Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Review
I first played Xenoblade Chronicles nearly a decade ago, after it—along with two other JRPGs—got released in the west. While the game’s quality was evident from the start, there was no denying that the Wii’s hardware did it disservice: an open world game with a scope unlike any other title on the console, its beauty was hampered by low resolution and storage space. I still considered it a genre-defining classic, and while its two sequels—Xenoblade X and Xenoblade 2—featured the same sprawling worlds and intricate storylines, none of them hit the high notes that the first one did. On the Switch, Xenoblade finally gets the boost it deserved.
Here we still have the same incredible RPG released in 2010, polished for the current generation. It still is very much the same game, albeit with an epilogue storyline to play through, some tweaks and changes to make it more appropriate for the current generation and adjusted to all the things developers have learned since then. Other than the revamped graphics (especially noticeable with the character models) and boosted resolution, the user interface and menus got changed and it was given a proper navigation system that makes it far easier to do the myriad of quests the game gives you. The already great soundtrack also received a full remaster, making it an even better listen. Another important note about the graphics is that, unlike Xenoblade 2 and its excessive sharpening, the game does not look atrocious in handheld mode (there still is dynamic resolution, but the graphics never deteriorate to the same degree as they did in the Switch sequel).
Xenoblade’s defining trait is its ambition: Xenoblade is a sprawling epic that’ll take you from grassy fields to mountains under blizzards and the innards of gods, with a story that gets a new, unexpected twist every other chapter. Shulk and his ragtag band must traverse the titan from foot to head, and the length of the journey is perfectly evidenced by the environmental changes that happen as they slowly ascend the Bionis. The sprawling world has many beautiful vistas to see and places to go, and it is quite liberal in letting you go anywhere. Not quite to the same degree as a fully open world game such as Breath of the Wild, although the fact that Monolith Soft aided Nintendo in developing Hyrule for their Switch launch title is proof of their pedigree in world-building. So is the fact that even a decade after I originally played it I could still remember the game’s regions and locations with rare precision.
The gameplay itself suffered no alteration, but for those who are newcomers to the series, here’s the general gist: your party of three automatically attacks any enemy you lock on to, and it’s up to you to decide which skills to actively use against them. Positioning and timing is key: many attacks have enhanced effects if done from the enemy’s side or back, and others require you to combo with your party members to inflict statuses such as ‘break’ and ‘topple’. There are QTE triggers that force you to stay aware of the battle, as they both improve your relationships with your party members as well as increase your party gauge (which allows you to unleash a string of skills from your entire party, facilitating certain combos or the infliction of status effects). Until the release of Final Fantasy VII: Remake, it was my favorite example of real-time JRPG combat, and it is still great (and that’s true for the three Xenoblade games’ combat).
The other thing Xenoblade does exceptionally well in is serving the players with a large number of optional sidequests and tasks to do as they progress upwards: there are collection pages for each region that you fill out with collectibles; sprawling affinity charts that picture the relationship between all the game’s different NPCs (there are nearly 200 of them, and they all have bonds, rivalries and connections with other NPCs, which you can learn more about through quests and conversations); and party relationships between your party characters that you can maximize for combat benefits and little story segments you can view, called Heart-to-Hearts. In true JRPG fashion, Xenoblade isn’t ashamed of having the player juggle a dozen different systems simultaneously; the game’s length and the rate at which they’re introduced, however, makes it so that you’re never truly overwhelmed—particularly now, with the tracking and navigation systems.
Aside from all this, the game’s been given a completely new region and storyline with the addition of the epilogue, Future Connected, which has a size similar to Xenoblade 2’s Torna expansion. There’s a great deal of sidequests that’ll guide you as you explore the sprawling new area, and the gameplay itself is altered (much like they did in Torna): gone is Shulk’s déjà vu, replaced by a revamped chain attack system. I also hope you’re fond of the Nopon, because both the party and the expansion’s systems feature them extensively.
Although the Definitive Edition doesn’t change the game enough to warrant being called a full remake or remaster, I still recommend it as emphatically as I did the Wii release—both to new players and those who’ve already gone through the story. Few JRPGs have Xenoblade’s ambition and scope, and any fan of the genre owes it to themselves to visit the superlative world of Bionis and Mechonis.