Full disclosure: I played the original “Xenoblade Chronicles” long before the remake came out, and I absolutely adored it. Then I played through the other two “Xenoblade” games and absolutely abhorred them.
I rarely find remasters interesting, but when “Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition” was announced, I was ecstatic. The problem with the “Xenoblade” franchise has always been its tendency toward arbitrary mechanics and wasting time; “Xenoblade Chronicles X” required that players complete sidequests and repeatedly traipse around vast empty spaces to progress, while “Xenoblade Chronicles 2” turned character upgrades into an obtuse nightmare and dragged out battles for what felt like millennia to support a fairly base combo mechanic. The issue seems largely to boil down to time constraints, as each “Xenoblade” game save the first has been developed on HD consoles with high graphical standards in less than three years, so naturally it would follow that updating the original is a very, very good idea.
Which it is.
The original “Xenoblade” still holds up as an impressive RPG, from its involved combat to its massive world and mysterious story. The only things “Xenoblade” could really have been said to be missing are HD visuals and a fix to one cheaply difficult late-game boss, both of which are present in the remake. A remixed soundtrack adds more diverse instrumentation without changing much, and the field and character graphics have lost little of their distinctive “Phantasy Star” grit in the transition to the Switch.
The main incentives to buy the remake over the original are the additions of the Event Theater (a cutscene viewer), Time Attack (a speedrunning challenge mode that unlocks certain cosmetics), and the new “Xenoblade: Future Connected” chapter (a bonus story that effuses the impact of the original climactic ending and can take anywhere between four and 10 hours to finish).
“Future Connected” is ... certainly something. It adds to and detracts from the gameplay of the main game in equal measure by swapping around systems at will. A long series of sidequests linked to finding Nopon prospectors (“Ponspectors”) is introduced, which only rarely frustrated me. Chain Attacks are now gone, replaced by “Union Strikes,” which have practically the same effect but scale with how many Ponspectors a player finds. Shulk can no longer see the future, ether crystals cannot be collected at will, ability upgrades are now connected to defeating powerful Unique Monsters, Skills no longer exist, and the party is limited to four members.
If the spiel given on the inside of the artbook is to be believed, this represents Monolith Soft testing the waters for a new gameplay style, which I hope doesn’t catch on; the Ponspector system and the limitations of the Union Strikes are new ways of presenting the same mechanics, and encouraging players to best Unique Monsters is a good way to enhance the challenge of the experience, but rendering the Monado effectively useless and making level gaps impassable adds nothing but frustration and waste. The excuse plot for “Future Connected” goes nowhere and is fairly uninteresting, though it isn’t really the main focus. The purpose of “Future Connected” is merely that of being more Xenoblade, which makes this remaster far more concerning to me than it was already.
Say what you will about X and 2, they were at least new games; as deserving as the first in the series is of a remake, it’s still another three years spent to recreate something people already know they like, with a tacked-on chapter that exists only to add more of what they like and avoid future criticism or divergence from the existing fanbase.
If “Future Connected” is “Xenoblade”’s future, I’m afraid it may have no future at all. In this age of newly viable niche games, making appeals to the fickle mistresses that are fanbases smacks of fear and obligation, however capable and stable your development team may be.
That being said, if you’ve played through the original “Xenoblade Chronicles,” you might as well skip out on the remake, though it’s still as good as ever — perhaps you could look to the future instead.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed a number of free games. He is a neutral game reviewer.
If You Play
Game: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Internet Usage (accounts for download size): 13.7 GB
ESRB Rating: T
Release Date: May 29, 2020
Genre (if applicable): Action-RPG
Developer: Monolith Soft