SquareSoft had hit it big with the Final Fantasy franchise, but moving into the fifth console generation, they had trouble moving it forward. Tetsuya Takahashi, and his wife Kaori Tanaka, pitched a concept for what they envisioned as Final Fantasy VII, but the game they had created would be turned into Xenogears. Takahashi had poured his heart and soul into Xenogears. It became both a critical and commercial success, but a sequel never surfaced from Square.
In 1999, Takahashi formed Monolith Soft Inc. under Namco. Their first project was the Xenosaga series. As a spiritual successor to Xenogears, Xenosaga was conceived as a massive six-game narrative but later cut down to just three. Xenosaga would introduce KOS-MOS, who lives on in titles like Project X-Zone and Xenoblade itself to this day.
When Namco merged into Bandai Namco, Monolith felt as if they were given far less creative control. After much back-and-forth, Nintendo made an unprecedented move. In 2007, they purchased 80% of shares from Bandai Namco. Monolith would go produce a few original titles before revisiting the Xeno series, but they found their place on the Wii. Xenoblade Chronicles was created for a very particular audience. Nintendo didn’t even want to localize it at first. After much fan outcry, they localized the game and brought it to the west to be exclusively sold at GameStop stores.
In the very beginning, there was only endless ocean. Soon into existence, two titans came into existence. The Bionis and Mechonis lived together for many years. Barely aware of the other’s existence. Eventually, they began fighting. The two titans fought for millennia. Civilizations on both were constantly coming into being and going extinct. The battle ended in the death of both titans, or so the ancient civilizations of both had thought.
After the very sword used by the Bionis, the Monado, is discovered by the Homs civilization, an evil force known as the Mechon, incapable of being harmed by regular weaponry, begin attacking the people of Bionis. The Mechon are successfully pushed back by Dunban, wielding the Monado, at the battle of sword valley. Dunban is gravely injured in this encounter, and the Monado is sealed away. Victory against the Mechon came at a huge cost. Only two Homs colonies survive the war, and many Bionis species are endangered.
Exactly one year after The Battle of Sword Valley, the Mechon return to finish their fight. This time they bring “faced” Mechon that not even the Monado can harm. They begin by wiping out both remaining colonies. A brave young Homs, Shulk, decides to take up the Monado himself. He masters the weapon at the bewilderment of Dunban. After the destruction of their homes and families, Shulk, his best friend Reyn, and Dunban set out to stop the Mechon and find out the truth behind the faced beasts. Along the way, they’ll meet new friends and find out the truth behind the Titans’ intentions.
A JRPG is only as good as it’s battle system. Xenoblade Chronicles certainly has one of the most unique I’ve seen. You’ll run into enemies as you explore the world. Once you initiate a battle, your character will auto-attack if it is in range of the enemy. Each character has a set of “arts” that the player can perform, but most are only good in specific scenarios. You won’t be controlling your team at all. I don’t like a lack of control in JRPGs. I found the A.I. to be reliable enough to not make me angry, but it still made most of the game feel like a chore. It all comes down to preference. After filling up a special bar, you’ll be able to perform a chain attack. With a chain attack, you’ll allow each party member to use one art, even if the art is on cooldown. If you’re quick enough, you’ll be able to continue the chain almost indefinitely.
Your power will mostly be dictated by the equipment you give your characters and if you choose to upgrade your arts. Leveling up is extremely slow and monotonous, and your characters don’t get huge bonuses from them. In the late game, I was often extremely under-leveled, but my characters could still compete with the enemies that were around fifteen or twenty levels higher than mine.
As you defeat enemies, you will earn AP. AP can be spent on upgrading your arts. Upgrading your arts is extremely important. They’ll do more much more damage and the cool-down timer will be reduced by tens of seconds. As you gain AP, your character will automatically further on the skill tree you have selected for them. Each character has three, linear, skill trees. I found myself filling in almost all of them naturally by the end of my play-through.
You can also upgrade your character with gems. As you defeat enemies or explore, you’ll collect ether crystals. You can take these crystals back to the Gem Man in Colony 9 to form them into crystals via a “minigame.” The minigame is more of a cutscene than anything else. I went most of my playthrough without even knowing how to create my own gems, and I still don’t feel as if I understand what they did to help me.
