Review: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
Posted 20 Jun 2020 at 23:33 by Glen O'Brien
While I was watching the credits for Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, I couldn’t help noticing that the original version of this game released ten years ago. Despite playing the original Wii release right when it came out, this somehow came as a bit of surprise to me. Ten years is a long time, especially when it’s a third of your current lifespan and I guess it comes down to the fact that Xenoblade doesn’t feel like a ten year old game to me. Well, OK, ignoring the standard definition visuals.
Speaking of visuals, it’s the most apparent upgrade that this definitive edition sports. This is a remaster of a ten year old game that came out on the Wii. It’s an RPG with a massive focus on exploration and a battle system reminiscent of something you’re likely to see in a MMORPG. It’s quite well known among the Ninty fanbase due to its unexpected success and the campaign to get it (and two other games that aren’t as well known) released in America. And maybe the fact that the main character is now a playable fighter in Super Smash Bros.
For those not in the know, the game follows Shulk, a scientist who works for Colony 9, a town situated at the bottom of a giant creature called the Bionis. Said Bionis was involved in a fight with another giant creature called the Mechonis. The fight ended with them killing each other and over time, people started living on the Bionis corpse.
Anyway, the people of Bionis are kind of in a big tiff with a bunch of robots from the Mechonis called… well, um… Mechon. The Mechon are generally tough to deal with except for one specific weakness, a giant laser sword called the Monado. The only problem with the Monado is that it tends to be really detrimental to the wielder’s health. Everyone except Shulk, as it turns out he’s really good at using it. So good, in fact, that he starts seeing visions of future tragedies that will befall him, allowing him to react accordingly. For reasons I won’t go into, this sets Shulk and his best friend, Reyn, to climb the Bionis and stop the Mechon from terrorising the people of Bionis.
Someone really needs to take a lawnmower to this place.
I’m not going to try and say that Xenoblade’s plot is the kind of plot that breaks boundaries. If you’ve played as many RPGs as I have, you will see quite a few familiar tropes here. That said, the story of Xenoblade is very enjoyable to me. It’s well written and has more than a few twists to keep things interesting. This is no doubt helped by the excellent voice acting the English dub enjoys. You see, due to the fact that Nintendo of Europe handled the localisation, British actors were given the job of voice acting, and they add a certain charm that you don’t normally see in most games. I could listen to Reyn’s English voice all day and never get sick of it. Which certainly helps, because Xenoblade is an immensely long game and you’re going to be hearing those voices a lot.
The world of Xenoblade is gigantic, it will most likely take you over 60 hours to reach the credits and way more if you decide to do as much as possible along the way. Most of the places you visit will take you hours to traverse and exploring the world and finding all the secrets you can is very satisfying. The way I describe it makes it sound like the popular open world experiences that are common these days, and sure, there’s an argument for comparing Xenoblade to the likes of Breath of the Wild (Let’s face it, Monolith Soft were probably brought in to work on that particular Zelda title because of Xenoblade).
So why do I, a person who thinks open-world games are inherently boring, enjoy Xenoblade? Simply put, it’s not an open-world game. Despite how big everything is, there is always a set path that you must follow. Sure, you can explore to your heart’s content, but I do so knowing that I am always free to stop doing that and carry on with the plot. It’s a great balance of linearity and exploration that you just don’t see elsewhere. It’s hard to pull off, but Xenoblade does so in a spectacular fashion.
That guy on the right gives me the urge to boot up Monster Hunter for some reason...
It’s not perfect, mind. There are hundreds of side quests to do. It’s all optional, but there’s not much variety there. Collect some stuff; kill a few monsters, the usual stuff you’ll probably expect from a big RPG like this. Trying to do everything as it’s presented to you may result in causing the game to drag on. My advice would be to take it in moderation, accept some quests, sure. But don’t stress out about completing them all, unless you’re like me, of course. I’m going for 100% in my second playthrough of this. Don’t be me.
A good RPG is dependent on how fun its battle system is and as I mentioned a while back, Xenoblade is similar to something you might see in a MMORPG. Battles take place in real time as you move your character around and attack the enemy automatically when you get close enough. As well as this, you can also select between different “Arts” using the D-Pad which have a variety of effects. It’s a little awkward using the control stick and D-pad at the same time, which is most likely due to it being designed for the Wii Remote and Nunchuk setup originally. Positioning and co-operation with your AI teammates is the key to success, and I could go on about all the different mechanics that emerge over time, but we’ll be here forever if I do that.
Instead, I’ll just talk about my favourite mechanic, Shulk’s visions. During battle, you might suddenly see a vision of an enemies’ upcoming attack. 9 times out of 10, it’ll be disastrous to your chances of victory. Luckily, these futures aren’t set and you have a few seconds to change your strategy up to try and prevent it from landing. It’s a great mechanic that serves to shake up the flow of battles and adds a little bit of panic to proceedings, plus it’s always satisfying using the right move at the right time to put a spanner in the enemies’ plan. It’s a great way of implementing a plot point into actual gameplay that feels totally natural.
You don't need clairvoyance to know when it's time to skedaddle.
With this being a “Definitive Edition”, there’s bound to be some tweaks to the gameplay that aim to make the game a better experience and there’s certainly some of that here. Whether it is the faster loading times, the snappier menus, or the helpful notification that shows when you’re positioned right for an attack to get a bonus effect. There’s no denying that if you’re going to play Xenoblade, this version is the one I’d recommend.
While the gameplay is a definite plus point in Xenoblade’s favour, the same can’t really be said for the visuals. It’s definitely an improvement over the Wii version, especially when it comes to the faces of characters, but the resolution is pretty bad and borderline horrendous when you’re playing in handheld mode. It’s not a deal breaker for me - most visuals in games aren't - and Xenoblade is not an ugly game. It’s always the least important aspect of a game to me, but it’s not a good looking game by the standards other Switch games have set.
That said, there are some great opportunities for taking in the view.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is still as good as it always has been. There’s an option to listen to the arranged songs that this version introduced or the original soundtrack, but they’re both very similar and it’s hard to tell them apart at times. That’s perfectly fine, by the way, why fix what isn’t broken, after all? Its good listening, that’s for sure.
I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Future Connected, an extra scenario that takes place after the main plot. It’s basically more Xenoblade gameplay with a twist on the battle system to shake things up a bit. Is it worth buying the game a second time just to play Future Connected? No, not even a little. If you’re not going to play through the main storyline, definitely think twice, but if you want to revisit this cult classic, or have never played Xenoblade, then you are in for a treat. Any self-respecting RPG fan owes it to themselves to play this. It’s almost as impressive as me going through this whole review without once referencing one of the many quips this game is famous for. This is a good result!
N-Europe Final Verdict
Xenoblade holds up remarkably well 10 years later. It’s completely deserving of the praise it has gotten and is one of the finest RPG’s of the last decade. Make no mistake: this is a true “definitive” version. But speaking bluntly, it is a mediocre remaster of an utter masterpiece.
A great balance of exploration and linearity
Enjoyable plot and likeable characters
Interesting battle mechanics
Awful Resolution, especially in handheld mode
The time investment required is possibly too large for some people
Future Connected alone doesn’t warrant double dipping