Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Addition (Switch) – Reliving a Classic
My views on this game are from someone who played the original back on the Wii and considered it one of, if not the, best game on the system. That said, I will only be talking about the additional content, Future Extend, and the end of the review. I do this because it's not going to affect whether or not you should buy this game if you never played before, so the bulk of the review will just be talking about the main game. That said, if you have played Xenoblade Chronicles already, I'll have that bit at the end that may help you decide if it's worth a purchase if you've already played it.
Xenoblade follows around Shulk and his quest to get revenge on the Mechon. At first, he is simply researching a blade known as the Monado, a weapon capable of damaging the Mechon. Living on the body of two dead gods, the Homs and much other organic style life live on the Bionis, the Mechon comes from the Mechonis. No one seems to know why it is the Mechon attack, but Dunban managed to use the Monado to help defeat the Mechon and drive them out one year ago.
However, Dunban's Arm is permanently damaged from wielding the Monado, as well as being the only person who was able to wield it. Shulk learns, however, he can control the Monodo more effectively than Dunban. So after the Mechon attack again, they kill his childhood friend Fiora, and thus the quest to beat the Mechon and get revenge begins.
The main threat right now, however, isn't the normal Mechon. There are Mechon that weren't around while Dunban still held the Monado, the Face Mechons. These enemies can not only speak, but they don't' seem to be harmed by the Monado. As you travel towards Sword Valley to reach the Mechon stronghold, you are under constant threat from the Face units and slowly build a party of the people of Bionis who are all under Mechon threat.
The story seems pretty simple in this regard, but things start to get a bit crazy come games end. The very gods of the world, the souls of the Mechonis and Bionis, become deeply involved in the story, and eventually, the game even starts to delve into why the world exists as it does. A lot of what I would like to say are major spoilers. So I'll try to keep things a bit vague as to not ruin anything for those who have never played the game.
There are a lot of deep themes the game is exploring here. A cycle of hatred and revenge, themes of prejudice are prominent, and at its very core is a philosophical argument of do you owe your creator? It's very fascinating and handled well for the most part, but we end up at a big issue with the game here. Xenoblade is extremely long-winded in its dialogue, and there are times you can't help but feel like the game just needs to shut up. You kind of start to feel like the game is just reiterating the same points over and over again, and considering how long this game can get (I'm at about 100 hours in the Main game, most contents finished) it starts to feel like the game is just preaching to you at a certain point.
With that said there are still a lot of great things and interesting plot lines going on. As long-winded as the game can get about things, the actions of the High Entia, and the things they are doing to protect their race. The characters are all pretty fantastic, with one big exception I will talk about in a moment, and the 'Heart to Heart' moments where you get to see just two characters interacting do wonders for building them up and helping this group feel like an actual team.
I won't spoil the last character to join you, but they frustrate me to no end. I can't give you the character stereotype without spoiling it either, but it's such a lazily written character. That's not to say the story behind them and their connection with the plot is bad, that part is fantastic. They just stuck a great story onto such a mediocre character. What's worse is how the game tries to portray this character as such a strong individual (Not in a physical sense), which when compared with another character, Melia, I think it's obvious who comes out as the stronger of the two.
Narrative elements out of the way, the combat is a lot of fun. It's semi-real time, one of the few games to do this well, where you control one of the three active characters. All skills are set to a cool down, except for a unique skill attached to each character. Shulk builds his gauge with his basic attack (Everyone auto-attacks when not using their skills) as well as a couple of specific skills he has to fill his gauge, and when it activates he gains access to an additional set of skills that can be leveled up like any other. These include enchanting your allies' weapons to damage Mechon, guarding the group against a single large attack, or mass boosting a character's evasion for a set amount of time. Melia can summon elements that boost the party with her normal skills, and her unique discharges Summoned elements to damage foes and build her up towards an empowered state which strengthens her discharges as well as allowing her to use her most powerful skill. Everyone's work in a different way, making it fun to experiment with you you play as.
The game also features a lot of ways to customize your characters. You can select a skill tree, each tree having a different set of buffs based of what's selected. This can be anywhere from stat buffs to allowing heavier gear to be equipped. Building affinities with other characters by fighting together with them or gifting them items allow you to gain slots where you can equip abilities of other characters, thus further allowing you to customize. This is in addition to selecting your active skill load outs (Up to eight skills can be equipped) and the options for gear customization in the form of gem slots, so you have an incredible number of ways to create your party.
Where the game becomes tedious is the sheer volume of tedious side quests. The landscapes are impressive and massive in scale, but after a certain point, you realize you are just mindlessly wandering around collecting stuff. And the volume of quests you take on is so massive and so many of them are so mundane in general that it's easy to start spacing out and not really remembering why you are doing any of this. More than once I realized the quest I was completing was part of a chain, and I”m like 'Wait, I'm trying to find a way to piece the space-time continuum back together? Wasn't I just gathering Pudding ingredients?' (The quests mentioned in this paragraph are not actual quests, but an exaggeration. :P) It's a game that defiantly suffers from to much content that doesn't matter and could have been trimmed a lot without losing anything, a 'Less is more' kind of approach.
Once you've established a few good strategies, combat can also become a drag by late game and not feel all that interesting when you start repeating the same motions fight after fight. If this is your second time playing it, this flaw becomes all the more apparent. It stays fun for most of the game as you are learning new abilities and learning how to play with them, so at least it takes a while before things start to wear things.
I still love Xenoblade, but this playthrough has overall lowered my opinion a bit as I am starting to remember the flaws in the game. Yes, it can feel a bit preachy and long-winded, and there are so many quests it starts to feel like busywork more than anything, but the combat is still fun for most of that 100 run time, the story is still interesting, and the characters are mostly fantastic. So long as you go in prepared for the game's flaws, it's a lot of fun and will take a good length of time to finish.
Now, for the experienced Xenoblade fan, Future Extend. This game, mechanically, is almost identical. Chain attacks have been altered, there are only four characters to play as, and Skill Tree's are gone. Inevitably this means far less customization, but at the same time it's only about ten hours. Taking place one year after the main game ends, Melia and Shulk find out where Alcomoth ended up after the world changed in hopes of finding those remaining there to help them. A short trip turns into an adventure with the appearance of The Fog King, a strange creature who seems to be a result of a world that isn't yet fully stabilized. No one can hurt it as attacks pass right through, hence the name.
Sadly, the game never really gets into what exactly The Fog King is, so don't expect any satisfactory answer to the nature of the villain. Instead, the focus is on Melia and her learning what it is to be the Empress of the High Entia, what it means to take on that role, and all that comes with the territory. She has to learn how to deal with the infighting among the people here as well as discovering how to even fight the Fog King and reclaim the capital of her people.
Honestly, the shorter run time keeps the game a lot more focused and a lot less reliant on long monologues to explain the plot and sometimes even themes. In a lot of ways I think the writing in Future Extend is a lot better as a result, even the 'Heart to Hearts' which have been renamed 'Quite Time' do a lot more to draw connections between the characters. The narrative does still suffer from the game never really giving you an explanation for the Fog King, it's not enough to detract from what the game was trying to do.
A nice touch is getting to play as Riki's Kids, the second two characters. Their skill sets may just be copied off of Reyn and Sharla, but as characters I love them. Not only do you learn about them, but you get to learn a bit more about how Riki is as a father, and it makes me love him even more.
If you have played this game before and were at all interested in playing again, Future Extend does add a good amount of motivation to play through this one. If you never really had the urge to go back to the game, however, it isn't enough to warrant picking up the game for full price just for Future Extend.