And, just to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the launch, Monolith and Nintendo are giving the public the Switch Definitive Edition, in an attempt to offer veterans the best possible version of the product and newcomers a gateway to an extremely fascinating narrative universe.
In spite of the initial intentions, since we had already completed both the Wii version and the New 3DS version, we ended up spending another seventy hours in the company of the game, and we are ready to realize them a few days after launch.
A troubled past and a common future
The narrative arc that characterized the game both in its debut on Wii, in 2010, and in the incredible port on New Nintendo 3DS five years later has obviously remained unchanged and, despite the decade on the rump, remains compelling and rich in philosophical and existential aspects, as per tradition for the works of Tetsuya Takahashi.
The vicissitudes of Shulk and the Monad, in a verdant world grown on the corpse of a titan, start with a bang, to experience a moment of tiredness during the first third of the game and explode, then, from the middle of the full-bodied campaign onwards.
There is no lack of naivety, daughters both of the actual age of the title, whose development began in 2006, and of the all-Japanese taste for bad or good characters in the round, without too many shades of gray.
Yet, the empathic bond that develops, hour after hour, with the protagonist and the inseparable Reyn, with the hero Dunban and with the handsome Sharla manages to keep the player’s attention high until the final climax, anticipated by at least two other topical moments on a narrative level that will remain etched in the minds of those who play for a long time Xenoblade Chronicles for the first time with this Definitive Edition.
To avoid misunderstandings (and unpleasant spoilers), we will say absolutely nothing about the plot of the unpublished episode, entitled “A Common Future”, if not that reuses part of the cast of the main title and takes place in an unpublished area of Bionis, the shoulder, which was originally to be included in the title published on Wii but was instead cut for space reasons.
Set about a year after the events of the base game, the story will revolve around Shulk, Melia and a handful of other (almost) unpublished characters, and, even without the emotional vision of the storyline themes, it manages to offer a further cross-section of the game world and to better contextualize the figure of Princess Haientia and her people.
The inclusion of this appendix, designed especially for those who have already completed the adventure at least once, represents only the tip of the iceberg of the enormous technical aging work that the work has gone through, to meet not only the tastes of modern players but also the quality standards imposed by the best productions for Nintendo Switch.
The goodness of the plot and the humanity of some of the protagonists manage to go beyond the limitations due to a not always impeccable dubbing and the poor expressiveness of the faces, both children of the age of the game, on which we will focus a few paragraphs below .
Freeing himself from the religious lucubrations and from the excessive verbosity of some of his previous works, with Xenoblade Chronicles Takahashi reached the perfect balance between gameplay and storytelling, churning out what, according to many, is the best story among those he gave birth to.
In several moments, aware of the twists and turns coming, we were surprised to want to be able to selectively erase our memories related to the game, to savor again the amazement and wonder felt for the first time ten years ago. If this is not a testament to the goodness of writing …
Restoring a classic
As seen recently with Persona 5 Royal, just when the common thinking is that a game cannot be further improved, the most talented development teams manage to amaze, smoothing corners and enhancing the qualities of their best products. This is what happened to Xenoblade Chronicles with this Definitive Edition, that makes the two previous versions of the product obsolete and does justice to one of the best Japanese role-playing games of the last twenty years.
Let’s go in order: rather than re-analyzing the gameplay mechanics that contributed to the success of this title, as already done on the occasion of our two previous reviews, we will focus on the myriad of innovations made to this version, and on their impact on the enjoyment of the title.
First of all, the studio has worked on a series of so-called “QOL improvements” which, although apparently secondary if taken individually, overall contribute to making the game experience much more natural and enjoyable than in the past: we pass, trivially, from ‘insertion of health bars for your characters during the battles to the quest indicators, which greatly facilitate the life of those who want to dedicate themselves to the myriad of optional missions.
The health bars allow, with a quick glance, to realize the status of your party during the battles, so as to intervene immediately with healing spells if needed: in the original, the presence of numbers made the reading much less readable situation, causing some game over too much – especially during the most challenging boss fights.
The addition of quest markers avoids spinning as it often did on Wii ten years ago: a line on the mini-map in the upper right corner of the screen (however deactivated by the options) always connects the party to the next main objective, and also the objects necessary for the missions (including those undertaken but not active in that moment). In short, it allows you to collect useful items at the most opportune moment or to kill a tot of enemies and then go to the quest-giver and simply redeem your reward.
For newbies, then, it was included Casual mode, which can be activated at will from the pause menu, which is suggested by the title in the event of multiple defeats in a limited period of time: although we have never used it, we believe that this solution can meet younger players, or even to those who, they simply wanted to enjoy the story without banging their heads against some of the bosses, which, especially during the second half of the campaign, can prove to be really challenging.
With this in mind, and in response to the accusations of those who consider the combat system in real time a little too chaotic, Monolith Software then implemented the “possibilities”, that is the visual indications that arise when one of the skills can be exploited to the fullest.
