Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Review
It all starts with a war. Homs against Mechon, humans against machines. It’s a fight for the right of continued existence, a fight for the very essence of humanity itself. On the edge of precipice, one man turns the tide with the aid of an ancient and powerful weapon, the Monado. Each swing of the Monado brings as much damage to its wielder as its victims, but the stakes are too high to consider anything less. In the valley where two worlds meet, Homs strike a pyrrhic victory, clutching back their humanity, securing a future previously thought lost.
We may die if we take a stand here. But staying gives us the chance to change our destinies.
It’s been nearly ten years since Xenoblade Chronicles first launched on the Wii in Australia, but for me, it feels like yesterday. In 2011, I was in the very tail end of high school, stressed and tired, with too much on my plate to consider adding a gigantic JRPG on top… and yet, I took a chance on this weird, long, silly game anyway. I’ll never regret taking that chance. Nine years on, it’s back and better than ever… at least, that’s the line from Nintendo. After a middling performance on the New Nintendo 3DS, the Switch’s rendition of Xenoblade Chronicles been branded as ‘definitive,’ with overhauled visuals, a rearranged soundtrack, and even a brand new post-story playable epilogue to tie up some loose ends that have remained untied for close to a decade. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is exactly what it says on the tin, representing the very best way to play a cult classic. But definitive, in this case, doesn’t quite mean perfect. We’ll get to that in time.
Xenoblade Chronicles takes place in a nameless, empty world, covered by vast, untraversable ocean as far as the eye can see. The sole exception is the site of an epic battle between two monolithic titans, the Bionis and the Mechonis. Eons ago, these mysterious titans clashed with each other — a battle between life and machine, as history would repeat many times — and ultimately died at each other’s hands. Their still-standing bodies became a wellspring of life, with flora and fauna great and small sprouting into existence. It is here, on the body of the Bionis, where our story takes place.
A year after the Battle of Sword Valley, the hero of the Monado, Dunban, is more or less bedridden, having lost the use of his right arm and much of his strength in the great battle. The Monado now rests in Colony 9’s weapons development lab, under the watchful eye of a young and dutiful researcher, Shulk. While he might not be the strongest Hom in Colony 9, Shulk is dedicated to unlocking the secrets of the ancient weapon and uncovering the mysteries of the Bionis.
It’s so peaceful. You know, Shulk, I hope every day can be like this, always.
Tragedy strikes when the Mechon descend upon Colony 9, led by a mysterious and powerful faced Mechon called… Metal Face. Yeah, it’s not the most creative name. Death and destruction spur Shulk into action, who grabs the Monado — the only weapon capable of cutting through Mechon armour — and steps up to the plate, wielding the blade with relative ease. Despite his best efforts, and despite defeating many Mechon, the Monado proves powerless against Metal Face, and in a crushing twist, the vicious machine strikes down one of Shulk’s closest and dearest friends, before retreating back to the Mechonis.
Spurred by a burning hatred for the Mechon and a taste for revenge — and burdened by sporadic visions of the future from the Monado — Shulk and his childhood friend/stereotypical beefcake Reyn begin their journey up the Bionis to defeat Metal Face and end the reign of the Mechon forces, once and for all. They’re joined along the way by a variety of weird and interesting characters, some of which are genuinely fascinating and well-characterised, and others… not so much. Sharla, for example, has a teensy bit of genuinely interesting story when she gets introduced, and then is more or less relegated to the background for almost the entirety of the game. On the other hand, we have Melia, crown princess to the High Entia — a race of human-bird hybrids with a rich tradition and a knack for magic — whose struggles with living up to the legacy set for her are a fascinating through line from the moment she’s introduced all the way up to the end of the game, and into Future Connected (we’ll get to that much later). And then there’s Riki.
Yes, I’m going to dedicate a whole paragraph to Riki, because this is my review and I can do what I want. Riki is the Heropon of the Nopon, a race of adorable little fluffballs who love nothing more than chomping into a big old ball of pollen. As Heropon, Riki is tasked with protecting the Nopon Village deep inside the Makna Forest, a job he is surprisingly well-suited for, despite seemingly being chosen solely so he’d pay back his increasingly large debt — a debt that only exists in the first place because he has so many children. Like, dozens of them. See, despite his short stature and cutesy language quirks, Riki is a real family man, a forty-year-old warrior who cares deeply for his beautiful Wifeypon Oka and all of his littlepons. He’s also a caring and considerate friend, who notices when his friends are tired and need a break, or when something is bothering them and they need to talk. Truly, above all else, Riki is the real hero of this story, a creature too pure for this world, and one we don’t deserve.
Riki have big family of littlepon. Riki raised and say goodbye to many littlepon. Riki know some things.
