For ten years, fans have been immersed in the Xenoblade series. What started as Monolith Soft director Tetsuya Takahashi’s vision in 2006 has since unfolded into an interconnected world full of mysterious gods, strong three-dimensional characters, and mesmerising backdrops that instantly draw the naked eye. Perhaps what sets this JRPG series apart is the balance between story and gameplay. Between the main storyline, side quests and building affinity between characters, Xenoblade has always been a slow burner, rewarding those who build the foundations of relationships and colonies through trust, and battle technique through understanding art combinations and continuous practice. While its successors delivered real finesse to the series, Xenoblade Chronicles paved the way to unforgettable characters and a tight-knit story that has – in many fans’ hearts – yet to be surpassed.
When Xenoblade Chronicles was released for the Wii in 2010 for Japan (PAL in 2011 and North America in 2012), it was declared one of the best RPGs of its time, receiving critical acclaim. In 2015, it was re-released on the New Nintendo 3DS with a Shulk Amiibo to encourage a new wave of fans to enter the collided worlds of the Mechonis and the Bionis. Now, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch brings the best of both worlds – home console and handheld – and boasts several user interface (UI) changes and quality of life upgrades, alongside a new additional storyline entitled Future Connected.
For our preview, we won’t be touching upon the Future Connected storyline or gameplay mechanics, though rest assured it will be covered in our review. Instead, we’ll focus on the changes to the core gameplay in the original storyline and what you can expect going into the series as both an experienced Xenoblade fan and a newcomer.
As before, Xenoblade Chronicles’ storyline remains unchanged (so far) in the Definitive Edition as you follow Shulk, the wielder of the legendary Monado sword, and his band of friends (Fiora, Reyn, Dunban, Sharla, Melia and Riki the Nopon) in their fight against the Mechon, a race of machines originating from the world of Mechonis. After a devastating battle against Homs and Mechon in Colony 9, best friends Shulk and Reyn set out on a journey across Bionis to avenge the fallen. But when Shulk begins to see visions of the future through the power of the Monado, it’s clear there’s more to the Mechon war than meets the eye.
For newcomers, Xenoblade Chronicles drip feeds information within the first ten hours of gameplay, which helps to both set the scene and understand the core mechanics behind the game. It’s also worth noting that fast travel and auto save functions are a time-saving boon, while skill trees and affinity levels are great bonus features that shouldn’t be ignored by those new to the series. For those familiar with the original title, you can expect to see major aesthetic changes on the Switch.
Visually, Xenoblade Chronicles is stunning. Between the blades of grass at your feet in Gaur Plain to the shimmering colours of the Satorl Marsh in the moonlit sky, the graphics in the Definitive Edition are truly captivating, mirroring what we’ve seen since in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (XC2) and its spin-off Torna: The Golden Country. When compared with the Wii version, character features are now fully animated in gameplay so you can easily view the contours and textures of their armour. Cutscenes also benefit too, with sharper and more detailed facial expressions combined with more fluid backdrops enabling characters to blend in more naturally. With such attention to detail, it’s a shame that water bears no visual effect on characters, either when caught in a rain shower or from swimming. That said, the graphical changes from the original to the definitive are crystal clear on the Switch when in docked TV mode. Unfortunately, as was the case in XC2, the handheld visuals are downgraded in Xenoblade Chronicles, making it a poor fit for a Switch Lite console in terms of graphical prowess.
Elsewhere, Monolith Soft has delivered practical UI changes to the on-screen display, including design updates to the battle arts palette, the character panel, party gauge and mini map, to emphasise a much cleaner, modern look that no longer distracts players from the overall gameplay since it takes up less space. Borrowing from XC2, the definitive edition also displays the current time just below the mini map – convenient when trying to defeat quest enemies that only appear at certain times. And finally, while you won’t commit to spending half of your life in menu screens (such as was the case in XC2), the Switch also boasts some lovely in-game menus that are not only visually appealing but are easy to navigate. Between choosing character outfits and equipping items to switching skill trees and viewing the beautifully overhauled collectopaedia, it’s great to see the vast changes to the UI have not been squandered.
In terms of quality of life changes, the definitive edition helps to refine the more frustrating elements from the original. Firstly, if you own XC2, you’ll receive 100,000 coins from Monolith Soft which helps to pay for better gear earlier in the game – a great way of saying thanks in our books. Secondly, and borrowing from Xenoblade Chronicles X (XCX), the auto-run feature is introduced, which can help lessen the arduous nature of side quests by toggling it on or off. However, this feature doesn’t mean the AI automatically runs to the intended story or side quest, it only runs based on the initial directional tilt of your analogue stick. Fortunately, active story and side quests are now aided by the addition of dotted marker lines in yellow and blue, respectively. This means players no longer need to guess where the quest will be located based on arbitrary markers, making it much easier to find materials and creatures to complete missions.
For collectable enthusiasts, including myself, Xenoblade Chronicles’ inventory limitations were exasperating to say the least. Committed to memory, the frustration played out like this; party meets unique monster in the field, party defeats monster, player takes all the loot. Except nine times out of ten, you’d have to toss several gems, ether crystals, weapons etc. out of your inventory to make room for that item. At 20 hours into the definitive edition, item inventory space isn’t an issue. Now, you can carry a maximum of 500 crystals, 450 gems, 450 weapons and armour (each type), and there’s no maximum carry count on field materials, key items and arts manuals. A small but convenient change.
While the definitive edition is littered with small but practical changes to the gameplay, it also comes with a new arranged musical score. Of course, I’m no musician but there are subtle changes to the original soundtrack, both in battle and on the field. You can toggle between the two in the system menu at any time, as well as change other settings, including switching between English and Japanese voices.
There is no doubt that Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition has delivered on some major UI and quality of life changes, pleasing both newcomers and familiar fans with its modern overhaul. As for what you can expect in the Future Connected storyline, Nene and Kino are clearly quite the pair, but we’ll reserve the rest for our upcoming review.
A copy of Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition for preview purposes was provided by Nintendo UK. A full review of the game will be published in due course.