Available On: Switch
Xenoblade Chronicles released in 2012 in North America on the Nintendo Wiii, infusing elements of MMO gameplay into a unique sci-fi fantasy world of titanic creatures, robotic invaders, and mystical swords. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is a fantastic port for the Switch, providing the same great gameplay and classic JRPG storytelling with a much-need graphical face-lift.
Shulk and Friends
The story opens with protagonist Shulk and best friend Reyn scavenging mechanical parts from defeated Mechon, a race of hostile robots who live on the other dead titan, Mechonis. The opening hours deftly introduce new players to combat, quests, collectibles, forging, shopping, trading, and exploration.
Their quaint life is shattered when the evil Mechon invade the town, a classic JRPG trope. Xenoblade takes it a bit further, however. Shulk and company get to fight the Mechon and defend the town, though not without heavy losses.
The sequence is indicative of the entire game: using classic JRPG characters, story beats, and scenes and infusing them with solid writing, fun characters, and great voice acting. Xenoblade Chronicles has plenty of cutscenes, but they’re never so arduous that I felt the need to put down the controller. It’s a rare modern JRPG that keeps me invested in the story from the very beginning, though it’s the excellent gameplay that primarily drives my adventuring.
The world, combat, and side quests are based on classic MMOs like World of Warcraft. Monstrous insects, beasts, and dinosaurs roam beaches, jungles, and caves, ranging from the large Guar Plains to intimate dungeon crawls. Each zone is fun to explore without traipsing through wasted spaces, though loot is primarily acquired from defeating monsters rather than finding hidden caches.
Combat is entirely real-time. I control one party member at any time, but I can freely pick and choose whom I want to control in between fights. Each character auto-attacks on their own, and can have up to eight equipped arts, all based on cooldown timers. Arts range from activating helpful auras to dealing damage, healing allies, and inflicting different status effects like poison and sleep.
The combat is fast-paced and exciting but never devolves into mindless button-mashing. I need to carefully manage monster aggro, keeping the enemies focused on my tank heroes, and tactically position my damage dealers to take advantage of certain arts, such as Shulk’s Backslash, which deals more damage when used from behind. Arts apply important status effects that can be combined to topple and daze enemies, giving my team critical advantages.
The side-quests are laughably simplistic, with most asking me to kill X of a certain kind of creature. But the combat is so enjoyable that the simple quest design provides an excuse to fully explore each area to hunt down ingredients and defeat more monsters.
Like most JRPGs, Xenoblade Chronicles is rated T for Teen, with Blood, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Violence, and Alcohol and Tobacco Use. It’s a typical save-the-world story but with more personal and meaningful stakes for our heroes, and the game manages to avoid many of the more problematic themes and characters that often plague the genre.
I’m very picky when it comes to JRPGs. Classic 90s games like Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger are among my all-time favorites, but many JRPGs starting in the 3D era ended up disappointing me with convoluted systems, cringey characters, and stories riddled with cliches. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition avoids all of that, and the HD graphics and redesigned menus make it inexcusable not to experience this gem of an RPG on the Switch.