As we wrote this review of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition we’ve realized how many things have changed in our lives, and in our favorite hobby, since we played the first release on the Nintendo Wii. Today we are different people than we were in the summer of 2011, and the market has also changed, for better or for worse. Japanese role-playing games, after going through a long identity crisis, have re-emerged forcefully and have shown that more philosophies can coexist: that of tradition and that of experimentation, and everything in between. And if the genre boldly embarked on a new path, coming out of that niche in which it had forced itself for years, it was also and above all thanks to Xenoblade Chronicles, the title that finally consecrated the director Tetsuya Takahashi after a career passed to settle.
And so, after so many years and a second, much lesser known release on New Nintendo 3DS, Xenoblade Chronicles arrives on Nintendo Switch in great pomp to end this semester that we spent in the name of nostalgia, almost as if it wanted to close a circle. He does it with a Definitive Edition that is difficult to frame, a production halfway between the remake and the remastering that immediately reminded us why we loved the original title, but also that it is important to contextualize each experience. On the notes of the amazing main theme composed by Yoko Shimomura, which we listened to for the first time when life was more beautiful, freer, and everything seemed possible, we chose extra history and immediately dived into the unpublished chapter A common future, eager to discover all its secrets.
A common future … or not?
In the next few lines we will try to minimize the anticipations, the terrible spoilers that could ruin the ending of Xenoblade Chronicles, in case you have never played it. You will understand, however, that it would be difficult to analyze what would then be a sort of epilogue, without delving into the topic in respect of those who, however, have already completed a JRPG released almost ten years ago and who perhaps would like to buy the Definitive Edition just for A common future, playable right away by choosing Extra Story from the title screen. We have to compromise, in short, and we will just say that A common future takes place one year after the final of Xenoblade Chronicles and focuses mainly on Melia, an extremely important character who ended up somewhat in the background in the last few bars of the original screenplay.
A common future brings back some supporting actors and introduces a couple of playable characters which, together with Shulk and Melia, make up the main party. Nene and Kino are the adorable sons of Riki the Nopon: determined to become heroes like their father, they both act as comic relief in the economy of narration, while showing off a surprisingly interesting characterization, and in terms of gameplay they make up for the absence of Reyn and Sharla, employing their own techniques in combat. In this sense, A common future, which takes place all on the shoulder of the Bionis, a new map that Monolith Soft had drawn many years ago but was unable to fully implement for reasons of time, clearly assumes the characteristics of a late and never published DLC: it shares the same identical structure with the original game and, in view of the plot, it just closes some storylines, winking at the existence of a multiverse in which Takahashi could set new adventures.
That said, we will be very clear, especially towards those who knew this franchise on Switch with Xenoblade Chronicles: do not expect particular extras, strange crossovers or direct references to the other works of the Japanese software house. In this sense, we admit that we were a little disappointed, given that the fanboy inside us really hoped for a turn that would connect all those dots that we saw in the final of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 or that even referred us to the late Xenoblade Chronicles X for Wii U. Despite the disappointment, A common future remains an excellent statement that does justice to the world of Shulk and company with a dry and satisfying ending that we have reached in about ten hours of play after completing each side mission. A more than moderate duration for what is only an appendix, albeit much less than that of Torna ~ The Golden Country that Monolith Soft had rightly branded as a real expansion.
A common future seems to all intents and purposes an extension of Xenoblade Chronicles for how it is structured and how to play, and as such it also feels the full weight of its ten years when we start talking about side quests, real fetch quests where you have to kill a certain number of enemies or collect the objects that appear around the map. It is the aspect that probably has aged worse than the whole package, even compared to what was played in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, where fetch quests abounded but were often accompanied by curated kinematics and slightly less pretentious motivations. We already talked about the combat system in our trial two weeks ago – to which we refer you if you want to know more about the differences between the extra story and the original title, including the unpublished mechanics of the Prospectors that replaces the group assault – but it is important to underline how the fights arouse mixed feelings today.
