Review: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition

 "Do you wish to change it? The Future?"

Console: Nintendo Switch

For a long time, Xenoblade Chronicles was one of the most valuable and sought after Wii titles due to its rarity in the West. As a 50+ hour JRPG, Nintendo had no plans to release it in the West as those games don’t tend to be popular with Western audiences. Nintendo Europe was willing to take a risk on it, however, and released it in Europe in 2011 with a North American release following a year later. In early 2020, Nintendo released Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, a remaster of the game. It runs on the same engine as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 with some added quality of life upgrades and even a brand new expansion/epilogue. It’s this version that I will be taking a look at today. The base game, that is. Its brand-new expansion, Futures Connected, will get its own review sometime in the future. That’s just how I roll with DLC and expansions.

So without further ado, let’s dive in and see if Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition and see if this remaster of a 10-year-old JRPG is still worth your time today.

Xenoblade Chronicles takes place on the corpses of the Bionis and the Mechonis, two titans that were locked in endless battle until they met their demise at each other’s hand. The people of Bionis, including the human-like Homs, are locked in a perpetual war with the Mechon, the machine race of Mechonis. Key to the Homs' efforts in fighting against the Mechon army is the Monado, a sword that is said to have been wielded by the Bionis and the only weapon capable of cutting the Mechon down. During a surprise attack on Colony 9, a year after the Homs believed that all Mechon were destroyed, a young scientist researching the Monado by the name of Shulk discovers his ability to wield the weapon. With the Monado in hand Shulk, alongside his best friend Reyn, set out on a quest to bring an end to the never-ending war.

The Bionis is a world of beauty and awe.

The story of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is, without a doubt, the game’s co-MVP. The rest of the game is nothing the scoff at, true, but I don’t think that it would’ve been as gripping nor as memorable if it weren’t for the story. This is in large part due to the strength of the characters. The characters are well written. Their struggle feels very real and relatable, even though the story and the world of the game are firmly rooted in fantasy and is, admittedly, pretty bonkers at times.

What also helps the story is that the themes that are at its core are very interesting and often relatable. The game deals with both small & large, light & heavy subjects. From unrequited romantic feelings to the question of destiny and if you can change it or not. These themes are yet another aspect of the story that drew me in even it takes the game a while to get going in this department.

Another criticism in regards to the story is its length. The game’s story is about 50+ hours long and the quality does fluctuate throughout. It never becomes bad or anything like that, but there are some pacing issues (the chapters the game is divided in vary greatly in length) and some subplots that don’t really fit. There is, for example, a sub-plot around a third into the game that’s very Game of Thrones-y. While interesting in its own right, it felt out of place.

The other MVP you ask? The world. The game is an open world, with players able to freely navigate seamlessly interconnected environments across The Bionis and The Mechonis. Each area is very well designed and helps make the world feel alive. Now, freed from the constraints of the Nintendo Wii, these environments and creatures finally live up to their potential. The environments look much crisper in HD and combined with the brighter colours and the characters, well, not looking ugly makes the game look beautiful. Stunning at times, even. It also runs well. Aside from the ugly pop-in here and a some blur there that I didn’t encounter any problems whatsoever.

Want to see the graphical improvements for yourself? Well, here you go! The Wii original is on the left with the Switch remaster on the right.

Let’s move on the sound design. What immediately stands out is the voice-acting. As a result of Nintendo of Europe handling the localization the voice acting is done by UK talents. It gives the voice-acting a very distinct personality. The music is very good as well but is a bit on the forgettable side though. It’s beautifully orchestrated and very atmospheric. It tends to blend into the background instead of sticking into your head because of this though.

The story, graphics, tech specs and sound design are covered. That only really leaves us with the gameplay. Xenoblade Chronicles uses a real-time action-based battle system. Once combat starts each of your three characters auto-attack the enemy and pefrom Arts. These are special attacks that can deal great damage, give your team buffs or debuffs to the enemy. You also have a team meter that, once full, you can activate a chain attack for massive damage. Finally, there are the vision. If the team-meter has enough energy, you can get a glimpse of the future. See an enemy takedown your character, for example, and get the chance to alter it.

On the upside, you don’t need to understand and utilize it all to progress in the game. The important ones are easy enough to understand and if you’re 3-5 levels higher you get buffs when facing an enemy making the fight easier. It makes getting around tough enemies easier, as long as you’re willing to put the work into levelling up. On the downside, not understanding (enough of) the system means that you do need to some heavy grinding to see the credits. There is a casual mode that lowers the difficulty but that's more a band-aid then a fix. And that’s not even mentioning that standing around waiting while you can activate an Arts can get really boring and grating.

The protagonist Shulk, alongside Reyn and Sharla, performing a chain attack.

The last few things I want to mention before wrapping this all up are the quest system and the affinity chart. The backbone of the game is its quest system. Not only is the main story told throughout a series of quests but there are well over 100 side-quests to keep you busy when you feel like taking a detour. These range from simple fetch quests and ‘take down this enemy for me’ to multistep quests in which you help out the inhabitants of The Bionis and The Mechonis and even rebuilding an entire settlement.

Completing each side-quest not only nabs you extra experience and items, but also affinity. The more quests you complete, the better your standing with the people the more side-quests you can do, the more items you can buy etc. Raising affinity between party members results in getting to see more conversations between characters as well as give you benefits in battle. It’s quite an addictive loop that’ll give you quite a lot to do beyond the story.

Conclusion

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is a very, very good game. The story is amazing. It’s beautiful, emotional, action-packed and character-driven. The world is well-realized and looks stunning though be aware: it does suffer from some pop-in issues. The gameplay is fun, very strategic, but can be tedious at times as well as overcomplicated with how many layers it has. It can get overwhelming at times and while I personally enjoy the longer length and 100+ side-quests you can do in the game I understand others might find it daunting or grow tired of the game before the credits roll.

As such, I wouldn´t recommend Xenoblade Chronicles as someone’s first (J)RPG, nor their second or third, but if you are a fan of the genre then this is a game you need to check out.

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