Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Review

When the Nintendo Switch launched over three years ago (and still going strong!), the first year was a bevy of amazing titles, both new and remastered. Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Odyssey…I don’t think we’ll ever see a launch year like that again. One of the great titles that we saw from Monolith Soft was Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the latest in the sci-fi meets fantasy meets longform storytelling meets anime waifu JRPGs. I was fortunate enough to review the game not once but twice: first when the initial, massive game dropped, and again when the DLC of Torna: The Golden Country arrived, which was essentially a second game unto itself. I was utterly bowled over by the sheer enormity of the game, the highly detailed choices within for developing the characters (both as warriors and as people), and the variety of equipment, side quests and customization for outfits. Perhaps the attention Monolith Soft got was the bolstering effect needed to bring another project to the Nintendo Switch. I’m sure they have something new in the pipelines set for the future, if not for this console then the next, but it was time for Switch owners to experience what brought us to this world in the first place. However, not wanting to bore or upset longtime Xeno fans, they also decided to bring a bit more. As a result, players now have access to the original Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, with some excellent afterstory DLC (Future Connected), and newcomers can see exactly why fans were frothing at a sequel to what is one of the best JRPGs of the modern era.

Nintendo Switch and Nintendo fans in general may be relieved to finally play Xenoblade Chronicles because the main character, Shulk, has been in Smash Bros for a couple of iterations now and his presence makes sense once you enjoy his base game. With Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, you take on the role of Shulk, a young man who lives on a planet with two land masses made from two frozen Titans, Bionis and Mechonis. Bionis has biological life and Mechonis houses machinations with autonomy and hatred for biological life forms. There’s a touch and go war that seems to go on forever, and the biggest weapon that the Bionis folks have, the Monado, is a crazy powerful magic sword that no one seems to understand. Shulk is trying to figure out more about the sword and how it might be harnessed in even greater power when his home is attacked and his friend, Fiora, is killed. Shulk, naturally, decides it’s time for a quest for vengeance, even though the Monado was shown to royally screw up the last dude who wielded it, but that doesn’t matter: Revenge! What comes next is a long, intensely strange saga of history, secrets, rebirth and absolutely wild repositioning of who is right and who is wrong, and the whole thing is incredibly long but very, very enjoyable. This isn’t a cheap eShop distraction: this is a “what am I playing for the month of June” sort of investment, and you absolutely get what you pay for.

I hope I don’t do a disservice to the players who played the original on the Wii and were looking for comparisons to the new version, but this is my first foray into the classic flavor of Xenoblade Chronicles. As a result, I can’t really speak to the remastery of the graphics, the updating of the music or if anything has been balanced or recalibrated. What I can speak to is that it holds several great points that make it stand out above Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a game that I loved dearly and sunk many a weekend into. With Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, there immediately doesn’t feel like there’s as much of a bog in trying to introduce and tutorialize elements as the sequel provided. Whereas XC2 was frequently and almost exhaustingly telling you and showing you new things to do and new ways to do it, XC:DE is brief and short in educating you on new elements. You learn the basics (movement, attacking, Arts and engagement) in a hot second, and the additional elements (leveling up, heart to heart moments, party shifting) feel more evenly spaced out. I remember feeling overwhelmed by how authoritarian and instructional Xeno 2 was, and I never had that feeling with Xeno 1. Immensely better from the drop.

The core elements are there to make Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition a great JRPG, and they carry throughout. Like so many JRPGs of today, Xeno doesn’t ask you to simply keep to the central quest points, though they do an amazing job of mapping it out for you if you do. The map system constantly keeps you pointed in the right direction for where you want to go next, which is good because this game is simply massive. There’s something about walking close to ten minutes in real time to get to the next location of interaction to move the story along that should feel meandering and upsetting, but the environment is well peppered with characters, items, enemies and potential side quests to keep you from dying of boredom. Picking up side quests will help you gain better equipment, more experience for levelling and raise your interest in the world of Bionis, and it’s an easy way to make sure you’re ready for boss battles, which are frequent and pretty imposing. I’m blown away that a game such as this, even with duller graphics, could have existed on the Nintendo Wii, and I have to applaud the magicians that can make a game this grandiose even on modern hardware. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition uses scope and space to remind you that you really are a small part of a much, much larger world, which makes your existence feel inconsequential, but your actions that much stronger when they change the landscape, both literally and figuratively.