Alone, none of these characters are particularly standout — with the exception of Riki, of course — but together, they form a cozy coalition of close friends, and it’s this group dynamic that really makes these characters special. Rarely is a character ever alone throughout the story, they’ll always have somebody to bounce ideas off of, somebody to talk to, and somebody to stand by them. It’s difficult to write groups of characters well, especially groups as large as Shulk’s little cohort gets by the end of the game, but somehow, against all odds, Xenoblade Chronicles’ writers (or rather, its localisation team) pulled it off with great success. Every interaction feels natural, feels human; it feels like sitting down with a couple of old friends and just chatting the days away. That’s something that extends into the story, too.
See, in my preview for Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, I called the story “pure anime nonsense,” and I stand by that; it is 100% pure anime nonsense in terms of its plot. But where Xenoblade Chronicles stands aside from other anime nonsense is just how natural it all feels. That’s not to it’s perfect by any means, this is a game that can easily last 60 or 70 hours, which mean there’s bound to be a bit of chaff here and there. But overall, its themes of overcoming hate and defining your own destiny are beautifully portrayed the whole way through. Sometimes the storytelling can feel a little uneven, but as with much of this game, the end product is far greater than the sum of its parts. A decade ago, I was enamoured and excited by the ending of Xenoblade Chronicles, and almost ten years on, I feel the same. It almost makes me want to go back and play Xenoblade Chronicles 2 through to the end. Almost.
Speaking of, if you’re wondering if Xenoblade Chronicles connects to its sequel, it does! But it doesn’t do so in a particularly meaningful way. There are little hints and references to each other throughout, with a few characters in the Definitive Edition having slight redesigns to more closely connect with the second game in the series, but honestly, you may as well treat these as separate games altogether. If you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on the Switch in the past and enjoyed it, this is obviously still a great game to pick up — just don’t expect it to fill in any major gaps. We’re talking mere seconds of connecting moments in the dozens of hours of game time.
A coincidence or something more? You must discover this yourself.
Let’s step away from the story for a moment to talk about gameplay, because really, that’s the main thing that sets Xenoblade apart from just about any other game. Exploration is the name of the game here, with just about everything you do uncovering a little bit more of the game’s gigantic maps. As you explore you’ll find curious landmarks, fearsome creatures, secluded NPCs and even little villages from time to time. To aid with your exploration, you’re granted a little bit of experience for every new place you uncover and every new landmark you add to your map.
There’s also a lot of side quests. I’m talking dozens, maybe even hundreds. Most of them are the standard JRPG fetch quest, which can get a little bit exhausting over time, but some of them charge you with defeating a terrifyingly powerful beast, or digging into the nooks and crannies of a previously unexplored cave. The rewards from these quests vary greatly, with some rewarding bucketloads of cash and experience for catching a couple bugs in a field, while others reward you with a pittance for felling a heard of high level monsters. Some of these quests are even time-limited in a way, in that they become locked off and are unable to be completed once you reach a certain point in the story. Thankfully, the game does a fairly good job of telegraphing when those points are, and each quest that could be lost due to story progress is clearly marked with a little clock icon to let you know. While I effectively stopped doing side quests fairly early on due to the time pressure of reviewing a game like this, one thing I did appreciate was that each side quest had a little story to it, and completing said quest gives you an update as to what your involvement achieved. It’s a nice little touch, even if the quests themselves are a little lacklustre.
What’s not lacklustre, however, is the combat, the shining glory of Xenoblade Chronicles. For many, the combat system is the main cause for them bouncing off the game as a whole, but as a long-time MMO veteran, I feel right at home. If you’ve played something like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV (or, indeed, Xenoblade Chronicles 2), you’ll likely have a pretty good grasp of what’s going on here. You initiate combat by locking onto an enemy (or having an enemy lock onto you), after which, if you’re close enough, the character you’re controlling will start auto-attacking. From here, you can activate abilities, or Arts as they’re known in-game, that can do various things, such as a heavy attack, a heal, or a buff. After activating an Art, it’ll enter a cooldown period usually between about 10 seconds and a minute, forcing you to wait it out before you can use that particular Art again. Auto-attacks build up a Talent Gauge, and when that’s filled, you’ll be able to activate your Talent Art, a special art that’s unique to each character you can play as. Shulk’s Talent Art, for example, allows him to activate the Monado, unlocking a whole new set of Arts to use in battle, while Riki’s — adorably titled “Yoink!” — steals a random item or stat (like experience, HP, or strength) from an enemy.
