Xenoblade Chronicles for Switch Review, Gameplay Impressions and Speedrun Tips

Monolith Soft

Xenoblade Chronicles stands tall as one of the most beloved JRPGs of the last decade, and the Nintendo Switch seems like the perfect way to bring out the best edition of the classic.  

That’s what developer Monolith Soft strives for with the release of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, a souped-up rerelease of the game that originally appeared on the Nintendo Wii in 2010 and again on the New 3DS in 2015. 

This Switch offering takes the well-reviewed classic (originally a 92 on Metacritic) and modernizes gameplay elements, graphics and more while tacking on “Future Connected,” an epilogue scenario with impactful happenings for the universe. 

Given past successes and the ideas above, there’s a clear recipe for Xenoblade Chronicles to once again corner the JRPG market, if not become one of the best titles in the genre on the Switch. 

Graphics and Gameplay

Context is important when discussing Definitive Edition’s visuals. 

Players who poured hours into the prior games are going to come away flabbergasted with the graphics. Gone are the blurry and pixelated blobs that were characters in the past. The Switch has some horsepower and happily flexes it here, bringing these anime-style characters to life in vibrant ways. 

But players who don’t have that past experience might find it easier to lean into the flaws. Not everything has been overhauled—characters still move in robotic fashion, other NPCs in the world straight up disappear when talking to one, and environments suffer from pop-up and blurriness. 

But this isn’t a remaster: It’s more of a rerelease with some new finishing touches. The characters look droves better, and it plays a part in getting invested in the story. The world is still beautiful for what it is—a diverse, colorful realm that perfectly matches the goofy, grand story. 

Understandable graphical hiccups from a decade ago aside, what was already a stellar soundtrack is upgraded and just as good at helping to set the mood. 

As in the past, the battle HUD is ridiculously—almost comically—busy. A plethora of menus, wild fonts, pauses for time traveling, systems atop systems during live-action gameplay and the general chaos of battle make for a brutal learning curve. 

Speaking specifically to the power backing the Switch version, whether the locked framerate (30FPS) and visuals are a setback will vary by the player. On one hand, the performance is a little disappointing, on another, this isn’t a combo-intensive game that requires key timing to do well in battle. 

The carryover and improvements balance happens throughout the gameplay experience, too.  

A battle system that was difficult to master a decade ago remains the same. It’s live-action with the player character and accompanying A.I. auto-attacking. Players control positioning and Arts in a very deep system that feels quite a bit like an MMO. Timing, positioning, status effects and sequencing of attacks and Arts convolute the battle process. 

Arts span the typical RPG moveset. They build over time as a character auto-attacks and are (quietly explained) color-coded, with red being a physical attack, for example. Others cause status effects or knockdowns and others heal, while the traditional three-party group comprises of a tank, DPS and healer. 

When players aren’t attacking via Arts, the A.I. for party members does a pretty good job of following up on the player’s lead and performing the next logical action after an enemy gets afflicted with a status condition (example: player causes “break” on an enemy, party member properly follows up with “topple” on same target). 

A separate party gauge fills while the current party fights together, and earning notches on it dictates whether players can revive teammates and keep on fighting. This gauge also leads into Chain Attacks, powerful strings where the refresher timer on Arts go out the window and all three players sequence attacks together. Smartly doing this results in the biggest damage (or healing) numbers in the game. 

On top of all this, there are Monado Arts, which is an entirely different branch of Arts tied to the main character’s weapon. These also charge over time and dole out buffs for teammates or inflict massive damage on specific types of enemies. 

If that all sounds very complicated…it is! This is a hardcore JRPG, and the steep learning curve is a minor annoyance. And the game still doesn’t do an amazing job of explaining all the nuances of the deep battle system—that or it’s easy to lose some details in the flurry of early-game tutorials.

But working through it reveals one of the deepest systems out there, and over time, the sheer rhythm of gameplay reveals itself and helps to explain why the original was so well received.  

Story and More

Xenoblade Chronicles’ story has always been goofy in a good way. The whole world and story take place, after all, atop two gods who slew each other long ago. 

Some of the charm is standard fodder stuff—locales are overly strange, the dialogue in spots is as corny as it gets and some of the cutscenes run on for far too long (or have the player exit a cutscene, walk a few paces and enter another). 

And yet, silly as it can be, the characters are emphatic to their causes, and the tale woven over a lengthy story has some unexpected depth and themes. 

It’s all grandiose, and the world matches it. The sense of scale is still impressively staggering for a game that came out a decade ago. Finding out the sprawling opening area is just the giant’s ankle is…something else. But along those same lines, if a game needs an “auto-run” button, it’s probably got too much running. 

