For those currently stuck indoors, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is a lot of world to stretch your legs in.
Monolith Soft’s RPG, first seen on Wii in 2010, is set on the body of a titan, so gargantuan that its thigh becomes a grassy plain as big as any Hyrule Field, and its shoulder blades gather water into an ocean. The lower back is boggy swampland, which is too heinous to think about.
On Wii it was a triumph of scale over detail: you didn’t notice rough edges as you gawped at towering art design. Just one year after Final Fantasy 13 had infamously crammed a big tale into a narrow corridor, here was a JRPG where the playground was as epic as the man versus machine war playing out within it. It’s no wonder it struck a chord and was deemed worthy of not one, but two substantial ports.
The first, on the New 3DS, promised Xenoblade on the go, but at a greater visual cost. The latest Switch remaster maintains the portable appeal, but delivers the best looking version yet. Based on 15 hours with it so far, it’s a killer combo. Especially impressive as it’s this writer’s third trip through the world. It’s daft to get excited about a field of virtual grass, and yet here we are, gambolling across Gaur Plain like a lamb in spring.
Definitive Edition’s visual upgrade is one of those that cleans and tweaks to raise the game to how you remember it with your rose-tinted glasses. The draw distance reaches further (but is not free of pop-in on larger stretches), there’s shinier water and textures are sharper, but side-to-side it’s not an astonishing reinvention of what came before. If you played Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on Switch, this sits comfortably alongside that.
That it feels fresher is due to elements hogging your eyeline. Characters get an anime makeover that swaps the slightly painterly quality of blurry Wii heroes for faces and costumes that match Xenoblade 2’s sharper style. It makes sense given the narrative ties between the two worlds – they are standalone adventures, connected with strange sci-fi hokum you’d need several hours of Wikipedia reading to unpick.
It’s odd seeing beloved characters change, but the freakishness of their new cartoon eyes dims a few hours in, and the endless repetition of now infamous soundbites – “What a bunch of jokers!” “It’s Reyn time!” etc – remind you that these are the same shrieking idiots you’ve always loved. It helps that the localisation, a refreshing mix of British accents and regional dialects, remains untouched. (Japanese is available if Essex is your kryptonite.)
“Definitive Edition’s visual upgrade is one of those that cleans and tweaks to raise the game to how you remember it with your rose-tinted glasses… If you played Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on Switch, this sits comfortably alongside that.”
Screen furniture is also improved. Icons and health bars take up less space in what is still a hectic interface, but one that obstructs the action less. Recharging skills are easier to read and attacks with directional bonuses now tell you when you are in position; handy given the focus on fighters drawing aggro so you can slink behind for a backstab. Likewise, attacks that stack – toppling a dazed enemy, say – are also flagged when relevant. It’s very neat.
Interface isn’t the sexiest feature to crow about, but in a hundred hour JRPG anything to smooth the journey is welcomed. The inventory screen is much more readable, too, which is a godsend when a few hours in you’re juggling four characters with six equipment slots and multiple skill gems in each one. The depth of Xenoblade’s customisation is impressive, but could so easily scare people off with walls of stats. This is an important fix.
In many ways these fixes feel like the icing on the cake. Xenoblade was already a game that fixed many minor JRPG gripes. You auto-heal after battles, can instantly teleport to most parts of the world (and the game’s super quick loading is still present and correct), side quests automatically complete without having to return to hundreds of quest givers… it’s a game remarkably free of fuss and nonsense, now buffed to an even higher sheen.
One element that didn’t need tweaking but gets meddled with regardless is the music. Themes are reorchestrated and for the diehard fans discovering these is a huge treat. Anecdotally, my wife won’t let me play the game in the same room as her as she considers the new music ‘spoilers’. It’s not an overreaction, either – Xenoblade’s soundtrack was an instant classic, and hearing them pumped up with new instrumentation is a treat.
Of course, this all pales in comparison to Definitive Edition’s main event: a new playable epilogue called Future Connected. Set on a previously unseen part of Bionis this chapter is playable from the start, but we’re saving it for the after the game, so can’t pass judgement for now. It’ll be intriguing to see if it builds on the ties with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, or hints more explicitly at a sequel.
Given the number of Nintendo classics that haven’t received modern updates, it may seem unfair that Xenoblade is on its second. It speaks to the specific appeal of this setting: a story that can sustain weekend-long binges, but a world you can also chip away at – a perfect pocket companion. Early hours suggest the game has found its ideal home on Switch; it would take a nasty surprise to derail it before its May 29 release.