On top of that, there are a few more additions to make combat in Xenoblade Chronicles a little more dynamic. Sprinkled throughout battles are often little quick-time events, requiring you to time a button press to get certain perks, as well as filling up the Party Gauge. When the Party Gauge is filled, you’ll be able to activate a Chain Attack, allowing you to chain together any Art from each of your active party members. There’s a little strategy to Chain Attacks; you could go for a combo based on effects, by afflicting Break, then Topple, then Daze, something that is possible without a Chain Attack but requires a bit of luck to pull off. Alternatively, you could match together similarly coloured abilities to gain a damage or effectiveness modifier — though with eight colours, my colourblind self struggled to make any decent chains this way. It’s an interesting little system, and really plays into the synergy that you find between each of the characters’ abilities in battle. Shulk is also able to see visions of strong future attacks from enemies, giving you a few seconds to change the course of the battle to prevent the attack from going ahead.
Find us, Monado. Sword of the Bionis. We will meet you on the battlefield.
So, finally, we get to the question you’ve all been waiting for: what exactly makes Xenoblade Chronicles’ Switch port definitive? There’s a surprising amount of depth to that answer, so let’s break it down piece by piece.
Visuals are the main difference at a glance. Every character has been redesigned and remodelled to be a little more in-line with the aesthetics of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a welcome change that really breathes life into the dated visuals of the original game. The UI has also been completely overhauled, and it’s more than just a fresh coat of paint. Every part of the UI has been redesigned and refined to be a lot clearer and frankly, a lot more out of the way. The original release of the game had a UI that was cluttered and frustrating, with too much of it taking up a great deal of screen real estate and not enough of it giving you vital information. Here, that all goes out the window, with battle UI elements neatly tucked away at the edges of the screen, and menu UI elements laid out in a clear, consistent way. Plus one for the Switch port.
Unfortunately, while the characters and UI got a nice little overhaul, the environments do leave a little something to be desired. I am, by no means, saying any of the environments look bad, but there’s absolutely no escaping that this was a game made for the Wii, and little seems to have been done to shake that feeling. In my experience, it never reaches a point where it looks worse on Switch than it did on Wii but on rare occasions, it looks not a whole lot better, in part due to some dynamic resolution in some of the larger areas. At the very least, it certainly looks much better than the New 3DS port. That said, there are still plenty of moments where the game is utterly gorgeous, particularly in handheld mode thanks to its smaller screen, even if they’re a little bit fuzzier on the big screen.
Y’see? This is why I’ve been saying you need to get out of the lab every now and then.
Perhaps the next biggest thing to mention is the addition of two new ways to play: Casual and Expert modes. Casual is as straightforward as it gets, it makes battles a little easier, and I suspect (but can’t confirm) that it boosts experience gains. And let me tell you: it is an absolute godsend. Look, I usually try to play games on the standard difficulty, I really do. When I played Kingdom Hearts III early last year, I even picked the hardest difficulty available from the start. But I’m a grown adult, with expectations and commitments and obligations, and Xenoblade Chronicles is a 70 hour game, and much longer if you take the time to do every single side quest the game throws at you. Put simply, I do not have the time to waste grinding up to an acceptable level before every boss battle or wild group encounter. Cue Casual Mode. I absolutely cannot praise it enough, it brought what would normally be a 60-70 hour game down to a much more manageable 40-50. No grinding, no busywork, just the game. And in all fairness, it doesn’t exactly make the game easy, just easier — I still lost my fair share of boss battles. It eliminates a lot of what makes Xenoblade Chronicles such a difficult game to get into for a lot of new players, and that can only ever be a good thing. I have absolutely no shame in saying I played literally the entire game with Casual Mode on. It’s extremely good, especially since, if you like, you can turn it on and off completely at will, just by hopping into the options menu.
Expert Mode is less of a difficulty setting, and more of an option to control how and when you level up. When it’s turned on, all the experience you gain from discovering landmarks and completing quests go into a bank, and you can choose when or if to spend that experience. It also allows you to lower your level back down at any time, or push it back up using the reserved experience. Using this, you could make the game a little harder for yourself by eliminating bonus experience just for exploring, or you could really challenge yourself and keep your levels at the lowest possible the entire game. I am not sure exactly why you would do that, but hey! It’s possible.
And, finally, we get to the main draw for many long-time fans picking up Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, Future Connected. Set a year after the events of the main game, Future Connected is a brand new playable story epilogue that you can jump into at any time. I should say though, if you haven’t played Xenoblade Chronicles before, absolutely play through that first — the opening cutscene for the epilogue is the ending cutscene from the main story, so I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to have to sit through some pretty major spoilers. I’ll try to be very light on spoilers in my analysis of it here, but there are some small things that just can’t be avoided. If you want to know where the spoilers end, keep an eye out for the screenshot of Riki with a frog on his back.
