A core system of the Monolith Soft’s newest JRPG, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, is the Blade System. In Xenoblade 2, there are warriors, called Drivers who, fight alongside artificial beings called, Blades, in order to boost their power. Blades take on a huge role in the actual combat and story in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and one of these systems gives birth to the saddest story Xenoblade 2 has to tell.
Every Blade is created from a core crystal when a driver resonates with it by holding it. This is something that players will do in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a lot. Drivers can have multiple Blades and there is a great incentive in resonating with every core crystal you get and they aren’t super rare. Some Blades are better than others and it’s all a matter of chance with which one you get, kind of a no-brainer, right? You have to make it a game of numbers.
Here’s the rub, Blades all have full inner lives like any of the sentient species in the world. Arguably the most important system in the game revolves around drivers cultivating their relationships with their Blades in order for them to gain access to powerful upgrades. Power is very much linked to friendship and each of the Blades, including ones outside of the main cast, gets their own personality, likes, and progression arc. And, though you can store quite a few Blades in your inventory, storage can run out fast. So, what do you do with the Blades you don’t need anymore?
In one of the management tabs in the menu, you can “release” Blades that you no longer need. The released Blades give you items to boost your chance of getting even better Blades the next time you resonate. As you go through releasing them each individual blade reacts with a voice line before leaving. There’s a shocking variety of these reactions ranging from, “Guess I wasn’t strong enough,” to, “I’ll treasure the time we spent together.” At first, this seemed like just an odd, melodramatic, JRPG detail but, then it got sad.
Midway through the game it’s explained to the player that if a Blade is killed, their Driver is killer, or they are otherwise released, they revert back to their core form, this doesn’t kill Blades, and they can be resonated with again but, they will reincarnate, so to speak, as someone completely different, with no memories of who they were before. In other words, they die and reincarnate.
The central theme of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is that the band of characters the player controls thinks of Blades as people worthy of living and making their own decisions. In the context of that, releasing Blades becomes as much as an ethical dilemma as it is necessary to gameplay. I can’t help but feel guilty when the Blades I release say they’ve cherished the time they spent with me when I didn’t even really invest in them in the first place. The implications are sobering in a game which has yet to engage me fully on an emotional level in its primary storytelling. For a game which, at times, feels very free in loose this meta storytelling is pretty well thought out.