Finally, I thought, the perfect way to get into the original Xenoblade Chronicles. I’d been wanting to play this so-called classic for years but the concept of playing a low-res Wii version or tiny 3DS version didn’t really inspire. While this Definitive Edition did take a while to grow on me, now that I’ve played all the way through Xenoblade Chronicles I finally understand why the game was looked upon so highly in it’s time.
In Xenoblade’s fantastical world we learn that two massive titans called the Bionis and Mechonis fought in ancient times, and have laid dormant ever since – long enough that generations of creatures have come to call their bodies home. We learn that those inhabiting each of the titans are in a long-standing conflict – with the biological creatures of the Bionis titan warding off attacks from the mechanical entities of the Mechonis. It’s amongst this conflict that we meet our main character, Shulk, and his crew of friends who come together to fight this mechanical threat. It’s a story that begins quite simply, and perhaps even a bit… juvenile? If I’m honest, I found it a bit trite to begin with – however the story evolves and really does start going to some interesting places as you push through the game. It’s very silly, and a narrative that you probably shouldn’t take too seriously – but once I realised and accepted that fact, I had a much better time with it.
The characters are truly the stars of this game, and their interactions both in and out of battle really brought the story together for me. They are fully voiced, and extremely talkative in battle. For some, I can understand how this might get on their nerves, but I loved the way characters interacted in battle and made commentary as it was unfolding. Over time, I really began to appreciate the characters and what they bring to the game as a whole. Spending time with all of the characters is important too. As you spend time with each they will deepen their affinity for one another, which can unlock heart-to-hearts – small story moments which reveal a little more about the characters – and share certain abilities.
Throughout this story, Shulk and his friends will spend a great deal of time fighting – so Xenoblade Chronicles’ battle system is quite important. It’s probably less fresh now compared to how it felt in 2010, but I still felt that the battle system had its own sense of style and flow that I just haven’t found in many other games.
You only directly control one character during battle. They will automatically use their basic attacks whenever close enough to an enemy, leaving you to keep on top of their positioning in the battlefield and issue them commands for their special attacks or Arts. Some Arts will have extra effects when used from the back or side of an enemy, so positioning is supremely important. Certain Arts can lead into others as well (such as the Break, Topple, Daze combo where you break an enemy’s defense, topple them over, and make them dizzy for extra damage) – if your party members have Arts which complement your own or would work well in specific situations, they tend to be pretty smart about using them effectively. Deciding which Arts you and your team mates will have available in battle is super important, and half the fun of combat in Xenoblade is playing with different combinations of characters and their Arts to find great combos. It’s a battle system that rewards mastery (and between gem crafting, equipment and Arts selection there’s a lot to master!) but isn’t too crushing while you work things out.
One of the nicest additions to the Definitive Edition of the game are it’s optional combat difficulty modes. If you’re new to the series or are finding the combat too demanding, a new Casual mode for battles makes combat significantly less challenging. This can be toggled on and off any time during the game, so you could just as easily play the entire game in this mode as toggle it on just for moments that you’re really struggling with. Veterans aren’t left out though, as Expert mode offers greater challenge for those who’ve mastered the game in the past and want to further test their abilities.
Another bonus for veterans are the time attack battles dotted around the map. You’ll occasionally find little teleporters which take you to a temple-like location where you can take on various combat challenges. Some will let you choose your party, others give you a predetermined one, and each will reward you with currency based on your performance in wave-based combat challenges. You can buy new equipment here too, so if you want to test your combat mastery you’ll be well rewarded. Another small equipment-related bonus that I feel is worth mentioning is that you can now change the appearance of any equipment you find. Found a really great armour set that you just hate the look of? You can now change it’s look from a selection you’ll unlock as you play – this won’t affect its stats, so you’ll never have to compromise your aesthetic for big numbers.
The world of Xenoblade Chronicles is huge – it would have looked huge for a Wii game, and is still massive by today’s standards. Dotted around the world you’ll find quest givers who assign you plentiful, but fairly uninspired quests. You’ll do a lot of “Kill 7 gremlins” or “Collect 4 Grumpy Seeds” style tasks, but most of these are easily done without going too far out of your way, and are completed without needing to return to the quest giver for the reward, which make them much less annoying to manage. You can fast travel from anywhere in the game at almost any time, so if you do want to go back to a previous area for a quest it’s really never too much of a hassle.
This Definitive Edition is a little all over the place visually. Main characters have been given a huge makeover – and look fantastic for it – but the environments can feel decidedly dated in comparison. Walking across massive open fields populated with occasional enemies and not a great deal else, with some low resolution textures, along with some pretty janky character animations during story scenes can serve as a jarring reminder that this is a Wii game underneath that new coat of paint. The game is fairly aggressive at toning down the resolution for the sake of smooth performance. Like Chronicles 2 on Switch, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition can look downright muddy at times. It’s more noticeable in handheld mode, but docked it’s noticeable at times too.
After bouncing so hard off Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I really hoped that the Definitive Edition of this first game in the series might show me why the franchise has such a dedicated fan base. While it took a while to warm up to, by the end of the story I was absolutely invested in the ridiculous story of Shulk and his friends as they fight for the future of their world.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Endearing characters, a deep battle system, and a buck-wild storyline had me hooked right to the end. With it’s new epilogue chapter, graphical enhancements, new challenges and difficulty options for newcomers and veterans alike, Xenoblade Chronicles is a fantastic way to discover a classic of a past era.