It feels like a very long time ago that I was talking to Dawid about Xenoblade Chronicles. I got into the Nintendo Wii pretty late in its life cycle, and I was keen for a solid JRPG. Little did I know that I was about to play the best JRPG of that year, on my Wii. Yeah, explaining that to most people just got a dazed, confused look before the person called for the bill or looked for the nearest fire escape to leave. Now that great JRPG is back, on a platform that can provide it with enough grunt to show off those magical locations.
All about scale
Xenoblade Chronicles saw a re-release on the New 3DS (our review here), a machine that allowed you to carry your long, long save around with you, chewing up hours in airports or wherever. However, there was a flaw. Using such a small screen meant a lot of the magic was gone. This game is all about massive locations, a sense of scale and beautiful landscape. That screen just didn’t live up to having seen some of these locations on a large TV and the aspect ratio did nothing for the wide landscape shots the game had in abundance.
With better hardware, the Monolith Soft team has worked magic here, creating a game that looks great in both handheld and docked, and it almost never skips a beat.
Now the game is back, and the definitive edition has added a fair amount of work before heading for a victory lap. On the Wii the characters were emotive but rather… blocky, and sometimes I think the imagination did a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to looking around the world. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition has given the characters a more anime-look, similar to Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It fits really well, and after a while, I had to look at old Wii screenshots to remind myself that this isn’t how it always looked.
With better hardware, the Monolith Soft team has worked magic here, creating a game that looks great in both handheld and docked, and it almost never skips a beat. Get ready to feast your eyes on a magical world where people live in and on the body of a dead titan. Massive plains await exploration, the horizon reminding you of your strange location by showing off more of the titan in the distance, or the strange expanse of a seemingly unending ocean all around you.
Man vs machine
This world has seen better days. The titan that people live in, called Bionis, is only one of two in this world. Another, called Mechonis, stands (also dead) across the way, the two titans having killed each other in a furious duel long, long ago. Travelling across the Mechonis’ sword, which still bites into the side of the Bionis, mechanical monstrosities are attacking anything and everything organic. These Mechon are made of metal that the weapons of the Homs cannot penetrate, and while the use of ether is somewhat effective, there are almost no spellcasters here. Organic life seems to be losing, except for one saving grace. A swordsman named Dunban has a strange weapon called the Monado, and it can cut through Mechons with ease. It can also create an aura that allows those nearby to do the same, but using this strange weapon has a cost, and can’t be wielded by many.
The hero of the game, Shulk, ends up on a journey of revenge pretty early on in the game, heading out after a Mechon attack, somehow able to wield the Monado more efficiently than anyone else. With his best friend in tow, the two depart and learn that life outside their colony has a lot to teach them, and quite a few of the lessons will be taught with a degree of harshness.
Get ready to run
Living on the body of a titan, you have ample time to run around some impressively large areas. If you like exploring, this game is going to have you checking nooks and crannies, finding secret waypoints and turning tail from high level creatures. Early on you learn that the world is alive, and has creatures that aren’t there to serve as experience and loot. When you are level 20 and see a level 80 or higher creature wandering a massive plain, you learn to stay out of its way as much as possible, or you see how quickly a creature that level can turn your party into fertiliser.
With his best friend in tow, the two depart and learn that life outside their colony has a lot to teach them, and quite a few of the lessons will be taught with a degree of harshness.
Thankfully you can tell a creatures level range from a distance, or target it for exact information. A red info plate means it is five or more levels above you, while black means it is 5 levels below you. Some of the creatures won’t attack unless damaged, while others will attack on sight, or when you make a loud noise. Other creatures will react like a pack, heading to help a sibling that you started to fight. Looking at what is around you and where to travel becomes a part of traversing Bionis, and the time of day and weather can change which creatures are around. At night there might be deadly monsters around, or in a storm large elemental wisps will float around, looking for ether to feed on. Thankfully a death means you return to the last landmark you visited because sometimes you don’t notice that a level 96 unique monster’s patrol path cuts through the place you decided to turn into a battlefield. Better go back and pick up those chests you didn’t loot yet.
The battle palette
Fighting in Xenoblade Chronicles has a fairly MMO-style to its combat. If you are close enough your character will auto-attack, with you having 8 abilities called arts and a special ability on a bar at the bottom of the screen. One character might specialise in getting aggro and taking less damage, while another focuses on healing while dropping aggro away to avoid attracting the attention of creatures. Abilities also can have added effects if cast in a certain order, or a certain position.
