There’s a little something to keep in mind about expectations – if you lower them they tend to stay low. Remember when we thought episodic gaming meant high-quality episodes released on a regular basis for a nonstop stream of enjoyment? Remember when we thought Early Access meant getting to try out and add input to playable games that needed just a bit more work? Remember when we thought developers on Kickstarter were infallible saints guaranteed to deliver what they promised?
Yeah, those were the days. Now we’re surprised if Early Access games run, if Kickstarter games release at all and…well, episodic gaming’s doing alright if Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake is any indication. Likewise, as remasters and remakes have become more common I think we’ve generally lowered our expectations for them a little. These days a quick bit of texture resampling and maybe a framerate buff is all it takes to recommend a remaster.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, of course, and I’ve always thought that if a game was great the first time it doesn’t take much to make it worth playing again. However, sometimes the odd remaster shows up that does a little bit more.
Case in point: Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, a fantastic remaster of a fantastic game that really emphasizes the best parts of the original 2010 Wii original while adding serious new polish all over the place.
Xenoblade Chronicles’ closest cousin would be something like Final Fantasy XII. The combat system is reminiscent of an MMORPG thanks to automatic attacks and cooldowns attached to most actions, as well as an aggro management system that would seem right at home in World of Warcraft. Xenoblade mixes things up with a focus on positioning and timing; hero Shulk has an entire set of abilities revolving around these concepts and it’s pretty clear you’re meant to use him throughout the game. Certain skills do bonus damage when performed from behind an enemy or to the side, while others offer bonuses when performed directly after certain skills performed by party members.
Thanks to the power of the mystic Monado blade – an ancient lightsaber with a mysterious past – Shulk also possesses the gift of precognition. This has several story ramifications, of course, and it also affects combat. When a boss (and, later, even a regular enemy) is readying a dangerous attack, you’re given advance warning via a vision of the future showing the attack and its lethal results. You’re then able to take action to change the future and save yourself. This is largely used as a means of ramping up the game’s difficulty by giving more dangerous attacks to the foes and forcing you to deal with them, which is certainly more interesting than just bumping up everything’s stats.
Other characters have their own gimmicks as well. Healer and sniper Sharla uses a sort of reverse-cooldown system where her skills heat up her rifle, which needs to be cooled after a certain point; another example is the party’s mage, Melia, whose skills serve dual purposes as buffs and attacks. Each character is unique and the team as a whole offers a diverse playstyle.
Outside of combat, Xenoblade Chronicles offers plenty to do. There’s hours and hours of sidequests and such available. Not all of them are gripping adventures – mostly you’ll be killing ten rats and collecting five bear asses – but the content is there if you want it. The plot alone will run you about 30-40 hours, so you’re not going to lack for JRPG action, and if you’ve got the dedication to try and fully complete the game then you’re looking at playing for two or even three times that long.
You’re playing on Switch now, so you probably expected a visual upgrade from the Wii and 3DS versions of Xenoblade Chronicles. What you probably didn’t expect is quite the degree of an upgrade this would turn out to be. Back in the early days of remasters and re-releases this might have been what we expected – it looks like a whole new game, one suited to its new home on a modern console. The framerate has been shored up, textures have been drastically improved (or replaced, in many cases), character models look stunning, even the UI looks great…Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition sets the standard for what a remaster can and should do.
On top of all that, it’s got time trial missions and an epilogue campaign to tack on some more playtime after the fact if you haven’t got enough yet. The only thing that’s noticeably missing are the bonus features from the 3DS re-release, but those weren’t a huge deal anyway.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is a classic JRPG and a must-play for fans of the genre, and this vastly updated version on Switch looks, sounds and plays better than any other. The sheer amount of time, effort and love that’s been put into this remaster to make it feel, legitimately, like a modern game from 2020 is a little surprising, even from Nintendo, but I hope it serves as an example for what can be done with older classics to bring them to modern consoles.