MISHAWAKA – Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is a reworked version of a nine-year-old classic. Fans have been overjoyed at the overhauled visuals and audio, as well as all the new changes to the gameplay itself.
As a follow-up to my piece last week begging for people to buy this game, I figured I should explain how the game works instead of simply telling the story. So, allow me to indulge myself in another article on this masterpiece.
As I’ve mentioned, Xenoblade Chronicles is a JRPG, or Japanese Role-Playing Game, so it involves side quests, a convoluted main quest, a cavalcade of complex characters, customizable equipment, in depth skill-trees and enough multipliers and status effects to fill dozens of spreadsheets. It also features a real-time combat system. This system means the characters in your party will automatically attack the enemy you are targeting if you are in range. This frees the player to focus on the special attacks, or “arts,” that each character has, all of which have more uses than one would immediately suspect.
The combat is incredibly satisfying, given that the game shows you all the options, and then says, “hey, it’s all you now, champ.” The more experience you earn and the more levels you gain, the more abilities and skills you will be able to employ in the already-rewarding fights. Given that it is a real-time combat system, you have to make your plays in moments, deciding whether to heal a low-health teammate, protect them with a defensive art, or just try to whittle the enemy’s health down before it deals you the killing blow.
How will you know the killing blow is coming? Because this game has one of the most creative transformations of a plot point into a game mechanic that I have ever seen. You may remember I mentioned the protagonist, Shulk, is able to see visions of the future. Well, that little detail is wonderfully implemented in the gameplay; during combat, Shulk will occasionally foresee an attack from any enemy targeting the party. What determines if Shulk sees the vision is how dangerous the attack is; an attack that would wipe out one or more members of the party will likely appear in a vision. The information pertaining to the vision, who will attack, who will be attacked and how much damage the attack will do stays in a box in the top right of the screen accompanied by a timer until that future is made real.
The hope is that you can either use an art to heal, defend or warn your team if the character you are currently playing as cannot effectively prevent that future from happening. Not only is this an exceptionally clever bit of game design, but it is also relatively unique, as no major title before or since has had anything like it. These visions also serve as another variable the game uses in later fights; some enemies are almost impossible to beat without the use of these visions and changing the course of the fight through them is super gratifying.
After the combat comes the traversal. Xenoblade is prolific for its environments; for a game taking place on the corpses of two long-dead giants, there are some gorgeous locales. Gaur Plains is a vast, multi-tiered plain full of cattle-, dinosaur-, bird-, and tortoise-like creatures. Satorl Marsh is a bioluminescent swamp that is misty and serene during the day but turns into an Aurora Borealis-themed water park at night. Makna Forest is a lush jungle with giant crystal deposits and Indiana-Jones-esque rope bridges spanning half-a-dozen chasms and gorges. My favorite area, one I will not spoil, is called Sword Valley, and that is all I will say.
Now, I have talked at length about the story, environment, and basic gameplay. I say basic because there are plenty of minor mechanics that come into play behind the scenes and add auxiliary effects to characters and abilities, and I could write another article about those alone. Don’t worry, I will not, because even I only have so much free time. I will conclude with this: if anything I have said interests you in the slightest -- the gameplay, the story, the environments, the mechanics -- all of those make this game worth a buy on their own merits. I love this game, and I want nothing more than to share it with as many people as possible. Thanks for letting me stay on my soapbox for two weeks.