A RPG classic has finally found its true home on Nintendo Switch.
Xenoblade Chronicles has always been one of those games that I adored. From its initial release in Japan until now, I've been raving about the many things the game did right. Even then, however, the adventure did have its fair share of faults, like menus that proved challenging. In 2020, the Definitive Edition makes me remember how it felt playing the original Xenoblade: those first moments on the Gaur Plain, Shulk's lovable personality, and a battle system that I truly adore. It is only when you take a closer peek that the changes made become clear. You get all the positives from before, plus the knowledge Monolith Soft has obtained over the last decade. The result is a game that flew by in the blink of an eye.
The journey of Xenoblade Chronicles can be described in one word: hope. After an attack on his village, Colony 9, the main character Shulk sets off to find out why the robotic Mechon have grown hostile. This will take Shulk all over the two gigantic landmasses, trying to understand what is happening in the world around him. His attitude is something to be admired; he’s trying to see the best in people and ensure that everything turns out okay. The sword he wields, the Monado, lets him see into the future, and that is used heavily throughout the plot. Along the way, he meets other likeable characters that really make the adventure stand out. Everyone gets their moments to shine, but Melia is likely my favorite out of the bunch. Her arc is filled with conflict, resentment, and the feeling of belonging somewhere. It’s incredibly gripping.
The British voice acting is one of my absolute highlights surrounding Xenoblade Chronicles. It doesn't matter if you're meeting simple NPCs or hard-hitting foes, the voice tracks get me pumped every time. Shulk's best buddy Reyn chews the scenery a lot, and the game is all the better for it. At the same time, Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't overdo it and has for the most part believable performances that are a joy to behold. Sharla's arc, which emphasizes the harsh realities of the Mechon war, creates some intriguing moments very early on. The harmony of performance and story can't be overstated and makes for a plot that never comes to a standstill. For a while, it may seem that the journey takes a straight line to the end, but the twists and turns make for a top-tier RPG experience.
When it comes to gameplay, you can basically split everything up into three parts: exploring, questing, and battling. At the center of Xenoblade Chronicles lies a game with an open-world blueprint. You can head off in any direction you like, with a day and night cycle being the deciding factor on who or what you will encounter. I found myself going back to locations multiple times as quests, monsters, and people work on this clock system. The power of discovering 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 this serves as a great breather from the main story line. Everything you do is rewarding, which makes that step away from the main path so worthwhile.
The majority of my playing time was spent playing through quests. These range from defeating monsters, collecting specific materials, or interacting with non-player characters. In the Nintendo Wii version of Xenoblade Chronicles, this required a lot of effort as information wasn't well presented. In addition, you were left to your own devices in terms of finding the locations you needed to visit. The Definitive Edition changes everything, and brings the quest system more in line with other entries in the series. You can choose which quest you want to shoot for, make that your active quest, and follow instructions to where you need to go. 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. This is such a big improvement over the original, with the Quest Log just being two button clicks away.
The battle system is simple in its design principles, which make them not too hard to learn. 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 exact right moment. Each character available will gradually get access to a variety of offensive and defensive Battle Arts abilities that will change the way you play. Everything comes down to how you want to approach battles, though finding a balance in the Arts is crucial. Shulk's Monado attacks are critical in most situations, while Sharla can heal anybody in an instant with her rifle. These two are likely the characters I got the most usage out of in general.
Outside of its fun gameplay quirks, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is defined by its changes. The way that the various menus were set up on Wii and New Nintendo 3DS was less than desirable. As someone who prefers to get upgrading and changes done quickly, it took a while to get everything sorted. The new main menu brings everything together in an accessible place, allowing me to swap between screens on a whim. You can clearly see this with the ''Change Equipment'' screen, where details and options are better presented. The player can quickly swap gear, see the effects of gems and armor, and make that snap decision to keep trucking. The upgraded Affinity Chart gives you more information on the location as well as what items NPCs are currently offering to trade. In addition, you can track individuals, allowing you to find them much easier for the crucial matters at hand.
The battle screens also reaffirm the changes the developers made. 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. 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 visual overload, but that happens way less this time around. The game's fast travel is snappier as well, allowing you to move back and forth quickly. I found myself using the feature a lot more as it helped me to finish off quests in a hurry. Finally, you can change your difficulty, with Casual and Expert options being offered. Now, you will still have to battle skillfully no matter the difficulty, but it will lessen or boost the grind you might be accustomed to.
In addition to the game that we know and love, there is an epilogue included called Future Connected. This 12-hour journey sees Shulk and Melia hop on the long lost Bionis' Shoulder to find out what happened to Melia's homeland Alcamoth. The story basically continues Melia's arc, though Shulk does get some thoughts in as well. There isn't as much story as I would've liked, but it builds on the part you would expect. The scenes, found in the main quest line as well as special Quiet Moments, are all completely voiced and bring back the original cast. In addition, the new Nopon characters Kino and Nene add charm to this new world and are an absolute joy. The adventure is brisk and compact, but made with those who adore the original in mind. The Bionis' Shoulder isn't a massive landmass, but there are many unique attributes that make exploring every nook and cranny fun.
Mechnically, it is mostly the same as the main adventure, but there is one crucial difference: the Ponspectors. These special Nopon surveyors come in three variations: Red (offensive), Blue (healing), and Yellow (debuffing) teams. By completing the quests, they will join your cause and join up in a conga line behind you. When you get them into a High Tension state, they will keep fighting without taking breaks in between. When you get members from each team together, you unlock what replaces the chain attacks in Future Connected. Ponspector Union Strikes are special coordinated attacks that use up all three bars of your Party Gauge, and deal damage to enemies on a wide scale. They are a ton of fun and make the journey of enlisting the Ponspectors very much worth the effort.
When it comes to the overall presentation of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, I consider it to be in the realm of okay to fine. The locales don't look half bad, but don't expect a major overhaul. Locations like Satorl Marsh and Eryth Sea certainly look nicer, particularly at night, but ground textures have only been updated slightly. You can see similar results when you look at the water, grass, and other small graphical elements. On the other end of the spectrum, the character models are fantastic in every sense of the word. They are much more in line with the rest of the series, and the emotion of characters is much more palpable. The interactions feel more alive in cutscenes, making for a more dynamic journey. The game offers both the original and the newly-arranged soundtrack, and the differences are clear as day. The instrumentation has clearly been produced from the ground up, with the songs only being the same in the theming alone. Classics like Colony 9 and Frontier Village really shine brightly with the new musical underlining!
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is the best way to experience a true classic. Many elements have been changed for the better, allowing for a smooth journey through and through. I found myself more entertained by the quest system and adored the set-up of the menus, and the mechanical tweaks make it a joy to play. Xenoblade Chronicles on Nintendo Switch is enjoyable for much longer, which made me fly through the adventure this time around. Sure, there were likely some expecting a grander visual overhaul, but that doesn't take away from the care put into the package. There is even an additional dozen-hour epilogue if you're in the mood for more Xenoblade. All in all, I am just happy that the game still grips me as much as before. Definitive Edition makes me remember why I love Shulk, his world, and all the wonders that come along for the ride.