The combat system in Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition in 2020 it certainly seems less elaborate than that of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, almost experimental in comparison, with the techniques to choose one at a time without assigning them to shortcuts or the like. However, it remains immediate and intuitive, although it evolves little over the course of the game, especially if we consider that in the sequel new mechanics were unlocked even at fifty hours played, as well as enjoyable and engaging thanks to the clear distinction between the various characters, to the possibility of altering their roles acting on the Skill Lines – albeit absent in A common future – and on the peculiar skills of the sword Monad that transform the power of Shulk’s foresight into a real gameplay element. Monolith Soft intervened on the interface, streamlined it and redesigned it to reduce its invasiveness on the screen, the first of a long series of improvements that updated a title ten years ago to today’s standards.
The developer didn’t just review theinterface in combat, but every single menu, screen or function. The chaotic inventory and limited screen of the original equipment are now much easier to consult, and Monolith Soft has even found space to add the possibility of choose the appearance of every single accessory worn: a highly appreciated novelty, considering the quantity and variety of objects in the game, which finds an obvious and functional place right under the equipment slots, in the same screen. We could also do the same for the Collection screen, the empathic Dialogues and above all the Understanding diagram, now much clearer and more precise, which allows you to know all the details of the most important NPCs with a quick glance.
In this sense, evidently aware of the criticisms addressed to the repetitiveness of the aforementioned fetch quests, but above all to the lack of clarity of the original maps, the Takahashi boys have well thought of putting their hand to this aspect of the game, adjusting some numbers downwards and redesigning them in part of the maps, now easier to consult and equipped with new options, such as the ability to put custom pins or to view the map overlay during exploration. Thanks to a whole series of shortcuts, which open the most important menus from the game screen in a moment, the experience has clearly improved in terms of immediacy and accessibility, which is no small thing.
None of these implementations change what Xenoblade Chronicles has been all these years: an immense, demanding and content-rich JRPG. By winking at the less scrupulous players, and especially those who approached the franchise with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the Japanese developer has well thought of implementing a large array of new options that allow a moderate customization of the game interface, but also and above all the level of difficulty. We are talking about what the Definitive Edition calls Casual mode and Pro Mode: the first simply lowers the game’s difficulty level, reducing enemy statistics to allow those who only want to enjoy the story to wipe them out without too many worries. In fact, this setting does not automate fights as you might think, as they continue to require a minimum of familiarity and skill, but it certainly makes battles with certain bosses or special enemies much easier.
There Pro mode instead, drastically changes another aspect of the game, namely the assignment of the experience points earned by completing side missions: instead of being added immediately to those owned by the individual characters in the group, the points end up in a sort of common tank. It is up to the player to decide when to assign the saved experience points, artificially acting on the levels of the individual characters and, ultimately, on the difficulty curve in general. There Pro mode it is simply the same mechanism used in Xenoblade Chronicles 2: it serves to personalize the influx of experience points in a game that overflows, between enemies to defeat, missions to complete, areas to discover and more. The two Modes in question are not mutually exclusive, so the player can activate them individually or simultaneously at any time, establishing his own growth rhythms and the general balance of the difficulty level. An excellent thought, no doubt about it.
Surprise surprise, A common future is not the only new content implemented in this Definitive Edition. Although the original title has remained basically unchanged, Monolith Soft has well thought of adding a little extra called Against time which caught us a bit off guard when we reached the Bionis leg and we found ourselves in front of a kind of interdimensional passage that was not there on Wii and Nintendo 3DS. These gates, which you will find scattered around the game world, all lead to the same place: a kind of temple where a Nopon – indeed, a Saggiopon – Mysterious will challenge you to face a series of time trials that will increase continuing in the storyline. The challenges in question they are divided into two categories: Free and Limited. You can tackle the first ones with the characters you prefer, respecting the level they have already reached, the equipment they wear and the techniques you have set.
