Like the previous games in the series, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 plays as an action role-playing game (ARPG) where the player controls a main character out of an overall party of three. The game employs an open world design, with players able to freely navigate seamlessly interconnected environments. A day-and-night time cycle exists in the game, with the time of day often affecting in-game events, quests, enemy strengths, and item availability.
The game is the third title in Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade metaseries, following the original Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X. Plans for the game began as early as July 2014, during the latter half of development of Xenoblade Chronicles X, out of the negative fan reaction from changes implemented in the title. While the original Xenoblade Chronicles followed the typical structure of a general story-driven JRPG, Chronicles X received far less emphasis on story, and was organized in more of a mission-based structure, focused entire on exploring the game’s open world. The development grew impatient upon hearing the fanbase complain about the changes, and started work on another story-driven title. Because the gameplay was more of a continuation of the first title, they decided to title it Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Initial work on the game was difficult because the technical specifications of the Nintendo Switch were not yet finalized or known yet, but once it was finalized, the game featured a shorter development period compared to the prior titles, with executive director Tetsuya Takahashi citing being able to use the technological foundation established in Chronicles X as a means of speeding up development time. Another motivating factor was the agreement made by the team with Nintendo specifically to deliver the game early on in the Nintendo Switch’s lifecycle.
One of Monolith Soft’s objectives for the game was to give the characters a wider range of facial expressions compared to past Xenoblade titles. The lead character designer was Masatsugu Saito, who for the first time was designing characters for a video game. The developers chose him to give the protagonists a more expressive anime-like art style than prior Xenoblade entries, which featured a more realistic type of modeling that they found a bit too stiff. Square Enix artist Tetsuya Nomura was responsible for the characters within the Torna organization. Takahashi had always wanted to work with Nomura, but as he was busy with other games at Square Enix, he hesitantly approached the company with the hopes of letting him work as a guest artist. To Takahashi’s surprise, they accepted the negotiation. Other guest artists also contributed, such as Xeno series veterans Kunihiko Tanaka and Soraya Saga, who designed some of the game’s “Blades”, weapon-like life forms. Notably, Tanaka designed a blade of KOS-MOS, one of the protagonists of the Xenosaga trilogy. The game’s story was conceived by Takahashi, with assistance from screenwriters Yuichiro Takeda and Kazuho Hyodo, who respectively worked on the even and odd chapters. Takeda, who also worked as a writer on the last two Xenoblade games, stated that the writing techniques and workflow for Chronicles 2 was similar to that of a movie. Takeda also stated that the story had the most “Tetsuya Takahashi flair to date”.
The game was announced in January 2017 as part of Nintendo’s detailed reveal of the Nintendo Switch, with a gameplay trailer being released on the same day. Similar to the original Xenoblade, the title was announced as Xenoblade 2 in Japan, but had Chronicles added to its name in English speaking regions. The game was also a part of Nintendo’s presentation at E3 2017, where it was reconfirmed for release by the end of 2017. Like the original Xenoblade Chronicles, Nintendo’s European division took up the reins for the English localization, who regularly communicated with Nintendo’s Japanese and American divisions about decisions that could prove controversial, something that was previously an issue with Xenoblade Chronicles X. Due to the game’s simultaneous worldwide launch, the localization process took place during development rather than after it, unlike the first two games. The game released worldwide on December 1, 2017.