There was a time, 10 years ago, when Wii owners thought they would never get a chance to play Xenoblade Chronicles. The game was one of three RPGs released exclusively in Japan at the time for Nintendo’s motion control-based console (the other two being The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower), and there were no plans to release it outside of Japan. That’s why it’s interesting to see that now not only has the game received sequels outside of Japan, but Xenoblade Chronicles has received three different versions.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is the latest version of the game, and it’s every bit as definitive as its title suggests.
Giant Swords, Giant Worlds, Giant Everything
The first thing to note about Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is how massive it really is. Though the two games couldn’t be more different, I’ve always drawn comparisons between Xenoblade Chronicles and Skyrim. Monolith Soft’s RPG isn’t nearly as open-ended as Bethesda’s, but it does encourage players to get lost in its world, explore at their own pace, and get sidetracked with optional missions. If there’s one piece of advice I can offer players, it’s this: let go.
When playing Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, you’re going to be tasked with some story missions that are definitely fun, but it won’t be long before you start doing a side job in the first city you visit — and then another… and so on. Much like when playing an MMO, you’ll start building a never-ending list of optional tasks like collecting certain items or defeating specific enemies. You’ll deliver items from one character to another. You’ll have to wait for certain characters to appear as they only pop up at certain times.
There’s a lot here — a lot — and you’ll probably want to do it all. While I tried to do as much as possible in the original Wii version of Xenoblade Chronicles, I learned early on during my Definitive Edition playthrough that seeking out every last item for every single side quest wasn’t something I could feasibly do. Be that as it may, though, I sure as hell tried my best, and while I still have dozens upon dozens of incomplete side quests, I still allowed myself to let go and do a whole bunch of ‘em.
When you finally decide to chase after the game’s story missions, you’ll find yourself exploring a massive world. Set on the backs of two giant gods who died while battling, the world is rife with fantastical lore.
At the heart of the story is the Monado, an oversized sword that grants its wielder the ability to see the future, and the ongoing war between the Homs and the Mechon. Honestly, while the story is okay, it’s the characters and the world’s atmosphere that really stand out. Characters are likable and hearing them interact with one another both in cutscenes and during battles is a lot of fun and helps to build the cast’s relationship with each other.
After playing through the opening tutorial, you’re dropped into a huge world that’s kind of intimidating. It looks like a never-ending stretch of land thanks to the way the camera’s positioned behind the character. This awe-inspiring view is almost always present, and it genuinely makes you feel like you’re a tiny crumb on an enormous landmass — and in Xenoblade Chronicles, you actually kind of are. The level of atmosphere here is off the charts, and it’s what makes this game a one-of-a-kind experience.
Hybrid Battles and RPG Action
Oh yeah, amazing atmosphere aside, there’s an actual game with systems and mechanics here! The battle system is a hybrid of active and passive battle systems. When you enter an enemy encounter, your party will perform automatic attacks in real-time. That includes the character you’re controlling and moving around the field, but you do have a little more say in what he or she does. Though the hacking and slashing attacks are still done automatically, you can select the types of actions — front, side, or rear attacks, as well as healing and support — your character performs.
The battle system in play here is certainly interesting. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but it manages to blend some strategy by requiring you to attack wisely and really think about what your next move is going to be.
As far as the RPG mechanics of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition are concerned, the game follows a lot of what you’d expect from the genre. You’ll level up different attributes and abilities for all of your characters. You can equip different pieces of armor and weapons. You’ll visit shops and buy different healing items and buffs. You can also craft items to enhance your characters. The game doesn’t attempt to fix or innovate traditional genre norms that work, and that’s definitely in its favor as longtime RPG fans can pick it right up with no problems.
A Truly Definitive Remaster
As this is the third time we’ve seen Xenoblade Chronicles, the question has to be asked: Did we need this? It’s hard not to say “yes” when you look at all of the improvements and enhancements that went into the Definitive Edition. Visually, the game looks a lot better than the original. The more detailed textures and character models stand out, even if there are a few areas that still look a bit lo-res. That said, it’s easy to give that stuff a pass when you look at just how lush and aesthetically marvelous the game’s open world is.
The user interface has also received a bit of a makeover. While everything is a bit cleaner than the original, the loads of information on the screen when you’re looking through the different menus can still be a bit confusing. You eventually learn what everything on the screen is and does, but it could’ve been streamlined a tad more.
The music has also been remastered and remixed. If you dug the original tracks, though, those are included in the options, as well. Whichever route you go, though, the music is absolutely incredible, with grand pieces that fit the imposing, beautiful world and the action-packed battles. Speaking of sound, the voice acting is also solid, with additional voice work added for the new epilogue in this edition.
That’s right — as if this crazy, 100-hour RPG weren’t already big enough, Monolith Soft added an additional chapter to it that bulks up the experience by about eight hours. That’s a lot of content, and here’s the best part: it’s good.
If you’ve wondered whether you should play Xenoblade Chronicles, you absolutely should. It features a giant world with lots to see and do, and you’ll have a blast doing most of it. Similarly, if you’ve already played the game, should you give this Switch version a go? If you loved the original on Wii or the remake on 3DS, you’ll find even more to enjoy here. The game looks and sounds better, the gameplay is still stellar, the world is mystifying, and there are plenty of improvements to make it worth another playthrough — if you have the time, that is.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is a standard-bearer for remakes and remasters. It retains the crux of what made the original so good, all the while offering audiovisual improvements and additional content. This game has always been awesome, and now it’s even better.