By the time Xenoblade Chronicles arrived in Australia for Wii, I’d long since moved on. I was playing PS3 and Xbox 360 games, enjoying the HD visuals, online infrastructure and lack of waggle controls. It’s a shame really, that Xenoblade Chronicles released so late in the Wii’s life such that I’m certain many gamers missed out on playing it.
Sure, it was re-released on New Nintendo 3DS but, if you’re like me, the idea of playing an enormous JRPG on a tiny handheld isn’t a pleasant one. That is until Nintendo told me I could play it on my Switch.
And not just play it on my Switch, play it with upgraded HD visuals, remastered sound, improved controls and additional content. Still, I was wary. Could a 10-year old Wii game really be as good as everyone says? And could it still hold up today?
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition Review
Being a 10-year old game, I don’t want to bore you with all of the details. But let’s do a quick recap. Xenoblade Chronicles takes place in a world that was an endless ocean, until two mechanical gods, Bionis and Mechonis, were locked in an eternal struggle. When they eventually died, they remained frozen in place and as time passed, life sprang up, on their bodies.
The Bionis is inhabited by organic life forms, largely the Hom, a race of which the main character Shulk is. The Mechonis is home to the terrifying Mechon, a seemingly unstoppable robotic force who periodically raid the Bionis and capture Hom to use for fuel.
The only weapon capable of putting up a fight against the Mechon is the Monado, a blade said to have been used by the Bionis to defeat the Mechonis all those years ago. The Monado itself is a sword that most Hom are unable to wield and those are dealt a physical toll. That is until Shulk picks up the Monado in a moment of desperation and realises he can wield it.
What follows is a fairly classic JRPG formula, though told through a unique lens. It’s difficult to stay interested in games that throw lots of cutscenes at you and expect you to remember every beat and nuance of the story across many dozens of hours, but Xenoblade Chronicles isn’t one of those games. I was invested in Shulk and the Monado, of the Bionis and Mechonis and of the war with the Mechon.
Xenoblade Chronicles‘ is interesting because, while it uses many of the basic elements of the JRPG narrative, it completely commits to its bizarre premise. In doing so, you have no choice but to go along for the ride.
Even though Xenoblade Chronicles is a decade old, the combat still feels fresh and interesting to this day. Playing like a cousin to Final Fantasy XIV, in Xenoblade Chronicles you control one character of your three-character party. Combat is partially automated and your character will carry out standard attacks without any input from you.
However, each character has a number of Arts which are their different skills and abilities. These Arts need to be recharged (through combat) after each use and are key to the surprisingly deep strategy of combat. You’ll need strategies too when fighting the Mechon. Especially the strange Mechon with faces who are immune to the Monado’s power.
Early on, the game teaches you to first apply the ‘Break’ status to enemies before then applying ‘Topple.’ When an enemy is toppled, you’re able to deal huge amounts of damage, regardless of their type. But there are deeper layers still. Some enemies are resistant to these status attacks so you’ll need to perform a Chain Attack in order to knock them down. Chain Attacks can be performed once you fill the Party Gauge.
This gauge gradually fills throughout combat but gets a huge boost when you succeed on QTEs to rally your party members or give them some support. When you do, you help fill up the Party Gauge and improve your Affinity with that character. Increasing Affinity is important in order to expand your range of skills and deepen the strategy of your party.
Combat in Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is fast, fluid and visually easy to understand. Playing in either handheld or docked mode there are no issues identifying visual queues or on-screen prompts. And, in either mode, combat doesn’t drop frames or slow down the action whatsoever.
Visually, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition doesn’t look like a current-gen game, but it certainly doesn’t look like a Wii game. It’s actually quite pretty and crips with well-defined environments and characters models. The upgrade to HD is a huge bonus too as characters have well defined, semi cel-shaded faces that evoke a tonne of emotion. The crispness and cleanness of the visuals extends to the draw distance too.
You can look in any direction as far as you can see and you’ll still have some detail in the mountain ranges, forests and the like. It really helps give the game an epic feel to go with its story and to help sell the setting.
Textures, while not the most impressive, are of a higher quality than those you’d expect to find in a remaster of a Wii game. There’s very little, if any, blurriness and a surprising amount of visible detail. Unfortunately, character models may have impressive faces but their bodies are quite boxy. It’s to be expected but still a little jarring at first.
From a Japan-only Wii title to an eventual western release, 3DS port, sequels, spinoffs and now a remaster, Xenoblade Chronicles has a long and storied past. The folks at Operation Rainfall must be truly pleased to see the game getting a second chance on the Switch.
Whether or not you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles before, the Definitive Edition is the best way to experience it. The ability to play in either TV or handheld mode, upgraded HD visuals, remastered sound, better controls and additional content make this the ultimate version of Xenoblade Chronicles.
If you’re jonesing for some JRPG in your life, or want to see where Shulk from Smash Bros. is from or even just need something new on your Switch, Xenoblade Chronicles is the game for you. It’s hugely playable, entertaining and wholly engaging. It’s one of the most unique, clever and interesting JRPGs I’ve played and is so well regarded for good reason.
It’s excellent. Plain and simple.
Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition was reviewed on Switch using a digital copy provided by Nintendo.
Game Title: Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition
- Visual, audio and quality-of-life upgrades make it feel modern - 8.5/108.5/10
- Enormous, sprawling world with pockets of interest everywhere - 8.7/108.7/10
- Genuinely intruiging narrative - 9/109/10
- Gameplay still setting the standard for real-time JRPGs - 9.1/109.1/10