Sometimes a story is developed that becomes too big to merely tell in one sitting. No matter how much time and detail goes into one, two or twelve tomes, there’s always a bit more to mention, and that can be the most captivating elements. The Silmarillion might be an incredibly dry read to some, but it really does cover so much of Middle Earth’s history, that Tolkien fans simply eat it up in a single serving. The same feels true for the current saga of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. As the Xeno series does it’s best to (in recent years) keep connections between games tangential at best, the sheer scope of the world of Rex, Pyra, the Titans and the Architect is massive to many. Most important are the events that happened off camera, in times before the game began. What brought the civilization to the ruinous level where it currently sits? What became of the great kingdoms before, and why are Malos and Jin so hellbent on the destruction and control of the current? Thankfully, the amazing group that is Monolith Soft found the perfect way to help players understand more…and question even more. This is Torna – The Golden Country.
Set approximately 500 years before the events of the Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you begin with the story of Lora, a lone adventurer who was saved 17 years before by Jin, who is one of the main antagonists of the core game. Lora is trying to find her mother, whom she has been searching for all this time, and she’s doing so with the help of a second Blade named Haze. If you don’t remember, Blades are personified weapons that come to life through beings called Drivers, and Lora happens to be a Driver for both Haze and Jin. Anyways, in a short amount of time, several things happen. Lora finds an orphaned boy and brings him into her party. We run into a member of Torna royalty by the name of Addam, and his Blade, Mythra. We’re all super fed up with Malos being a massive pain (some things don’t change between games!) and want to get to the bottom of who’s his Driver, and why is bad stuff happening. If these facts seem disjointed, then you may not have played Xenoblade Chronicles 2 enough to freak out just a little. This will be a small titch that I’ll expand later, but it boils down to this: Torna – The Golden Country is definitely made for fans of the first game.
Chances are, if you’re playing Torna – The Golden Country, you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles 2, as it’s impossible to get it as a standalone title at the current time. Therefore, you know a bit about the central idea: slightly openworld-ish gameplay for an RPG, realtime-ish combat with enemies, digging around in the dirt a lot to find food and stuff to cook, a bit of a crafting element around the campfire for charms, food and such, and plenty of dialogue. This is one of those DLCs that acts as a one way door: the only way to really enjoy it is if you’ve played XC2 in a bit of a capacity beforehand. If you try to come at Torna fresh and innocent, you will be instantly, unapologetically confused and overwhelmed, and I sincerely LOVE the fact that they did this. One of my biggest complaints with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is how much we had neverending tutorial popups and “helpful” information being thrown at you, still, close to an hour in-game (maybe longer, it’s been a while). Torna does brief you on just the touchstone elements of what you do in the game, but mostly it focuses on letting you know what’s new, and why it’s important.
Firstly, the community system. The community system is this beautiful mini-map that uses portraits and circles to let you know who you’ve met, a bit about how they’re related and what kind of side quests they’re interested in you participating in. Like the original game, you have the choice to set certain quests active or not, so you don’t need to be overwhelmed, but this new Community system really keeps things organized and more visually appealing than the old list of words. Moreover, you can see how doing these sidequests help to build community points and get you in better with the different towns, hamlets and areas that you encounter. More points means more quests means better rewards means more gameplay. It’s a simple thing, but it’s a fantastic under-the-hood deal that presents itself in an unobtrusive but memorable way. Everytime you enter a new area, there’s a new community to see, and brand new people for me to let down by never running their errands. I’m a busy woman, I’ll deal with that stuff later.
The new combat system of Torna – The Golden Country is also pretty wonderful. There’s this hilarious moment early on when Addam laughs in disbelief that you’ve created this new fighting style purely out of poverty, but I identify with that pretty strongly, so shut up, Origo. Lora and Jin basically discover a way in which they share combat, which seems SO OBVIOUS when you look at it, but it’s a novel and welcome discovery here. Having two characters, the Driver and the Blade, swap positions on the field in a sort of jump in/jump out way makes for a much more interesting battle. The main attacker will lay down the pain, while the auxiliary Blade (or Driver) will attack, heal and buff automatically. If you have enough charge, you can change the main character and instantly have your Arts filled up, meaning you can get some serious damage laid down with some fast switching. Additionally, if you got good at Art cancelling in the previous game, great news: you’ve got a serious advantage in Torna – The Golden Country. Combine this with being able to swap Blades mid-fight with just a minor recharge penalty, and Lora and the gang become pretty unstoppable in terms of skirmishes. This also makes things more interesting and exciting in the wide world of grinding for levels, which you’ll want to do so you can deal with Unique Beasts.
