I’ve said this in a few reviews already this year, but man does it feel like 2020 is the year of the remaster. As game after game has been delayed into the second half of 2020 or into 2021 due to COVID-19 and other factors, remasters and remakes have been the one constant throughout the year so far. The latest of these is Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, a remastered edition of the 2010 Wii game that originally required a fan campaign to get released in North America. A whole lot of work has been put into bringing Xenoblade Chronicles closer to today’s standards, but the weaker aspects of the original release and some technical issues hold it back from greatness.
Following on from my earlier preview, Xenoblade Chronicles follows the story of Shulk, a resident of Colony 6, as he sets out to seek vengeance against the Mechon and put their war to an end once and for all. Armed with the Monado, a laser sword of unknown origins, Shulk is able to damage the Mechon in a way that normal weapons can’t, giving him an edge that other inhabitants of the world don’t have. It’s a somewhat cliché story at points, given its similarity to other ‘chosen one’ stories, but what sets the game apart is how relatively grounded it is. Many RPGs trend towards the melodramatic, but Xenoblade focuses in more on the realities of war and the pain it causes. Sequences are relatively well written and the voice acting is fairly well done, which lend a weight to the game’s more emotional moments that would otherwise fall flat. This story has well and truly stood the test of time.
The biggest addition with this Definitive Edition is its brand-new story sequence, Future Connected. Set after the conclusion of the original game, the game follows Shulk and co. as they investigate a previously unexplored section of the world: The Bionis Shoulder. Similar to how the Torna expansion for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Future Connected can be selected at any point from the main menu of the game, allowing returning players to jump straight into it. This is exactly how additional content like this should be implemented in a game, instead of locking it behind a full new playthrough as other recent RPG releases have done. Be warned though, as the story of Future Connected contains some massive spoilers for the original story, so don’t start with it until you already know what happens in the original. From a story perspective, Future Connected loses a lot of the weight that came with the original story, and didn’t quite hook me in the same way the original game did. While there are some small tweaks to the battle system, it largely plays the same way as well. It’s certainly not a bad amount of content, but I don’t think it’s enough on its own to justify a new purchase.
What really did sell me on Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is its remastered graphics and re-recorded soundtrack. From the first cutscene it’s immediately apparent just how much work has been put into this remaster. Character models have been completely remade in a brand-new style closer to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, while still maintaining their original design. The blurry messes that originally represented character’s faces are now fully featured and can properly convey emotion. Textures have been updated and many enemy models have as well, making for a much better-looking experience overall. These are both somewhat hampered by a relatively low rendering resolution and sharpening filter that can make the game look like a jaggy mess at points, especially when you’re playing in handheld mode and in the more open areas of the game. With the game’s music, there are simply no negatives at all. This was the first time trying out my new Bluetooth audio adaptor for my Switch, and the re-recorded soundtracks is utterly phenomenal. Do whatever you can to play this game with the best audio equipment you have, because you definitely won’t be disappointed.
There are a couple of different things you’ll spend the majority of your time doing in Xenoblade Chronicles – fighting monsters and side quests. The game’s combat systems were instantly familiar to me, having played both the original game and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in the past. Similar to an MMORPG, your characters will automatically hit enemies with basic attacks while in battle. The strategy to this comes in position of your controlled character and triggering their skills. Many attacks can be chained together to inflict special statuses on enemies, while others have additional effects if used while in a certain position (ie. behind an enemy or alongside it). In bigger battles making the most out of these additional effects is absolutely necessary, otherwise you’ll quickly be wipped out, and so there’s a level of strategy that is always present. It’s a wholly engaging system, which is the exact opposite of the side quests in the game. 99% of the hundreds of side quests in Xenoblade Chronicles amount to two things: collect x number of items or kill x creature/creatures. It’s hardly inspiring stuff. Thankfully, unlike the original game, your side quest goals now appear on your mini-map to make it significantly easier to find them. What I’ve found to be the best strategy with them is to accept every single side quest you can and just play the game normally, picking up items or killing enemies as they appear in your playthrough so that the quests auto-complete as you progress.
The game can get difficult at points, but don’t worry, because the new casual mode can help with this. Triggerable at any point, casual mode rebalances the game to make battles significantly easier. Come up against a boss that’s obliterating you time and again, but you don’t have the time to grind? You can flick it on to get through the battle and flick it right back off again as soon as it’s done. I’m always a fan for accessibility options that make games easier for players to engage with, and options like this that can be toggled at any time are the best kind. On the flipside, if you want to introduce some more difficulty to the game, there’s the new Expert Mode. Just like Casual Mode, Expert Mode can be toggled on and off at any point and can even be used in conjunction with Casual Mode. Expert Mode automatically reserves a portion of all experience earned in battle into a pool that can be used at any time, reducing the automatic growth of your characters, and also allows you to freely reduce your character’s levels at any point. If you’re looking to add some artificial difficulty to the game, you’ll absolutely love this.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition very much lives up its name, as its definitely the best version of the game released yet. The combat and story have stood the test of time, even if the side quests haven’t, and the newly remastered graphics and music are great. The resolution drops are disappointing, but not surprising given the same issues were apparent in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, while Future Connected is a nice new addition. Whether you’re a fan of the original looking to return or someone jumping in for the first time, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is a great experience.
Rocket Chainsaw reviewed Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition on a regular Nintendo Switch, with a copy provided by Nintendo.
- Re-recorded soundtrack is utterly amazing - Story and combat have stood the test of time - Character models have been immensely improved - Quality of Life improvements are great
- Resolution can drop, especially in handheld mode - Side-quests are still just as boring as they were originally