It sounds like a lot and… well, it is, but the game does a good job of teaching you things. Shulk has a skill called Back Slash, which does double damage when used from behind (pretty self-explanatory). If you are behind the creature you are fighting, an exclamation mark will appear on the skill, letting you know you will get the full effect if you use it now. The same applies to combo-based abilities or status-based abilities, so the game does provide cues to you to prevent it feeling like there is too much going on.
Besides aggro and positioning, your abilities can apply certain effects which can change a battle in your favour. Shulk has abilities that can apply the Break condition to an enemy. While alone this isn’t a bad debuff to have on someone, having someone use an ability that causes Topple (which can generally only be applied if already suffering from break) will interrupt whatever the enemy was doing, causing them to lie on the ground for a few seconds, where you can do some good damage. Daze can then be applied to a toppled target, which makes them take even more damage and spend more time on the floor. Juggling this Break / Topple / Daze status can make big enemies die a lot faster, and stops them from disrupting you while you do so. Also, seeing an art crit on a dazed target never gets old.
Be careful though, because the enemy can employ these same tricks against you, and sometimes they don’t play fair, skipping Break and going straight for Topple or Daze. Better equip some gems in your gear that help resist those effects!
If you are an old hat when it comes to Xenoblade Chronicles, you might be interested in what was added. If you are new, be careful because while I try to not spoil anything from the base game, you might catch a whiff or two in this section. A separate epilogue called Future Connected is included and can be started at any point, meaning you don’t need to beat the base game to see the epilogue. You start at level 60 and there are a few changes, like the skill tree falling away and affinity no longer being a thing. Get ready for a new adventure on the Bionis’ shoulder, about a year after the events of the game.
When I first met Nene and Kino, I was worried about having two Nopon as my adventuring companions, but .. before long, I felt like I would do anything for my new kids.
If you have played the game before, you will know that Melia got the short straw when it came to her story. So many elements were left dangling at the end, and this epilogue gives her a chance to shine. Melia and Shulk head out looking for the High Entia capital city, which has disappeared due to [spoiler reasons]. As they spot it, a beam of black energy hits their airship and the two are stranded on this massive floating continent above the clouds. Far away from their friends and with no easy way home, they press on. Luckily they aren’t alone, as they had two small stowaways who are here to capture your heart.
When I first met Nene and Kino, I was worried about having two Nopon as my adventuring companions, but they grow on you really quickly. These two children of Riki get pulled into your adventure, and before long, I felt like I would do anything for my new kids. Nene is the big sister, almost mom-like in her chiding of Kino, and she fights just like Reyn. Meanwhile, the shy Kino, who wants to be the next heropon, heals the party with a plant gun, similar to Sharla. The ability names are amazing, a mixture of Nopon hilarity and ability names that they kids misheard. Covert Stance from Sharla, for example, has become Yoghurt Stance. Yep, makes sense that nobody wants to attack yoghurt.
Having a smaller party really works, as the four spend a lot of time together, learning about each other and these two new additions get enough screen time for you to really get invested in their characters. Xenoblade’s Heart-to-Heart system makes way for the greatly improved Quiet Moments. These don’t require affinity, but some only unlock depending on your main quest progress. Unlike Heart-to-Hearts, these are fully voiced and there are no choices: just two characters taking a moment to discuss their feelings, or something they hold dear. Having it voiced and not thinking about which conversation option will net you more affinity makes it a lot more natural as you just watch two characters deal with their emotions or thoughts.
If you wanted more Xenoblade, or to see the fate of the High Entia and our crown princess, this 10 or so hour romp across the Bionis Shoulder is a great mix of moving character moments interspersed with the hilarity and light-heartedness that happens whenever Nopon are involved (For example, your Chain Attack is replaced by the enemy being mauled by a group of Nopon surveyors called the Ponspectors that you help in side quests). Also, it provides even more reasons for why Riki is actually the best Dadapon ever.
I’m really feeling it
Xenoblade Chronicles offers a massive world full of wonder and things to do, just waiting for explorers and adventurers. If you dislike fetch quests and hunting x number of creatures you might dislike the many sidequests of the game, but they just give an excuse to run around this mad world on the body of a titan. The game was already great, and this has just made it even better. Thanks for adding an autosave and giving the game a fresh coat of paint. Time for an adventure about a magical sword, fate, destiny, and more.