PREVIEW: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition

Nintendo’s Switch release schedule for 2020 seems pretty bare, we admit. That may understandably be due to delays caused by Coronavirus, of course, but there’s a remaster out later this month which might just take up the rest of your summer.

Xenoblade Chronicles saw its original release in the dying days of the Wii era, and was one of three significant Japanese RPG titles which were the subject of a fan campaign to have heavy-hitting Japan-only titles localised in the West. Termed Operation Rainfall, the campaign proved to be a success – all three of that games crossed the globe, with Pandora’s Tower and The Last Story as the other two. The series is hammered home as one of Nintendo’s signature IP now, with a follow-up, Xenoblade Chronicles X, getting its own Wii U console bundle (a sure-fire sign of Nintendo’s backing if we ever saw one), and then Xenoblade Chronicles 2 hitting the Switch a few years later. Hell, even the first game’s protagonist Shulk has become a member of the Super Smash Bros. roster, and has been given his own amiibo to boot.

Shulk wields the power of the Monado like only Dunban could before him.

But the Xenoblade series is still something of an unknown entity to the vast majority of the Switch audience in the West. Sure, JRPGs have their own dedicated following over here, but other than Pokémon, there isn’t another series that jumps to mind as something just about everyone has played. The first game released at a time where a lot of Wii owners were looking ahead to the next console generation, and so maybe didn’t get a fair crack of the whip. But, further chances to take in the game were to come, as it was released on the Wii U eShop and then as one of a handful of games specifically designed for the New Nintendo 3DS. If all of those releases of the game managed to pass you by, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition on the Switch is a one-size-fits-all introduction point which delivers everything good that the previous versions managed with added extras, most notably an all-new epilogue story.

Dunban and Reyn are two trusted allies of Shulk. Here they are upon hearing Shulk doesn’t subscribe to Switch Player Magazine on Patreon.

Not hooked yet? We’ll continue. This Definitive Edition can be seen as a HD remaster, and you’ll be able to tell from the luscious, sprawling environments, with vast expanses coming into view on the horizon and truly evoking a sense of wonder at the size of each of the game’s areas. Without any fuzzy surfaces in the game’s current visual appearance, the world is so sizeable that at this stage it really is quite dumbfounding that such a location was possible to explore on the humble Wii. There are other improvements – the soundtrack has been remastered and gameplay has been tightened up. The game’s battle system, which blends real-time action with turn-based strategy, will feel more intuitive now than ever.

This is Fiora, another member of the gang.

Experienced Xenoblade Chronicles veterans might, of course, have some reservations at playing through such a long campaign all over again in order to get to the all-new epilogue. They shouldn’t worry – you can access it right from the point you first boot up the game. Future Connected is a story which takes place a year after the events of the main adventure, with Shulk and Melia amongst the characters involved.

Fans of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild should have a decent time here, despite the difference in gameplay styles between the two games. There’s a slight parallel between the stories in the two games too – the scene is set with a story of a great battle which took place years and years in the past. In this case, this was the epic fight between the colossal Bionis and Mechonis. Over time, life was drawn from each of the phenomenally-sized beings, and their carcasses, frozen in time, were so sizeable that an entire eco-system grew upon them.

The Bionis proved to be the home of, amongst other races, the Homs, of which Shunk and his friends Reyn and Fiora are members. Mechonis became the habitat of the Mechons, a metallic race. The Homs and the Mechons continue the eons-old battle between the Bionis and the Mechonis, and the game starts some time in the past with the Mechons proving vastly more powerful than the Homs army. At risk of wipe-out, it is the miraculous intervention of Dunban, who wields the Monado, the only sword at the Homs’ disposal which can deliver any meaningful damage to the Mechon hordes, which saves the day.

Melia is a character with big things in her future who joins the team some way into the adventure.

Fast-forward to the modern day, and the Monado proves a crucial aspect of the story, with hidden abilities unlocked as you make your way through the adventure. It’s a necessity, too – the Mechons make a dastardly return, this time backed by even stronger members with faces which prove impervious to the powers of the Monado.

Mechons are the ever-looming threat in the background of the adventures, but you can battle most of the living beings which roam the lands of the Gaur Plain (think of it as Xenoblade Chronicles’ Hyrule Field). In classic JRPG fashion, animals are based on almost every real-life beings you can think of, from colossal turtles to bats and lizards. There’s a huge range of different enemies to encounter, and battles will be initiated when you get close enough to catch their attention, or simply when you decide to start them with a swing of the Monado. For the most part, you can dodge enemies and they won’t bother you at all, but in order to build up your XP, you’ll have to pick them off as much as you can.

Initiate a battle and your party of three will all take turns to deliver attacks in real-time. You’ll also be presented with a number of different special move options, some of which proving more effective depending on your perspective of the enemy – doing more damage when delivered from behind, for example. You’ll also have Monado skills to use, as well as chain moves which you’ll need to experiment with in order to deal as much damage as possible. Your choice of order and timing in using the special moves is critical, but with free movement during battles you can always work in putting yourself in the right position for super-effective moves while you’re making these decisions. It’s a multi-layered battle system, but one where you’ll get a lot of opportunity time to master it.

Bionis is full of vast landscapes filled with sidequests. You’ll be exploring for hours.

It’s not always battling, though; there’s a sheer avalanche of side-quest missions to tackle during your quest, and you can break off the attention from your main-story missions in order to tackle them just about whenever you like. Some characters will issue you a string of side-quests in succession through keeping talking to them, and new quests can be spotted thanks to an exclamation mark on your mini-map. They can be item-finding-based or monster-killing-based, and some might only be active at certain times in the in-game day. You can fiddle with the time to your heart’s content, however, so there’s no arduous sitting around and waiting for things to become active.

Alvis is a mysterious character who Shulk meets when separated from the group.

There’s more depth – each character has their own skill tree which can be steadily upgraded as you progress through the adventure with skill points. This raises their performance level in battles, and you’ll soon find that to be crucial in taking down some enemies. You can also work on building relationships between the characters, with some spots in the game world reserved for events which are only available when characters’ relationships have reached a set level. This may not be a brand-new game for everyone, but it sure is going to fill a lot of those long hours, which is particularly useful for most of us who will spend the summer of 2020 stuck at home.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is released on May 29th 2020 physically and on the Nintendo Switch eShop. A Collector’s Set is also available. Check back later this month for our review!