Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Review

Published: Wednesday, June 10, 2020 - 11:00 | By: Tyler Chancey
I'm Really Feeling It

It's amazing how much can change in ten years. Xenoblade Chronicles was something of a swansong for the Wii back in the day. It was beloved at the time as a brand new classic for JRPG fans, an impressive feat since it took a considerable petition to get it localized in the West. Players were enraptured by the whole experience, a product of passion and talent by Monolith Soft, with the only truly glaring flaw being that it was running on a system that was never really known for visual fidelity or impressive detail. Enter Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, a complete remake with quality of life improvements, a visual facelift that is utterly astounding, and some brand new content for fans of the original to enjoy. While there are still a few blemishes that still show through, this is a clear case of a Definitive Edition being absolutely true to form.

Shulk and his party outside seeing a meteor shower
Quick! Make as many wishes as you can!

How Does Xenoblade Chronicles Hold Up?

It cannot be overstated how refreshing and energizing the presentation of Xenoblade Chronicles feels. On the surface, the central narrative plays out with many of the tropes and cliches the genre is known for, but Monolith Soft manages to introduce their own creative spin. To wit, the story involves a young scavenger and weapon researcher named Shulk and his friends slowly getting involved in an ever-escalating war between the Homs (their word for humans), and the robotic terrors known as the Mechon. But it seems that Shulk may have come across a weapon that will give them the edge needed to end the war, a mysterious sword called the Monado that allows him to briefly see glimpses of the future.

 
 

In broad terms, this is standard high fantasy fare, but taken in context there are multiple creative decisions that give the entire story its own distinct identity. For example, the entire game takes place on the large bodies of two giant dead gods called the Bionis and the Mechonis, with entire locations in the game mapped based on their anatomy: The Bionis' Leg, the Mechonis' Chest, the Sword Valley, etc., which gives Xenoblade Chronicles it's own unique visual identity that makes it stand out from the pack; you can always see the distinct outlines of the bodies of these titans you live on and adds so much wonder to the experience.

An open field with the outlight of the Bionis' body in the distance
The sheer scale of this never ceases to awe

There are more familiar fantasy tropes, such as the advanced – and lowkey elitist – avian race called the High Entia, and the more comedic Nopon, little adorable puffballs destined to become plush toys on Etsy. These are old ideas, but they're remixed just enough to feel fresh again.

In terms of pacing, Xenoblade Chronicles excels at forward momentum and balancing emotional highs. It manages to toe the line between a more traditionalist approach for JRPGs, while avoiding the overly complicated pseudo-philosophical baggage a lot of modern entries get weighed down in (looking at you Kingdom Hearts), using its central themes instead to propel the action and emotional tension forward rather than hold it down.

There are strong central themes and big ideas present. The introduction of the Monado's future visions and Shulk's determination to change fate itself ventures into the territory of "Free Will vs. Destiny" but it's usually framed in the context of a boss battle or a setpiece; navel-gazing cutscenes are kept to a minimum here. Even when the narrative does lean into very esoteric material near the end, the short but informative exposition and crisp scene composition keep everything readable.

Shulk in combat against a robotic monster
You're about to see a 404 code you overblown toaster!

The future visions are a major feature in the gameplay as well. In the broad strokes, combat happens in real-time where you and your AI-controlled party members auto-attack your target and select abilities from a menu for special attacks or abilities, with certain attacks working better depending on whether you attack from the sides or behind the opponent. This is arguably the most dated element since it invokes mid-2000s MMORPG combat, but it works. During a fight, Shulk can get a vision showing him an impending attack from an enemy, usually, one that might kill or severely weaken him or one of his teammates. You are then given a few seconds to either defend or somehow cancel out the attack., either by drawing attention away from the target, blocking it, or shielding your teammate.

It adds a palpable rush to battles where you can pull out a counter to the kind of spiteful party-wipe attacks that would be called cheap anywhere else, and it never gets old to pull off. There are rare moments where the visions are more annoying than helpful, such as when the entire party gets hit with a movement-stopping status effect or getting a vision the instant you're knocked out. These scenarios do nothing but add a few agonizing additional seconds to waiting for your last checkpoint to reload.

The combat system is one you will have plenty of time to learn since Xenoblade Chronicles is a massive game to get lost in. The entirety of Bionis and Mechonis is yours to explore, with multiple regions broken up into various challenging sections. There are some very rare exceptions to the idea of “if you can see it, you can go there” but you can count them on one hand, and there are plenty of surprises waiting for you if you know where to look. There are side quests, thousands of them to undertake for additional money and gear, most of them amounting to simple FedEx quest busywork: Collect X amount of this, kill Y amount of creature Z, go kill this roaming boss monster, etc..

