When Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition ended the September Nintendo Direct of last year as the "one more thing" surprise, I let out a long sigh. There was only one Nintendo game reveal and it was a remaster of a Wii title. So, of course, my only reaction was "Great, there goes at least 100 hours of my summer."
While this is a review of a remastered game, I did not play the original release and thus I cannot compare them too easily. This is not a review of the Definitive Edition of Xenoblade Chronicles, this is a review of Xenoblade Chronicles (Definitive Edition), and a spoiler-free review at that. This was a new game for me and I assume it will be the same for most Switch players, only knowing it as the game with the Monado Boy from Smash--the optimally blind way to play.
Xenoblade Chronicles is the pinnacle of huge. It is a JRPG, so it’s naturally big. It’s a Monolith Soft title, so it is packed edge to edge with content. But above all, the unique world scale of Xenoblade is what sets it apart. The Monado journey takes place on two massive titans, the Bionis and the Mechonis. These are sprawling continent-sized vertical giants with worlds living on them. While there are games with bigger worlds and larger scales, this unique setting of verticality combined with the ominous titan parts always visible in the surrounding skies immediately sets the adventure up as something original. You know within the first ten minutes of stepping into Shulk’s shoes that this adventure is probably going to be extraordinary—and it is.
On these gigantic, worldly beings, Shulk and his friends have to go on a “definitely a JRPG” journey that involves friendships and exploration and discovery of the Monado’s power—the legendary sword that Shulk finds a connection with. I really can’t expand on explaining the story because it’s fully worth experiencing blind, there are twists that I didn’t expect even within the introductory chapters and it continues to surprise well into the adventure. It is an excellent, deep story; that’s all you should need to know.
Combat. Yeah, it’s got combat. The battle system is an active-turn-based situation. Your selected group of three each has customizable loadouts of skills that can be used after charging, alongside each fighter auto-attacking over time. Initially it seems like the game could play itself, but smart and quick use of skills is required to take down enemies. Most of the skills loosely combo off of each other, so a lot of the excitement comes from discovering optimal set-ups for quickly taking down monsters alongside figuring out which characters you prefer to control and which are better managed by the AI. It’s a lot of fun, has extreme depth, and continues to expand throughout the journey, and that’s about all I can hope for in this genre.
Something I did notice early on was a feeling of outdated-ness in the leveling. It felt like I needed to grind before most bosses even when I had been fighting a lot of battles along the way. To me, that is a relic of outdated game design and XP grinding should be reserved to the endgame in order to keep the pace of the journey engaging. Luckily, Definitive Edition features some new options: Casual Mode and Expert Mode. Expert Mode gives experienced players the ability to reduce their level to fine-tune the difficulty while Casual Mode is essentially an "I don't want to grind right now" button. The enemy levels work differently than I'd expect based on other JRPGs, rather than the focus being on the stats in fights, the level difference plays a huge role. Sometimes one level would seem to be the difference between being unable to scratch a boss and being able to finish it in seconds. Because of this and my resentment towards level grinding, I found Casual Mode to act as a beautiful bandage on what could have felt like an out-dated experience. Others' experiences will likely differ, but having these options greatly improved my enjoyment of the game.
Alongside the combat, exploration plays a key role in the gameplay, and the two work off of each other well. There is a sense of symbiosis between moments of exploration and combat because of how seamless the experience is. Combat mode is almost always a button press away so the party can run right up to enemies and take them down without any loading between. Something magical is present within the way it is handled. Slowly exploring the world full of serene music, transitioning into the eruption of battle music to take down enemies, it adds up to a single feeling that the world is trying to convey: slow melancholic progress with action-filled beats, similarly to the story presentation. I felt this strongest while exploring the snowfield region. When night fell, the music turned into a soothing, nostalgic melody that made me set the controller down and take in the world. This is a world that begs you to take a breath and consume its atmosphere to the fullest. Soon after the moment of relaxation, enemies interrupted and the music transitioned to the hype battle theme and not-so-subtly reminded me of the peril and urgency of the quest. It pushed me forward and complimented the feelings of the story through gameplay and exactly showed me that Xenoblade is a game confident in what it is trying to do at every moment, even in the downtime between the exciting highs and grinding battles.
Like most every RPG, Xenoblade has its highs and lows, but the symbiotic nature of the experience makes everything blend into a perfect unity where you know you’re feeling what the developers wanted you to feel. Even the characters’ personalities and relationships are developed during gameplay with their constant battle banter that I shamefully loved to hear. Once again it just further unifies everything by enhancing the character-driven narrative in the best way a game can: through gameplay.
Visually, I can’t say the presentation is fully that great. This is a Wii game, and that even shines through the decently stylized art. Environments looks a little gross at times and places without grass can look way flat. The world design and art does triumph sometimes however, and I found that over time the little ugly annoyances were less frequent. Some areas are fully beautiful and the scale of the titans is always impressive, so much so it reaches a point where you can ignore some low polygon textures and Wii-quality assets. The biggest obvious improvement is in the character models, the faces in Definitive Edition are less gritty and more anime, which is somehow objectively better. Overall the visual quality of the game is lacking slightly compared to similar games even on the same hardware, but it hardly matters in the grand scheme of things. It does, however, pale in comparison to the other aspect of presentation: the music.
Ooooh boy is this game a treat for the ears. The orchestral magic presented here is top notch. Every area’s theme for night and day is a perfect encapsulation of the visual vibe. So many tracks, be it in the environment, battle, cutscenes, are incredible in and out of the game. So many times I felt the music adding real value to the feeling in the moment. So many times in cutscenes, the music synced up in a perfect goosebump-inducing way. I love the soundtrack of this game so incredibly much and the few improved tracks from the original release justify the remaster on their existence alone.
And while the music, story quality, engaging gameplay, originally gross visuals, and more, was definitely enough justification to remaster Xenoblade Chronicles, those tricky game workers decided to throw in a large extra. “Future Connected,” as it’s called, is an epilogue story that utilizes unfinished content from the original release to further develop Melia’s character. It is splendid. When I was nearing the end of the base adventure, its existence was a calming assurance that I would get to spend more time in the world even after the climax, and when I did begin the extra story, I was pleased with the feeling of higher quality since it had been crafted ten years after the base content.
Xenoblade Chronicles was ahead of its time—almost exactly 10 years ahead. Now that Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition has released, its time is now. Xenoblade stands tall among the other titans of the genre with its individuality and heart that will now continue to touch players for years to come and perform well in the test of time. This is an all-time great that deserved a remaster and more than certainly deserves your time. If you are a JRPG fan who hasn’t played XC, you are more than likely already planning on it. If you have already played it, you probably love it enough to double-dip for Future Connected. And finally, if you fit in neither of those categories, I recommend Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch family of systems.
After finishing this title, Xenoblade Chronicles, I went back to 2017's Xenoblade Chronicles 2. While the games differ significantly, playing these renowned titles allowed me to personally discover what might possibly be the JRPG franchise with the most potential. This is Nintendo's Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest, and the ideas present here make the future of the series packed with unparalleled potential. Hopefully within this decade, I might be back here discussing Xenoblade Chronicles 3. There is little doubt in my mind that it too will be a masterpiece for the ages. If you're reading this review, you're probably already a fan of Xenoblade Chronicles or are at least open to the idea of playing it. If you are in the latter group or the opposite, do not pass on giving this series a shot, for the story and heart within them will undoubtedly move you. Finally, if you're thinking, "why does Caden keep going on about these silly Japan games," I, too, wish I knew why.