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Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (Switch) Hands-on Preview

by Daan Koopman - May 13, 2020, 6:00 am EDT
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The war between the Bionis and Mechonis finds a newly, improved home.

While 2011 may feel like a lifetime ago, I remember it fondly for a couple of reasons. The big one, in my humble opinion, was Xenoblade Chronicles. It was a Role Playing Game that immediately struck a chord with me. The battle system offered many variables with both fun offensive and defensive offerings. The localisation was British to a tee, which made everything a lot more campy and entertaining. I will freely admit that the menus weren't the best, but for the breadth and depth offered, I was willing to overlook a lot. Now, nine years later, the game returns with the Definitive Edition moniker. The result is actually far more exciting than it sounds on paper.

If you have never played Xenoblade Chronicles before, you are in for a treat. In a world filled with a never ending ocean, two titans are standing and giving life to inhabitants of two separate worlds. There is Bionis, home to organic life, and Mechonis where robots and the humanoids Machina live their days. The player will follow the antics of Shulk, a young Homs (humans) with a knack for machines and weaponry. After an attack on this village, Colony 9, he sets off to find out why Mechon have grown hostile. With a special sword at the ready, the Monado, Shulk is ready to take on the luring threat with everything he has. His journey takes him all across the Bionis, where he meets up with new friends and foes alike.

Explaining what makes Xenoblade Chronicles so great goes hand-in-hand with its characters. Despite the dark clouds hanging over them, the constant theme is hope. Shulk's character is trying to see the best in people and ensuring that everything turns out okay. The Monado lets him see into the future, which he uses to great effect during the journey. Luckily, he doesn't stand alone as he has a growing band of pals he can rely on. The journey starts out with only him and his bulky friend Reyn, but it doesn't take long to see all walks of life come together. Melia, a High Entia princess, is one of my favorites as she is very much conflicted during her arc. The tension felt within the family and higher ranked officials gave me a lot to digest. Sharla, another character you meet early on, has already the harsh reality of the Mechon war and you have to aid in a rough quest.

Speaking of war, let's talk about gameplay. Xenoblade Chronicles is very much an action Role Playing Game, where you move a party of three across various environments. Xenoblade Chronicles' world allows you to go where you please as it opts for an open world blueprint. To go hand-in-hand with this open design, there is a day and night cycle as well as various weather conditions. These impact the people, monsters and options you have at your disposal. For me, it mostly meant that I returned to every location multiple times to witness every little detail. The power of exploring those details is what drives Xenoblade's experience as you complete quests and collect items. It wasn't hard to find something to do and serves as a great breather from the main story line. Everything you do is rewarding, which makes that step away worth it.

Most of my time was spent completing quests. These range from defeating monsters, collecting specific materials or interacting with non-player characters. With the Wii version, this required a lot of effort as information wasn't always well presented. In addition, you were left to your devices in finding the locations you needed. The Definitive Edition changes everything, and brings the quest system more in line with the other entries. The quest menu can be accessed by pressing ZR and then down, allowing you to scroll through your options in an instant. You can choose which quest you want to shoot for, make them your active quest and follow instructions to where you need to be. If the item or person is unavailable, the menu will let you know that too, ensuring that you won't waste any time in your journey. As there are time sensitive quests, I found these tools crucial to get the most out of Xenoblade Chronicles. The fact that I can click in the stick and view the map for quest related icons makes the game flow much nicer.

The changes don't stop there either. The way that the game had its menu set up, both on Wii and New Nintendo 3DS, was rather curious. Instead of a main menu, allowing you to scroll through the options, there was a bar where you would access everything from. While it was manageable, I always prefer to get my maintenance done in one big swoop. My prayers were heard as that is exactly what the developers have changed. The glow-up on the ''Change Equipment'' screen in particular deserves a ton of praise. They have swapped the details around, allowing you to look at everything in a much richer way. On the left, you can see everything is equipped with details presented if you hover over a specific one. The benefits are much more clear to you without making it hard to read. There is also a new submenu, allowing you to rebuild your character from scratch or remove specific parts from a character's outfit. You can lock elements as your favorites, make your appearance separate from the gear you equip and see the impact on stats right away.

Another important set of changes can be found within the Affinity Chart. I can't overstate how crucial this element is to get the most out of the game. Not only will you be building up compassion between the various party members, but also with the bigger world around you. By interacting with villagers and completing quests, the selection of available quests grows at five specific locations. The playable characters will give you benefits as well. As the affinity grows, you can get trades going and get more items you need to clear out specific quests down the line. In the upgraded Affinity Chart, you will get more information on the location in a specific area as well as what items they are currently offering to trade. In addition, you can track them, allowing you to find them much easier for the crucial matters at hand. Of course, other information like their availability of time is still available as well.

I could, honestly, be talking about the menus forever. That being said, there are a few more things I want to highlight before moving on. The Collectopaedia, one of my favorite side quests in the original Xenoblade, has had a visual upgrade that makes it look far nicer than before. Every page features more color, photos of various locales and a clear indication of everything that has been collected. There are photos surrounding the book, allowing you to find your favorite locations even quicker than before. For every row or page completed, you get items, which makes going for a fully completed book much more fun. In a similar sense, I really like what they've done with the Achievements menu. You can easily see what is required, how much experience you will earn and how difficult the task at hand is. Finally, there is now a dedicated system menu, which can be entered by pressing the +-button. It is here that you save, load, look at tutorials or tinker around with the options. You can change displays, adjust dialogue speed and choose between the original and the newly arranged soundtrack.