Speaking of combat, thank you, Monolith Soft, for spreading out the unnaturally and unnecessarily aggressive, massive beasts in the game. It went from shocking to infuriating when the game punished you for exploring by having some mammoth level 89 murderer stomp your level 12 into the ground, and I can honestly say I didn’t encounter that in Torna – The Golden Country. I used the skip travel system way more because I remembered seeing Unique Beasts, being able to avoid them without serious effort, and then doubling back to claim some loot and EXP later on. In fact, most of the monsters were fairly unaggressive: I was the one initiating a lot of the combat. This made me feel more like an adventurer on a great quest and less like someone just trying to survive to the next town before being eaten by something. That role suited Rex, who just stumbles into this whole story and world, but not for Lora. She’s a semi-orphan, she’s got a Paragon of a Blade, and she’s kicking it in a wild new way. She’s a goddamn hero, the game should treat her as such.
Right…the story. Personally, I love the scope and the style of Torna’s DLC world. I’ve heard some complaints that the content isn’t deeper and richer, and to that I say hush. You’re tacking on this amazing piece of history to a game that’s already got an easy three digits of content within, and I don’t think I could have handled it if Torna was much bigger. What’s wonderful is that the characters all have a better sense of interest and insight into them: it might be a side effect of this being a game of the past. Basically, new characters are introduced in bright and benign ways, and characters that you may recognize from the core game make you jump in your seat: “Oh my God, it’s Him/Her! This is awesome!” The dialogue is, frankly, better paced, the exposition a bit more concise, and the pacing allows you to digest everything as it comes in. You never feel overwhelmed by what Torna is delivering, but you do have an underlying sadness about it all.
Don’t forget, this takes places 500 years before the primary game. There’s not a great comparison to it all, but Torna feels like the Atlantis of Alrest, a fabled land that inspires crusades and beliefs. Everyone that you meet in this game has a very different future than what you see here, and it’s a broad brush that paints the entire DLC. When you see Jin interacting tenderly with Lora, you know, deep down, that something is coming, that there’s a reason Jin isn’t the hero in the main game. What you end up with, upon the conclusion, is heartbreak: you can’t do anything to stop the series of events that head towards the future, and to the main world that we meet up with later. It’s a bittersweet tale, and it answers so many questions, but it really is crushing for players who develop attachments to anyone in a game.
My biggest gripe for Torna – The Golden Country is that it shows all the notes that Monolith Soft was able to take from the launch of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and implement them into this new faction. Everything about Torna mechanically is better: better systems, better combat, hell, even better graphics and load times. You can jump right into Golden Country without needing to go back and beat Xenoblade Chronicles 2 again (thank God), but you still need to have it installed, and I would have loved to see Golden Country as a standalone title to download and play. I like the cast here better, and, even if it makes me sad in the end, it’s a tale that I’m more likely to revisit versus the original sprawling saga of Rex and Pyra. And I’m not expecting Monolith to go back and overhaul the core game with all these new elements: that’s insane and would take an immense amount of work, plus then fans would demand it for free, which doesn’t seem fair.
Torna – The Golden Country is a staggering work to see as downloadable content, and a brilliant release by Nintendo. It doesn’t just keep the game fresh: it’s a complete revitalization, rewarding hardcore players and casual fans alike. If you’ve enjoyed Xenoblade Chronicles 2, this is a straight up no brainer: get it. If you didn’t like the core game, seriously consider the DLC, as it addresses a lot of the annoyances that I had with the original. No matter what, if you play, just be ready for some serious sadness by the end.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.