The combat system of Xenoblade Chronicles has finally grown on me, and the existence of the Monado and how Shulk needs to shift it around within battle also makes the whole thing make sense. I enjoyed a lot more being able to focus on moving around, circling the enemy and firing off attacks as they charged up, getting a better sense of what was being done in the battlefield to myself and my fellow party members. I like being able to chase up the different Arts that get learned and the skillset that develops through the different characters, and there’s this broader sense of accomplishment and control that comes from being able to directly input which of my skills build up as I level. As much as I love classic JRPGs, the sense that I would level up and have no say about when and where my magic or technical abilities improve was a little unnerving: Xenoblade Chronicles properly corrects this by allowing players fine adjustment of each skill as you grow stronger.

Also, it’s fantastic how Xenoblade Chronicles just looks good. Having had the benefit of being ported from Wii to 3DS and now to Switch, Monolith Soft has had a few incarnations to really hammer things out, and the end result are crisp, gorgeously detailed characters and areas that pop on handheld as well as in docked mode. One thing that always threw me off about XC2 is that it would start to chug after a period of time, and it never seems to happen with the original Xenoblade. The way the characters are done is better, in my opinion, and I don’t just mean that from a “Definitive Edition” standpoint. There’s something that gels better in the world of Xenoblade Chronicles the first, and I think it’s the stopping before a tipping point. What I mean to say is that, with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I think it went a bit “too anime,” if that makes sense to some people. Characters were over-the-top in proportions, both in physical representation and in personalities being boiled down to archetypes. Shulk is our protagonist, he clearly has love and curiosity in his heart, but he straight up checks on the condition of his project before he checks to see if his friend got hurt. That’s the sort of unbalanced, lively thing you’d see in a real person who maybe made a bad judgement call, and it then shows in their physical reactions and body language. When I can follow along with a party and not just think “this feels like Sword Art Online the game,” then it’s a good thing. And, honestly, it just keeps elevating in both design and presentation the further on you get into the game.

The best thing I can say about Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is that it reminds me a lot of fishing. Fishing is a sport that can have moments of amazing struggle and fighting, with clear, exciting victories and bitter losses. On the other hand, fishing has long stretches of time where it feels like nothing is happening, but that’s only if you’re unfamiliar with the sport. In actuality, it’s all about fine tune decisions, moments of changing tact or approach, and, in truth, waiting because you know what will come in either seconds or minutes. It fluctuates between relaxing to anxiety-ridden and has all the gradient colors in between. Xenoblade Chronicles is that same delicious flavor hidden beneath a JRPG. You explore and take your time to drink everything in, encountering so many minor points of quest, mobs and loot that can either be easily dealt with, avoided or carefully analyzed and catalogued. The boss fights, be they with Metal Face or Gadolt or even Zanza, are the moments of real struggle and impressively difficult action, testing whether you’ve properly prepared to move things along, though I will admit that setting the game to easy mode and taking the edge off (thanks Monolith!) allowed me to focus more on the story than the grind. I never felt bored: I was very satisfied, complacent, carefully situated on the razor’s edge of action and atmosphere, and it was so beautifully balanced from start to finish. 

The Future Connected DLC shows that Monolith Soft can really bang out a fantastic side story when they want to, and is going to be more than enough to encourage fans to come back and relieve the whole story again. Besides not requiring you to beat the game again before accessing it, Future Connected ran the length of a standard JRPG by itself, giving fans a better look into what happened to Shulk and Melia after the final battle. Shulk cannot use his future sight anymore, but most of the standard Monado techniques still exist, so players don’t need to relearn the whole game from the ground up. In comparison to Torna, Future Connected is much lighter, allowing players to explore a previously inaccessible area of Bionis, meeting up with some new characters, and allowing a sort of OVA storyline to open up that’s enjoyable without being mandatory. While I think that Torna could have been (and should have been) released as its own separate game, Future Connected functions well as an after story to reward those who wanted to see more and to not be required reading for those who didn’t. Plus, it allows Monolith Soft to use maps they had created but never implemented, which just shows a good business acumen.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is such a lovely, lengthy, amazing experience of a game to partake, I feel regretful that I never saw it previously on the Wii or the 3DS. It’s got heart, it’s got a great story with powerful, enjoyable characters, and it can easily take three digits worth of hours for players who want to see and find everything. There’s a damn good reason Shulk keeps showing up in Smash games: he’s a fantastic fighter and an iconic hero, and this game proves that the Xeno games deserve the same accolades and ranked membership as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Simply marvellous.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Review
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  • Graphics - 10/10
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  • Sound - 10/10
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  • Replay Value - 10/10
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Summary

The classic that birthed the Switch sequel comes to the newest console, and it’s an unbelievable experience.