Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country (Switch) Review
In an extremely uncharacteristic move from Nintendo, Monolith Soft have come out with the Xenoblade franchise’s biggest piece of DLC ever – Torna ~ The Golden Country, a standalone expansion. This DLC is essentially its own unique game – not even requiring the original released to be played, if so desired. It’s really no joke, either. If Nintendo had come out of the gate announcing Torna to be a Xenoblade 2 spinoff rather than what it turned out to be, not a single person would’ve batted an eyelid. This whole setup proves to be both a blessing and a curse, making Xenoblade 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country (one big mouthful) an extremely interesting experience to talk about.
Torna takes place 500 years prior to the events of Xenoblade 2 (which I will refer to as XC2 from now on). However, that doesn’t mean the DLC is void of spoilers of the game its based on, but much rather the opposite. Torna ~ The Golden Country uses its setting to primarily explore the backstory of Lora and Jin, two of some of the most important characters in the base story… and because of that, it’s really hard to write about the events that occur in Torna for any readers who might be interested in trying out this game without playing the original. The Torna DLC is at odds with itself in so many ways. I found myself struggling to understand who it was for, exactly.
The game prides itself on being a standalone release that people can pick up off the shelves and play without owning XC2, but during the time I spent with the game, the same thought kept crossing my mind.
“Why would anyone want to do that?”
It’s confusing. The tutorials that Torna ~ The Golden Country introduces to the player are in depth. In fact, they’re more in depth and easy to understand that the tutorials that Xenoblade 2 ever had. It fully expects and welcomes new players with open arms, telling them “It’s ok to not know anything! We’ll teach you!” but then turns its back moments later with the introduction of the plot. Torna expects you to already care about Lora and Jin. It expects you to already know who Addam and Mythra are, and all the intricacies of the war politics that the world of Alrest is embroiled in. It’s inaccessible.
As someone who finished the original XC2 and really loved it, unfortunately, I couldn’t really get into the flow of the story of Torna. The writing feels painfully sluggish and uninspired compared to what preceded it, in no small part thanks to those war politics I mentioned earlier. While XC2 put character interaction and personal stakes at its forefront, Torna does the opposite and for far too long, those elements feel like they take a backseat. There’s a lot of moving from location to location, listening to characters discuss the strategies and decisions on what to do next, agreeing, and then rinsing and repeating the process.
That’s not to say there isn’t personal drama, though. There are definitely effective emotional scenes (which are usually more so if you’ve played XC2) and charming character interactions over the course of the experience. Many of which are experienced through one of the many new features Torna introduces called Camping.
While it does lose the charm of having the opportunity to explore bustling towns (which makes sense to Torna’s plot), it replaces the void with charm of a different kind – one that fans of Final Fantasy XV would be extremely familiar with. Gathering around a campfire, cooking recipes, crafting items and chatting with your allies. In a setting that can feel so desolate and lonely, it can be heartwarming to have an excuse to allow the characters to take a break every now and then to simply spend time being friends.
Being able to also have familiar characters craft accessories and items creates a sentimentality in what you decide to equip just by knowing that one of your allies made it, as opposed to some random shopkeeper in some random town. I also found that being constantly reminded that these features are there encouraged me to try them out more often.
The battle system has also seen a rehaul from XC2, allowing for a more focused process than what was seen before. In XC2, the battle mechanics had to be designed around the many, many blades that you would obtain through core crystals (the loot boxes of the game – except they were free). In Torna, the only blades that accompany each character are ones that are heavily tied to the plot, entirely removing the core crystal system altogether. This means that the one or two blades that a character starts will likely be the only ones that they have throughout the journey.
In combat, you’re able to swap between playing as both the driver and blade through Vanguard Switch. The idea behind Vanguard Switching is that whoever you’re controlling is the Vanguard, and whoever’s in support is the Rearguard. Each character in your party (drivers and blades) have their own set of moves depending on whether they’re in the Vanguard or Rearguard position. A big draw of Vanguard Switching is having more freedom to chain combo attacks. The four stages of combos (Breaking, Toppling, Launching and Smashing) have never been easier thanks to this new system. It doesn’t come without a catch, however! Both the Vanguard and Rearguard of each set of characters share the same health bar, so you’ll find yourself keeping on your toes while working your way through battles. It can be extremely thrilling once you’ve gotten the hang of it – especially during boss fights.
Also present is the Community system. This is a wonderful little addition that encourages the player to talk to more NPCs. As you engage with the folk that populate the world of Alrest, certain people are added to your Community. The Community comprises of one huge circle and everything outside of it. When you first talk to people they start off on the outside of your circle, but as you complete side quests that they provide, they’re properly added to your Community. This allows for your positive reputation to grow in each relevant area, which then leads to brand new quests and rewards continually being added as you continue to progress. It’s a really smart and creative incentive to keep you coming back to do quests, and I found myself delving into them more than I ever expected to.
While Torna’s story unfortunately turned out to be a huge let down, the gameplay does more than enough to pick up the pieces. Ultimately, exploring the world of Alrest is still a delight, and any excuse to re-enter this gorgeous universe is one worth taking.
Rating: 3 / 5
- Engaging new way to battle
- The Community system
- Writing is a letdown
- An inaccessible plot for newcomers