Shulk and Party in the Bionis' Lungs
Thank goodness the Bionis doesn't smoke, that would be bad for trekking through the lungs

But Xenoblade Chronicles is a rare JRPG that respects the players' time thanks to various quality of life improvements. You can fast travel to any landmark you discover on the map, which helps cut down on long walks. The minute you finish any of the less important collectathon side quests, they're automatically turned in and you receive rewards on the spot. If you pick something up that will be important in a side quest you don't have yet, you will be notified through a small cutscene. These concessions extend to story critical path such as checkpoints, waypoints on the map, and recapped story memos for you to read in case you need a reminder. For a story that can stretch as long as sixty to seventy hours juggling multiple characters, factions, motivations, and twists, these concessions are gladly welcomed.

 

The only major bumps pop up in the final chapters where you dive deeper into Mechonis. For all of the ways Xenoblade Chronicles keeps the player moving forward and streamlining so many offputting elements of the genre, it is in these last crucial hours that the level design starts putting up some annoying walls. Lever-pulling puzzles, random key hunts out of nowhere, multiple surprise back-to-back boss fights, and tedious backtracking all get introduced. This third act isn't terrible by any stretch, but compared to the rest of the game's openness and brisk pacing, it drags things down.

A side-by-side comparison shot of the original game and the remake
Shout out to NeoGaf user Tip_Of_The_Hat For This Comparison Pic!

What Does Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Add?

The most obvious change made for Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is the visual upgrade. Character models get a major facelift, making them look and feel more like characters than highly emotive action figures. Environments have gotten a noticeable overhaul with significantly improved lighting, fog, and particle effects, and far more dynamic and vibrant colors. Multiple subtle but greatly appreciated updates to the user interface are present, making menu navigation and combat feel a lot cleaner and readable. Even if you've seen these places and characters before, this technical wizardry makes it feel original all over again.

There has been some light controversy over these character redesigns. While the original release had very impressive art direction – balancing high-fantasy creature designs, overly complicated clockwork mecha sensibilities and pulp sci-fi ideas into a cohesive whole is challenging enough – the human characters had a more subdued design to them, downplaying more overt anime-inspired art direction of similar productions. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition meanwhile leans into a modern anime-style, which has lead to some concern. Personally, it doesn't hurt the overall aesthetic of the game, but your mileage may vary.

Shulk and Melia standing next to each other
A year later and we're still fighting? I'd be disheartened too

The Definitive Edition is bundled with a brand new story titled Xenoblade Chronicles: Future Connected, an extra mode that can be played at any point from the main menu. It takes place one year after the events of the main adventure with Shulk, Melia, and two brand new Nopon party members. The big central gimmick in this story expansion is Shulk's future visions are no longer around, which drastically changes the dynamic of your battles. Rather than be reactive to telegraphed attacks, the game encourages more proactive play, with multiple abilities and attacks relying on damage absorption, health regeneration, and armor. It does mean that the combat loses its own personal identity, but with about fifteen hours of content, including a brand new area with side quests and challenging bosses, it manages to be refreshingly experimental.

 

In fact, the only complaint I have about Future Connected is that it feels like filler. There's an intriguing enough minor villain and there is some fun to be had seeing the world moving on after the main adventure. However, if you're playing Future Connected to find out what happened to Shulk's old friends or hoping for more deliberate ties to the sequels in this series, you might be disappointed.

Shulk and team deep inside a large machine world
So take the elevator to the second floor, hang a right, collect a thing, then go back to get to the plot, got it!

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Review | Final Thoughts

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition accomplishes what it sets out to do with outstanding success. Taking one of the most thrilling JRPGs of the final years of the Wii and giving it just the right amount of spit and polish for a new generation to enjoy. Some of the elements haven't aged as well as others, but in terms of sheer artistic passion and creativity, there isn't anything quite like it anywhere else. If you missed out on this gem before, now is the time to dive in.


TechRaptor reviewed Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.

Review Summary

9.0
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition gives a classic a makeover, and helps touch up some areas that haven't aged as well.

Pros

  • Impressive Visual and Technical Remastering
  • Exciting and Gripping Fantasy Story
  • Creative Future Vision Combat

Cons

  • Backtracking Plagues Final Chapters
  • Serviceable But Forgettable Bonus Story

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Staff Writer

Born in 1990, Tyler Chancey's earliest memories were of an NES controller in his hands, and with it a passion that continued into his adulthood. He's written for multiple sites, has podcasted, and has continued to shape and encourage new talent to greater heights.