Side quests remain a crucial part of the experience. While old-school RPG players might just want to spam battles with random enemies for experience, sidequests offer the best of both worlds via those same critical experience points with gear rewards on top. The only problem is the sheer number of sidequests—this isn’t a game for completionists, as they’d have to put in 100-plus hours, maybe double that to knock every sidequest off the exhausting list (the game has long been a meme for this). 

As rewarding as sidequests can be, they drag. There isn’t anything too out of the ordinary, so expect plenty of “defeat x monsters” and “collect x of y” on repeat.

Thankfully, exploration is still encouraged. Besides discoverable items that offer bonus rewards in a collections book, unearthing locations grants experience and fast-travel waypoints. 

As a game originally criticized a bit for its gargantuan, if not messy menus, Definitive Edition does a good job of modernizing these in spots. Arts level ups are still tucked away and aren’t well explained and the same goes for the three selectable skill trees per character, never mind affinity linking. It feels like the best modernization pass that could possibly be done, yet still speaks to how deep and messy the many systems can be. 

Players can also craft gems from different materials, which provide important buffs to weapons. This is another easy thing to overlook and underestimate, but are totally worth fast-traveling back for to help spur story progress at tough sticking points. 

This edition modernizes well in spots. The HUD, messy as it is, has been cleaned up in some places and the maps are far better than the original. But some needy areas that didn’t hold up well even back when the game first released remains. Grinding for gems remains a pain, and obtaining the final stages of special abilities via random drop or even from a vendor instead of simply leveling up the character is as strange as ever. Grinding for any material can be a nightmare, too, as some are simply locked behind a certain time of day and weather condition. 

One thing Definitive Edition does really well is stand tall as an accessible experience. All the asks are there—fast travel, save anywhere, a deep well of tutorials, a little pop-up screen that recaps the current story at the press of a button, solid cosmetic customization and the option to flick on a casual mode. 

And while on the topic of the options suite, turning combat dialogue all the way off is an A part of the feature set given how often Shulk and crew repeat the same lines (“Man, what a bunch of jokers”) over and over on the course of a 60-plus hour journey. 

It all goes to show the original was a little ahead of its time and gifting it some smooth modernizations was the right call. And the newly added epilogue is far from an afterthought. It’s a sizeable chunk of game that continues the story well and has all the great presentation values and gameplay elements of the base game. More of the same that adds on to a classic in a significant way will never be an unwelcome addition.

Speedrunning Tips

Xenoblade Chronicles has been a speedrunning juggernaut since release. 

The best of the best have managed to whittle down a game that can take hundreds of hours into times checked in under the five-hour mark—and the battles are still ongoing. 

While advanced speedruns of the original leaned into getting out of bounds and leveling up fast via discovering locations, the traditional means are also a big part of any strategy here. Cutscenes are skippable, and flying through conversations are a breeze that—in a game like this—shave off a bunch of time. 

Out in the world, discovering as many places as possible while on the run is a must given the free experience doled out for doing so. But sidequests aren’t necessarily as important. It can’t hurt to grab them quickly if they’re on the way because they’ll auto-complete, but there’s too many to fret over them, and the skill involved in a run will mitigate desperately needing some of the gear rewards. 

Item management is a big part of a run in this one. Grabbing up as many things as possible to sell off for currency will then permit the purchase of some must-have Arts progressions for tougher end-game enemies. 

In battle, when they actually occur, going for the maximal Arts combos and ripping off big Chain Attacks will get runners free of fights quickly. But with other things giving experience, running into random battles often isn’t advisable. 

Runs in this game will boil down to majoring in the minutia. Fast-traveling to other areas and very often within a single area will speed things up dramatically. So will an intricate knowledge of the menu, combat and overarching systems. 

Depending on how much has changed when it comes to environmental shortcuts and other time-saving measures, this rerelease could be a tough one to crack even for veterans. But it’ll undoubtedly hold up just as well as the original release given the skill needed to make a special run happen. 

Conclusion

Monolith Soft

The Switch library has a classic on its hands. 

The above could’ve been written had Nintendo just released the original digitally and called it a day. But nobody involved was content doing so, and the winner is fans of the series, RPG fans and Switch owners as a whole. 

While still understandably rough in some spots, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition brings one of the better RPGs of the last 10 years back with some noteworthy improvements, letting it once again flaunt its superb strategy-based combat and immense depth via its sprawling world and systems. Add in a worthy epilogue and the game truly lives up to its name. 

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