Checking out remasters of older JRPGs can be hit and miss at times. If you played them before then anything tidied up helps you relive your previous joy, whereas if you missed it some systems can wind up being too darn old.
The new Switch release of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition falls somewhere in between amazing and frustrating like you may expect from a 10 year old game.
The biggest reason to pick up this game, and the reason I played for so many dozens of hours, is the story. The short synopsis of the early story is that the world was a giant sea, until two gods appeared and fought each other with massive swords. One day they finally hit each other with the swords and the fighting stopped. Then on their posed bodies, life grew, with the Homs and biological life growing on one body and the other, robotic Mechons.
So gods fighting in the sea, stop each other, life grows on top of them. Following me so far?
The game then jumps to a battle where the Homs (humans) are fighting the Mechons (robots) in one of their many battles. We see the sword called the Monado (on the games cover) in use to cut through Mechons, then some drama unfolds where the Humans and all kinds of people die. We then jump forward again to our protagonist, Shulk, who is a young scientist trying to understand the mysterious sword. He has some small adventures with his allies Reyn and Fiora as they complete some tasks in their town.
Suddenly the village is attacked by Mechons and in their desperation Shulk tries using the Mondo and he starts seeing the future and hacking through mechons like they are butter. So that is a rough guideline of the first couple of hours of the plot. It is such a unique story which is rare, and so much happens to let you truly understand the weird world they are in. The characters are surprisingly varied and well rounded, but I found the voice acting to be rough. It was cool to hear British accents in a game for a change, but I wasn’t buying the voice acting itself.
The gameplay is an interesting beast, and has some unfortunate timing thanks to its close release to FFVII Remake. You run around the open areas while attacking enemies which kicks off the battle system. Everyone auto-attacks and you control the party leader only. For the most part this is fine, but there are bonuses to using certain attack types followed by others to essentially stagger an enemy. This is hugely frustrating early on as you need the AI to hit the second attack to beat the initial robot enemies and the AI wasn’t playing ball for me.
There are chain moves you can use that when it builds up you get to choose each move a character uses, but you won’t have that at the start of every fight so it is annoying early on in the game. Once you get the mondo you get abilities to attack Mechons easier, so that makes that early frustration more bearable, even if that means you have to grit your teeth through it. I mentioned FFVII Remake because it came out recently and uses a similar style battle system, but you can choose what any of your party does on the fly making it essentially a better version of the same system.
I like the look of the game. They have done a fantastic job of upscaling it from the original game, and while it looks a little bit dated, it’s gorgeous in comparison to a lot of the mid-tier JRPGs I play. The world itself has been crafted beautifully to give a weird balance of being primitive and technological, while areas are being crafted around the different parts of the god bodies is brilliant.
The Definitive Edition also includes some new content set well after the end of the game, so if the 80 hours you played last time weren’t enough, there is more this time. This is added to the considerable side quests in the game if you choose to do them which fleshes the game out to be at the massive end of the JRPG scale. I was getting a bit over the gameplay by the end of the game, but that story kept pulling me along for the long journey.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is a wonderful JRPG that is as dated as it is current. It doesn’t play like a game that came out this year, but looks pretty darn good on Switch and has a story and characters well worth experiencing if you haven’t already.
Released: May 2020
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Monolith Soft, Monster Games