Shortly after the announcement of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, I wrote an article where I said, “But is it necessary if it does nothing new?”. Now I can answer myself and say: yes, it is absolutely necessary.
Although Xenoblade Chronicles has a decade, the final edition – warts and everything – proves that it’s still one of the best RPGs around and a must-have for the Nintendo Switch.
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition Review: The Real Power of Monado
We won’t go into too much story detail in case you’ve never experienced Xenoblade Chronicles before, but here are the basics. The world of Xenoblade Chronicles deals with binaries. You have the organic Bionis and mechanical Mechonis. The two are gods of literally astronomical proportions, and both were locked in fights eons ago until something stopped them. Now people and machines live on their respective deities because they are so big, even their kneecaps have fields of gravity.
And they fight with each other – a lot. Mechon people have a rather unpleasant tendency to eat Homs (what the inhabitants of Bionis call), and naturally, Homs do not like that. Homs are good; Mechon is bad. It’s all a fight for survival – or at least you’re led to believe.
Xenoblade Chronicles kicks off a year after the last big explosion, where it looked like peace had been won thanks to the hero of Homs Dunban and the mysterious sword Monado.
Of course, this is not really the case, as it is an RPG and a Xeno game. Someone’s house must be brutally invaded, and when that happens, the fame of Shulk of Smash Bros. leaves with his friend Reyn for a journey of revenge.
What makes the Xenoblade Chronicles version of the JRPG revenge story unique is the way it unfolds. As the story progresses and you learn more about the world and its different types of people, the binaries slowly undo until you end up with something much bigger and more complex than you never thought so. The pace and sense of urgency to keep moving is also better than Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
Of course, you have pretty predictable moments and there are the usual fate tips, etc. But it’s surprising how much the plot still stands, even if you already know all the ins and outs like me – and despite the fact that the characters have almost no depth.
It’s really a story-based experience, but the pace and focus on exploration mean that the lack of development of real characters never really becomes an issue. It’s also helpful that in the 10 years since the original Xenoblade Chronicles were released, there may have been a handful of games (if any) that have tried to combine high fantasy and science fiction and that have succeeded.
Characters may not develop much, but there’s no denying that one of the biggest and best changes in Definitive Edition is the improvement of character models. The models of the original Xenoblade Chronicles, and in particular the new 3DS port, were essentially monsters, monsters trapped with one, perhaps two permanent expressions and reactions.
The characters in Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition are so much better made and more expressive than the original. Little things like frowns or changes in mouth shape go surprisingly far by adding tension or emotion to cutscenes, although the characters always have their awkward walks – especially Melia, aka the lady at the duck market.
It’s a bit confusing why these weren’t smoothed out, but oh, well.
It is just as disappointing that the visuals other than the character models are so blurry. That shouldn’t be the case until then in the Switch’s lifecycle, and even if it doesn’t break the game much, it’s annoying.
Speaking of exploration, you’ll do a lot of that. Fortunately, Xenoblade Chronicles is a joy to explore, blurred distances and everything. Much of this is due to unique settings, ranging from winding caves to the huge open fields on the thigh of the Bionis, deadly swamps, lush jungles – and that’s not all. The Xenoblade Chronicles cards also appear larger than those of its numbered suite. However, this could just be a benefit of a more open conception and of how you feel you are progressing in these areas, rather than jumping to new biomes every few hours.
This naturally raises the question of whether there is anything to explore, and the answer is somewhat mixed.
There are no Witcher-style rewards like finding an obscure and meaningful side quest or tripping over a much-needed treasure trove of items. But in addition to seeing the sites, you will meet objects necessary either to fatten your wallet the next time you meet a merchant, to barter with locals, or to make gems that help you in combat (more on this in a little).
Many of these objects and off-the-beaten-track locations also play a role in the quests in Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s also probably the weakest point in the game, although it is a mistake to expect a remaster to change a fundamental part of the game’s structure. There are an almost overwhelming number of side quests that you can do it if you want. And almost all of them are completely mundane: collect items, fight monsters, talk to character X and the usual stuff.
Where it would be a big deal for another game, it’s surprisingly not a big drawback for Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, especially if you go there knowing what to expect. To start, you have complete control over the quests you want to complete.
Don’t feel like collecting five hard-to-find items for meager rewards? It is very good. There are a lot of quests to complete without going too far out of your way, and even if they are far enough south of the spectacular ones, completing some is worth it for the additional experience, unique equipment and gems.
