Video games come in all shapes and sizes: from hand-held puzzle diversions to epic adventure monoliths. The Xenoblade series, a best-selling and much-loved collection of JRPGs in the Nintendo stable, falls into that latter category. And now, for fans and for those who never played the 2010 original title, the Nintendo Switch has been given a refreshed version of that beloved Wii classic.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition comes complete with remastered graphics, tweaked gameplay and a brand-new epilogue. But is this refreshed epic something that you and the young button-mashers in the family should readily welcome into your stable of games?
The game starts out with a familiar Far Eastern fantasy mythos. You know, the sort of tale involving fabled battles between gigantic, powerful behemoths. In this case it’s the story of two massive Titans, Bionis and Mechonis, that have been locked in a timeless battle. Their clash finally ends in a draw; eons later, their bodies become the homes—much like enormous inert islands—to a wide range of smaller races. Human-like inhabitants, called Homs, populate Bionis, while Mechonis is home to a variety of mech creatures.
The feud between the two opposing forces, however, continues. And the story here focuses on a young Hom guy named Shulk who’s researching a mythical sword called Monado. This incredible weapon has the power to easily defeat a Mechon, but only a select few Homs can wield it. And those heroes that have done so have always paid a huge physical price for the privilege.
After a Mechon attack on his hometown, though, young Shulk accidentally realizes that not only can he use the Monado without harm, it even gives him glimpses of the future. And there may well be other abilities that the sword has locked away, too. So it’s up to Shulk to wield this weapon, use its knowledge and abilities, and set off across Bionis and Mechonis to put an end to the mechanical threat.
Gameplay-wise, players control Shulk or one of his team of companions that he picks up along the way (leaving the game’s AI to control the other members while in battle). They trek through expansive zones littered with caves, battlefields and pathways, taking on quests and engaging all sorts of monstrous and mechanical foes.
When it comes to the sword-swinging fights, gamers only need to focus on their character’s movement and special attacks, known as Arts. Normal attacks happen automatically, even when moving around. This helps place greater emphasis on a character’s position in relation to the enemy. For instance, Shulk’s backslash attack will inflict far more damage if launched from behind an attacking foe.
It’s all part of an elegant and predominantly bloodless system that focuses more on movement and strategy than limb-lopping, goopy moves. And the overall quests themselves are a way to quickly and naturally power up Shulk’s team—delivering items, money, experience, art points and skill points along the way.
OK, so those are the basic gaming nuts and bolts here, but what about the game experience itself? That’s where this classic excels. In fact, that’s why Xenoblade Chronicles is called a classic to begin with. The story here is immersive and fun. The characters are well-rounded and likeable. And even though the graphics and character models have been touched up a bit, it still feels like an older title that won’t cross over into anything truly messy.
The new game tweaks—such as the addition of specific quest markers on the in-game map—make the adventure feel less grinding than your typical open-world epic tale. And there’s enough adventure content that’s free of graphic content (the worst of the visuals being some female characters exposing cleavage, some alcohol consumption, and a spattering of blood amidst the explosive battles) to keep players going for a good long while.
In fact, if anything, that expansive play time may be the one element that parents could find the most concerning. The new epilogue section alone can run in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 hours of play. And the game as a whole can stretch out to 50, 60, maybe 100 hours, depending on how thorough a young quester wants to be.
But if it’s kept to reasonable bite-sized gaming chunks, this newly refurbished definitive edition is indeed a mostly problem-free and satisfying T-rated adventure to romp through.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.