If you are a huge Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) fan like myself, you have probably read many “best games of all time” lists in the genre. In those lists, you’ll see many common titles at the top — Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger, Persona 5, and…Xenoblade Chronicles. A game that almost didn’t make it to the U.S. for the original Wii, it is now widely regarded as one of the greatest in the genre. So, it’s not too surprising that Nintendo has given us a Definitive Edition on the Switch, right along side its sequel Xenoblade Chronicles 2. There are a lot of upgrades here; are they worth it for those who played the original? And is the game still truly one of the best of all time, or is it all nostalgia? Keep reading…
While we do already have a review of Xenoblade Chronicles from 2014, we have expanded our content guides since then, and this game includes new story content. (Also, I haven’t played every side quest and this game is huge. I probably missed something.)
Violence: This game is not bloody or gory, but it is violent. In particular, this is very much a story of revenge and bloodshed, and the enemies are, well, scary. I’m talking about Resident Evil here, but still enough to give younger players nightmares, I suspect. There are real stakes involved; it’s not a traditional “everyone magically survives and is happy” tropey story.
Sexuality: Let me get the begin one out of the way. This game is not marked by the ESRB for Sexual Themes, Suggestive Themes, or even Mild Suggestivce Themes, but it is marked for Partial Nudity. According to the ESRB write-up, one cutscene shows a male buttocks. The scene shows the backside of a male giant. When I watched this scene, it didn’t even to occur to me that it was nudity. More of a “statue of David” thing than a sexual scene.
There is definitely some implied romance in Xenoblade Chronicles among various characters, but there is only a single kiss in the game and nothing more.
What’s more likely an issue is character outfits. You can remove character’s outfits completely, and they are basically in their underwear, although in this version what can be seen looks more like swimsuits. Maybe just don’t do this. On the flip side, this new edition gives the ability to change outfits without affecting the weapon/armor being used, and this is a fantastic change. For people that might think any of the standard outfits are too revealing, you can simply change the character into a more modest outfit.
Language: The game is marked for Mild Language; I remember some “damn” and “hell” remarks, but nothing that would be bleeped on television (does that even mean anything anymore?).
Spirituality: It is difficult to get into this area without spoilers; if you want a full-spoiler rundown of this issue, you can read the end of Steve’s original review. Suffice it to say that spirituality is a key part of this game, but not in the traditional sense. The issue is more about when men try to “play god” and take their own power too far.
What’s so great about Xenoblade Chronicles?
It’s worth noting that we have a review of the original title, so this article will primarily focus on what’s new. But it’s worth stating up front that Xenoblade Chronicles is still one of the best JRPGs ever made, ten years later. I didn’t even play the game for the first time until a year ago on 3DS, and could still feel its magic.
People play JRPGs for a few key reasons. A common reason is that players like to see and do everything— complete every side quest, get every collectable, grind to level 99 just for the fun of it. Those players will find themselves quite happy with Xenoblade Chronicles; completing everything possible in the game could take over 150 hours.
I am someone that rushes right through the main quest, because the over-arching story is what interests me the most. Xenoblade’s story is one of the best narratives in the genre. It tells an epic quest of love, revenge, mercy, immersed in a complex but understandable setting rich with lore. The most common JRPG pitfalls are 1) boring combat and 2) a narrative that spirals into nonsense; Xenoblade dodges both of these issues expertly.
The game is a little long for my tastes, pushing 60 hours for the main quest alone, but it is worth it. It is no surprise the game is highly regarded, considering its excellent story, interesting combat, and audio and visuals that were up to standards, well, in 2010…. Speaking of which…
What’s improved in Definitive Edition? What isn’t?
For standard “quality of life” upgrades, there are several improvements over the original. There are now on-screen markers for side-quest progression, and also for when certain abilities in combat will trigger (e.g. side attacks and back attacks). Both of these are absolute godsends, taking away some of my few major gripes with the original game. There are also new difficulty options to make the game either easier or harder. The original game was often too hard or too easy depending entirely on your level, so these are much appreciated. Other updates are either industry standard now (Event Theater) or not that much of an improvement (the UI is still pretty clunky).
