Friday, September 18, 2020

[950th Review!] Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (NSW) Review

It's here! It's SuperPhillip Central's 950th review, and boy, is it a big one! I don't just mean big as in a big-name game, or big as in a big review, either. It's more like, "this game took a long time to beat because it was so big" type of big! Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition launched this past May, and I finally completed both the base game and the all-new epilogue, Future Connected. Here is my review on the game.

A Vision of Beauty

There's always these games that you play, you love, but you never get the chance to finish. For nearly ten years, Xenoblade Chronicles was my Moby Dick, a great gaming whale that I just couldn't overcome. I played a decent way through the Wii original, and then with the hope of the game coming to a handheld with the New Nintendo 3DS version, I failed to even touch the game. Now, Xenoblade Chronicles arrives on the Nintendo Switch with Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. Complete with a new epilogue (as if I needed more game to play), new quality of life features, and the same stuff I adored about the original game, could I finally play through Xenoblade Chronicles completely? The answer is yes. Not only that, but I absolutely LOVED it.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is set in a fantasy world where a long time ago, two titans clashed blades in battle, the Bionis and the Mechonis. Eventually they critically injured one another in combat and grew dormant. Afterwards, life began flourishing on their colossal bodies, and becoming home to various races of people and creatures. It is on Bionis that intrepid engineer Shulk, his best friend Reyn, and longtime acquaintance Fiora live peacefully at Colony 9, a village surrounded by beauty and peace. However, one day that peace turns into violence when the mechanical and robotic Mechon invade and attack the colony. During a skirmish with the Mechon, Shulk harnesses the power of a sword called the Monado to engage with the enemy and helps repel them. Now, with revenge fresh on their minds for the Mechon's attack on their home, Shulk and Reyn set out from Colony 9 to explore the Bionis, seek justice against the Mechon, and further understand the mysterious power of the Monado.

Shulk answers the question, "Did Phil really enjoy Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition?"

It's hard not to grow enamored with the world and characters of Xenoblade Chronicles. Shulk is a hard worker who is always willing to lend a hand and help out when the going gets tough. His ability to wield the Monado comes up as one of the main focal points of the story, especially when he witnesses a vision yet cannot help with the outcome regardless of the fact. There is a particular moment early on in the story that serves as a catalyst for the adventure. Meanwhile, his best bud Reyn is a cheeky chap, headstrong, bold, and a bit of a numbskull sometimes, but you can bet he's always looking out for Shulk. The rest of the party members that join Shulk's cause are similarly likable. Better yet, they each serve a purpose in and out of battle, too, so there's no superfluous party members to speak of in Xenoblade Chronicles.

You can say that again, Reyn.

The world of Xenoblade Chronicles is extraordinarily vast and expansive, and most of the time in the game is spent exploring the huge, open-world-esque areas of the Bionis and later Mechonis. Your curiosity is generally rewarded, too, either by finding new discoveries like landmarks that can be warped to at any time and other points of interest, or encountering impressive vistas. And believe me, there are a lot of great views to take in. One of the first major areas of the game, Gaur Plain, offers beautiful, natural land bridges, while the Satorl Marsh is unassumingly dreary during the day, but by nightfall it glows with tremendous brilliance. 

Gaur Plain is an early delight to explore and find new discoveries in.

Of course, it pays to be careful while exploring as if you get too close to a particular strong enemy, they won't be as shy in coming after you. It's quite normal to be wandering about with your party at level 10 while some parts of areas feature monsters well in the 80s. Thankfully, dying doesn't have a tremendous penalty, other than taking up some of your time. You're placed at the last warp point you reached, and you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and pick up from there.

Battles play out in real time in Xenoblade Chronicles. They begin either by you locking onto a foe and engaging in combat or an enemy becoming aware of you and attacking. Normal attacks happen automatically as your characters are in close proximity to enemies. You can select specific Battle Arts that work best when positioned correctly in relation to a targeted enemy. For instance, Shulk's Back Slash attack understandably works best when a foe is facing away from you with their back towards Shulk. Each move possesses a "cool down" period before they can be used again. When you auto-attack an enemy enough times, you can eventually use your character's Talent Arts, which are specific moves tied to that character. Shulk utilizes his Monado for all of his, performing feats like allowing the other party members to damage Mechon-based foes, or defending characters against enemy Battle Arts. 

Position yourself well in battle to deal more damage to foes.

As you successfully use Arts in battle, a blue Party Gauge at the top left corner slowly builds up, up to three segments. If a character falls in battle, you can pick them up using one of these three gauge segments. If all three segments are empty and all characters die, it's game over. The Party Gauge isn't just for defense, however; it's also used to perform a Chain Attack, allowing you to use multiple party members' moves one after the other to inflict heavy damage at once to an enemy. This depletes the Party Gauge completely, though. In harder battles, it becomes a strategy and choice between keeping the Party Gauge full in case you need to revive a party member or going for a full offensive on a boss, for instance.

Speaking of boss battles and just tough battles in general, when a party member is about to hit with a devastating attack, many times Shulk will have a vision during the battle. This allows him to alert a party member, which in turn grants them the ability to prepare a defense or way to counter it, or gives Shulk the opportunity to put the brakes on the enemy's impending assault with Shulk's own Monado Art. Like reviving allies and performing Chain Attacks, warning other characters costs a segment of the Party Gauge. The only big issue with this mechanic, however novel and cool it is, is that it can happen way too often in certain battles. Sometimes visions can happen multiple times within a short time span, really breaking the flow of battle, especially because you have to watch the enemies' foreseen attack play out in real time. Still, though, it's a small gripe to an awesome and otherwise well executed concept.

