Developer: Monolith Soft
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
No. of Players: 1 player
Release Date: May 29, 2020 (Worldwide)
When Xenoblade Chronicles came onto the scene, no one could have expected the finished product would turn out as it would. A massive open-world JRPG that players could invest some serious hours into, all whilst featuring a tastefully well-written story and British voice talent that really helped make its characters feel alive.
Xenoblade Chronicles was truly a mammoth beast, but it would not really attain the popularity we know it has today, were it not for its protagonist Shulk managing to make it into Super Smash Bros. and helping to given the game something it didn’t quite have in the beginning, a huge following in the west.
All of a sudden, more people wanted to play it and Wii title developed by Monolith Soft, would soon see itself on the receiving end of a port for the New Nintendo 3DS and a follow-up game in the form of Xenoblade Chronicles X, both in 2015 and five years later, the Xenoblade name lives on as we are just getting spoiled with releases now.
The true icing on the cake, however, is the fact that whilst Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is the remaster a lot of us have been waiting for, it’s also the remaster that has allowed its develops to do something with Xenoblade Chronicles that they couldn’t do before.
Whereas in 2010 the Bionis’ Shoulder map had to go on unused, despite so much work being put into it, the Definitive Edition has allowed Monolith Soft to bring back the unused map and instead of slapping it straight into the main game, they invested the time and effort to make it the staging area for a smaller Xenoblade adventure to take place in, and packaged the whole lot in one.
So, don’t be mistaken. The title for the extra campaign might be “Future Connected,” but at the same time, no one will blame you if you want to call it “A Past Restored,” because at long last dedicated fans can truly experience the wonders of a large landscape that was previously denied to us a decade ago.
Set one year later after the events of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, Future Connected is a brand new story that continues to expand upon the relationship between Shulk and Melia and follows their adventure across a previously unseen location.
From what was meant to be a rather simple flight to Alcamoth, the duo end up getting shot out the sky and crashing landing on the Bionis’ Shoulder and soon swiftly learn the existence of a new threat that they must deal with, in order to achieve their goals and save a future worth saving.
However, it’s not just a mysterious rift that threatens the land, as other issues are afoot as well, due to unrest in those residing on the Bionis’ Shoulder. The fighting might have come to an end one year previously, but for some, the scars of war still remain and there is plenty of distrust between the High Entia and Machina.
At least Shulk and Melia will not have to remain as a twosome for long, however, as an encounter will see them paired up with Nene and Kino, two Nopon who have the pleasure of calling the Heropon Riki, their dadapon.
Can this team of four pull off an incredible feat and put things right? Well, you’ll have to play Future Connected to find out, as I am actually going to do my utmost to avoid spoilers where possible and when I can’t, only share the bare minimum.
In keeping with true Xenoblade Chronicles fashion, Future Connected is an open-world JRPG where players can explore interesting surroundings, discover landmarks that can be used as warp points for quick travel, pick up various collectibles with the likes of the A button and engage in battles against any beast or monster that looks at the players funny.
Instead of battles being turn-based like earlier Final Fantasy games, battles are played out in real-time, allowing players to move freely amongst their foes and attacking whichever one takes their fancy.
Like in the main game, your typical attacks and skills are referred to as Arts and no, you can’t use them as freely as you would like, as each one does have a cooldown, so once used, you’ll need to use the likes of the directional buttons to cycle across to another attack, instead of trying to use the same attack over and over.
Each attack has a different outcome and effect, with some being able to inflict the likes of Break and Topple on your opposition, but you don’t particularly have to master your arts in order to win each fight against monsters around the same level of you, but if they’re a Unique Monster that is Lv.80 and you’re still at Lv.65, you might want to run away, unless you do have a full understanding of the game’s battle mechanics and are able to utilise a strategy that can successfully see you to victory, despite the level difference.
What’s more, it does help to take the time to learn the ins and outs of each character’s Arts, since you can swap them around, use Arts that aren’t the default ones you set off with and when you really want to get into the nitty-gritty aspects of customisation, you can spend AP points to improve your Arts and attach each character with certain gems to better serve their role in battle.
If you’ve played the main game, some of the combat in Future Connected will come very easily to you, except there are things that have been done away with. Chain attacks? Gone. The skill tree? Gone. Shulk’s visions? Gone. Affinity Chart? Replaced by the party gauge, which is useful for reviving fallen companions in battle, or unleashing a devastating attack. Other aspects where Future Connected differs, other than the fact you start at Lv.60 from the get-go, but other Nopon will join you in battle as well.
