It may sound like a top-secret spy mission, but it was a fan campaign to get three Japanese only Wii games localised for western audiences many years ago. One of those games was the original Xenoblade Chronicles. It is crazy to think that almost eight years ago, JRPG fans were raising their Wiimotes and begging Nintendo to bring this game to the west.
Upon its eventual release and to the fanfare of many, it managed to blow everyone away, 480p resolution and all. It’s easily one of my favourite games of all time and I have such fond memories of spending a full two months just getting completely lost in its world. There is always some hesitancy when revisiting a beloved title but by the JRPG gods, I have honestly fallen in love with it all over again.
In an age long past, two colossal beings engaged in what seemed like an eternal battle. The Bionis and Mechonis fought without rest until eventually both of their bodies ceased to function. Their giant corpses gave birth to new life and on it is where the game of Xenoblade Chronicles takes place. The Bionis became home to organic life forms while the Mechonis gave rise to cold but seemingly sentient machines.
These machines, or Mechons as they came to be known, terrorise the inhabitants of Bionis, consuming humans as a source of energy. You play as a young boy named Shulk, whose town was ravaged by Mechons. He ends up wielding a mysterious sword called the Manado which seems to be the only thing capable of damaging the machines. With it and alongside his trusty companions, he sets out to end the threat of Mechonis once and for all.
Right off the bat, Xenoblade Chronicles introduces one of the most interesting worlds I have come across in games, where you literally spend most of your time traversing giant corpses. It is one of those worlds that always stuck with me and even now, I still find it as fascinating as I did when I first played it. This is in no small part due to the overall narrative, excellent world building and music.
Music is an important part of storytelling and this game absolutely nails the tone and feel of its themes. A perfect example of this is the song Guar Plains, which is a track that plays as you reach the first big area in Xenoblade Chronicles. It is upbeat and boisterous, and really drives home the feeling of finally setting off on a grand adventure. In stark contrast to this, the music that plays once you finally reach Mechonis is often ambient, alien and even sad, which suits the tone of the story at that point.
The way the music, environments and story all come together is why many consider Xenoblade Chronicles to be a masterpiece and why even after all these years, it is still as impactful as the day it was released. This is without even mentioning the phenomenal cast of characters.
One thing I value above all else when it comes to characters in a JRPG is believability. Far too often, characterisation leans heavily into anime tropes which is not a bad thing at all, but it can leave the writing feeling stilted and too comical, making it hard to connect with anyone. As much as I love Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I honestly cannot say I look back on the main cast with much fondness.
Some characters were there to play up the fan service while others just offered annoying Tsundere-type clichés to manufacture some sort of emotional growth. Here however, characters speak and act like normal human beings. Shulk is not an over-zealous child who only believes in the power of friendship, but rather understands that in order to defeat the enemy you must think logically and have an actual strategy.
He is supported by his not too smart but earnest best friend Reyn, the war hero Dunban, the badass sniper medic Sharla and the cuddly but endearing Riki. Each one goes through various levels of growth throughout the story, and there are even special character interactions called heart-to-hearts which further flesh out their relationships and backstories. Even though the game is a decade old, I do not want to go any further into the story and characters as some of the twists and plot points are best experienced while playing it.
Xenoblade Chronicles is a game that is not only big and grand in its storytelling but also in the actual gameplay department. Its world is massive and this title that first debuted on the Wii rivals even the biggest AAA open-world games released since then. Even more impressive, is that it never manages to ever feel barren or devoid of life.
Xenoblade Chronicles is teeming with all sorts of alien wildlife and there is always some secret area to discover wherever you go. It is one of those games where the art style and environments are so well done that you always naturally feel the urge to explore them. One area, the Sartol Marsh, looks like any old swampland and is a seemingly inconsequential location. That is until night comes around and the trees start to illuminate, their flickering and shimmering guiding you through the dark.
All that, while a haunting vocal track plays in the background which perfectly sets the entire mood. It’s the little things this game does that manages to completely suck you into its world. One of the biggest issues I had with Xenoblade Chronicles originally was that the world was kind of too big and was hard to navigate, leading me to get lost more times than I would’ve liked. The Definitive Edition remedies this with small but impactful changes.
