[Review] Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition – Nintendo Switch

Written by Kieran Fifield
  • Developer: Monolith Soft
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: 29/05/2020
  • Price: £49.99 / $59.99
  • Review code provided by Nintendo
  • Game reviewed at Version 1.0.0

Introducing: Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition – Nintendo Switch Review

Our Video Review

Almost a decade after its original launch in Japan, eight years on from Operation Rainfall, and five years after it was released in stereoscopic 3D on the New Nintendo 3DS, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition arrives on the Nintendo Switch and in doing so, cements itself amongst the upper echelons of the best that the hybrid system has to offer. 

Xenoblade Chronicles is a JRPG – a Japanese role playing game – featuring an active combat system that combines real-time strategy and action, story-driven moments, stunning locales and hours upon hours of engaging gameplay, all of which have been remade and polished to near perfection. This isn’t a simple remaster, this is a remake from the ground up that not only polishes what can only be described as a diamond in the rough but elevates it.

With all that said and done, join me on this journey as we look at Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch.

OK guys, now we’re pulling together!

Set one year on from the battle of Sword Valley that saw the Homs army – led by the heroes Dunban and Dickson as well as Mumkhar – make their last stand against the army of the Mechonis, the Mechon, Xenoblade Chronicles story picks up with the our Protagonist Shulk once again daydreaming. After a brief introduction to his best friend Reyn, as well as his childhood sweetheart Fiora, things take a tragic turn for the worse as a Mechon attack on Colony 9 (our humble Homs protagonist’s home) leaves the colony in ruins with lives lost.

The results of this unprovoked attack sends Shulk and his companions on a quest for nothing more than revenge, setting in motion an epic tale of friendship, love, hatred, deception and survival, all set to a backdrop of mystery and intrigue. What Xenoblade Chronicles delivers in its 50+ hour main story arc is a powerful narrative that is heightened by its likeable characters which in turn are augmented by the brilliant voice acting provided. You can choose from traditional Japanese with subs or English. And by English I mean British. Right down to Daddy Pig himself, Richard Ridings.

Success is a journey, not a destination and Xenoblade Chronicles succeeds in delivering breathtaking locale after breathtaking locale. The journey in Xenoblade Chronicles sees our rag-tag group of miscreants traverse not one, but two epic titans – the Bionis and Mechonis. This allows Monolith Soft to flex their creative muscles and in doing so, they have created an eclectic, comely game world that, when you consider it was originally created a decade ago for the already outdated tech on the Wii, is even more remarkable. The Nintendo Switch has given Monolith Soft a platform to realise their original vision, all without the assistance of the Monado.

Electric gutbuster!!

As previously alluded to, Xenoblade Chronicles is an RPG that combines strategic elements with real time combat, the culmination of which is a devilishly delectable and utterly addictive system that, in the opinion of this humble hack, Monolith Soft has yet to better. 

The basis of the battle system sees the user-controlled character input commands while your two teammates fight alongside you of their own volition. Simple commands can be inputted during combat that allow you, the party leader, to influence your partners slightly, such as focus attacks or come to me command, but for the most part your squad will make use of their arts when they see fit. 

Arts, the term that Xenoblade Chronicles uses to describe attacks, have a cooldown period after use, that can be upgraded as you progress through your adventure and earn AP (Art Points). This means that choosing when and how to use an Art is vitally important, and thankfully the game’s AI generally does a good job of choosing when to implement an art that will be of benefit to the battle in progress and boost the affinity meter. 

Affinity Wars

The affinity meter is a triple-pronged blue bar at the top left of the screen that serves a multitude of purposes. Firstly, when all three chambers of the affinity meter are filled, a chain attack can be initiated, providing an opportunity to deal some major damage. When a chain attack is ready, blue links will connect the party. Strategies include using offensive Break-Topple-Daze stacks, or using the affinity meter to provide a respite and the chance to do some healing. However you play it, chain attacks can be stacked by using arts of the same colour, up to a total of fifteen and at the end of each turn of three commands, chain links can be activated by pressing the B button at the correct time. 

While this may seem incredibly confusing, once mastered, it provides an in-depth and engrossing battle system.

It’s also worth noting that certain groups of enemies can perform chain attacks too, if a battle is to proceed long enough for their own respective affinity meter to fill. At this point, red lines will link the enemies.

Aside from chain attacks, affinity can also be used to revive fallen allies or to encourage them. Each of these actions requires an entire block of affinity to do so, and can be detrimental to the possibility of a chain attack, so it’s important to balance the risk/reward of reviving a teammate, when perhaps a quick round of chain attacks will finish the enemy instead. 

