When you look at the talented teams working within Nintendo today, one of the biggest names in that group is Monolith Soft. Monolith Soft hasn’t just published smash-hit JRPGs on the last three Nintendo home consoles, but they’ve also gone on to be crucial collaborators in the development of huge Nintendo releases like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, and even Animal Crossing: New Horizons. While the talented Japanese studio spent years contributing to existing Nintendo projects, it wasn’t until 2010 that they became a household name with the release of their Nintendo Wii project Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s a massive, groundbreaking JRPG that almost never made it out of Japan. Now though, Xenoblade is a hit across the globe, and the 10th anniversary of Monolith Soft’s most iconic accomplishment is being marked by the release Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch.
This updated and gorgeous remastering of the Wii classic doesn’t come out for another week, but we’ve already spent some time with it and can safely say that Monolith Soft has knocked it out of the park again.
As incredible of an experience as the original Xenoblade Chronicles was, even diehard fans will likely admit that the game’s visuals were somewhat lacking in detail. Thankfully, this is perhaps where the most changes and improvements come in Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. Every significant story character, from our passionate protagonist Shulk to the ridiculous Heropon Riki, has had a massive facelift and complete 3D model overhaul that brings them up to the same quality of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. While characters in the original had flat and lifeless faces, there are gorgeous brand new facial animations in cutscenes and scripted events that bring them to life like never before.
Unfortunately, the entire game hasn’t had the same level of graphical overhaul. While the main characters of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition have been remodeled from scratch, town NPCs and mob enemies scattered around Colony 9 seem to have simply been up-converted and touched up with new shading textures. Enemy models hardly seem out of place or outdated, but it can be awkward to walk about town and talk to NPCs who look like they’ve come straight out of the original Wii version of the game. The environments and towns we’ve seen so far haven’t been massively remodeled or redesigned either, but the improved lighting and texturing make them look utterly fantastic.
Surprisingly, all of that detail stays almost entirely intact when playing Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition in handheld mode. Upon taking your Nintendo Switch out of the dock and kicking back in bed to continue Shulk’s adventure, the only noticeable difference in visuals is a lower resolution. This is only marginally noticeable in cutscenes, where character models can look slightly fuzzier around the edges than normal. If you look too closely when exploring the overworld or looking at characters in the equipment menu, though, things can look just a tad too crunchy. Thankfully, no other aspects of the game are impacted in any major way when playing in handheld mode. So far, there’s been hardly any egregious model pop-in to speak of, and the frame rate is just as stable in handheld mode as it is when docked.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition doesn’t reinvent the original experience the way something like Final Fantasy VII Remake did. This is the same exact adventure that Shulk and his friends went on 10 years ago on the Wii, but the updated character models, improved audio, and slick new UI help make this classic experience feel sharper and more accessible than ever. Check back in next week for our full review of the game, when we’ll go more in detail on other changes and improvements we discover throughout our remastered journey across the Bionis and Mechonis, as well as our thoughts on the brand new Future Connected epilogue.