The most important changes, however, are regarding graphics/sound and content. Let’s be clear: this is not an HD remake. The character models have been upgraded considerably, but the environments haven’t been. The game still looks good, but this is not Final Fantasy VII Remake by any means. I appreciate that the character models still feel like they “fit” properly in the environments that didn’t receive the same treatment, and I also find they look much more in line with the characters of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which is a good thing. The original jump from Xenoblade to its direct sequel was jarring visually as well as narratively. It’s a small thing, but it really does help the series feel like a cohesive whole. Some of the music has been re-recorded as well, and it sounds great, but I can’t comment on the level of improvement since I played the first iteration on a 3DS with tinny speakers.
Finally, for returning players, there is the promise of new content. The new campaign Future Connected is thankfully playable from the outset. If you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s expanded campaign, ~Torna Country, this quest is similar in style and scope (8-12 hours), although it is a sequel rather than a prequel. The story focuses on Melia, a relatively underused character in the original game. And to me, this campaign is worth $60 by itself.
The gameplay is essentially the original game again, which is presumably a good thing, so let me focus on the narrative. Melia’s story here is fantastic, particularly in its delivery. It’s not an especially clever plot, but the writers and voice actors deliver an impeccable performance. I mentioned in our community article on Final Fantasy VII Remake that “quiet moments” are what make JRPG stories truly great. So, I was delighted to see that this campaign changed the name of Heart-to-Heart events to “Quiet Moments.” Monolith Soft gets me.
I have played many post-game sequels to JRPGs, ever since Square Enix set the craze off with Final Fantasy X-2, so praise the Lord: this is not that! Rather than just tack on a forced grand adventure with the whole cast, this one is laser-focused, with a narrow cast and tightly woven themes. You’ve saved the world, great. But how do you move on? How do you heal the hurts that take time? What does it mean to be family? What do lineage and heritage really mean? I don’t want to say too much, but a certain NPC from Xenoblade Chronicles features prominently, and their story truly moved me.
All that said, I do have some complaints. The first is that the very best scenes are contained the Quiet Moments, so some players may miss them. While I never went out of my way to get every Heart-to-Heart in the main quest because the world is just too vast, it’s entirely doable (and encouraged) to see every Quiet Moment in Future Connected. Related: it is very frustrating to see the Quiet Moment triggers appear on the map, only to see “You can’t view this yet” when you go and find the spot. They should not be on there at all until they’re ready, or light up green when they can be seen. I wasted a lot of time trying to view things that I couldn’t, for fear of missing them if they disappeared later.
My other large complaint is that the “big bad” of this narrative is basically just a vague plot device to have something to struggle against. I know the developers have said that it will tie into the future of a series in a “big way,” but right now it gives us nothing but speculation. In fact, their statement of such set me up for my eventual disappointment. I then hoped for some large revelation by the end of it, similar to the end of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and didn’t get it.
A neutral comment on the story is that… well, Nopons are here. (Think Moogles, or Hobbits, or Ewoks, or Dobby.) Some of the Quiet Moments allow their childness to work as a stark contrast to the complicated brooding of adults and work well to drive a point home. Yet at other times, they’re as annoying as usual. Another neutral comment is that I would have liked for some unresolved conversations regarding Shulk and Melia in the main quest to be addressed here, but I think I understand why they were not.
Overall, though, Future Connected gives Melia the story that she deserves, while exploring important and beautiful themes with dignity and poise. In particular, the aforementioned NPC is given some fantastic writing that pulls everything together perfectly. While it isn’t quite as narratively profound as ~Torna Country was, the weaker plot is given a better performance.
Who should get it?
If you enjoy JRPGs but have never played this one, then it’s absolutely time. Nintendo Tax means it’s not likely to be on sale any time soon, and what else are you going to do this summer in quarantine? The real questions are whether this game is good enough to convert someone who typically doesn’t play JRPGs, and whether it’s worth it for those who played the game already.
To answer the first question, I’m not sure this game is enough to change someone’s mind about the genre. I can say that if you dislike a game like Dragon Quest XI because of the simplistic combat, this game’s system is designed more like an MMO, with a lot going on and a lot to manage throughout the whole fight, not just Attack/Magic/Item/Run. But I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to someone who thinks JRPGs are too long, for example.
As for returning players: it’s been ten years. You know you want to play the story again anyway. More importantly, Future Connected is so well-written that I can recommend the package on the strength of that campaign alone.
This is the best package we’re likely to ever get for one of the best games ever made in the JRPG genre. What more can I say?
The Bottom Line
Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the greatest JRPGs ever made, and that remains true 10 years later.