Affinity is earned in battle in a number of ways. Performing arts is the most basic way to fill the affinity gauge but having good affinity with your team is paramount to quickly filling the tank and stacking chain attacks. The simplest way to achieve this is through accepting and performing side quests, which give the active party a warm fuzzy feeling, boosting morale and with it raising affinity.

This translates into battle through Burst affinity. Burst affinity is achieved three ways – by dodging an attack, performing a critical hit or even by missing an attack. In these moments, an on-screen prompt to press B will appear and if timed correctly, will raise party affinity and fill the gauge slightly.

This is the Monado’s Power

Outside of the battle system, affinity unlocks additional skill links and allows better gem crafting, resulting in more proficient gems (more on that later). Affinity is also key in viewing Heart-to-hearts. Heart-to-hearts expand the story of Xenoblade Chronicles through little cutscenes that, while unimportant to the overarching story, provide additional insight into the relationship between characters. Heart-to-hearts are scattered throughout the overworld and can only be viewed when certain levels of affinity exist between characters. If you want to get as much as possible out of Xenoblade Chronicles, it’s advisable to alternate party combinations in order to boost everyone’s affinity.

To further augment the battle system and give you an edge, gems can be crafted that provide stat enhancements and buffs. As mentioned earlier, better affinity between party members will result in stronger gems being crafted. Gems can offer anything from Topple Resist which will hopefully keep you on your feet during battle, to HP Revival which renews your health bar more if you fall in battle and are subsequently revived.

To somewhat conclude this mini-review of the battle system of Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, it’s complex. There’s a lot to learn with various, seemingly random factors all coming together in a sort of chaotic harmony; like the works of Picasso or Henrik Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Batallia. But, once experienced enough to fully understand and appreciate, its amalgamation is blissfully decadent and deliciously moreish.

Looking good, Shulk!

Aesthetically, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is as good a looking game as I’ve experienced on the Nintendo Switch.  The locales of the Bionis and Mechonis are instantly familiar (to people who have played the game before), but thanks to the impressive work done remastering Xenoblade Chronicles, these stunning game worlds are more opulent than before. Aside from the obvious leap to full HD, the most notable upgrade is in the texture department. Considering the scope of these areas, the work which has been done to refine them all is nothing short of astounding. When paired with the new HD engine and the extra grunt afforded to proceedings by the Nintendo Switch, the end result is, at times, breathtaking.

Unfortunately, one thing that remains from the days of yonder are the robotic animations. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and its brilliant DLC saw Monolith Soft master the mechanics of animating humans, however despite all of the things that XC:DE does well, animating humanlike character models isn’t one of them. Their competence for crafting meticulous game worlds and environments doesn’t translate when applied to protagonists, antagonists and NPCs alike. The result is some very robotic moments, sometimes even little glitches when traversing obstacles. That being said, this doesn’t carry over to the expansive, cinematic cutscenes which, given the game’s new graphical style, largely adopt the XC2 approach, and are more fluid and fresher than a dip in Makna Falls. 

The dormant Bionis and Mechonis were once living Titans, and it’s fitting that their sleeping bodies are now home to such luscious life. Trees and bushes sway in the wind, water shimmers and reflects sunlight from above and creatures large and small roam the landscapes freely. Areas such as Satorl Marsh and Eryth Sea utilise bloom lighting to create giddy and euphoric skylines, and weather effects create even more variety, with storms, sunsets and blue skies often providing extraordinary backdrops. There is a caveat, however, as sometimes there is simply just too much going on for the Nintendo Switch to process. During a trip to Eryth Sea during a mesmerising meteor shower, flowers and foliage often popped in and out, and at one point during battle, the enemy I was fighting simply disappeared!

The original score of Xenoblade Chronicles was masterfully mellifluous, fusing inspiriting classical arrangements with heavily distorted, screeching electric guitars. It seems somewhat preposterous to think that it could be improved upon, but the proof is in the pudding, and what a delicious, decadent delight said pudding is!! To paraphrase the youth of today, it slaps. 

It’s Reyn time!!

For the most part, Xenoblade Chronicles performs admirably on the Nintendo Switch. Docked, it really shines and with a consistent frame rate, provides the optimal experience. That being said, I did have three instances where the game crashed on me, all of which were whilst I was playing docked. Thank Zanza for the new auto-save feature.

In handheld, and on the Nintendo Switch Lite, the overall performance does take a slight dive in quality, with textures becoming far more jagged and blurred. It’s not overly detrimental to the experience, and perfect for farming collectables for the massive Colony 6 side quest. Given the cinematic nature of the story content however, it is best experienced on the largest screen possible.

QOL and customisation

One of many-a-gamers’ biggest gripes with Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii was how difficult it could be to track sidequests, especially when you started to accrue a backlog. Thankfully, the new, real-time tracking system along with active quest markers makes this nothing more than a bitter memory. In battle, new prompts suggest attacks to utilise in order to achieve chain attacks, or break/topple/daze, which serves as a nice reminder and makes an incredibly complex battle system infinitely more enjoyable.