You’ll be exploring vast open areas at all times. Xenoblade isn’t quite an open world, but the Wii couldn’t really do that sort of thing. Towns you come across feel lived in and alive! The characters you meet on the road feel like they were given a lot of thought. There are items hidden in every corner, and enemies spawn frequently to keep you busy! Transitioning in and out of battle is completely seamless! Walking from one place to another can make the worlds feel empty, but you will find many fast-travel locations in each and every area.
Xenoblade Chronicles makes the story it wants to tell the top priority. You’ll be constantly stopped for cutscenes that could go on for an extremely long time. The narrative remains mostly clear, up until the ending, and the wonderfully voice-acted characters all bring a smile to my face, but being stopped for a five-minute cutscene to then walk for twelve seconds before hopping into a ten-minute cutscene is rather annoying.
There are only a few main reasons to buy the Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch. Many will be a fan of the portability and accessibility of being on a modern console. The big pulls for newcomers are the updated graphics and added casual mode. Casual mode doesn’t make the game a cakewalk, but it will dull bosses if you repeatedly fail them. Existing fans will be interested in the added side-campaign Future Connected. Future-Connected is available from the start of the game! I love small quality of life additions like that.
One year after the conclusion of the main campaign, Shulk and Melia find themselves shot out of the sky by a mysterious force. After meeting up with Nene and Kino, two of Riki the heropon’s children, they discover the nature of this creature. The Fog King has taken Alcamoth, the home of the High Entia, and forced them to take refuge elsewhere on the Bionis’ shoulder. The gang of four must make peace between the refuges, and take out the Fog King!
Future Connected is a completely separate experience from the main campaign. Nothing carries over from your campaign playthrough, but that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time. You’ll get good rewards after your quest. You’ll be starting your adventure at level 60, but enemies will be at the same level to compensate. It makes it more accessible to players who are picking up the Definitive Edition just for Future Connected.
Future Connected has a great many gameplay differences from the main campaign. You no longer have access to chain attacks or the skill tree. As you go through the world, you’ll run into ponspectors! Ponspectors are nopon prospectors looking for adventure and treasure! If you help solve their problem, they’ll join you. Ponspectors can damage enemies and allow you to perform a ponspector attack. The more of the twelve you’ve recruited, the more devastating the attack. It’s quite time-consuming, but it’s well worth the reward to recruit them all.
Future Connected took me about eight hours to complete. With the number of quests, I could see it stretching to just about twelve or fifteen. The world you’ll be exploring is extremely open and interconnected. There are too few fast travel points for my liking. My experience with Future Connected was overwhelmingly positive.
The definitive edition is a graphically stunning experience. The Wii original was no slouch, but I’m genuinely impressed by the amount of detail and polish they got out of the Switch. The worlds of Xenoblade are basically seamless. Large detailed enemies are constantly stomping around. It’s crazy how lively they made the game look. It doesn’t feel like something that should be running on the Switch. The true magic is in handheld mode, it looks no different.
Xenoblade Chronicles, much like the other Xeno games before it, is a game intended for a very specific audience. The definitive edition takes many steps to open the game up to newcomers, but it’s still the same experience at heart. Xenoblade was a wonderful experience that I would’ve never touched without Smash, but I’m not quite that audience. Even with the hours I sunk in, I felt as if the whole thing was just off of being right for me. I hope that Monolith Soft continues to make these exact type of experiences. It’s their specialty. I can’t quite say that this one has hooked me on trying out the rest of the franchise.
Shulk was brought in to Super Smash Bros. with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS. Xenoblade was an incredibly niche title at the time, so his inclusion had suddenly put a lot of eyes on Monolith Soft. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS had specifically suffered a terrible leak known as the ESRB leak. The ESRB leak was a set of images that revealed the final roster for both versions of the game. Including unconfirmed veterans like Jigglypuff, and newcomers like Shulk. In vain, skeptics tried to use Shulk’s render as a point against the leak. They had tried to claim it looked like a “photoshopped Little Mac,” and the rest was history.
Shulk certainly wasn’t designed for newcomers. He’s an incredibly unique take on the normal swordfighter archetype. The Monado keeps the extremely long reach it has in Xenoblade, and Shulk has a lot of end-lag to compensate. Shulk also has access to the Monado arts! Smash, Buster, Shield, Speed, and Jump are all represented. Each art will change Shulk’s properties. Such as buffing his attack power, but increasing how much knockback he takes when hit. It’s an interesting gimmick, but completely kills the character for me. I just don’t like micromanaging the specific art for each situation. I’d like to propose a different moveset for him, but I really can’t think of one. I suppose that goes to show how creative the team can get with characters from all sorts of genres.