.
Likewise, the ability to temporarily recruit other Xenoblade Chronicles X players to your team supports this. It’s as though you found someone else in your office and happened to collaborate briefly on an endeavor. By making this other player’s avatar a NPC, the focus gets to remain on you and your story. The solo adventure matters most; other interactions are happy coincidences with no real bearing on your virtual life.
Yes, it is possible to make a real connection in Xenoblade Chronicles X. If you invest enough time and work hard enough, real people can congregate to conquer extreme bosses. It happens infrequently enough to preserve the illusion that your character, his or her story and the experiences you’ve been having are the real ones. The temporary team up is simply an anomalous interaction to help complete an especially important BLADE mission. That it is such a rarity allows the reality you’ve created for yourself to remain true.
Xenoblade Chronicles X flirts with the idea of multiplayer, never making a commitment. It’s for the best. This intentional dalliance provides the illusion of a larger, fuller NLA. It creates an idea of a larger BLADE outreach program. The passive quests make it feel like things are happening on an administrative level, even while a player is killing time running from one potential probe site to the next. We get to feel like we’re part of something greater, despite exploring Primordia on our own, and Xenoblade Chronicles X is a better game because of this additional ambiance.
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