Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, developed by Monolith Soft and published by Nintendo, is an improved, remastered version of the 2010 Wii classic developed exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. This epic tale tells the story of a young man named Shulk who goes on a journey with his friends, fighting mechanical monsters known as the Mechon. When Xenoblade Chronicles launched nearly a decade ago, it was met with almost universal praise. But does its story and gameplay withstand the test of time? Or have its merits rusted away exposing only junk metal? Here’s our review:
The Grand World of the Bionis
The world of the Bionis is breathtakingly large. Areas like the Guar Plains and Satorl Marsh are massive in scale, appearing larger than whole regions in other RPGs and even MMORPGs, and are only a fraction of the total areas that compose the Bionis’s body. These large, open spaces are made grander by the narrow corridor segments sprinkled in-between, accenting the dichotomy between them.
Likewise, this theme of dualism can be seen throughout Xenoblade’s story. The mechanical ‘Mechon’ soldiers fighting against the organic ‘Homs’ that live on the Bionis; and the mysterious long-lost technological civilization that time, and nature itself, has reclaimed. Both these ideas remain persistent throughout Shulk’s journey, and could very well be seen as the conflicting internal struggle he suffers through in finding out who he is and his relation to his sword, the Monado.
Some Definitive Updates
The Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is far and away the best way to experience – or re-experience – this journey that Shulk and friends go on. Over the 50-plus hour-long story, there are a bevy of updates from the original 2010 Wii version that make the journey feel less stagnate and more like a modern RPG. Improved visuals, an enhanced soundtrack, and a new dozen-plus-hour-long Epilogue story are only the start to what has been added.
Most noticeably, compared to its ten-year-old counterpart, the improved UI is a lot simpler and easier to read. The menus appear crisp and aren’t taking up half the screen real estate like before. Instead of a clunky menu interface, the main menu feels a lot more natural and easier to navigate. From the equipment screen to the quest log, everything this time around is what one would expect from a modern game. The streamlined quest log in particular provides quick and easy direction when it comes to tracking and completing the very numerous side quests available.
In combat, the on-screen bar has been improved to provide easy-to-read context on effectiveness in battle. During Xenoblade Chronicle’s real-time combat, a small exclamation point will appear next to an Art’s skill icon to notify that it is effective at that particular time. Certain Arts that require specific positioning, like flanking an enemy in order to pull off bonus damage or special effects, can be more easily utilized and more consistently effective because of this. Additionally, a quick on-screen text will fly up saying ‘Chance’ in case the exclamation mark is too small. One or both of these notifications can even be turned off via the in-game options, in case they become either annoying or trivial.
Graphic-wise, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition looks the best it ever has. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much. While the scenic locations on the Bionis can be awe-inspiring, the overall graphics play second fiddle when compared to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on the Switch. This isn’t the most graphically impressive JRPG available on the Switch, but I honestly don’t expect a remastered Wii game to ever accomplish that feat. What it does manage to accomplish is an outstanding level design and a realistic-feeling world that gives you a true feeling of immersion.
The improved graphics aside, the 720p definition in Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is a marked improvement over both the Wii’s 480p seen previously and the 240p seen on the 3DS version. Granted, while the graphics can reportedly go as low as 378p while in handheld mode, I never once encountered a decline in fidelity in any noticeable sense. More importantly, I never once suffered a frame stutter or drips to the framerate – it stayed at a constant 30fps, even when exploring the most particle-dense locations. That said, I did encounter a couple of situations in which enemies would not render until I was right on top of them – but I can count those instances on one hand.
Exploring and Questing
While exploring the beautiful locales on the Bionis along Shulk’s journey, there are a number of distractions available that can provide great benefits to the party. There are Heart-to-Heart scenes only viewable when certain characters’ friendship is high enough, and a whole colony reconstruction effort that reminded me a lot of building up towns in Bravely Default and Bravely Second (but without the annoying time-gate mechanic). Most beneficial however are the side quests available from the many people inhabiting the Bionis which, while completely optional, are one of the best ways to get experience outside of grinding. Many of these side stories are genuinely engaging, but unfortunately there are more times where the tropey “kill X monsters,” or “collect X items” are prevalent.
Thankfully, Xenoblade Chronicles has a couple of quality of life systems in place that lessen the monotony of these quests. First, many quests (but not all) will automatically complete when you fulfil the requirements. This cuts down on the time it takes to hunt down the quest-giver NPC and turn it in. There are still some quests that require this, but oftentimes they are part of a quest chain that requires exposition for the next part. Second, when you find items in the field or from monster drops that are a part of future quests, Shulk will have a vision showing how many of this particular item will be needed for a quest that they haven’t received yet. Additionally, these items are marked by a symbol in the inventory to prevent situations in which they are accidently sold to a vendor.
Some side quests can span over several large areas, but the fast travel system cuts down on this tedium immensely. Even within a single area, there are often multiple landmarks that can be used for quickly traveling across points. For example, even in the beginning town of Colony 9 there are five landmarks within the city itself, and another five scattered around the outskirts. The loading times between areas are incredibly fast as well, something that the Definitive Edition thankfully kept intact from the original. Within the same area, travel only takes a second. Across different regions, its only a few seconds. I wish more RPGs could take a lesson from Xenoblade Chronicles in not only having fewer loading screens, but greatly decreasing the loading times as well.
