I never had the chance to play Xenoblade Chronicles on its original Wii release. And then, later, I never had the chance to play it on the updated 3DS release, either. Finally, as with most things, it’s been ported to switch in the form of a ‘definitive’ edition with a complete graphical overhaul (using the engine from Xenoblade Chronicles 2), a bunch of new features, and an entire extra epilogue episode.
Welcome to the Bionis
So, the world is like this: Big ol’ ocean and absolutely zero landmass except for two hulking titans called the Bionis and the Mechonis. Eons ago they had a big ol’ scuffle which ended in a stalemate, with both of these massive titans seemingly going into dormancy, with life springing from their bodies in the years following. On the Bionis sprung a lot of life we know today, humans (Homs), animals/monsters and various other humanoid races, while on the Mechonis, a machine-like form of life sprang up and has been engaged in war with the Bionis for a heck of a long time with it all coming to a head a year before the story begins.
Players take the role of Shulk, a young man who has spent his life researching the Monado, a legendary and mysterious sword only capable of being wielded by a select few. After a particularly nasty Mechon attack on his home, Shulk takes up the Monado, swearing to destroy every last one of them in a revenge plot that soon spins out into something much greater.
The plot itself can be a little cliche and hammy in parts, although it continuously tries to swerve and do interesting things, which, more often than not, it’s pretty successful at. Though its cast of characters can be left wanting in some areas, with a lot of the development and content hidden behind optional scenes that have, in some cases, pretty wild requirements to meet.
And that’s a big part of the Xenoblade Chronicles philosophy I discovered playing, a lot of the content is optional to the point where a lot of folks have called it a single player MMO, and it’s incredibly easy to see where that comparison comes in. Side quests are constantly thrown at players and, while this would be otherwise tedious, here it’s a joy in that the 20 bear asses or whatever needs to be collected is marked clearly on the map, and in most cases, players won’t have to return to the quest giver on completion, with instant rewards popping up instead, with the occasional quest being a little more in depth.
This is a game that rewards players based on how much time they’re willing to spend in the world, basically. If players want to grind and do all the sidequests, they’ll be rewarded with better items and gear. Although the player who doesn’t do the sidequests, or even all of them (given it’s unreasonable how many sidequests are given) can still complete the game feeling fulfilled.
What also helps is that fast travel is possible from and to any location without penalty, further encouraging players to explore and complete quests alongside the main story. There’s a heck of a lot to do.
The combat also borrows heavily from MMO’s, with it working on a sort of ‘engage and auto-attack’ with players then able to form a strategy for the situation as well as use various special abilities at will. Each party member is fully controllable and offers differing setups, from a white mage type through to a more buff/debuff focused attacker. But given Shulk wields the Monado, which is the only weapon that can damage Mechon without engaging in certain battle mechanics, players probably won’t stray too far from him.
Combat also allows for combos, varying from a break and topple mechanic to incapacitate enemies through to a chain attack, which allows all party members to engage an enemy uninterrupted. There’s also a future sight mechanic, letting players know when a big attack is coming and how long they have to prevent it, helping to really spice up the flow of battle.
It’s an incredibly unique system and makes every battle an interesting tactical match, although boss enemies is where it really shines. There are large unique enemies all through the fields to test yourself against, and if at any point the game becomes too difficult, a casual option has been made available. For players who enjoyed the original, it’s also possible to swap from the remastered soundtrack back to the original as well.
This game is, essentially, how a good remaster should be done. New content, new graphics, new music, new features, but still with the option to get your paws on the old stuff. Except for the old graphics. You probably don’t want those anyway, they were cool, but it would have not looked ideal on the Switch.
Really, there isn’t a lot wrong with this game and playing it, I can see why everyone says it’s one of the best JRPG’s of a generation. Don’t be like me and keep missing it!
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is out now for Nintendo Switch.