With even more still left for me to discover, playing Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition has been a constantly breathtaking experience. Right from the reflective notes that open Yoko Shimomura’s stirring main theme on the title screen, returning to this Monolith Soft-developed role-playing game has undoubtedly been something to savour.
I can’t quite believe that a decade has passed since the original game was released on Wii, and, after a miraculous port to New Nintendo 3DS in 2015, it has now received the high-definition upgrade that this once surprisingly ambitious adventure has long deserved. Seemingly remade using the engine created for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the immediate enhancements are clear to see but there are also shortcomings that continue to persist.
There will be those experiencing Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition’s captivating tale for the first time, and so, in short, your adventure is set on a world that was once nothing more than an endless sea cloaked in a boundless sky. It is explained that two colossal titans came into existence – the Bionis and the Mechonis – who became locked in a timeless battle until only their lifeless corpses were all that remained. Eons have passed since that time, and now those that dwell on the remains of the Bionis have fallen under attack from mechanical creatures known as the Mechon.
This relentless war between man and machine is the crux to the game’s storyline, in which, after the Mechon suddenly attack his home, protagonist Shulk wields the Monado and discovers that the divine sword grants him the power of foresight – allowing him to witness visions of the future with enough time to attempt to avert disaster.
The Monado is believed to be a gift from the Bionis, and, imbued with an otherworldly power, is the only weapon that can slice through otherwise impenetrable Mechon armour. Driven by his desire for revenge, Shulk sets out to repel the Mechon invasion and learn the secrets behind the blade that he now carries.
Even 10 years on, the emotive storytelling in Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition holds true. The character models have been greatly improved, and their extra detail allows the game’s many cutscenes and Heart-to-Heart interactions to have a far greater impact compared to what came before. The best part being that the new Event Theatre allows you to rewatch them whenever you wish, freely able to change the equipment that your party are wearing, the time of day and weather conditions for each scene.
The world’s scale still manages to impress. Whether descending into Tephra Cave located in the shin of the Bionis to the great watery expanse of Eryth Sea on the titan’s head, Monolith Soft succeeded in creating a world and ecosystem that feels interconnected in a way unlike many other games that I have played. There’s tremendous freedom to how you can explore the world, and, as you start to discover more Landmarks, you will be able to use these warp points to quickly travel to any region when needed. You’ll still need to run for your life from Level 81 Territorial Rotbart on Gaur Plain early on in your adventure, though.
Your chances of defeating an enemy can be seen from their Danger Level, a colour-coded system that ranges from Easy (Grey), Weak (Blue), Equal (White), Strong (Yellow) and Danger (Red). Whenever you choose to engage an enemy that’s roaming in the wild, the combat system, broken down to the basics, revolves around dealing steady damage and building your Talent Gauge with Auto-Attacks. You can then choose to perform the more powerful Arts that your chosen character has learned from the Battle Palette at the base of the screen to deal extra damage, heal your party or inflict a status condition.
As with other games in the Xenoblade series, your goal is to first inflict Break, then Topple and lastly Daze on your enemies. This will temporarily prevent them from being able to attack or move, while allowing your characters to deal more devastating attacks without increasing aggro. It’s harder to inflict Break on larger enemies such as the game’s many bosses, for which you will need to use a Chain Attack which you can perform once the Talent Gauge has filled. It sounds far more complicated that it actually is, and, with Tutorials to learn from and refer to, even relative newcomers to the genre can expect to grasp what is expected from them.
A ‘Tension’ mechanic is also implemented, ranging from panicked to focused with levels being visible through the expression of character portraits on-screen. With a high level of tension (focused) your party members will have a better chance of scoring a critical hit within combat and less chance of missing an attack. Those with low tension can be boosted by approaching them in battle and pressing B to ‘Encourage’ them, and similarly if a party member falls foul of a debuff or becomes incapacitated you’ll have to run across to them.
Those that are picking up Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition purely to experience the story can activate Casual Mode to “lower the difficulty of battles,” which, as far as I can tell, reduces the amount of health (or Hit Points) that every enemy has. Whereas there is an Expert Mode awaiting those that seek a greater challenge, which essentially lets you choose to level up individual characters in your party with any experience points that you have earned. This essentially similarly to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, without the need to rest before deciding whether to level up your party.
Another addition comes in the Time Attack mode, accessed from orange futuristic-looking portals in the world. This is where you will find the Nopon Archsage who will let you participate in challenges to earn Noponstone that can be exchanged for rewards, with more unlocked as you progress through the story. There are Free battles that will let you choose your party formation, whereas Restricted challenges will only let you fight with fixed party members. You will be scored on your performance based on your Clear Time and other bonuses to calculate your overall rank – the higher the rank, the more Noponstone you are rewarded with.
There are more improvements beyond this. Side quests that see you hunting particular monsters, seeking materials or searching for an item are more clearly marked on the game’s minimap, which is invaluable in saving you time. Your party’s equipment no longer needs to look like a patchwork effort, now granting you more control over their appearance while still keeping your strongest weapons and armour equipped. Although, you will need to unlock these as you progress. You can also check the reconstruction requirements for Colony 6 at any time, although I wish that there was more direction in where to find the materials that you need. And then in battle, if an Art can cause bonus damage when attacking your target from the side or behind, an exclamation mark now indicates when you’re in the right position.
For those that have already seen Shulk’s adventure with his companions through to its rousing conclusion, the greatest attraction here will be Xenoblade Chronicles: Future Connected. I came to this new epilogue content after 60-hours spent beating the main game. Set one year after the game’s concluding events, Shulk and Melia have set out in search for Alcamoth but, after discovering it, their ship – the Junks – is shot down and crash lands on the Bionis’ Shoulder. I won’t say much more than that, but know that the epilogue will add another 20 hours to your play time for those wanting to see everything that it has to offer.
You will have to chance to party up with Kino and Nene – two of Heropon Riki’s children from the main game – as well as the Ponspectors, an elite band of surveyors from Frontier Village that you can befriend. There are 12 Ponspector brigade members to recruit, with the benefit that they each have a signature move that can be used to help you in battle.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Future Connected also introduces Quiet Moments, which are more easily accessible scenes that look to broaden the relationships between the game’s characters. From those that I have seen, these are surprisingly lengthy and complimented by the fact that they are fully-voiced. This goes to show that the epilogue has not been approached half-heartedly, and I hope that others will love Kino as much as I do.
The 80-odd hours that I have spent with Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition has been split between playing docked in TV Mode and seeing how the experience holds up in Handheld Mode. Lessons have been learned from the technical shortcomings seen in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Warping between Landmarks remains to be a quick process, and, this time around, you shouldn’t expect to see textures and assets loading in as you arrive.
The battle HUD and menu screens are much improved, while the soundtrack – with certain tracks having been remastered or remixed – is an even more phenomenal treat for your ears than it was before. It is in the game’s cutscenes that the visual upgrades excel, but, as it has emerged this week, the resolution in general gameplay is a disappointment. There was never a moment where I would say that Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition ever became unplayable – I certainly found that the frame rate was consistent – but, comparable to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the graphical fidelity is lower than many would have hoped to expect.
Still, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition delivers an outstanding adventure that will linger long in your memory as ranking among the best JRPG experiences ever created. This remake is undoubtedly the definitive way to uncover the secrets behind the Monado, that, despite some imperfections, has seen Monolith Soft meaningfully modernise Shulk’s grandiose journey across the sprawling Bionis and beyond.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo