Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Review — Reyn Time Has Never Felt So Good
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition has become the best and only way you should experience this fantastic RPG.
In 2011, the question as to whether or not Xenoblade Chronicles would make it to the U.S. was in limbo, with signs not looking too good. Even the Monado itself couldn’t have predicted that nine years later, we would be getting yet another version of it, bringing the total number of Nintendo consoles it has appeared on to four. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition brings with it so many improvements and new elements that fans have little reason to ever revisit the previous versions.
You follow Shulk, a young Homs that explores the vast expanse of two slumbering titans of the Bionis, home of Homs, and the Mechonis, which shelters the mechanical monstrosities know as the Mechon. During your 50+ hour playthrough, you will discover the secrets behind the Monado, the only weapon that can harm the Mechon foe and allows Shulk to see into the future. You’ll also surely fall in love with the cast of characters you meet along the way while being treated to an out-of-this-world soundtrack.
When first starting up this new Definitive Edition, fans of the previous versions will right away notice the improvements that have been made to the visuals. Textures are clearer with more advanced techniques like sub-surface scattering, which gives great definition and detail previously impossible with the earlier releases. Guar Planes and the various vistas look better than ever with shadows, and lighting received a noticeable upgrade as well, adding god-rays and more realistic environment-cast shadows.
The most significant jump, however, comes in the new character models. Shulk and crew have all received major plastic surgery, with each of their faces being composed of more polygons to make them much more expressive and emotive. The art aesthetic itself has been shifted somewhat to be more in-line with the anime-esque direction from Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Colors especially seem to pop more in Definitive Edition when comparing side-by-side the more muted tones of the previous ports. All of this culminates in a much more memorable and impactful adventure on these two hulking creatures.
Audio gets its fair share of improvements, too. Japanese dub aficionados have the option to play through using either the Japanese voice cast or the English “Reyn-time” cast. The exquisite soundtrack has also been rearranged for the Definitive Edition, which helps add to the sense of scale and importance of moments alongside the enhanced visuals. Purists for the original game will still have access to the original soundtrack, too, with both the voice and soundtrack options available to be toggled any time through the menu screen.
Improvements don’t stop at the visuals and the soundtrack, however, with numerous quality-of-life updates making Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition an overall more manageable experience for new and returning players. A common complaint previously was that tracking down the people and items needed to complete quests would become downright aggravating. Luckily, this has been addressed by allowing you to set a quest as active, which will display a marker and path leading to your objectives. Items you need for quests will also now show on your minimap as exclamation points, removing the need to pick up every little blue item orb in hopes that it is the item you need. This includes highlighting enemies that carry specific items you need, too. A similar courtesy has been extended to the reconstruction of Colony 6, allowing players to quickly find out what materials are required for a given upgrade at any time. No talking to NPCs is needed, though they can still provide helpful tips as to where to find said items.
Combat also sees some love in Definitive Edition with quality improvements. Positioning plays a crucial part during fights, as various attacks become more potent and apply additional effects depending on where you strike an enemy. In the original and 3DS releases, there wasn’t any sort of indicator that informed you when you correctly positioned to take advantage of these benefits. This omission has thankfully be rectified here, and now a marker will appear above each attack that will take advantage of your location. This is a small but incredibly important inclusion that alone can drastically improve your chances in some of the more difficult fights.
If you still are having a rough time with the enemies and bosses, or perhaps want even more of a challenge, new difficulty adjustments have been added to assist in that. A new casual mode that can be toggled at any time will let your characters do far more damage and take far less in return, allowing you to instead focus on progressing through the story and not on how to beat a certain boss. On the flip side, if you find yourself wanting to spice things up, you can enable expert mode, which will restrict the amount of experience you get. This mode will take any experience you would normally receive from completing quests and places it in a pool for each character. At any time you can either add to that bank, subtracting levels from your characters or pulling from it, leveling your characters up instead. These are nifty inclusions that can prove useful for any skill-level.
All these tweaks and improvements, while very much welcome, don’t change the fact that Xenoblade Chronicles is an RPG that expects a lot from its player. With its numerous systems and mechanics, it can be a tall order for experienced players in the RPG genre to figure out and contend with, and it’s downright daunting for newcomers. Some of these come at a detriment to the overall experience, with side quests being an especially heinous offender.
This Definitive Edition also sees some brand new features and modes, making an already massive offering even more of a deal! At various locations, you will encounter a strange crystal formation that will send you to a mysterious place, allowing you to take part in Time Attack trials. Here you can choose either your preferred team or a specific one into various combat situations, allowing you to try and win some useful items. The better score you get on each level, the better rewards you will get. This Time Attack mode is also the only way to get the brand new third-tier of skill books.
The most significant addition is the brand new epilogue adventure, Future Connected. Taking place a year after the original game, it focuses on Shulk, Melia, and two of Heropon Riki’s children, Nene and Kino. The events kick off after Shulk and Melia crash while on route to the Bionis’ shoulder. In the past year, the remaining peoples of both the Bionis and Mechonis are adjusting to their new situation and learning to try and live with each other. Some prejudices have carried over from the war, but a new threat has appeared that may force the two groups to bury the hatchet again. It falls to Shulk, Melia, Nene, and Kino to save the day.
