Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Review – Essential for JRPG Fans
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive EditionMay 29th, 2020
It's hard to argue that modern JRPGs are 100% original. No matter what JRPG you play, you will see the elements of what came before. While playing Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition I couldn't help but notice the character traits I've seen elsewhere, the themes of friendship and bonds, the fact that every JRPG seems to end with deicide, and more. But despite all of that, Xenoblade Chronicles manages to set itself apart from the crowd with a unique setting, a beloved cast, and a dramatic story with all of the expected JRPG twists and tropes, and a few things you simply won't see coming. Xenoblade Chronicles is still a genre classic, and the Definitive Edition is by far the best way to play.
The basic gist of the story is that you play as Shulk who has grown up on Colony 9 with his dear friends Reyn and Fiora. Everything is fine and dandy until one day a hostile mechanical force invades, devastates their home, and leaves the inhabitants of the colony grieving. On a quest for revenge, Shulk and his ragtag band of friends decide to climb the continent-sized giant which they live at the foot of, the Bionis, in order to seek out the rest of the Mechon that attacked them and kill them all. Naturally along the way we meet a colorful cast of characters, traverse some massive environments, and get wrapped up in a story that involves the creation of the universe. Usual JRPG stuff, you know how it is.
One of the biggest and most impactful things about Xenoblade Chronicles is the world. For one, it is literally massive (it was one of the largest console RPGs you could explore at the time of release). Even now the scale of Xenoblade Chronicles' world is astounding, and you can get lost - literally lost - for hours. Luckily you regularly unlock fast-travel points at Landmarks, and slowly fill out a detailed map which shows you quest icons, and gives you a visual indicator of the kind of distance you've traveled and where you've explored. The world is big because it hides a lot of secrets, such as secret areas, hidden items, and special boss encounters that you usually wouldn't even notice. The world is here to reward the most hardcore of adventurers, and it evokes that same explorer's spirit I get when playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I want to go around the next corner just to see what is there, nothing more. Though having said all of that, when completing side-quests and running back and forth to quest givers, the size can be frustrating. Luckily most quests will auto-complete without you running back, and many others have convenient fast-travel points, but not all of the time…
But that size would be meaningless if it didn't look good, and luckily Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition looks better than ever. On the Wii, this game was incredibly impressive and clearly pushing the hardware to its limits, and here the brand new textures, models, and animations are vastly improved, and very nearly makes this game look entirely new again. Nearly. The characters and environments look great, and any comparison with the Wii original is only going to make the Definitive Edition look even better than. Having said that, the Wii's hardware meant the dev team needed to cut back wherever they could to get such a large and detailed world working, so much of the environment is low-poly, and the fact is, much of the environments are still low-poly. From a distance, any of the areas in the game looks great, but scrutinize anything too much and cracks begin to show. This is still clearly an older looking game than Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and everything here in Definitive Edition looks distinctly angular. This ruins nothing but is worth mentioning.
Of course all of that would be meaningless if Xenoblade Chronicles didn't have a robust battle system to keep things interesting throughout a potentially 80+ hour runtime, and it's better than it ever has been. At its core things are the same - it's a battle system similar to MMOs, you lock on to an enemy and your character will use a basic auto-attack, and then you can select special attacks, each of which have a cooldown. Many of your moves will inflict status debuffs and can inflict more damage or debuffs depending on where you stand in relation to your opponent. Shulk has plenty of attacks that hit harder from the side or back, and you'll likely be playing with Skulk for much of the game, but you can swap to controlling any other character at any time, each with their own abilities. Teamwork is important too, and you can work with your team to stack different debuffs on enemies, breaking them, toppling them, dazing them, and then dealing out huge amounts of damage. Chain Attacks make this a simple process and let you quickly clear through many strong enemies at speed.
There is an issue though, and that is that Shulk is required to fight against the mechon. Shulk's weapon, the Monado, gifts the user and the party with the ability to inflict damage on mechon, which is usually impossible. Since you'll be fighting mechon for a majority of the game, it makes Shulk an essential team member. Shulk acts as a powerful and essential DPS role, while early party members Reyn and Sharla act as a Tank and Healer respectively. None of the other characters fill these roles as well, and as a result, you'll likely be fighting the toughest battles with the same safe team over and over again. Unfortunately, it feels like the game dissuades you from mixing your party up too much, despite giving you so many options. Though, if you're running off to clear side-quests, you can feel more comfortable in mixing up your main team, meaning you can force some variety into the battles if you want.
The game is littered with quality of life features to make this a more enjoyable experience than the original. Once you pick up quests items you need to collect and monsters you need to kill will be highlighted on the map when you're nearby, and you'll easily be able to see where those monsters are on the map screens while fast traveling. It makes clearing through a quest list far more enjoyable. Even in battle you'll get icons pop up when you're in the correct position to do the best damage or inflict debuffs with your attacks. There are so many more small quality of life changes to the menus, maps, and UI that I wouldn't even know where to start. This just feels like a simpler game to play, even if I did find myself Googling the locations of hidden items a few times.
The fact that you can play the original game with far better visuals than ever before is reason enough to play this, but the new story, Future Connected, offers even more for Xenoblade fans to jump into. There's a huge new area, the Bionis' Shoulder, and all of the quests and characters you would expect from a huge new location in Xenoblade. The story also continues following the climax of the main story and ties thing in more neatly for fans of Xenoblade lore. This is essentially just more of what you've already seen in the main game, and there is nothing bad about that. A lovely bonus on top of an already robust enough JRPG package.
And finally, a confession. I never finished the original game, even after 80 hours. I always said it was a classic, but despite that I didn't get over that final hurdle. With Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, I finally did, and I'm so glad. The story here is a JRPG masterpiece in every sense and should be spoken of with the same hushed whispers and reverence that classics like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII enjoy. Xenoblade Chronicles really is that good.
Review code provided by the publisher.
While Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition doesn't entirely look like a new game, with remnants of Wii design clear to see, everything else about it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with modern JRPGs. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition has an explosive story, mesmerizing worlds, dramatic cutscenes, and a lot of heart. If you're a JRPG fan and you haven't played Xenoblade Chronicles yet, you owe it to yourself to give this game a try.
- Excellent JRPG tale
- Better visuals than ever before
- Quality of life improvements make the game much more enjoyable to play
- Future Connected story continuation
- Angular level geometry makes it clear this was a Wii game
- Framerate and resolution not always as stable and clear as you would like