By finding Ponspectors, these Nopon will jump into battle to help Shulk and friends on their own merit and each one has their own signature move. Nopon associated with Red Team have attacks that are offensive in nature, Blue Team Nopon are dedicated to healing attacks, whereas Yellow Team Nopon, they like to favour debuffing attacks.
What’s more, by performing well in the likes of Battle Start Affinity and Burst Affinity, (press B at the right time,) your eager to help Nopon can leap into battle during a state of High Tension, allowing them to go all-out, with no slacking off. This state doesn’t last forever however, as it can diminish, thus causing the Nopon to return to their usual behaviour.
Furthermore, once you have at least one Ponspector representing each team, players will be able to perform special coordinated attacks known as a Union Strike, however, doing so does deplete all three bars of the party gauge. Still, it’s well worth it as the Union Strike can cause devastating damage, especially when you have more Nopon to join in.
Now, despite Future Connected featuring four playable characters, only three can be in your party at one time, but the good news is, you are free to select between Shulk, Melia, Nene and Kino to be the party leader, so you can play as any one of them and you can even dress them up as you please, thanks to plenty of clothing choices.
You’ll also be able to enable Expert Mode and level up your characters as you wish, or reduce their level, depending on the kind of challenge you wish to endure and if things are too hard, you can always opt for casual mode as well and just in case you were curious, yes, players do still have the option of changing the time of day, so when things are looking dark, it only takes a couple of seconds to bring the sunshine back.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
If you’re truly just playing Xenoblade Chronicles: Future Connected, just for the new story and nothing more, be prepared to spend very little time with it, as you’ll be lucky to get 9-11 hours out of it, but if you want to see and do everything, you have a good chance of doubling that playtime.
In a playtime session of my own, lasting 14 hours, I was constantly getting sidetracked, as I would literally put off story advancement, in favour of finding more Ponspectors, taking down Unique Monsters or exploring new locales. Although providing a number of guides during my playthough, I wasn’t actually in any rush and really wanted to play at my own pace and even, there is some sizable amount of content for players to sink your teeth into.
For instance, when it comes to side quests, there are 41 of them to do and while most of them are simple fetch quests, some quests, in particular, can take longer than expected, as one item you can be tasked with finding, could take quite a bit of time before it becomes available on the map as the likes of a gentleclam, is a rare random spawn.
Other quests however, you’ll be able to beat in no time at all, but if it’s fighting you’re after, well, there are plenty of monsters you can put in your path and if you’re after a stronger threat, you can always take one any of the 20 Unique Monsters.
Beating these particular monsters, including fogbeasts, can earn players Arts Coins, a very valuable currency for upgrading your arts and really getting the chance to do damage to your enemies, but until you advance far enough into the game’s story, you won’t be able to spend any of the Arts Coins you’ll unknowingly acquire. So, as tempting as it is to “kill them all,” and take things slowly, it does actually pay to try and make some headway with Future Connected’s main goal.
At least however, whilst you won’t be able to upgrade your Arts any time soon, at least you can track down the Ponspectors and add them to your team, being able to reap the benefits in battle and unleashing all manner of pain upon your enemies.
Nevertheless, should you wish to practise more peaceful pursuits, you can simply explore every nook and cranny in the campaign’s two main areas, obtain an Ether Pick and start mining gems from various Ether deposits, or pick up every single collectable there is, in a bid to complete the two-page Collectopaedia.
For every category you complete, you can earn a reward and, depending on your luck, this is something that could take forever, or take no time at all. (I’m looking at you Gentleclams!)
Players will also be able to meet a variety of NPCs and hunt down every last Quiet Moment, in a bid to learn even more about the relationships between characters such as Shulk, Melia, Kino, Nene and a fifth character, whom’s name I shan’t share due to spoilers.
What I will say, however, is those heart-to-heart like moments between Melia and the unnamed NPC, is something fans of the main game would enjoy and when this particular character does come into Future Connected, they do get to stick around through to the end for all the right reasons.
So yes, there is enough content here to easily keep players coming back for more and putting close to 20 hours into it, especially if they want to go all out with levelling up the four playable characters, mastering their arts and getting every item of clothing, armour and weapon that are available in-game.
