Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition Review – A Classic WiiMade
Announced in 2009 with the title Monado: Beginning of the World, the story of what would become Xenoblade Chronicles had its numerous complications, but the product became one of Nintendo’s most beloved new franchises gracing every new platform since its conception on the Wii. Westerners nearly missed out on the original game altogether; a Japanese launch in 2010 seemed like the end of the line for the game until a fan-driven campaign called “Operation Rainfall” was launched to bring Xenoblade, along with two other gestating JRPGs, Pandora’s Tower and The Last Story. Launching to critical acclaim, before then spawning 2 successors and a 3DS iteration, the Xenoblade Chronicles IP has quickly built a reputation for deep, engaging RPG systems. In 2020, Xenoblade Chronicles is going back to its roots, bringing a definitive edition to the Switch. A decade since the original launch, can the magic of the Wii Classic be recaptured?
The original game already boasted an extremely powerful, yet, despite its spectacular nature, still quite grounded, plot, that, a decade on, still hold up phenomenally in a time where narrative in games has progressed in leaps and bounds. There are of course some moments that prompt the occasional cringe, but the overwhelming portion of the game is still unwavering in its gravitas. Character growth is one of the most prominent, underlying themes, as Shulk and the team grapple with the weight and consequences of the war between Bionis and Mechonis. The already sweet narrative cake, has a wonderful cherry placed atop it in the form of Future Connected, a 12-14 hour (plus more with side quests) additional story set on the Bionis’ shoulder a year removed from the conclusion of the main game that focuses on Melia and Shulk. The Bionis’ shoulder was a region initially developed, but ultimately cut, from the initial launch, but has been reworked, and expanded upon to play host to this fascinating additional story that features extra twists and more, all exclusive to that expansion. The greatest part of all of this is that for the hardened Xenoblade Chronicles fan who has played the original, and maybe even the 3DS take, they don’t need to replay the game yet again to access Future Connected. It’s available from the moment you boot the game from the main menu.
More paramount than narrative in any JRPG is the playing experience, namely the combat because it’s where the majority of your 80+ hours with Xenoblade Chronicles is going to be spent. Thankfully the action-centred combat still holds up, and if anything, has improved thanks to some tiny quality of life tweaks, and the lack of Wiimote that hindered the original release. The automated attacks (ala Final Fantasy XII), combined with the constant toggling between ‘Arts’ still feels fantastic, though there is a present degree of helplessness that you’ll feel as you’re stripped of control of all but the leader of your party, and will often look on helplessly as your partners bite off more than they can chew, leading to some desperation from you as you attempt to pick up the pieces. Strategic upgrading and equipping your arts, for both yourself, and your party is of utmost importance, especially if you know what you’re heading into, as enemies become more diverse, and boast more lethal combinations of techniques the deeper into the game you progress. The same also applies to your equipment and socketable gems. At surface level, your equipment will boost/diminish your physical/ether attack or defence, and that will often suffice to get you through standard encounters, but with certain gear possessing extra sockets to insert stat-boosting gems into, strategic dispersal of those gems can give the player an extra edge in the more gruelling encounters. Nearly a decade on and Xenoblade Chronicles still boasts layers to combat that other franchises only dream about implementing and executing upon as well.
One thing that wasn’t so well implemented in 2010 and is perhaps even more frustrating now, are the games hundreds of mundane, menial side-quests, that while are often easy to accomplish, rarely amount to more than “Kill 5 of bothersome monster X” or “please find Y that I dropped in this field surrounded by dangerous monsters”, and the way they’re distributed is equally as frustrating. Some NPCs will have multiple side-quests for you, but you won’t know that until you interact with them, accept the first (which forces you to sit through some fairly dull dialogue about a bland, irrelevant life story), before discovering that they have yet another quest, which requires you to then sit through more bland exposition. Some characters will have 4+ quests on offer, and it makes you wish for a Quest Board style alternative to organise your quests and give the player agency over what they do/don’t want to hear.
One of the more heavily scrutinised aspects of any modern remaster is, of course, the audio/visual overhaul, and it’s quite striking the changes made to bring the 2012 SD Wii release up to a modern standard. Character models, in particular for the main cast, shine, while the secondary and tertiary characters have also received a bit more love than what you’d see from a typical remaster. The world design, which impressed everyone in 2012 (for us Westerners) is realised better than ever now thanks to the HD glow up, making the open fields of Gaur Plains the wonderful shapely mountains and ravines in the distance and the menacing Mechonis overhead look breathtaking. Where things do take a hit visually are when you pop your Switch out of the dock to take it on the road with you with the aforementioned gorgeous vistas looking more like the original release than something you’d expect in 2020.
The already stunning soundtrack has received some extra love with time only treating the game kindly in this department. Character voice-acting can be grating at times (which can sometimes be expected of a localised JRPG), but by and large, the team have done an excellent job to add weight to the written dialogue with some sensational voice-work.
It’s hard not to be awestruck by what Monolith Soft has achieved in revitalising this classic Wii title, bringing it to a new generation and giving it the tender love and care that it so obviously deserves. We’ve seen the franchise grow in multiple different directions since the original launch, but to lift the original title up to the standard that we expect of modern games, with some UI improvements and a shiny coat of new paint, and unlock a hefty new chapter in the franchise as well demonstrates a great love internally at Nintendo and MonolithSoft, matching the love from the fans. Xenoblade Chronicles was a must-have for any JRPG fan back in 2010-2012, and now, nearly a decade on, thanks to this remaster, that proclamation is even more true.
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition was reviewed on the Switch with code kindly supplied by Nintendo Australia.