XENOBLADE CHRONICLES: DEFINITIVE EDITION / DEVELOPER: MONOLITH SOFT / PUBLISHER: NINTENDO / PLATFORM: SWITCH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
If you’ve played the last two editions of Smash Bros. and wondered to yourself who the heck this Shulk guy is, well, you're in luck, as one of the best (yet criminally overlooked) open-world JRPG series gets its origin story remastered on the Switch. Originally released in 2010 on the Wii, and then as the first exclusive game to come out on the 3DS XL, it’s had an indirect sequel (Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U) and a direct sequel (the amazing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on the
Switch). It’s also part of the Xeno meta-series dating back to Xenogears on the original PlayStation in 1998. History lesson over, let's jump straight into the first Chronicle.
The story is a sci-fi / fantasy with plenty of religious overtones, evidenced by the opening scene as two giant titans, the Bionis and the Mechonis (representing good and evil), battle to the death, their bodies eventually becoming inhabited by various life forms. Biological creatures reside on The Bionis, whereas the Mechonis is home to the mechanical Mechons - nice easy names that everyone can remember. The protagonist, Shulk, is a researcher of a legendary sword called the Monado, which has been vital in the defence against the Mechons. However, few can control or understand its power...
Gameplay is in the style of an MMORPG, in that battles are in real-time, powers have cooldowns, and you just control one character at a time, offering basic real-time instructions to other members of your party. The mechanics of battle, however, are somewhat unique, favouring status conditions and positioning over the elemental combos that the sequel offers. There’ll be attacks that only do damage from the back or side, so you need another member of your team to be used as a distraction. You inflict various status, such as “topple” which leaves opponents more vulnerable, and if you chain the status attacks in the right order, you’ll do some serious damage. Lack of control over the rest of your party can be frustrating at times, when for someone reason they’re just not hitting the attack you require, but battles are so fast-paced with the need to constantly swap between different attacks that there wouldn’t be any way to control your partners. The exception is when your party
hits a chain attack, where time slows down and you briefly control each party member to pull off a devastating combo. Obviously, eventually Shulk becomes the guy who wields the Monado. Once this happens, other than becoming a lot more powerful, the sword's precognitive powers become vital parts of gameplay, giving you the chance to tell a comrade to move out the way before they’re killed in battle.
Outside of battles, there is a gigantic gorgeous world to explore, broken down into large areas. You’re generally rewarded for exploration by ticking off side quests and finding useful items. Side quests themselves are fairly meaningless in terms of story content and fun - they’re usually just fetch quests that don’t offer any kind of character development or challenge. They are, however, very easy to pick up, and will just auto-complete once you’ve achieved the objective, rather than making you go back to the person who issued the quest.
It would have been so easy for Monolith Soft to do what a lot of remasters have done, and just sharpen the image a bit. However, that’s not generally how Nintendo-published titles work, and they’ve gone above and beyond with this one - character models, voice work, environments and even the soundtrack have all been revisited to make a stunning game. The original XC was one of the most beautiful games on the Wii, but it was unfortunately violated by modern TVs; this edition finally does it justice. On top of all this, they’ve added some quest-related quality of life improvements as well as Xenoblade Chronicles: Future Connected, an extra epilogue story that takes place a year after the main game.
“Definitive Edition” this most certainly is. It’s not the best the Xenoblade game on the Switch, but that’s more of a compliment to its sequel than a criticism of this release. Xenoblade Chronicles is a masterpiece of an RPG in every way. If you haven’t played it yet, or even if you have, you need to play this version.