The only downside, however, is if you’re intending to beat Future Connected as quickly as possible and doing a New Game+ playthrough, there isn’t one. What you see is what you get and unless you fall completely in love with Future Connected, there’s no real need to keep going back to it, unless you really, really want to.
For the sake of getting it out the way like pulling a band-aid off, yes, Jenna Coleman did in fact return to reprise her role as Melia Antiqua and she wasn’t the only comeback kid. Adam Howden also made a joyous return and I’m happy to say that both he and Jenna did get plenty of new dialogue to record, helping to really flesh out both the 29 cinematic cutscenes and the 14 Quiet Moments.
Having said that, as 10 years have passed between when the original Xenoblade Chronicles, released in 2010 and the Definitive Edition dropping in 2020, there are some noticeable changes in the voices, but that’s down to the passing of years and different recording equipment.
Something else that is new for Future Connected, is brand new compositions for the soundtrack and it is a delight on the ears. I really could listen to the new tracks all day. In fact, I’m listening to them right now as I write up this very review, but my favourite piece of ear candy in the whole thing, are the exchanges between Nene and Kino.
The things those siblings say to one another are hilarious and the voice talent behind them had their deliveries down to the t, which really helped to make their characters all the more loveable.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
Being an extra campaign as part of the remastered Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, Future Connected features exactly the same level of detail and shading, but comes with the addition of new locations, new character designs and models.
Its world is rich and engaging and easily marries up perfectly with everything we have previously seen in the likes of the main game, but I would have liked to have seen some more diversity. Yes, there are caves, there’s the interesting Zekr Mine Quarry, but there’s also a massive body of water with very little islands on it, that it just feels like it takes up a little too much of the map space.
Just like the main game however, whilst Xenoblade Chronicles: Future Connected is a great HD looking game to gaze upon when docked, offering a maximum output of 720p and a bottom that drops to 540p, handheld mode does take a hit as it’s best is 540p but when battles become crowded, there are instances where it can drop to 378p.
Although if I’m being honest, although handheld mode isn’t as off-putting as it could have been, as tempting as it is to be able to play large-scale RPGs on the go, my general preference is the same as it has always been, to have the Switch sit comfortably in its dock and watch everything play out on a big screen TV and lose myself in a long and highly enjoyable gameplay session.
If you were hoping Xenoblade Chronicles: Future Connected, would give Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country, a run for its money, you’ll be in for a disappointment. That’s not to say it’s not an enjoyable adventure, but unlike Torna, which does have more than enough content and gameplay to justify the status of being a standalone game/expansion Future Connected, really is just an extra adventure that’s more comparable to a post-release DLC campaign.
Then to make matters worse, admittedly, I wasn’t nearly as engrossed with Future Connected, as I could have been due its lacklustre story, characters and content, Shulk and Melia are as great as ever, but other things and other characters, just felt like they were either pure filler content, or someone wanted to do more with them but didn’t, such as Gael’gar.
As a character, he could have been something more and played a larger role, but instead, he mostly appeared in cut-scenes and actions he takes at the end of the side quest he appears in, really let his character down.
I felt as if he could have offered more to Future Connected, but instead, he just felt like he was given more importance than he deserved and he never even lived up to it either and then there’s Alcamoth itself.
I was really delighted to discover a second area to explore, much like how Torna has both Torna and Gormott, but in the end, Alcamoth was a letdown. Out of 12 Ponspectors, only one is found there and there is just so little to actually do there. As a new area to explore, it’s so underutilised that it feels like it was thrown in at the last minute just to tie things together, but I don’t blame Monolith for that.
I am grateful for the extra content to help Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition to live up to its definitive namesake, but it’s clear the dev team didn’t quite have the same amount of resources to work on Future Connected like they did with Torna. So, while the main game still sets itself up as the best Xenoblade game in the series, narrowly beating Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for a lot of fans, the same can not be said for Future Connected.
If you’re purchasing Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, just for the sake of experiencing the added epilogue, you might be buying it for the wrong reason. Purchase this beloved classic because this is the best possible version to play and curb your expectations where Future Connected is concerned. There’s still plenty to be satisfied by, just don’t go in expecting it to be the be-all and end-all.
THE VERDICT: 7/10
*A download key was provided by the Nintendo UK for the purposes of this review
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This post was written by Jack Longman