The Limited challenges, on the other hand, impose a precise composition of the group and force you to use a specific character. Once the challenge is selected, the player is catapulted into aarena specifies where it faces one or more waves of enemies, making use of what has been learned so far. By overcoming these challenges in time with the best ratings, you get good quality equipment that make up some unpublished and not a little eccentric costumes for the individual characters: in short, if you want to dress Sharla as a pirate, you have to go from here. Not only that: repeatedly playing the various challenges, you also accumulate Nopon crystals, a currency that can be exchanged with Saggiopon for other accessories, gems to be set in the equipment or manuals that allow you to sublimate the techniques of the various characters to the maximum power. An extra content that is not particularly bright, in short, but certainly appreciable, which further prolongs an already particularly long-lasting experience in itself.
Change of look
We come therefore to the more delicate question: the new look of Xenoblade Chronicles. We are aware that there are some fans who did not like the new cartoon style, but no one should be surprised that Monolith Soft chose this character design. Considering the decisive turn of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and the fact that Shulk is Fiora had already appeared in a DLC of that game with a much more cartoonish look, it is logical to assume that this was the look that Takahashi and his would have wanted to show off from the beginning. The good news is that Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition abandons the exaggerations and eccentricities of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in favor of a drier and more proportionate design. After all this is not a remake and it is not even a remastered, but what we could consider a middle ground.
Despite having changed the graphics engine, Monolith Soft has not completely redesigned the game, but has increased the resolution of most textures and the number of polygons in 3D models, improving the visual impact of a game that already looked majestic ten years ago. Today the glance is significantly better, thanks also to the renewed color palette and the brand new dynamic illuminations, but there are still some aftermath of the past, especially if we focus on some minor texture that may end up in the foreground by chance as a bad slap. Nothing worth pointing out, in all honesty, when every other shot returns a variety of details that completely overshadow the original Wii edition. Only the renewed ones kinematic are worth the price of this ticket: the characters now sport a variety of expressions that embellish the most important scenes, involving the player even more than in the past.
It might seem that there is some salty price to pay, especially when you set foot in the Eryth Sea or the magnificent Makna Forest and admire the sublime landscapes, but the truth is that there is not. There are not uploads too long to wait or annoying drops in frame rates during the most intense fights. Everything runs smoothly like oil; the uploads in the digital version are often lightning fast or last a few seconds even when you move from one point to another on the map, the menus open and close instantly, everything is responsive and punctual. Monolith Soft has even retouched the volume of the dubbing, famous for being very low in the original title, and while there was even implemented an option to choose whether to listen to the original music or the new rearrangements which, incidentally, are excellent, in case it was necessary to underline once again how amazing it is soundtrack composed of Manami Kiyota, ACE + and Yoko Shimomura.
Without dwelling on boring technicalities, breaking down numbers that leave the time they find, we can say that Monolith Soft has managed to return a decidedly clean image: do not expect an always impeccable definition, especially if you move away from the frame to embrace the panoramas in their entirety , but not even a marked pixellated dirt. The glance is excellent not only with Switch in the Dock, but also in portable mode: the images impressed us for their clarity and fluidity in general, allowed by the choice of adopting a lower resolution to guarantee the stability of the frames which, however, does not have much impact on the final yield. Making fleas to the resolutionIn short, it doesn’t make much sense, because at the end of the Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition it seemed a significant step forward compared to Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
In light of these considerations, we cannot help promoting this re-release of the title that Tetsuya Takahashi and his team have given to Olympus for exclusives Nintendo, a title that over the years has become increasingly famous as difficult to recover, and that absolutely deserved a round of victory in modern times. This Definitive Edition, while remaining very faithful to the original work, inaugurates a new course in the philosophy of re-proposals that has been taking hold for some time with remastering and remake shots, and we can only hope that this Definitive Edition will draw attention to itself and push other companies to resurrect some other classic never forgotten.
- Many small angularities have been filed, smoothed and aged
- The additional content prolongs an already mammoth experience in itself
- It is simply one of the best JRPG ever developed
- The story of a common future may disappoint some fans’ expectations
- Side quests remain the weakest point in the pack