For Western gamers, delays between a native Asian release and subsequent release in the West are part and parcel of the world. There are even times when games simply do not get a release on our shores, and that would have been the case for Xenoblade Chronicles had Operation Rainfall not existed. Rainfall was a fan campaign to get three Japanese RPGs released in the West: Pandora’s Tower, The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles. Of these three, Xenoblade Chronicles was the most commercially and critically successful, but it released on an aging Nintendo Wii console.
Since then it received a competent port onto the new Nintendo 3DS but that didn’t really increase the fanbase as this ‘new’ version of the 3DS only had four games released specifically for it, but older generation consoles couldn’t play this version.
Now though, the third release of Xenoblade Chronicles – this time on the Nintendo Switch – has finally found a home, and the Definitive Edition lives every bit up to its’ name.
Xenoblade Chronicles starts with the culmination of a battle between two titans, the Bionis and the Mechonis. By the time the dust settles, small pockets of life have started to sprout from the frozen corpses of these behemoths. On one, the Bionis, organic lifeforms have made it their home; on the other, the Mechonis, more mechanical beings have laid their foundations.
Much like their titans were beforehand, these races have been in a state of perpetual war.
Those that live on Bionis, AKA the Homs, have a weapon at their disposal that can eliminate the Mechon – those that live on Mechonis. Known as the Monado, it is a mysterious sword that only allows certain people to hold it.
At the start of Xenoblade Chronicles we are introduced to a young man named Shulk, who is about to become the latest wielder of the curious blade.
Xenoblade Chronicles is an action-JRPG that plays like a merging of old and new: older, more traditional JRPGs reminiscent of Final Fantasy on the original PlayStation, but then with the move away from turn-based to a more action-oriented approach.
This is the Definitive Edition don’t forget, so some new features are expected. Most appear to be smaller, quality of life improvements including enhanced visuals and a new control scheme. But there is also a remastered soundtrack which is absolutely top-drawer, and an epilogue that is playable from the main menu from the beginning. Something for the returning fans, but for newcomers it is best to leave this until the completion of the main game, some 35+ hours of content.
Throughout his journey, Shulk will be accompanied by several characters, some who will join him throughout, others for brief, fleeting moments. One of the longer staying characters is his partner-in-crime, Reyn. Whereas Shulk is quite reserved and meticulous in his approach to things, Reyn is often the hot-headed one. Both have battle mechanics to suit their personalities: Shulk is able to bark orders and far more tactically plan a battle out whereas Reyn acts like a tank absorbing all the damage.
It has always been one of the joys of old-school JRPGs, meeting these characters on your quest that then turn into party members, and the surprise that comes from this when one suddenly pops up. Xenoblade Chronicles offers this same joy, with a decidedly more modern battle system.
First up, this feels more like a battle system ripped straight from an MMORPG; not only are your enemies visible on screen as opposed to random encounters, but the system itself will feel very familiar to those accustomed to MMOs. When targeting an enemy, your party will start auto-attacking, whilst a menu appears to the bottom half of the screen detailing a number of special attacks. All of these attacks are on a cooldown but when executed offer buffs and debuffs that can be combined with other member’s attacks to perform combos and ultimately topple enemies so they are unable to attack for a brief period.
Positioning is also important, as many of Shulk’s attacks will do more damage if you are attacking from the side or even behind. In that sense, enemy aggro and controlling who they are targeting becomes an almost essential battle mechanic to ensure Shulk and co. can unleash their best attacks whilst blindsiding the enemies.
In between dungeons and towns are wide-open spaces that offer some gorgeous vistas. Even on a Nintendo Switch Lite, this is one of the best-looking games on the platform and often when playing I am amazed that such a small piece of kit can run games like this. Of course, this comes at a price however, and that is that your battery will drain fairly quickly whilst on the go.
But it pays to be aware during these vistas as well because even from the very early stages on Xenoblade Chronicles, high level enemies will stalk across the areas. They are typically docile unless provoked, but you don’t want to run any risk by getting too close.
When not journeying through dungeons or exploring towns, Xenoblade Chronicles has a ton of other activities to distract you. And it has a nasty habit of bombarding you with these in the early hours, which does overwhelm. There is a hugely addictive collecting minigame where you collect blue orbs on the ground to fill pages in your collectopedia. Finish a page or subsection for a specific area and you are rewarded with gems to place in sockets on weapons and armour.
But armour can also be customised to look any way that you like by applying skins to your overall appearance to suit your demands. These customisations then appear in the cutscenes, which can also be replayed to your delight from the main menu.
Then there is the arena mode – which is self-explanatory – and the Heart-to-Hearts. These are optional cutscenes that can be triggered at specific locations if the two characters in question have an affinity rating high enough with each other. The Affinity Chart is yet another optional bit of fun where you can forge relationships with other party members and townspeople by trading and offering gifts. These cutscenes offer more emotional gut punches in a game that is already full of them.
And all this is without even mentioning the hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of side quests on offer. Most offer very generic names – such as Monster Quest 2 – Part 3 for example – but these will be your main method of earning coin. Thankfully, these automatically complete once objectives have been met, so you don’t need to spend time backtracking to the quest giver to earn the reward.
Having come into the Definitive Edition blind, one thing that surprised me was that everyone on Bionis talks with a British accent. Whilst the accents don’t necessarily highlight the diversity of our accents ie. anything north of London, the voice acting is generally very good as well.
Xenoblade Chronicles on Nintendo Switch may not typically be said in the same breath as other top-tier Nintendo IPs such as Animal Crossing or Zelda, but with the Definitive Edition it definitely deserves to be. This is a hugely comprehensive JRPG that is a brilliant mix of old-school storytelling and modern gameplay. Whilst it does bombard players initially with the sheer amount of things to do, spend a bit of time with them and you will understand their importance in the grander scheme of things. The only issue with that is they may detract you from playing through the story, which is hugely entertaining, emotional and nostalgic. Which isn’t really an issue at all.
Release date: May 2020
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review)