Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition review

Xenoblade Chronicles has become a staple of Nintendo’s release schedule, with Xenoblade Chronicles III releasing later in July 2022. What started out as something quite niche on Nintendo Wii in 2010 has grown into a major franchise for Nintendo, and you can check out where it all began on Nintendo Switch with Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition.

Initially, Nintendo was hesitant to release Xenoblade Chronicles outside of Japan thinking it wouldn’t be able to find a Western audience. Nintendo need not have worried though because Xenoblade Chronicles turned out to be one of the best JPRGs of that era, and has since gone on to spawn Xenoblade Chronicles II and the upcoming third instalment of the series on Nintendo Switch.

Looking at the story of Xenoblade Chronicles, a fair amount of the game takes place on the back of two giant titans who fought each other to the death a long time ago. The ancient battle may be done, The Mechon (the people living on the Mechonis Titan) are determined to wipe out as many of the Homs as possible (the Homs live on the Bionis Titan). Our story starts in the middle of a battle between the Homs and the Mechons, both sides wearing each other down to a standstill… although things could kick off again at any moment.

The story follows Shulk, a Hom researcher living in Colony studying something called the Monado Sword. This ancient sword was apparently used by Bionis himself during the Titanic battle. Unfortunately, Shulk’s research is interrupted by Mechons finding their research station and destroying everything. Shulk decides to take the blade, head off on a revenge mission, and try to finally put a stop to this war. Shulk is joined by his friend Reyn, and as you make your way along your journey you’ll bring others along with you too. All have been affected by the Mehcon war and simply want things to end in peace.

Xenoblade Chronicles manages to balance the tone expertly well. One minute the game takes you through crazy action, to hard-hitting storylines, sadness and silliness all in the same scene. Shulk does well to keep up the spirits of the travelling companions with his eternal glass-half-full kind of attitude, but then he gets hit with visions due to his link with Monado. These visions of the future are somewhat incomplete, fragmented and often harrowing. Shulk has to shoulder the responsibility of knowing there are terrible things to come, including the deaths of close friends. This is a dangerous journey, and we get to know the party members well, and then, unfortunately, have to say goodbye to a few. It’s definitely not all doom and gloom though, things are kept upbeat by your party members throughout the adventure and the game strikes a very good balance of tone and energy.

One of the best features of Xenoblade Chronicles is the massive open world to explore. We may be used to seeing these kinds of worlds in today’s games, but back in 2010, this was a revelation. While the environments are maybe big, it’s not one interconnected world like we see in modern games of today like Breath of the Wild or Elden Ring. Shulk and crew head off on an adventure to the top of Bionis, with each part of the Titan’s body acting as it’s own massive area to explore. Each area is full of side quests and things to do. The game does a great job of giving you a sense of wonder as you and your party members travel across these huge titans. World design in Xenoblade Chronicles is fantastic, you want to explore and you are rewarded for doing so.

You’ll find yourself in combat a lot in Xenoblade Chronicles, and it’s easy to get into but does have a little depth to the combat too to keep players interested. Combat plays out in real-time, with your character auto-attacking while a Hotbar of manually activated skills (called Arts) give you lots of options for extra actions that have cooldowns. Positioning is key for this system, where your Art is cast can depend on where you are related to the enemy you are trying to attack. For example, certain attacks will do double damage if you have the correct positioning e.g. behind the enemy for a Back Slash attack. Another example is the Air Slash, which adds a slowing debuff to enemies if performed by the side. This leads to some great action, as you are trying to figure out the best positions and manage the cooldowns at the same time, plus thinking a few steps ahead.

As mentioned before Shulk receives visions of the future, and this happens in battles too. Shulk will sometimes see one party member taken down if nothing is done. You are given a little bit of time to react to this info and do something about it, either by warning your teammates or casting a specific Art. It’s a nice variation on the combat and throws a little complication into the mix, but keeps things from getting too repetitive.

The basic combat is decent fun and will keep you busy for hours, although Monolith Soft has found ways of further mixing things up through party members adding different playstyles into the mix. Reyn, for example, has loads of health and he helps by drawing the enemy’s attention away, allowing you to get in there and attack. Melia has the ability to summon buffs which can benefit the whole party, plus debuffing the enemy at the same time. Plus if you find yourself getting a little tired of playing as Shulk, you can switch things up by designating another party member as the lead at any time.

Much like other RPGs, you gain experience and level up as you go. However, there are also other ways to progress. For example, characters can learn more Arts that can change their playstyle and the Arts can be levelled individually to make them more effective in battle and lower the cooldown times. Each character also has multiple skill trees that offer passive buffs once you hit various milestones in the game, and the skills can be shared throughout the party via something called Affinity. The progression systems are good because you always feel like you are making progress towards something. You are gathering XP to further your main character level, but you also have Arts to level up too. There are new skills or armour to purchase. There’s always something to get and level up, meaning you won’t feel lost or stuck.

The Affinity system has a big part to play here, and this acts as the relationships between all the major characters in the game. Each part of Bionis has at least one large village or community that acts as a hub for the quests in the area, and you can complete these quests to raise your Affinity in that area. This can lead to improving connections between NPCs, or you’ll unlock new questlines, and as your Affinity continues to rise you’ll unlock new options and items that you can trade with NPCs. This interconnecting system manages to keep the player engaged and is one of the reasons why Xenoblade Chronicles gets the praise it does.

Given this is a remake, there’s some new content here for fans of the original and that’s through the Future Connected story. This is a new story, which is about 15 hours in playtime and acts as an epilogue through the Bionis area which was cut from the original release. This storyline takes place about a year after the main game and digs deeper into the story of Melia and her relationship with Shulk. The Future Connected storyline has its own unique gameplay mechanics and unique storytelling, which makes it a great addition to the game. The expansion itself is not huge but it’s a good addition to an already great experience.

There is also a new time attack mode which has some great rewards. These are short battles with a freely picked team, or you can select from a premade team. The idea is to win the fight as quickly as possible. You’ll pick up points as you play and the higher the grade for the battle, the better the payout at the end. You can use the coins you win to buy armour and weapons which are exclusive to the time attack shop. It’s a neat distraction from the main game, or if you wanted something else to do while in the world of Xenoblade Chronicles.

Monolith Soft also upgraded the game in many other ways. The whole game has been through with a fine-tooth comb for improvements including side quests displayed on the mini-map, the game directs you where you need to go and the previous clunky UI has been replaced to match the Switch UI. Icons are easier to read, battle information is communicated better and it’s all far less confusing in a game where there are interlocking systems at play. There are also plenty of quality of life updates added to the game making it a very smooth experience tailored for Nintendo Switch.

Xenoblade Chronicles looks great whether you are in docked or handheld mode running at 30 frames per second in either mode. It’s definitely a visually impressive game. The soundtrack too has had an overhaul. Monolith Soft didn’t have the time or the budget to do a full orchestral rework, so only certain tracks have had the full overhaul. The voice acting is also very good, with the actors offering up a convincing performance throughout.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is simply one of the best JPRGs on Nintendo Switch and sits up there with the best games on the system too. The story is excellent, the action is good fun and has some depth to it, plus this is a great introduction to a huge series which is only growing in popularity. If you have never played a Xenoblade Chronicles title before then do yourself a favour and make that change today.

Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 29th March 2020