The Chronicles of Shulk
Monolith Soft and Nintendo personally invite you to return to classic JRPG series Xenoblade with their latest port of the much-loved franchise. This time around 2010s offering has been given the Switch treatment in the form of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. By tweaking gameplay mechanics, adding additional content alongside the expected visual upgrades and improved audio both developer and publisher hope to charm newcomers and welcome back the old faithful alike. So, let’s gear up and head to the Bionis for an epic battle that will see protagonist Shulk come of age.
Backtracking a step, Xenoblade Chronicles first made its appearance on the Nintendo Wii quickly amassing a cult following and, as such, in 2015 it was squeezed onto the New Nintendo 3DS. The JRPG is one of the few titles to take the prestigious accolade of being specifically designed to work on the upgraded hardware. With the Nintendo Switch already home to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country it was hoped that we would see this origin episode join the party and after some serious teasing fans finally got what they desired.
Xenoblade Chronicles is the tale of Shulk and his counterparts on a sprawling adventure across a fantastical and fully realised world that is reeling in the aftermath of a devastating invasion. The mission is set. Assemble a crew and get revenge on the Mechon – a hybrid machine-like race of villains – by reaching the top of a once-mighty Titan they call home and unlocking the true power of the mythical blade known as Monado. Sounds simple enough that even Frodo et al could do it, right?
Gameplay is divided over the course of near thirty chapters interwoven with a combination of grand-scale cutscenes to the more up close and personal conversational pieces that help carry the narrative. An all-new chapter has been included for the Definitive Edition that takes place a year after the events of the main campaign, titled Future Connected. The decision to allow this new story content to be accessed at any time is a prudent move as not to force players into 60+ hours of gameplay just to unlock it, even though we absolutely would. Xenoblade has a partial voice-over that runs the course, generally to cover off important story elements, but to be honest the English dub is rather Marmite. It’s difficult not to stereotype each character, in a similar fashion to when we finally heard Midgar’s finest in the recently released Final Fantasy VII Remake. Thankfully the Japanese voice work is present in the settings.
Quests, and the inevitable side-quests, are acquired through interaction with the wide array of supporting NPC’s and form the basis of progression. Most are simple fetch and return key items in exchange for XP (or AP in this instance) and other useful paraphernalia. There are some more in-depth missions that will task you with rebuilding settlements in Colony 6 or chain together several needs. Quests are logged in a journal which is a godsend for detailing outstanding obligations. The use of the main and mini-map become vital for exploration, in bookmarking quests a sat-nav style waypoint tracker is displayed keeping you on the right heading. The other key driver for boosting XP is in being victorious during battle, real-time combat fused with an intuitive interface will see you slaying everything in sight. Once fixed on a specific target, that can be quickly cycled, use a standard auto-attack mechanic enabling you to perfectly time that special ‘Arts’ power at the critical moment. Toppling enemies, chain attacks and limit break prompts flash up at the opportune moment for maximum efficiency. By levelling up and tweaking attacks Shulk and Co’s dominance on the battleground can be fine-tuned.
The usual rules apply with Xenoblade, race off and jump-skip through the main storyline at your own consequence. Enemies will soon out level Shulk and crew rendering attacks useless, thankfully the auto-save feature saves the day. This is a game that longs to be played at a steady pace, the world demands, and deserves, exploration much like Breath of the Wild. A quick run will easily end up in hours of unplanned adventures, it has the capability of drawing you in and consuming time as you attempt to clear off quests and level grind.
The story is gripping, full of twists and turns and heartbreak.
The gameplay is testament to how phenomenal Xenoblade is. The micro-management of each team member can be as deep as you want, swap them out depending on the requirements of each battle but to truly to get the most out of Xenoblade you will need to master upgrades and deploy equipment based on attributes adding Gems to boost stats. Skill Trees, Gem Crafting and the spiderweb-like Affinity Chart add a level of depth that culminates in a very unique experience for each player. Hitting the right level of affinity between characters allows Heart-to-Hearts scattered throughout the land to be viewed, this can be achieved by mixing up the party from time to time.
The Definitive Edition looks and plays better than ever!
Taking full advantage of the additional, if limited, horsepower provided by the Nintendo Switch. The anime stylised character models are gleaming and wonderfully robust in their ever-changing composition. The landscape is vast and varied, yet always teeming with life, from wide-open grasslands to dark, dank cave systems that give a sense of claustrophobia. The visual overhaul is familiar, only with a greater sense of polish and pride. The improvements implemented really pay off, intricate details previously missing add that final layer of finesse. I played the majority of my initial run in handheld mode and it was simply gorgeous at times. Setting foot in the Makna Forest or Eryth Sea felt like descending into a completely different world with lighting, particle and weather effects that enchant. Even the day/night cycle is something to simply sit back and behold.
Having said all this in a positive light and as close as it gets, Xenoblade isn’t perfect. The framerate, while reasonably steady, occasionally has a little stutter and let’s not forget we are looking at a game that is essentially ten years old at this point. While on the whole the updated visual is great, there have been some massive leaps forward in design, animation and technical effects in more modern games. Additionally, some of the textures are a little muggy in places when compared to other Switch developed titles. The camera can be a little on the fiddly side at times but that was more down to my wanting to consume every last drop of detail when exploring the varied surroundings. If you were so inclined the camera can even be position in such a way that the game is played from a first-person viewpoint, which is kinda neat. My playthrough was predominantly with version 1.0 but the devs have now released a patch which hopefully addresses a few of the minor niggles.
Beating the main story is not the end of this epic quest.
New Game + becomes available from the menu. Important stats, load-outs and items carry over for when you return and make completing missed collectables a much easier proposition. As mentioned earlier in this review, take the time to experience the newly added Future Connected DLC it’s a great way to round of this package in a similar vein to what Torna – The Golden Country did for XC2.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is just that, everything you loved about the original release is here and improved upon. The amount of care and attention is second to none, the sheer amount of content included will keep you playing long after the epic storyline is done and dusted. Whether you are new to the series or a returning veteran Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition should be added to your Switch library as a must-play RPG. Grab the Monado and unlock its full potential.