A year has passed since the final battle, and Shulk, armed with an all new weapon called REX, has joined forces with Melia to track down the last of the High Entia and their homeland, the Alcamoth, after its (literal) fall from grace. What follows is a tale of political intrigue, reformation, and loss, with Melia finally coming to discover what her role as Empress of the High Entia truly requires of her, and Shulk, by her side, learning to live life free from the influence of the Monado. Joining in on the quest are two new characters, the adorable Nopon friends (and Riki’s Littlepon!!) Nene and Kino. It’s hard not to love these adorable little furballs, every little thing they say is cute as heck and the brother/sister dynamic is a really wonderful story beat to explore. Their entire existence makes me want nothing more than an adorable adventure game focused around Riki and a wacky revolving cast of his Littlepon.
As the crew approached the Alcamoth, now located on the previously unexplored Bionis’ Shoulder, they learn of a new threat that has cleared the city of its residents: The Fog King, a mysterious monster seeped in shadows with the ability to take over and empower the wills of any living creature, turning them into a vicious Fogbeast. This new threat is the main villain of the story… but I’m afraid I can’t say much more than that in terms of story. I can say, however, that you shouldn’t be expecting a fun “where are they now?” montage here. This is a story about Melia and Shulk, and the story doesn’t stray too far from those characters at all. Even having said that, it is a wonderful little story, even if you’re not that big on Melia and Shulk, if only because of Kino and Nene.
Thanks, Melia. For everything. I’m glad I met you.
Future Connected does throw a few spanners into the works, at least, and shakes things up in a pretty great way when it comes to combat. Chain Attacks and Shulk’s visions are gone — the latter thanks to Shulk no longer possessing the Monado — and in their stead is a curious new system called Ponspectors. Dotted around the Bionis’ Shoulder, you’ll find a quirky little troupe of Nopon land surveyors, the Ponspectors. Complete a quest for one, and they join you on your quest, aiding you in battle as active (but not controllable) participants and granting you buffs, heals, and all sorts of goodies. Collect three different types of Ponspector, and you’ll gain access to Ponspector Attacks, which are essentially a straight replacement for Chain Attacks. Here, you get to choose from three different options: an AOE attack that deals massive damage, a big heal for the whole team, or a flurry of buffs for you and debuffs for your enemies. What follows is an incredibly cute little quick-time event cutscene featuring the Ponspectors, and better performance with your button presses increases the effectiveness of the attack. I much prefer these to Chain Attacks, in part because of their simplicity, but also in part because it adds a really fun note to the battle, which can help lift the mood in some of the heavier scenes.
All in all, Future Connected might not be the closure that some fans are looking for, but at about 10-15 hours long, it’s a nice little chapter to close out the game. It’s not going to be winning any awards for its storytelling, and it’s probably going to disappoint some players who might be expecting a little more, but if you can temper your expectations a bit, and go into it looking for one last ride with a well-loved duo of characters, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
Definitive Edition does have a few smaller additions that are worth mentioning, too. Appearance is no longer tied to your equipment, with two slots available to fill — one for your equipped gear, and one for your fashion — so thankfully, there’s no more looking like a clown while you sit through an emotional scene. The Land of Challenge from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 also makes a return, offering up timed battles to take on to prove your worth in return for some silly cosmetic gear. The soundtrack has been beautifully rearranged, leading to some absolute bangers from the original sounding even, uh, bangerier. You can change back to the original soundtrack too, but why would you? The new one is much better. And finally, quests are a lot easier to find and follow, thanks to an overhauled map UI that shows you exactly where you need to go. Oh, and load times are pretty much gone, with quick travel between areas all being no more than a second or two. All that’s really missing to make this truly definitive is the exclusive amiibo content from the New 3DS port, and perhaps voiced heart-to-hearts, but really, those are minor grievances at best.
Riki sleep in castle now.
Xenoblade Chronicles is exactly what it purports to be; simply the best way to play a beloved classic. A decade on, Xenoblade Chronicles is just as fantastic on Switch as the day it launched, despite some of its minor failings. Sure, it can get a bit ugly at times, and it’s still a bit rough around the edges, but at the end of the day, between its gigantic quality-of-life changes and a fantastic new story chapter for long-time fans, there’s little else you could ask for.
Note: coverage of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is based entirely on version 1.0.0 of the game, prior to the game’s day one 1.1.1 patch. As such, some minor details may differ between this review and the final product.
+ Still an absolutely wonderful game
+ UI, visuals, and QoL changes are very attractive
+ Future Connected is a sweet little story worth waiting for
- Some areas still look a little rough
- There are too many side quests
- Whole game should be about Riki instead