Preview: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
It’s been almost a decade since Xenoblade Chronicles launched on the Wii in Japan, and a little less than that since it launched in Australia, Europe, and eventually the US. In that decade, it’s gotten a sequel, a prequel to that sequel, an ill-fated pseudo-spinoff, and even a 3DS remaster — although given the 3DS’s capabilities, it might better be considered a demaster. Still, throughout the decade since its launch, a faction of passionate fans have held the original game up as the pinnacle of JRPGs, and perhaps rightly so. Now, with a console that’s selling like hotcakes, the opportunity has arisen for Nintendo to finally update Xenoblade Chronicles for the modern age, an opportunity that the company has delivered upon with Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition.
Although the game is still a couple weeks or so away from launch, I’ve had the pleasure of playing through it this past week for the purpose of review. I’ve yet to finish it, and my review is still quite some time away, but after 30ish hours with the game in hand I can answer a few burning questions that may help you decide whether or not it’s worth picking up. Let’s dig in!
What is it?
Xenoblade Chronicles — as its name suggests — is the first game in the Xenoblade Chronicles series, known as Xenoblade in Japan and “that game with Shulk from Smash in it” to the general public. Following on from that, the Definitive Edition moniker is a fancy term for “we made it look nice and pretty for the Switch.” It’s a pretty hefty action JRPG, with an incredibly in-depth battle system somewhat reminiscent of MMOs like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV, except played solely single-player. Xenoblade Chronicles features gigantic open plains which were pretty impressive back in the Wii days, and are a little less so now — but it retains the essence of that very Gamer™ catchphrase that made it so wonderful back in the day: “Anything you can see, you can go to.” It’s an absolutely gigantic world, and the game pretty actively encourages you to explore every single nook and cranny.
While some may call this an action JRPG, and indeed even I did back in the previous paragraph, but perhaps a better name for it would be a Side Quest Simulator, because my goodness are there a lot of side quests. As mentioned above, I’ve spent about 30 hours with the game so far, and easily half of that has been spent on side quests. Some guy in the street wants a random mushroom from halfway across the planet? You bet I’ll get it! Big scary monster getting you down? Let me grab my sword. Thankfully, if side quests aren’t your thing, you can just ignore them all and power through the story itself without really being any worse off.
Speaking of the story, it’s worth mentioning that this game kind of but also not really connects to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 — but you’d have to play through all of both games to get the gist of that, otherwise they stand pretty strongly by themselves. The game follows Shulk, a geeky inventor and Smash Bros veteran, as he journeys upwards along the Bionis (a big robot everybody lives on) and tries to unlock the secrets of the Monado, a huge laser sword that’s really good at cutting stuff up (as laser swords tend to be). In other words, it’s pure anime nonsense, and that’s very much a good thing if you’re into that kind of thing, like me.
A lot! But also not much. It’s complicated. The main thing you’ll notice is a major overhaul of the visuals, particularly character models and designs. They’ve all been updated and given a significant makeover, and I think it’s pretty attractive, really. You still get the same vibe from each of the characters, they haven’t been stripped of their signature charm, but they are a lot more in-line with the art direction seen in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 — though thankfully without the gratuitous chest-mounted tactical airbags. Most enemies seem to have gotten a makeover too, and the Mechon in particular look absolutely baller in their new models, hitting right in the sweet spot between cool and creepy. There’s also a brand new orchestrated soundtrack, with the sweet sounds of symphony playing out all your favourite tunes from the original. It sounds incredible, and it adds a layer of depth previously unseen in prior iterations of the game — but don’t worry, if you’re a fan of the oldies you can swap back to that at any time.
The other major new addition is a new story epilogue called Future Connected, set a year after the events of the game, following Shulk, Melia, and two new Nopon characters called Kino and Nene in their adventures on the Bionis’ Shoulder. I haven’t dug too deep into this quite yet — and even if I had, there’s not much I’m allowed to mention about the story until my full review is published. Having said that, there is an interesting new(ish) battle system, and for long-time fans of the games (and their lore) there’ll be a lot to unpack here… For newbies however, probably play through the game first — there aren’t that many spoilers, but it is set after the main game, so the spoilers it does have are kinda big. You’ve been warned.
Other than that, everything else is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. It’s Xenoblade Chronicles, just prettied up and with a new UI. There’s a few very nice quality of life additions too, though many will be displeased to know that some things have stayed the same — that means no voiced heart-to-hearts, and gem crafting is still as confusing as ever, even if the UI is a little clearer. For those still on the fence about it with fears of a lack of new stuff, trust me, there’s more stuff there, and you may even find a few more details if you take a poke around some of the official material out there, but my lips are unfortunately sealed. I will say though, there’s plenty on offer here for both newcomers and veterans alike… ahem.
How does it run?
Well here’s the tricky part. I’ve played most of my time in handheld, and so far it seems to hold up reasonably well. The visuals are mostly fine in handheld, even good I would say, and the framerate is mostly solid, with a few hitches here and there in some strange places. Sometimes I’ll see a frame rate drop in a random cutscene with Sharla, sometimes it’ll be when I’m looking over the edge of the Bionis into the cloudy abyss. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, it just happens every now and then — importantly, it doesn’t seem to happen at all in combat, which is where it would matter most, so we dodged a bit of a bullet on that one.
Docked is another story altogether. Here, the frame rate seems to be solidly stable, but there’s something about the visuals that feels a little bit… bad. When I first booted it up in docked mode, I thought that perhaps my Switch had accidentally started outputting in 480p instead of 1080p. It hadn’t, and it turned out that I was just experiencing some very aggressive dynamic resolution in a wide open area. Other areas seemed to fare a whole lot better, looking mostly good, maybe even bordering on great sometimes, but it’s wild that it even looked as low-fidelity and muddy as it did in the first place. Notably, the Future Connected epilogue seemed to look a little consistently better, but again, I haven’t played that through to the end yet, so it’s difficult for me to make a judgement on that. It never looks horrendous or unplayable though, just a bit below what you’d expect from an HD remaster of a 10-year-old game. To finish on a bit of an upside, load times are almost completely nonexistent, so that’s a big bonus for those wanting to quickly hop in to bang out a few thousand side quests on their lunch break.
Who’s it for?
This is always a difficult question to answer, because the simple answer would be “everyone!” but let’s be honest, a lot of people are going to bounce hard off this game. If you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles 2 but haven’t had the chance to pick up the original, absolutely grab this on Switch, you will not regret it. If you played the original on Wii or 3DS but didn’t really get super invested in it, this’ll either be an opportunity to hop back aboard the Xenotrain, or something you could skip over happily without losing any sleep.
If you’re an RPG fan but haven’t dipped your toes into the Xenoblade franchise yet, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Sure, the voice acting might be super cheesy, and sure, there might be some obtuse, under-explained mechanics, but there’s a reason Xenoblade fans have held this game in such high esteem over all these years. If you’re not an RPG fan, don’t like bonkers anime-style storytelling, or get easily overwhelmed with choice anxiety when faced with a long list of quests or equipment, I can categorically say you should probably pass on this one. It’s still a good game, and there are options available for those who might be jumping into the series for the first time, but it’s very much A Bit Full-On.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition launches on the Nintendo Switch eShop and at retail on the 29th of May, and our full review will be available shortly before launch. You can find the best deals for the game in our Aussie Bargain Roundup.
Screenshots in this preview have been provided by Nintendo and may not be representative of the game’s final release.