When Xenoblade Chronicles was originally released for the Nintendo Wii in 2010-12, it felt like a tectonic shift in the way we talked about JRPGs. Suddenly, people were talking about the niche genre’s shiny new, universally acclaimed story as the genre’s pinnacle, as if Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises never existed. The deep-world of mechanic-heavy, story-rich, poignantly-written JRPGs had a new hero in Shulk, and genre-veteran Tetsuya Takahashi had very well turned in his masterwork.
If I sound sycophantic to the cult of Xeno it’s because I am. It’s impossible not to be. As long as you have even a curious love of JRPGs and are willing to see a 60+ hour game through to the end, it’s downright inhumane not to fawn over something as beautifully realised as this. And that’s without the remaster.
The JRPG has always been a divisive genre, misunderstood by many and off-putting to impatient people just wanting to jump into OP action. Gamers after deeper, more memorable turn-based experiences were rewarded with their patience and curiosity, while the easily distracted – typically at the mercy of the gaming world’s eternal churn – missed out. Any JRPG worth its salt is a substantial commitment; anyone would be lying if they said they didn’t understand why some people just don’t like them.
It’s not all good in the Xenoblade world though. The “X” version felt incomplete, the sequel was overly complicated, and the 3DS version, as good as it was, couldn’t quite capture the same magic as the original. And it’s that original which remains the definitive Xeno experience – the one that will be held up as a seminal work for years to come.
Okay, Enough with the Hype
Xenoblade Chronicles has been remastered and gently tweaked for the Nintendo Switch. What we have now is Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, and it’s clear that a lot of love has gone into recapturing the magic for a new generation.
The music, for example, which adds so much meaning to the game’s many settings, has now been reworked with fully arranged compositions. Now you have the option to either play with the original OST, or switch it out for this richly textured upgrade. It may seem like a relatively negligible feature given the game’s insurmountable scope, but a detail as beautifully executed as this ends up making a world of difference to how immersive and exciting the story gets.
The music is also reflective of how special this remaster must have been treated. Wade through the online fandom of Xenoblade Chronicles, even just for a few minutes, and you’ll see how relentlessly adored the title has become. It was obviously important to Monolith Soft that, even though they weren’t making any substantive changes to the way the game unfolds and its magnificent story, the fringe features were better integrated into the story.
It’s also clear that rethinking their approach to UI was at the top of Monolith Soft’s list. The menus are cleaner, easier to navigate and much more logically set out. Streamlining Xenoblade’s unconventional mechanics makes it a bit easier to get into for newcomers to the series.
Vast maps and a dizzying amount of NPCs means more assets and character models to deal with. That isn’t always good news for a Nintendo Switch version of anything, but this Xenoblade Chronicles retouch seems to get by just fine when it comes to graphics and frame rate. Even in handheld mode, character models look more better, with more natural colour, smoother textures and expressive animations that are responsive and seamless. The same goes for the world’s many assets, from the fine blades of grass to the constantly-moving weapons you wield during real-time battles.
And moving onto battles. It’s very much the same here. The real-time, MMO-like combat picks up as soon as you approach one of the many monsters that populate these maps. Standard physical attacks are automatic, and AI teammates help out, but it’s up to the user to select which cooldown-dependant skills (or arts) to string into combos depending on the situation, enemy and position.
It can take some getting used to, especially when you throw in other considerations like the team meter and reliance on chain attacks, but as long as you stick with it and take a bit of time to navigate the system properly, it adds a sturdy layer of excitement and makes each battle (aside from the lower-level enemies) feel fresh and dynamic.
A Game for Travellers and Dreamers
The Man VS Machine story that arches through Xenoblade Chronicles takes you across some incredibly detailed areas like the twilight of Valak Mountain or the loneliness of Tephra Cave. Each feel lived-in and brought to life through small details, with none coming across as an after-thought.
Exploring this world becomes as addictive as the game itself. And it seems the XP bonuses for finding new places has been increased as well. Side Quests play a big part of that, and they are usually what distinguish a good JRPG from a great one – these largely optional adventures aren’t just good for farming XP and currency, they are fun, engaging and reveal story details that matter.
To further this, Monolith Soft has created a sizable expansion pack in “Future Connected”, a post-game epilogue that easily adds at least a dozen more hours to playtime. That may illicit a groan in players who grow impatient towards the end (again, I don’t blame you, it’s a long game), but this add-on, self-contained adventure is as exceptional as the main game itself.
In fact, I enjoyed Future Connected far more than I did Xenoblade Chronicles 2, with new ideas and characters and even a new way to do battle that hints at what the series could look like should it continue. It comes with its own main story and plentiful side quests, upping the value of this definitive edition even more.
The score below should be of no surprise. Monolith Soft has simply taken one of the best modern JRPGs, gently retouched it, and made it even better. It now stands as the best way to play Xenoblade Chronicles, and for newcomers who haven’t had a chance to pick this title up yet, that’s of exceptional value. The only requirement is patience, and from there you’ll be opened up to one of the most outstanding RPGs ever made.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: The best JRPG just got better; Huge visual improvements; a lot of care has gone into the music; streamlined experience is easier to navigate; casual mode makes it easier to jump into the thick of the game; Future Connected is a substantial and welcome add-on; Improved UI from menus to combat; a joy to explore.
Lowlights: Tedious at times.
Developer: Monolith Soft
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Review based on code supplied by Nintendo.