If there's one thing that's especially impressive in the definitive edition of Xenoblade Chronicles it's the fact that Tetsuya Takahashi's brand is still alive, unique and surprising after not ten, but over twenty years. The Xeno-Metaverse has been with players since 1998, back when we welcomed Xenogears for the first time, and ever since it has successfully managed to delight players with its huge, science-fiction worlds filled with fantasy elements, all steeped in psychological and religious themes.
Xenogears, back when it was under the PlayStation banner, was originally supposed to serve as a scenario for the original Final Fantasy VII (which isn't surprising when you consider how dark it was, however, due to legal problems in Europe because of its depiction of certain religious elements, Squaresoft likely found such a move too risky). Similarly, the first Xenoblade Chronicles was an attempt to restore the JRPG genre its former splendour in the wake of the golden era of Final Fantasy games, the popularity of which seems to be subject of Takahashi's envy, though we'd say unnecessarily so.
Today, almost exactly ten years after its debut, we can once again admire the artistry of the script, which, despite carrying a whole decade on its back, has not aged even a little. In fact, long would one have to search - not only within the genre but across the whole industry - to find a game that so elegantly combined sensitivity with heavy-hitting story beats that comment on nature of human existence.
Most of you probably recognise the franchise mainly thanks to Xenoblade Chronicles 2. And no wonder, compared to previous instalments in the series, the popularity of that game was staggering. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is a refreshed edition of the game from 2010, which is supposed to give it a second life; mainly by fixing the biggest mistakes of the original while at the same time maintaining artistic coherence with its continuation. It replaces all character models, completely redesigns the menu and user interface, sharpens textures, raises resolution, creates new arrangements of well-known songs. It is still exactly the same old, wonderful game, but with the number and extent of the changes introduced, some players don't quite know how to classify this new version. Is it a remaster or is it a remake? The answer is: remaster, of course, and Monolith Soft has never called it anything else. In terms of gameplay, in terms of animation, the combat system - nothing has changed here. What has changed is the presentation, via a refreshed UI, colour palette, fonts, maybe some of the character design.
When it comes to gameplay, Xenoblade Chronicles is basically a one-man MMO. It involves exploring enormous, beautiful lands (which offer a completely different experience during the day as they do at night), collecting dozens of items, performing hundreds of quests - often generic to a fault, which is, unfortunately, the Achilles heel of this entry. Although the game was - and still is - excellent in many respects, its original interface was an abomination that went against the basic rules that every UI artist learns at the very beginning of their career, with half the screen obscured with unnecessary information, and fonts of various shapes and sizes. Bad UI design doesn't mean that the gameplay can't be good. But why not have both?
Well, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition proves that you can. The developer has fixed all the shortcomings that hindered the original, making the new menus as clean, transparent and intuitive as that of any other Nintendo game you care to think of. This is important because Xenoblade is a colossal production that will take at least fifty hours to complete. Obviously, a good portion of this time will be spent in the menus, digging through character skills, choosing the right armour and its appearance (since, much like in Diablo III, any weapon or armour can have separate cosmetic properties), browsing through a ton of side missions, or developing the so-called Affinity Chart. Thus, the developer has managed to turn a very good game into nearly a flawless one, although you do need to get used to the aforementioned MMO-structure.
During this adventure, we discover the story of a teenager called Shulk who wields a mysterious Monado sword that allows him to predict the future and then try to change the tide of an ongoing war against mechanical creatures. Even players who have already played Xenoblade Chronicles 2 should give "one" a try and see for themselves how much - contrary to its appearance - it connects it with its continuation. And after having travelled across the world accompanied by the refreshed soundtrack (which has also been adapted to the symphonic style of its sequel), you can head for the loudly advertised Future Connected expansion, which was supposed to marry both games. However, it turned out to be the Definitive Edition's only significant disappointment.
The story of Future Connected takes place one year after the end of the main story and was supposed to serve as a bridge between the first game and its sequel. Everything in it revolves around a single location, which was cut out of the 2010 Xenoblade Chronicles for the sake of optimisation. Sadly, contrary to the promises made by the developer, neither does it add anything important to the story, nor does it create any connection between the instalments. It's nice for a little while but serves at most as a filler. Its faults are magnified by the fact that players will get to it right after completing the much grander, unforgettable core adventure, leaving a potentially sour aftertaste where there wasn't one before.
Despite the disappointment that the expansion served up at the end, we think that Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is one of the top exclusives to land on Nintendo's hybrid console, and it has gracefully withstood the test of time. Not only that, it stands tall alongside the best of the genre, proving that few can match its grandiose sense of style - even after ten years. For fans of Japanese games, enthusiasts who enjoy a good story, devotees to its beautiful and artistic setting, and generally anyone who values originality from their interactive entertainment, this is a must-play role-playing game.
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