My personal biggest slight with the original Xenoblade Chronicles was that if you wanted to upgrade your gear, you’d likely lose your stylised look. Once more, Monolith Soft listened to the ramblings of their biggest fan and have implemented a customisation menu that allows just that. Now, appearances are no longer tied to equipment, meaning you can tinker with your Jungle Boots and Sleek Oil to your heart’s content without affecting the edgy jungle pirate vibe you’ve got going on.

Future Connected

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is more than just a remaster, and the inclusion of all-new story content sees the mantle of Definitive Edition embraced in every sense of the word. Monolith Soft could have easily released Future Connected as standalone DLC content, the way in which they did with Torna ~ The Golden Country, however their decision to include it within the confines of the Definitive Edition speaks volumes about the studio embracing the moniker that they have adopted. 

Whereas the base game of Xenoblade Chronicles has been lovingly remastered, it is immediately apparent that Future Connected has been built from the ground up. It looks stunning and the Bionis Shoulder is more alive and vibrant than any area found in the base game. With it available from the start, completing the base game is not a prerequisite for unlocking it. Veterans of the series can jump straight in and experience this epilogue chapter that offers new locations, enemies and further fleshes out the aftermath of Shulk and Melia’s story.

Both Adam Howden and Jenna Coleman reprised voice acting duties for Future Connected too, meaning no disconcerting, discombobulating handovers. Beyond what I spoke about in my preview there isn’t too much I’m comfortable saying about Future Connected without taking away from players who have been yearning to explore the Bionis Shoulder for the best part of a decade. So I won’t.

Oh, alright, I’ll give you one morsel of information. Future Connected contains Quiet Moments akin to the base game’s Heart-to-hearts. As I said, a morsel. An amouse-bouche if you like to salivate the palate in preparation.

Let’s show them a thing or three

If the 50+ hour main campaign, the additional story content and the reams of side quests weren’t enough to satiate your every whim and need, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition offers even more content. Once the main game is completed, the option to create a New Game + save file appears. In New Game + all EXP, Arts, Skills, Affinity and money carry over, along with any gear equipped when you complete the game as well as a select amount of additional materials and weapons. It’s something of a double edged Monado though, as enemies in New Game + remain at the level they were before, meaning that New Game + is an incredibly dumbed down experience. It would have been nice if enemies levelled to match you and provide a little more challenge.

That being said, the new Expert Mode allows you to lower your level, in order to provide more challenge. When Expert Mode is enabled, EXP gained from discovering Landmarks and Secret Areas is banked. If you find the challenge getting to much, you can use the banked EXP to level up your party. Anyone who has played Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will instantly recognise this system. It’s worth noting that this feature is available from the offset, and not inherently tied to New Game +. On the flip side, if you’re finding the going too tough, there is an all new casual mode too. In casual mode, the difficulty of battles is reduced, resulting in opponent’s attacks missing more often than not, and damage taken reduced significantly. At the end of the day, accessibility is paramount to the Nintendo Switch experience.

A huge plus side of New Game + is the Collectopedia remains, so any entries made in your initial playthrough carry over. The Collectopedia is a scrapbook of sorts that allows you to use items that you have collected throughout your journey to fill in area-specific pages. It is broken up into categories and once an entire category is complete, you are rewarded with armour and Gems. The later the area of the game, the better the rewards. In Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, much like nearly every other aspect of the game, the Collectopedia has been given an overhaul and looks a lot fresher as a result.

Also ripped straight from the pages of the XC2 playbook is the Events Theatre mode, which can be accessed from the main menu. This allows you to re-watch all of the game’s cinematic moments, with the added ability to change your party’s outfits as well as, where applicable, the time of day. It’s another frabjous little addition that further justifies Xenoblade Chronicles’ Definitive Edition tag.

Conclusion

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is, without any shadow of a doubt, the best way to experience this epic JRPG. For newcomers of the franchise, it’s a chance to explore Monolith Soft’s masterpiece in its most opulent form. For ardent veterans, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition will offer familiarity without breeding contempt. The graphical overhaul, remastered soundtrack, quality of life improvements and new story content will offer the perfect excuse to get lost with Shulk, all over again.

Pros

  • QOL improvements
  • A story for the ages
  • Lovingly remastered
  • New story content
  • Wonderfully blended score

Cons

  • Robotic animations
  • Some textures pop when screen is particularly busy
  • Performance takes a hit in handheld
  • Crashes

Verdict
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition arrives on the Nintendo Switch, beautifully and carefully remastered, to rival a certain launch day title as the most immersive that the system has to offer.
4.5/5

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