Title: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
Developer: Monolith Soft
Release Date: May 29th, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii might just be the best JRPG of its console generation. This is relevant, as Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition takes the core gameplay and adds so much quality-of-life to the mix that I’m confident in calling it the best console JRPG of its console generation. Again.
Xenoblade Chronicles fills the niche sub-genre of a single-player MMO. Much like Final Fantasy 12, players will find large open explorable areas with access to a plethora of side-quests from named NPCs, which typically range from item collecting, monster hunting, or item delivery. To further this MMO experience, even the combat resembles an MMO, with auto-attacks supplemented by a hot-bar of commands tied to cooldowns.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition doesn’t make many changes to the core of this, but does import some quality-of-life features from the next-most-recent release in the series, Xenoblade Chronicles 2. One new feature has a shoulder button points you to the current main quest objective or sidequest destination. This will also mark enemies you need to hunt and show what item orbs contain what you need. Compared to the feeling of needing to pull up a guide for the original, Definitive Edition is already a lot more manageable.
It’s though to continue to talk about Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition without continuing to draw comparisons to an MMO. You see, there’s just a massive amount of sidequests that tie into the story and make level grinding a thing of the past. Clearing all of the monster-hunting quests and you’ll most likely be at a high enough level to go onto the next area.
The sidequests also push you to explore more of the map – and mind you this is a game that gives players experience for discovering landmarks and hidden locations. However, this does mean that completing sidequests feels less optional and more heavily recommend. They’re designed to give you basic goals while gaining experience and creating less mindless grinding around the stylized open world.
In fact, the world is a major selling point of the game, being the seed from which the rest of the plot was developed. Xenoblade takes place on the bodies of two titans. Your starting area, Colony 9, resides around the ankle of the Bionis, while your ultimate goal is in the other titan, the Mechonis. It’s said that when the concept for the two titans hit Executive Director Tetsuya Takahashi, work began on creating a physical model of the two titans for use as inspiration to the project.
This allows Xenoblade to execute a rare trick. Almost anywhere you stand on the Bionis, parts of the two titans are visible. Incredibly, everything is kept to scale. Sword Valley, where the game’s prologue is set, is clearly shown in the skybox of Gaur Plains, all the way down on the Bionis Knee. Makna Forest’s sky is full of Eryth Sea, the next area. This was impressive on the Wii and looks just as gorgeous with Definitive Edition’s updated graphics.
Though the game isn’t 1080p, I really don’t think that matters. The original game for Wii was beloved for its large sweeping areas, and the Definitive Edition is still in high definition while docked. What’s more important is the appearance of the game-world itself. Beyond the grasslands of the early story, Xenoblade manages lush forests, a desert canyon, coastal floating islands, and glowing swamps. Even the snow area, which is plain during the day, begins glowing gold at night. And complimenting the various biomes offers some of the best music to grace an RPG.
With several composers, among them Yoko Shimomura, the OST is varied. Acoustic guitar and various orchestral instruments comprise the Bionis’ overworld themes, while the battle themes feature the electric guitar. The battle themes, in particular, are an absolute delight, Time To Fight being one of Shimomura’s most engaging battle themes, despite the slower pace.
As mentioned previously, Xenoblade’s battle system takes after MMORPGs. Your characters automatically attack a targeted enemy, if they’re in range. Alongside this, there’s “Arts”, which are bigger attacks tied to cooldowns. Most of these have bonus effects to keep you engaged in combat such as Shulk’s “Back Slash” that deals more damage if used behind an enemy.
Every character also has a unique “Talent Art,” a special skill that can be used once the meter is full. Shulk also has access to a second set of Arts this way, by activating the Monado. These arts are useful for controlling the flow of battle. However, Shulk is a glass cannon and can’t take much punishment. As such, making sure enemies don’t target him is important.
The battle system encourages teamwork and allows you to strategize your attacks against an enemy. You could use a tank-like Reyn to take all the enemies’ aggro, which allowing Shulk to move freely and use his positional attacks to deal more damage.
Battles also directly affect a Party Gauge with three sections that are vital for combat. One segment allows you to revive a fallen party member, and using all three lets you initiate a Chain Attack. Tying into friendship, starting a chain attack gives a small boost to the party’s affinity with each-other.
Of course, the most useful part of the Party Gauge is in relation to Xenoblade’s other major combat mechanic, visions of the future. After gaining the Monado, Shulk begins getting visions of upcoming dangerous attacks. While the best option for dealing with these dangerous attacks is usually Shulk’s Monado arts, having at least one segment of the party gauge filled allows you to warn a fellow party member of the upcoming vision, letting you make them choose a defensive move or a counter.
And visions aren’t just for combat. Shulk’s foresight is also worked into the sidequests, some of them only happening because Shulk wants to prevent a problem, rather than fix one. This only enhances how well each of these features works together in unison both in and out of battles. The gameloop of exploration, combat, quests, and spending quality time with the party is all tied together in one way or another to Shulk’s visions. It may sound messy in concept, but it works out brilliantly in execution.
The main plot is centered on Shulk attempting to defy the disastrous visions. Prophecy might be a cheap way to motivate the plot with a circular “because it happens”, but are visions set in stone? Things become more interesting as you witness how the characters react to their fate and what information they pull from the future they’ve seen. Especially the question of how the visions come to pass.
The adventure’s most endearing qualities are the characters themselves who each have a place in the story that make it feel like you are part of the group as you get to know them. Shulk’s character arc is phenomenal. It’s one thing to have an all-loving hero, but quite another to see a character forced to confront their prejudices and be forced to learn to be loving.
Melia is also important for Definitive Edition’s most major addition – Future Connected, an entirely new epilogue chapter starring Shulk and Melia, set on the Bionis Shoulder. The game recommends you beat the base game before starting, and this isn’t just because of spoilers. You start at Level 60, and Shulk’s Monado Arts are already unlocked. As another restriction, you no longer have access to visions, and though the gameplay is balanced around this change, going in without a firm understanding of the late gameplay elements might leave you confused.
Other than the learning curve, Future Connected is an excellent new chapter. It gives Melia more closure that the original never offered her, which helps make up for all the things she went through. Furthermore, the developers have stated that the epilogue is intended to be a bridge to the future of Xenoblade, so if you’re interested in the series, it’s well worth playing for whatever hints we’ll be able to look back on.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition offers the best way to experience this timeless RPG for again or for the first time. The improvements to the game’s graphics, UI, and battle system make many complaints about the Wii release a thing of the past. Furthermore, the added Future Connected story content bridges the gap of loose story arcs and paves the way for the future of the series. It was a joy to once again group up with these characters and set out to uncover the mysteries of the Monado as this is truly one of the standout JRPGs of this generation.
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