Equipment and Inventory Management
However, there is a situation that I think Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition could have benefited from in taking lessons itself. Although the menus for navigating equipment and items was greatly improved, the sheer number of items and equipment gathered became overwhelming. After only about a quarter of the way through the story, I felt overwhelmed by how many old pieces of gear I still had as well as all of the miscellaneous items that I picked up.
From gathering crystals and cylinders for crafting gems, acquiring the gems themselves, picking up collectibles for filling out the Collectopaedia, and the materials from dead monsters – there is a lot of loot to gather and sort out. I never threw anything out, because I assumed I might need it later, nor did I ever sell anything, because I didn’t need the money for anything. Maybe if gear was only attained through vendors I would have spent more money in shops, but there are a ton of weapons and armor that can be found via regular monster drops.
This is good news for those that love to customize their parties, since the equipment system does allow for a ton of freedom to specialize characters a certain way. For example, I primarily played Shulk like a damage dealer and focused on increasing his damage output as much as possible with attack or strength boosting gems in medium armor. However, I realized that I would usually pull the monsters’ attention to myself and Reyn had a hard time taking back agro. After, I set Shulk to be more tanky and I loaded him up with heavy armor and HP-boosting gems instead. Since Shulk became my tank, I swapped Reyn out for a different party member that I could spec to deal more damage instead.
Personally, I would have enjoyed an auto-equip feature to assist people like me who really don’t want to take the time to min-max their party. By the time I got halfway through Xenoblade Chronicles’s story, I stopped trying to customize my party as much and opted for equipment that already had gems socketed into it so that I didn’t have to spend time bogged down in the menus. Luckily, Xenoblade can be pretty forgiving in this regard and there were times that I blitzed through certain areas and bosses without ever looking at my gear once.
New Modes to Enjoy
In case Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition does get too difficult, there is a new option added that can be turned on and off at will: Casual mode. This mode makes fights significantly easier and allows for those struggling in certain parts – or for those that just want to focus on enjoying the story – to be have the option to bump down the difficulty. This will mark your save file as being in ‘Casual Mode’ but as soon as you turn it back off and save it will go away. Otherwise, there is no detriment to utilizing this mode and I think that, from an accessibility perspective, it is extremely beneficial to allow for this kind of optional assistance. Especially since Xenoblade Chronicles doesn’t appear to have much else in terms of accessibility implemented into the options.
For others seeking greater challenge, there is also the inclusion of Expert mode. This mode does not make fights more difficult, though; instead, it allows for the redistribution of experience points amongst characters in the party. Meaning that you can change Shulk from Level 50 down to Level 1 if you so desire and go grind mobs in the beginning areas again. Party members can’t go below the level that they joined however, so like Sharla who joins up at Level 10 can’t go below that level. This mode can be used in conjunction with Casual mode as well, for those that want easier battles but don’t want to feel overpowered by being too high of a level.
For the ultimate challenge however, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition has added an all-new Time Attack Challenge that becomes available immediately upon entering the Guar Plains very early on in the story. These Time Attack Challenges take place in a separate space and are hosted by a being called the Nopon Archsage. Trials can be tackled either freely in whatever party configuration you’d like, or via restricted versions that have predetermined configurations for party members, everyone’s levels, and their equipment. These restricted challenges are exponentially more difficult than the free one, but with it come a much larger reward of Noponstones for successful clears. These Noponstones are a new currency that are only used in this Time Attack Challenge section and can be exchanged with the Nopon Archsage for items, including exclusive gear and gems.
The Epilogue: Extra Story
For most fans of this beloved JRPG, the most enticing feature will be the new Epilogue story that has been especially created for Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition called Future Connected. This extra story is entirely separate from the main story and can be launched right away from the title menu, so those who have already experienced the Xenoblade story previously will be able to immediately hop right in. The most remarkable aspect about this epilogue though is that the original voice actors have returned to reprise their roles. This is one of the most impressive things in this remastering, since Nintendo and Monolith Soft could have very easily opted to only have unvoiced dialogue instead.
The epilogue Future Connected does change a lot of things up from the original campaign however, so there might be some growing pains for fans who haven’t played in a while. First, there is an all-new system for performing all-out attacks instead of the previous Chain Attacks system. Second, Shulk has lot his power of foresight and won’t be able to predict enemies’ more powerful attacks anymore. Third, the skill tree system has been removed and so allies won’t fight in exactly the same as they did in the main story. Lastly, Ether Deposits can’t be collected like normal and will instead require a new tool – the ether pickaxe – in order to collect from them. The good news is that gems will be collected directly from the deposits now instead of just crystals.
I don’t want to spoil content for those who are most looking forward to playing this epilogue, but my general impressions regarding it is extremely positive. There are an extra 20 hours-worth of new content available in this extra story epilogue, if you complete all of the side content, and the pacing is almost identical to how the main game plays out: a grand, overarching story with a plethora of side quests liberally peppered in that is set in a beautifully-realized and never-before-seen part of the Bionis. The story does take place one year after the conclusion of the main story, so I would urge those that haven’t played through it to do so before jumping into this extra content. Otherwise, you may be extremely confused as to what just went on.
I think that, despite showing its age, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition lives up to being one of the greatest JRPGs in the last couple decades. Its story and gameplay are timeless and, although I was personally overwhelmed by its inventory system, the amount of customizability and freedom that comes with the plethora of gear available makes it highly replay-able to boot. The additional content, including the new Casual and Expert modes, the Time Attack Challenges, and the extra story Future Connected epilogue, makes this the best version of Xenoblade Chronicles available to date, as well as cements it as one of the best values in gaming on the Nintendo Switch.