Best of all, Definitive Edition‘s improvements to the map and the quest system make questing easier. No more sacred and cursed orange arrow of the original, swaying like a demented and possessed compass. In its place, a better map, easier to decipher, has clearer quest markers and uses a real indicator showing you the best way to reach your goal. It’s hard to overstate how amazing this improvement is and how much nicer the game is because of it.
That said, the next Xenoblade Chronicles game must absolutely fix the quest and NPC systems in the series. Affinity graphics and dynamic quest lines that change depending on when you complete them or in what order are correct, but they lack meaning without any meaning attached to them and the characters they revolve around.
The improvements in Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition go further than that too. Fortunately, the menus are completely revised. Changing equipment is a breeze, although I can’t help but wish we had the option of equipping the equipment as soon as it was purchased.
The colors are lighter and lighter, the text is easier to read and there is even a mode option that allows you to define the appearance of your character regardless of the equipment he is equipped with. It’s a minor but much appreciated touch that allows you to decide which equipment seems best to you or to go crazy and mix completely independent looks.
Another major overhaul is the soundtrack for Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition. The original was not bad at all, but the Definitive Edition version is so good. The remastered soundtrack is almost always better, more complete and more complex. Even songs that seem strange out of context, like “Engage The Enemy” with its new inclusion of opera, just work in the game itself.
The fight remains the same, but it’s okay. If you have mastered the combat of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you may find the combat here a bit simple at first. But there is actually more going on than you think.
XC2’s fight ends up focusing on creating huge combos as often as possible, and you can make up for the time it takes to develop the arts by swapping between the blades. Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition allows you to strategize a little more, both with the arts you equip on each character and how you use them.
Each art has a cooldown. So if you spam them all at the same time in major battles, you won’t win very easily. Instead, you want to plan how you use them, rely on buffs and debuffs, and pay more attention to combat positioning for your Arts to have a better effect.
It also means it’s a good idea to change your group more often, as each character has unique attributes that could make the difference between winning and being referred to the last benchmark.
Some fights require an escape tank like Dunban, while others require you to supplement your healers with support arts and use chain attacks to inflict damage and support the group. It’s just complex enough without being overwhelming or slipping, and yes, the constant calls during the battle remain intact for better or for worse.
Definitive Edition adds expert and casual modes if you also need a harder or easier challenge, which is great for accessibility or if you just want to make a difference.
So, in short, there are a number of quality of life improvements with much better visuals and superior soundtrack. It’s still the same game, but it’s also a great game to start with. These improvements make it even better.
Which brings us to the only absolutely new inclusion, Future Connected. It’s an epilogue that takes place a year after the main story of the game ended, but it’s not as meaty in plot as Torna: The Golden Country.
It is also something of a mixed bag. As usual, Bionis’ shoulder is just begging to be explored, but you feel the lack of significant rewards a little more sharply here – especially if you’ve just spent nearly 80-100 hours with the main game doing the same thing.
You will probably also like or hate Nopon Rangers. While I’m not sure it works best as a quest and battle gadget, they act as a good way to break the tension, as well as the many moments of calm (read: new heart to heart) that you will arrive through.
On the positive side, you have a fine-tuned combat system to master with this thing at the end of the main story. I hope you learned to play as Melia during the main game, as she is quite important in Future Connected. And she is also the main target of the plot, which is good considering that her story has the biggest hanging sons of all at the end of Xenoblade Chronicles.
Is this resolved in the Future Connected? Not really. But other than that which apparently serves as a runway for future Xenoblade Chronicles games (hence the name), it’s a testament to the world and themes created by Monolith for the original game. The chance to see another episode unfold in this world and find out what happens after the great victory is convincing in itself, and it is really worth living.
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition review – The Bottom Line
- Another great story and world
- Thoughtful fight
- Essential improvements in quality of life
- Stellar soundtrack
- Visuals no longer burn your eyes
- Future Connected offers good plot development after the game
- Not everything gets a visual upgrade
- Meh still quests
- Future Connected is also a mixed bag outside of the plot
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is among the best RPGs on the Switch, and that means something. Even if the luminescent lights are not distributed evenly and the quest system is still lacking, the setting, the single combat and the overall package remain as strong now – even stronger – than they were there ago 10 years.