I played Torna after Xenoblade 2 Chapter 7 and it was a great idea

This post is spoiler-free, as best I can make it. That said, the time to read it might be when you've wrapped up chapter 7 of Xenoblade 2.

Last night, I finished Xenoblade 2. I left a bunch of quests undone, which is a very different place than I'd ended up with Xenoblade. I am not gonna fire it up to find out, but probably 95% of what that game offered me to do, I did. 2 was a different animal.

Like many reviewers, I found 2 a bit obtuse in introducing its systems. Eventually, though, and with a little careful Internet searching, I found my way. I know how to use nearly all the systems now, even if I purposefully ignore some of them.

The battle system is pretty good, on the whole. It's a little out of whack in that even when you do go menu-diving for a few minutes every so often to make sure you're taking advantage of upgrades (and go to the requisite shops to unlock the upgrades that you already have in your inventory), battles can often take just a bit too long. This specific thing actually kinda killed Rex's salvaging thing for me, because he'd often pull up a monster which was no trouble to beat, but just… ugh, I don't want to take the time.

The biggest sin the game commits, though, is locking a lot of sidequest material (which can otherwise be quite entertaining) behind "field skills".

A quick primer: 2's world revolves around Drivers (who swing their weapons around) and Blades (who provide Drivers with energy and support). Blades also have these field skills. Each one has a combination of up to three, and each one at a certain level.

Out in the game's world, we'll find treasure and (the bigger sin) content locked behind field skills. It's not a huge problem when a chest requires Lockpicking level 1 or 2 and (for some reason) Ancient Wisdom level 1 or 2, right? There's a good chance the pool of Blades I have engaged at the moment have some combination that matches that, and their field skills are additive.

The problem is that leveling up field skills doesn't always just happen when you play the game. They level up using the Blades' affinity charts, which are just too complicated for their own good. Some of it happened naturally as I progressed through the game and sent them off on their own background sidequests, but other level-ups were just a huge pile of tiny sidequests, in short—and those were locked behind how well your Blades "trusted" their Driver.

I got into a habit of stopping and rearranging Blades to try to add up some numbers, and "awakening" a bunch of new Blades in the vain hope that some would be good enough to have at least one point of a field skill I needed. It was not fun. Especially since you had to go through so many awakenings to get the good Blades.

Add this all up, and there are full-up sidequests that I just left undone. Ones I was interested in. Because I couldn't open some (literal and figurative) doors.

All this plays into why stopping mid-game—actually, about ⅔ of the way through—to play the prequel expansion, Torna - The Golden Country, worked so well for me.

Doing this is actually pretty controversial. Most of the fans actually tell you do not do this. Executive producer Tetsuya Takahashi, though, has this take in a Nintendo Life interview (of note: the complete interview is not totally spoiler-free):

Takahashi: Well, for Torna - The Golden Country, I can tell you that first off when we were considering this content, we originally planned to sandwich it between the seventh and eighth chapters of the main game. The more we dug into it, however, the more we realized it was a very expansive story we were trying to tell, and it would be too difficult to fit it into the main story, so we approached Nintendo and asked them what we thought should be done. After talking to them we decided we should… we had a really important story we wanted to tell about [a key character] and we're using the DLC to do that.

Nintendo Life: For those that are new to the game, what order should they play the two stories in?

Takahashi: Speaking purely from a personal perspective, I’d say if you haven’t played either, you should start with the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 main game, finish up until Chapter 7, then play through Torna - The Golden Country, then finish the rest of the game from Chapter 8. That's sort of in line with our original concept that I outlined in my previous answer. But, of course, we designed both of these games to be able to be played by players who aren't as familiar with the series, but I would say that Torna - The Golden Country features a number of updates from the main game that may make it easier for new players to get into, so that might be another way for players to approach the series.

Again, most fans are against this. The consensus is to finish 2, then move on to Torna, primarily because of the thought that stopping to play Torna will kill 2's pacing. Starting with Torna before 2 seems to be even less popular, for story reasons. And I'm not here to tell you any of these thoughts are wrong—only to tell you what worked for me.

Doing Torna at this point worked for me because by time I was in Chapter 7, I was starting to find 2's gameplay tiring. I just wanted to rush through and move the story forward. Because I usually like to stop and pick up quests and such, this wasn't an impossibility for me to do as I was getting leveled up enough, but I just did not want to fight anything anymore, including bosses.

I was also super-invested in the story at that point, so I thought… well, even if 2 was adapted to not need the flashback that became Torna, I'm very interested in it. After hemming and hawing a bit and trying to get information online without spoiling myself, I went for it.

So, Torna is not an entirely different game to play from 2. It has a similar battle system with a handful of improvements. It has a similar field skill setup, too. But its progression runs more smoothly, and the field skills weren't nearly the problem they were in 2—in particular, you're never going to have to awaken fifty Blades to get one that has what you need. I started Torna at level 1, and enjoyed the heck out of its progression.

It is worth noting that Torna is infamous for something it makes you do on your way to its ending, though. At two points—one of which is the endgame—you're locked off until you've completed enough quests to make enough people happy. The first point, I was mostly done with by just ambiently taking quests. The second, I had a good amount of work to do to cross.

This has a story justification, and it is not a hill I'll die on, but I will say that I enjoyed it. I had a lot of enjoyable sidequests in front of me, and while some were just barely field-skill-locked, they weren't to the degree that they were in 2—nor did they require such slogs to bump up the numbers to get through. I think it worked out pretty well, in the end.

So I got through Torna happy with the whole game, landed back in 2, and… well, while those field skill locks still tortured me, I felt better about where I was and where I was going now.

Torna did indeed do something to the pace of the whole arc that is Xenoblade 2. It slowed me down from the increasingly insistent and frustrating desire I had to move forward, and taught me about characters' own pasts in ways that really enhanced 2's present.

It gave me a less-frustrating game to play, and let me relax back into a good pace that made the whole thing work pretty well.

You may not be on the same page I am. You may be filling out every affinity chart and laughing at my pathetically low field skill levels. If that's the case, then maybe stopping isn't for you.

But, you know, for me, while the rest of 2 still wasn't as great as I think it could have been—Xenoblade spoiled me a bit, I suppose—I think it worked a lot better than if I hadn't stopped to play Torna after chapter 7, and that's not just about the story—it's about the game itself.

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