When it comes to the battle system, the least has changed I feel. That being said, that really isn't a knock against it. The player moves around the enemy, and your character automatically attacks throughout the process. The urgency comes not only from placing your character right, but throwing in the bigger moves at the right exact moment. Each character available will gradually get access to a variety of offensive and defensive Battle Arts attacks that will change the way you play. Reyn, for example, uses a big shield-gunlance that is suitable for a variety of situations. His Sword Drive attack can do a massive amount of damage, while Guard Shift is used to shield others from impact. The Arts can't be used endlessly, and some need to be charged first, but it is beneficial to use various attacks anyway.

Regardless of set-up, I am finding myself having Shulk and Sharla in my party most of the time. Shulk's Monado attacks are crucial in most situations, while Sharla can heal anybody in an instant with her gun. Obviously, it comes down to how you want to play, but striking that balance is incredibly important to me. I think that is why I like the battle system in the Xenoblade games so much: freedom. Despite not having complete control over each move a character makes, you can force their hand to adjust to your playing style. By performing well, you can fill up a special Party Gauge and work together in flashy chain attacks. These are absolute highlights as you string together your favorite attacks both for damage as well as status effects.

While there aren't many mechanical changes, the battle screens reaffirm that freedom you now have. The critical information, like the health of your allies, has been made smaller. This makes it take up less of the screen, allowing you to see the battlefield with less overall clutter. Just like the other Xenoblade games, the enemy information is now at the top of the screen. Once again, this is done to have less of a sensory overload, and focus on the task at hand. While there are smaller status bars and icons for everybody within the battle radius, they overlap less and are much easier to read in the heat of the moment. I lost battles in the original due to oversight, but that has happened way less this time around. I had reservations when I noticed that they removed the additional colors for Arts and character information, but that is totally unfounded looking back at it. In fact, the changes made it hard to ever look back at the original Wii version of Xenoblade Chronicles.

Like I mentioned before, Xenoblade Chronicles has a world where you can freely go and explore. To me, the world is just as important a character as anything else in this game. It is entertaining to visit the various landmarks, finding the Secret Areas and looking for those crannies that offer the game's unique aspects. With the Definitive Edition, the load between areas feels much lighter even if monsters don't appear until you move closer. The game's fast travel is snappier, allowing you to move back and forth quickly for specific quests. It was much more compelling to keep playing longer as Xenoblade's overall flow has been impacted positively. Because I did a lot of story upfront, I found myself going back to Colony 9 when I made a significant process. I basically was able to do a bunch of quests under an hour, thanks to continuous fast traveling and the new quest options.

In terms of visual prowess, you can clearly see that they put a lot of time into updating the character designs. The original game on Wii gave the characters this weird realistic look, mostly due to the limitations they were working with. With the Definitive Edition, the models feel much more in line with the other games in the series. The more fantastical style brings the characters much more alive in cutscenes and general interactions. The emotion is much paupable, once again forcing me into playing that teensy bit longer. While the locales don't look half bad, they aren't the clean up that some are expecting. Locales like Satorl Marsh and Eryth Sea certainly look nicer, particularly at night, but elements like the ground textures have only been updated slightly. You can see similar results when you look at the water, grass and other small graphical elements. This isn't the end of the world, but it’s worth mentioning at least.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition offers both the original and the new arranged soundtrack. Are there key differences between both? Absolutely. You see, the instrumentation has clearly been made from the ground up. It uses the original soundtrack as a blueprint, but the new version adds additional tones that didn't leave me cold. One of the most recognizable songs is Gaur Plain, which I'm going to use as the example here. The music is a bit boombastic, highering up the lower ends of the song. In other instances throughout the song, instruments heard in the background have been changed altogether. The result is that the songs are the same in theming alone. Personally, I think there is a place for both, which makes it great that both options are available. From all the songs I heard, I've been pleasantly surprised how they were updated and didn't feel like I was clamoring for the originals. The updated versions from Colony 9, Frontier Village and Satorl Marsh have really surprised me so far.

The new version of Xenoblade Chronicles is certainly ''Definitive'', at least what I played of it. The many changes made benefit how the game is played, bringing a more well rounded experience to the Nintendo Switch. The menus, quests and mechanical changes make it more in line with the other games in the series. I am finding the game more enjoyable in longer chunks, particularly as I can keep going to complete tasks. While the visuals may not be the overhaul some are expecting, the character models and cutscenes are genuinely nice looking. There is more feel to them, making the story that much more gripping. The remastered soundtrack is different as well, mostly down to the changes in instrumentation. There is a different approach to the music, but the soul hasn't been lost. All in all, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition promises a grand journey for both newcomers and veterans alike.

Are you wondering about the new content in the epilogue Future Connected? We have a separate hands-on available right here. It discusses some story elements and the various gameplay changes!

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Game Profile

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Box Art

Genre RPG
Developer Monolith Software Inc.

Worldwide Releases

na: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
Release May 29, 2020
eu: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
Release May 29, 2020
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