Early on, the Monado is the only effective weapon against the Mechon.

When you're not engaged with epic battles or exploring the expansive lands of Xenoblade Chronicles, you're probably going to have your hand in quests. There are a tremendous number of side quests in the game, which might make a completionist go insane, but for everyone else, they're a terrific way of gaining experience points, money, and equipment. Side quests generally fall into one of three categories: eliminating a certain monster or monsters, collecting specific materials, or conversing back and forth with various NPCs. Thankfully, Monolithsoft has made tracking quests much less of headache than compared to the Wii original and even the New Nintendo 3DS port of the game thanks to being able to track quests, see exclamation points on the map to see where you need to go, among other helpful information that was lacking in past iterations of the game. It's also all easily accessible with a simple press of the down direction on the D-Pad to instantly pop open the Quest Log. 

Exclamation points on the mini-map indicate where quest items and enemies are located.

The Quest Log isn't the only place that things have been streamlined for a better, higher quality, more efficient experience. The menus in general are simple to use, conveying information that is readily available and accessible at any time. It was an utter pain in the original Wii game to view how equipment changes would affect your character. No longer so in the Definitive Edition. Not only can you see the detailed effects of newly equipped weapons, armor and crafted gems in an easier way, but you do so without as much menu-surfing. It's especially cool that you can set a base armor set for your character, so no matter what you equip to them, they'll stay visually in the same outfit. Though I preferred to change things up for aesthetic purposes, myself.

The quality of life improvements don't stop there, either, as the Affinity Chart provides an abundance of info that the past Xenoblade Chronicles incarnations failed to share. For example, the location of characters is properly displayed, so there's no running to a FAQ or making your own out-of-game Excel spreadsheet to keep track of things. Plus, each glimpse of an NPC provides a look at what materials, gems, weapons, and armor they are up for trading. All of these changes make for a much more enhanced experience, so much so that I can't imagine going back to the old versions of the game--even for novelty reasons. If only they were there in the previous versions, but I guess the old saying is true--the third time IS the charm!

Other changes to this new and improved edition of Xenoblade Chronicles include "super quick" fast travel, allowing you to warp to locations across an area quickly, or change areas entirely in a speedy manner. It makes clearing side quests a less laborious and most importantly timely effort than in the Wii original. There's also difficulty options, such as Casual mode, where enemies deal less damage and you have a sporting chance against enemies that are twenty levels ahead of you. There's also Expert mode, which allows you to lower your party's individual experience levels to make the game more challenging, yes, but also to give your characters more experience from defeated enemies. Either way, with Casual and Expert, now the need to grind and boost your party's levels to reasonable heights for end-game quests and areas is also a less laborious and more time-saving one.

There's far less clutter on screen in battle, and it's easier to read everything, too.

Finally, there's a 10-15 hour epilogue to the main adventure of Xenoblade Chronicles in this Definitive Version with Future Connected. It sees a new area of the Bionis to explore, as well as a snappily paced story that features Shulk, Melia, and two Nopon companions, Nene and Keno. It's a satisfying cap to the adventure, offering a start at level 60 for the party, as well as an engaging story with new characters and the wonderful exploration and discoveries of the new Bionis Shoulder. The latter is especially enjoyable thanks to all of the unique areas spread about the relatively small region. There's plenty to see and do across the shoulder, and it's particularly great to have Quiet Moment interactions between party members be fully voiced this time around unlike the main game. To be fair, the main game featured a heck of a ton of a lot more of these events, so that would have been an obvious logistical nightmare to voice them all on top of the utterly immense script. 

The gameplay is similar to Xenoblade Chronicles' main game, save for some aspects, such as Shulk not having his visionary Monado abilities, for instance. Additionally, the main side quest this time around is the search for various Nopon Ponspectors, who after you perform a mission for them, they join your team and form a nice line of miniature attackers in battle and as you explore. Instead of a Chain Attack when the Party Gauge is full, you can unleash a Ponspector Union Strike, granting one of three different abilities. These are regen, de-buffing the enemy, or an all-out heavy attack on the enemy. These attacks are a great reward for acquiring every Ponspector on your team, not just for the destination of having a powerful team on your side, but because the journey is fun, too.

I'm quite impressed by how good Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition looks on the Nintendo Switch compared to the Wii original. The characters and enemies have the most sensational enhancements, looking absolutely fantastic in both detail and animation. Meanwhile, environments are even more jaw-dropping than they were on the Wii, and they were also amazing to look at then. From the added shaders in play to the new lighting and improved textures, this game looks gorgeous. The voicework is excellent, too, and quite possibly one of my favorite dubs period. Meanwhile, the music has been rearranged to fantastic effect, harnessing even more emotion than before. 

Don't mind me. Just admiring the vegetation here while running around in Eryth Sea.

The "Definitive" part of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition isn't just there to make for a fancier game title. It's there because it's absolutely true. This is the best version you can play of Xenoblade Chronicles, one of the absolute greatest JRPGs on not just a Nintendo console, but any platform. The epic 70+ hour journey will delight, surprise and mystify you with its excellence, the exploration and sense of discovery will constantly reward you, the battle system will engage you from beginning to end, and the new QoL features will make you wonder how you ever enjoyed the Wii original. Even the epilogue in Future Connected delivers on more terrific goodness if the base game isn't enough for you. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition makes a great game from the Wii an even better game now on the Nintendo Switch.

[SPC Says: A]

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