Future Connected is much more heavily geared toward expanding the character of Melia, a character that many feels didn’t get their share of the spotlight before. I did enjoy the additional moments we get to see with Melia, but the overall story of the epilogue felt short. Perhaps I was being too optimistic, but after linkage between the first Xenoblade Chronicles and the second game was revealed at the end of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I was hoping that this epilogue would continue to solidify or hint at more ways they are tied together. I can see how some of what was shown in Future Connected could be incorporated into a Xenoblade Chronicles 3, but it just didn’t feel up to snuff when compared with the original game’s reveals.
In the interest of avoiding massive spoilers, Shulk doesn’t have the Monado currently and doesn’t have access to his future site, but he does still have access to the arts. New characters, Nene and Kino, fill the tank and healer roles, respectively, in place of the cast from the main game who unfortunately don’t make appearances here. Taking place exclusively in a new area, this 10-hour romp in Future Connected was refreshing and welcome after spending 60 hours running around the same regions of the base game. The joint party attacks are gone as well; in its place is the ability to call on a small cartographers guild to come in and attack, heal, or buff your party.
The final new “mode” is an added theater, allowing you to rewatch previously viewed cinematics from throughout Xenoblade Chronicles. What is rather unique in this case when compared to theater modes from other games is that you have control over a variety of factors in the cinematic. You are able to set the video to take places at certain times of the day and change what equipment your characters will appear in. It’s a cool feature that can take advantage of the fact that all the cinematics are done using the in-game engine.
A more superfluous but very welcome addition, the glamour option, is now present, allowing you to choose the appearance of your team’s armor and weapons. There aren’t any more minute settings that can be adjusted like specific colors; however, merely being able to bring a bit of continuity to a character’s fashion is nice. No more will your team look like they were dressed by a three-year-old. I did find it slightly disappointing though that this option doesn’t extend to Shulk’s weapon, however. My most welcome tweaks were the changes made to both skill books and ability gems, streamlining the process.
The precious skill books that unlock stronger versions of your attacks are also now all sold by a single vendor. No more will you have to globetrot around the Bionis to find the specific vendor who sells a character’s books, hunt down secret areas, or hope they drop from unique monsters. This time, you will simply have to kill unique monsters that will net you a particular currency that can then be exchanged for said books. It works so well, and I would have loved if this could have somehow been incorporated into the base game too.
Ether Gems got an equally convenient tweak in Future Connected. Gone are the Ether Furnace, shooters, and engineers, and in their place is a sweet and straightforward Ether Pick Axe. Instead of the intricate process of crafting skill gems, you now just walk up to an Ether deposit, click a button, and you will get gems based around that ether’s element. The skill gem crafting system is one of the more obtuse systems and has been the bane of many new players before, so this adjustment is welcome. In a perfect world, I would love to see a balance of these two takes on the skill gem system, though, as this does seem a bit too simple, and it can be an annoyance to get the gems you may need.
Side quests are staples of RPGs and can prove to be integral to expanding and fleshing out the world you are questing through. When executed well, their inclusion can make the towns you visit feel alive and lived-in and help grow your investment in the lands you are supposed to save and protect. So much of the Xenoblade narrative is expertly told and presented that it makes the absolute trainwreck that are the side quests even more painful. Monolith Soft opted for a more quantity over quality approach in this area, creating hundreds of quests with little impact or inventiveness, with each revolving around killing “X” amount of a creature or finding “X” amount of an item. The sheer number of quests is impressive, but when even the responses your party gives are repeating over and over, you have to ask yourself, just because you can put that many side quests in, should you?
That being said, the main story found in Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is beautiful and crammed full of plot twists, intrigue, and genuinely tear-jerking moments. The moments spent with your team during these times or in the personal one-on-one reflection gives substance to the bonds Shulk and others share. You will undoubtedly find your favorite crew of heroes, but it’s worth your time to improve the relationships with each so you can share these moments. They are by far some of the best aspects of this game.
Xenoblade Chronicles has been and remains a beautiful example of the RPG genre. Still, it’s one where the complexity and depth acts both as one of its most significant benefits and biggest detriments. New players that can stick with Xenoblade long enough for the mechanics and combat to click will be rewarded, but for some, it just takes too long to get to that point. Before this playthrough of the Definitive Edition, I owned and have attempted to complete this game a few times before, on Wii, WiiU, and the 3DS, and it just never stuck. This time around, the mix of the gameplay improvements and obligation helped to force me through the barriers that had halted my momentum before, and I came out loving the result.
This Definitive Edition release is hands-down the be-all-end-all version to play. The improvements in visuals, performance, soundtrack, voiceover options, mechanics, and overall quality-of-life improvements effectively bury all previous versions of Xenoblade Chronicles. Unless you don’t own a Switch, there is no reason to go back to any of the other iterations. Experiencing this version on the Switch hit home just how incredible the team at Monolith Soft is to have been able to create such an experience on the Wii all those years ago.
For those that can stick with it, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is a beautiful example of what the RPG genre is capable of, and it is easy to recommend checking out or revisiting.