Important quest items and monsters are now clearly marked on the map and the mini-map now shows a dotted line to your next destination. While it is nothing ground-breaking in terms of modern gaming design, it completely fixes what I disliked the most about the game and it makes exploration so much more enjoyable.
Underneath its hood there are quite a few mechanics and systems. While the general gameplay loop is a familiar juggle of side quests and tackling the main story, there is also the Affinity system to keep track of wherein you manage the relationship of NPCs in towns as well as your party members to unlock new quests, items and special interactions.
Side quests are your standard fetch quests or kill this many number of enemies and while they are nothing special, they do give you a reason to venture further out into the world. On the character customisation side of things, you can craft gems that you can slot into their armour that, while at first doesn’t really matter all that much, leads to a great deal of build variety and becomes especially important in the mid to late game.
Each character also has a unique skill tree that you can level up which grants a variety of buffs and passive abilities. These can be linked to other characters as well. One character can unlock the ability to wear heavy armour, and you can link that to another party member which allows for even more build customisation. Everything works extremely well together, and it all culminates in a satisfying combat system.
Like any MMO, combat revolves around auto-attacks, cooldown skills and character roles. Typically, you would have a tank to draw enemy aggression, a support character and a main damage dealer. Positioning is also important, as certain skills deal more damage to an enemy’s side or back. The main strategy however, involves managing the combo system and Shulk’s special sword, the Manado.
The combo system involves putting the enemy into three states. The first being the Break state, which allows another character to use a skill which knocks the enemy off their feet and puts them into a Topple state. Once Toppled, characters can deal more damage but more importantly, they are able to Daze an enemy which keeps them knocked down for longer. Generally, the AI is responsive in initiating and keeping up with combos, but you can also activate a chain attack when a special bar is filled which allows you to issue commands to all three characters.
The Manado on the other hand is unique in that it allows Shulk to see glimpses of the future so that when an enemy is about to do a special attack, you’re given the chance to counter it before it activates, using one of the Manado’s many special abilities. It is an incredibly fun system that starts slow but becomes frantic and strategic as times goes on.
Being the Definitive version of Xenoblade Chronicles, you can expect a bunch of changes to come along with it. A new time attack mode was added where you can complete special challenges to earn new gear. You can now change the appearance of your characters as well so if you do not want your character running around in swimming trunks because it’s the strongest piece of equipment you have at the moment, then you’re finally able to change their look without affecting their stats.
Then there is the event viewer which allows you to watch cutscenes again but you’re able to now change things like the weather and even a character’s appearance. Aside from the mechanical changes, the entire game got a huge graphical overhaul that honestly warrants this being a borderline remake. Everything from the character models, the environments and even the already brilliant soundtrack got a rework, leading to a version of Xenoblade Chronicles that has never looked or sounded better.
The resolution can make the game look a bit blurry in places, especially in Handheld mode but I never found it to be too distracting. The biggest draw however, especially for returning players will be the new epilogue chapter, Future Connected.
I will not be diving into the story too much as it takes place after the end of the main game, but it revolves around a journey that Melia and Shulk tembarks on which sheds light on her backstory and explores her race and the issues they face. The new chapter takes place on the Shoulder of the Bionis and is a fairly large area to explore.
Future Connected doesn’t really introduce many new gameplay features other than the Ponspectors, which are furry little Noppons you have to find throughout the map that you can summon during combat to do massive damage. It is a bit disappointing as everything from the quest structure to exploration feels like more of the same.
There are not that many new enemy types outside of the handful of bosses. I think I might’ve been spoiled by Xenoblade 2’s Torna expansion but I did expect more from it. The story itself also does not really go anywhere or add all that much to the overall lore and narrative. By the time I was done with it I kind of just shrugged my shoulders and went back to the main game. It isn’t terrible, and some parts of the story will have theory crafters picking information apart, but it ultimately comes off feeling like wasted potential.
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition enhances an already amazing game with smart changes that makes it feel more modern and accessible. The new epilogue chapter might not add much to the overall experience, but the main game is still worth playing, or even replaying if you’re a series regular. Getting lost in this world again has been a wonderful trip down memory lane and another reminder of why I love the JRPG genre so much.
Last Updated: May 27, 2020