For example, if we are behind an unsuspecting enemy, a small blue exclamation mark will appear next to Shulk’s ability that deals double damage to the shoulders, indicating the window of opportunity: this small addition makes the clashes much more readable in which multiple enemies are involved, and it turns out to be a cure-all to better dominate the combat system and make the most of the party’s skills.
The menus, quite cumbersome on Wii, now appear much more intuitive to navigate and without lag in navigation, although they still force a few steps too much when, for example, they do not let the new equipment put on immediately after purchasing it.
The addition of an efficient self-rescue system, despite the ability to save manually at any time, it represents an additional aid for new generations of gamers, while the ability to access aunpublished Time Attack mode at certain points on the map it will tickle the most skilled players who want to get the best times and, with them, the most sought-after rewards.
In the absence of a difficulty selector, then, the possibility of not taking advantage of the benefits in terms of statistics at the level passage, keeping the experience points aside to make the game considerably more demanding, will make this second run (or third, as in the our case) a real exercise in skill, since many unique monsters are able to annihilate the party with a single blow.
Despite the obviously less wide-ranging breath, “Un Futuro Comune” brings some additions in terms of new game dynamics, such as the presence of twelve sponsors, to be searched on the map, who join the party in battle and give access to special moves which, while consuming the entire energy bar, cause considerable damage to even the toughest enemies.
Our advice, at least for players who are approaching the Monolith product for the first time, is nonetheless complete the main campaign before playing the new epilogue, due to the presence, in the latter, of heavy spoilers at the end of the basic adventure.
If you consider that all these additions are going to graft on an already tremendously solid base, one of the best in the entire Wii game library, it is evident that Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition represents an obligatory purchase for any RPG enthusiast who owns Nintendo Switch.
Between remaster and remake
Although Monolith Software itself has defined Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition a remastered version of the original title, we found ourselves genuinely displaced by the amount of technical changes and additions made by the development team, such as to push us to say that, although far from the productive effort of Final Fantasy VII Remake (just to stay on the subject of JRPG), we are faced with an “almost remake”.
First of all, one of the discriminants to distinguish a remaster from a remake lies in the use (or not) of the same graphics engine: if so, we speak of a remaster, in the negative of a remake.
This Definitive Edition, if judged according to these parameters, cemented in recent years in the gaming industry, would belong to the second category, therefore, since the engine that moves it is not the original one of the Wii version, but a modified version of the one seen in the DLC stand alone The Golden Country is back, in turn slightly different from that used for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The differences are very evident from the first moments of the game: the models of the characters (especially the main ones, but not only) have been recreated from scratch, as well as the geometries and designs of many of the vast play areas, now more complex and detailed.
Specifically, the animated scenes, facial expressions and surface shaders of the equipment and the main models of the protagonists were made practically from scratch, with appreciable results both on a generously diagonal television and on the small Switch screen.
The animation sector, which however remains one of the least successful of the package, has been significantly enriched, borrowing movements typical of the aforementioned The Golden Country is back and integrating unpublished move-sets also for some types of enemies.
The rendering of the huge areas between one settlement and another now takes place much faster than in the 2010 version (and to that for New 3DS, not even to say it) and, although widespread pop-up phenomena remain, both in portable and handheld mode, the glance benefits greatly.
Massive doses of anti-aliasing make the screen image much sharper and more detailed than the Wii and New 3DS counterparts, placing Nintendo production on the same level as the best ones seen in Switch in recent years.
The presence of a double soundtrack – which combines the one remastered specifically for this version to the one, already highly appreciated, of ten years ago – the return of the Japanese audio track – absent for reasons of space in the version for New Nintendo 3DS – and notable improvements both the loadings and the performance of the Switch battery by using the game in portable mode add to a framework of excellence, which testifies Monolith and Nintendo’s commitment to making this franchise one of the Switch lineup’s strengths also in the next years.
The lip sync in the cutscenes is also redone, selecting both Japanese and English audio – although, having kept the original work of the voice actors of nine years ago, there is a fluctuating performance especially regarding the track in the language of Albion.
We also point out simpler menus to consult, with the possibility of separating the look of the character from the armor worn at that precise moment (with direct effects on the numerous in-game cutscenes), and a more stable frame rate than in the second chapter, albeit with the usual (for the series) limitation to “only” thirty frames per second.
Beyond the sophistry regarding the definitions of “remaster” and “remake”, in short, we are faced with a massive and painstaking work, capable of masking the age of the original product well and making it perfectly enjoyable even for an audience accustomed to the audiovisual standards of the current generation of consoles.
We close with a quick analysis of the factor longevity: the playful offer is impressive in this case too, because this edition also adds the hours of “A common future“, for a total account that touches the triple figure if you pull straight enough and overtake it without too much effort in case you want to get involved in the hundreds of optional collection and hunting missions.