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You owe it to yourself to play Xenoblade Chronicles before Xenoblade Chronicles 3

Nintendo’s beloved cult classic almost didn’t make it out of Japan and that would, really, have been a crying shame.

When it comes to JRPGs, there are few that are more unashamedly themselves than Xenoblade Chronicles. Released in 2010 as a final hurrah for the all but abandoned Wii, its colourful blend of MMO-lite combat, mechs, and endearingly earnest UK voice acting come together in a gaming experience like no other. Despite its humble Wii Origins, Xenoblade’s vast expanse and all-timer orchestral score create a grand sense of adventure that few of its genre mates have managed to top – even now, 12 years later.

The Switch rebirth is worth your time and money – especially if you're hyped for the next game in the series.

Yet, that’s not to say it’s perfect. If we were to label it anything, we’d have to file this cult curio under ‘flawed masterpiece’. This is a game that meanders. It’s a story of teeny tropes and towering titans that bores as often as it excites, and thanks to its auto-attack system – ripped wholesale from an MMO – it features one of the most bizarre combat systems in gaming. Yet in spite of it all, I find myself returning to Bionis and Mechanis’ luscious lands, time and time again.

Xenoblade Chronicles has not always been an easy game to enjoy – and the hardware it’s been relegated to certainly hasn’t helped. I’ve tried getting into Monolith Soft's RPG masterwork on various occasions, with varying degrees of success. With the Wii version releasing via an incredibly limited run, getting a copy of the game was near impossible. So, I initially started my journey across the Bionis via a Dolphin-emulated version on my Mac – and thanks to some unusable Wii controller mappings, failed miserably.

Round two, I was lucky enough to experience a legit version: the terribly-performing New 3DS port. Thanks to its dire framerate, thoough, it stuck like jelly to a wall. It turns out, the third time really was the charm for Nintendo’s weird little RPG; after picking the Definitive Edition on Switch, in the immortal words of protagonist Shulk, “now I’m really feeling it!”

Just look at that gorgeous world. Look at it!

In Xenoblade Chronicles, the story rides on the backs of the giants that came before… literally. Set centuries after an ancient war, humans and other races have attempted to find peace by creating civilizations atop the rusted and overgrown frames of gigantic mechas. While probably not the wisest place to purchase property, it’s a premise that’s tailor-made for Xenoblade’s core hook – it’s sprawling exploration. Starting at the base of each dormant behemoth, you eventually make your way up each ascending Bionis biome, from the legs to waist, until you’re battling atop them – head in the clouds.

While it has a barely comprehensible ‘Skill Link’ system, its item crafting, auto-run, and the concept of gaining XP just for exploration still feel like quality of life improvements that most JRPGs are sorely lacking. Combine that with a relaxed approach to side-questing, the complete lack of random encounters and terrifyingly over-levelled foes, and Xenoblade’s cosy little world feels tailor made to tackle at whatever pace you see fit.

It helps, of course, that Xenoblade can now be played on a portable console. Thanks to its 70+ hour run time, this is a mammoth undertaking – and one that’s perfectly suited to escaping to on the plane, or while laying vertical on the sofa. Despite being an up-res of a 12 year old game, Xenoblade Chronicles is still utterly breath-taking at times. With each new area you discover, land stretches as far as the eyes can see. From rolling hills to moss-covered mechanical structures, glistening lakes to gloomy caves, it’s no wonder developer Monolith Soft was drafted in to help work on Breath Of The Wild, almost a decade later.

Without this, there'd be no BOTW. Seriously.

Xenoblade’s narrative may be less revolutionary than its gameplay, but make no mistake – it’s still one that keeps you invested in this fantastical, fairy-tale-esque world. While the game's main protagonist may be known to many as ‘that weird naked guy in Smash’, stupid sexy Shulk admirably slots into the category of lovably naïve anime dweeb. Almost obnoxiously optimistic, Shulk’s belief in his friends and determination to triumph through adversities offer up more JRPG clichés than you can shake a potion at. Yet, it’s the heartwarming that way this lovable cast of characters interact that keeps this down to earth Brit brigade from bringing up any vomlets.

It’s crazy to think now, but as we edge ever closer to the series’ second Switch outing, Xenoblade Chronicles came a hair breadth away from being resigned to the rubbish heap. Now regarded as the big N’s premier JRPG franchise, this weird world of mechs, swords, and delightfully charming UK voice actors was almost seen as a niche Japanese experience – one not worth releasing worldwide. Thankfully, hell hath no fury like a weeb scorned, and after the hugely successful fan petition - Operation Rainfall - a massively not-arsed Nintendo eventually buckled, releasing the already localized game in Europe and then America. It was a triumphant moment for art, fandom, and low-res anime protagonists everywhere.

The sickly sweet cast will get in your head and your heart.

Despite its modern Nintendo exclusivity, the franchises’s origins can be traced back to a more Sony-friendly time for MonotlithSoft, as a spin-off of Tetsuya Takahsi’s cult PS2 series, Xenogears. Much like the continuity-defying Final Fantasy, each Xenoblade stars a new colourful cast of cartoon protagonists while tying into Xenoblade’s wider mythos. Yet, unlike Square Enix's favourite cash cow, Xenoblade does weave its individual titles together in some obtuse and lore-heavy ways.

The third game in the series promises to knit the last two games together, too – yeah, they may have taken place at different times, with different casts, but the sci-fi setup of the story means that Monolith Soft can draw on everything that's come before in the series to wrap it all up in a neat little package with the third game. As such, you owe it to yourself to play the first title – now conveniently available on Nintnedo Switch for all to play! – before charging headfirst into what looks like Nintendo's best game of the year (that Breath of the Wild 2 delay stings, right?)

Like a weird helix, the third game will draw the past two stories into one.

With the third outing moved up to July to plug that Advance Wars-shaped hole in Ninty’s release schedule, there's never been a better time to explore what came before.

While the Wii was something of a wasteland for JRPGs, against all odds, this Nintendo-backed exclusive has gone on to become an integral part of the house of Mario. Thanks to Xenoblade Chronicles’ unique marriage of MMO-like combat, sprawling open world, and its lovably campy story, there truly isn’t anything else like it. While it may frustrate almost as often as it delights, if you have even half an interest in JRPGs, you owe it to yourself to brandish that Monado and charge full steam ahead into this lovable little gem.

About the Author

Tom Regan avatar

Tom Regan

Contributor

Tom is a freelance games, tech and music writer based in London, England. Former Games editor at Fandom, he has spent six years telling the stories behind your favourite games. Outside of VG247, you can read Tom’s words in The Guardian, NME, GamesRadar, TechRadar and VGC, among other places.

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