Take an Axe to the Grind: 7 great ways Xenoblade Chronicles streamlines its gameplay

Played on… Switch
Developed by… Monolith Soft
Published by… Nintendo
Is a… long-ass open-world JRPG 
Good to play… when you don’t mind losing a month or so

There’s no denying it. Xenoblade Chronicles is a hefty game. An epic open-world JRPG about the war between two titans and the races living on their backs (literally). The player follows the story of Shulk, a member of the Homs race on the titan Bionis who wields the mysterious sword, Monado, in revenge against the mechanical army of Mechonis. According to How Long to Beat the Definitive Edition on the Switch has an average playthrough of 50 hours for just the main story. Completionists runs are looking at 130+ hours. That’s a lot of hours to dedicate to a game. This isn’t an article about why Xenoblade Chronicles is amazing, nor is it about why you absolutely should take the time to explore the rich worlds of Bionis and Mechonis. Rather, I want to highlight how such a colossal game manages your time and effectively at that. 

As I’ve grown older and my backlog ever larger, I have started thinking more about games in terms of what they cost in time rather than money. When it’s so easy to pick up and put down the controller, I’m far less eager to wade through meaningless fluff enroute to the good stuff. That said, I’m all for getting in deep with a well-designed chonker of a game that makes the hours fly. Xenoblade Chronicles gets this. The Definitive Edition on the Switch is undoubtedly the best version, not simply for its extra content, enhanced visuals and music; but rather for the clever little details – quality of life features, UI improvements – that make this game a slippery slope rather than a slog. 

Let’s get cracking: here are seven ways Xenoblade Chronicles makes 100+ hours more than palatable. 

When you realise how many hours you have left in the main story

1: Go fetch! 

Fetch quests are the epitome of mindless filler. Fetch/kill X [stuff] for Y [reward] isn’t the most thrilling formula and Xenoblade Chronicles certainly has its fill of them. Regardless, the game has one ace up its sleeve in that most quests are automatically completed once their key criteria are fulfilled. By taking out the need to formally return to the original quest-giver for basically a pat on the head, fetch quests are far less disruptive to the game’s flow and instead incentivises exploring environments thoroughly. Less backtracking + more satisfying ticks off the quest-log = happy clicking.

2: Is that a bag of coins or are you just happy to see me? 

One of the great things about the hundreds of quests in Xenoblade Chronicles is that you can see tangible benefits for even the most menial of them. No, I’m not talking about filthy lucre or quickly outgrown equipment. Completing any quest increases the party’s affinity to different town hubs, which in turn opens up new quests and lore for NPCs. You can also trade items that you pick up during your journey and one advantage of endearing yourself to the townsfolk is that they offer better items. One rewarding quest-line involves rebuilding a ruined colony after certain story events. You clearly see the town’s revitalisation as new facilities are rebuilt and various characters can be recruited into the population. The quest system is poised to entice – ‘just one more’ easily snowballs. 

3: X marks the spot

The Definitive Edition received a welcome UI upgrade. Quest markers keep the player on (or rather off) track depending on whether you are a conservative main quester or a side quest junkie. Helpful colour coding distinguishes new quests, objectives, and tracked targets. There is also an option to display the optimal travel path to selected objectives, although I preferred to make my own way, which undoubtedly meant being distracted midway. The world is primed to keep you exploring as little orbs of collectable items are generously dotted around the landscape like a glowing breadcrumb trail. The extra breathing space on the Switch’s screen means that all these little prompts are generally non-invasive but still appeal to the player’s curiosity.

4: Yes, those brog legs might be useful

It’s a hoarder’s paradise!

Don’t you just hate rashly fobbing off soon-to-be useful items in hope of trimming your bulging inventory? Well, the Monado has a handy trick. Every so often, picking up special collectibles triggers a vision indicating it will be useful for a future quest. These inbuilt reminders are a nice touch since it actually makes sense lore-wise (Early spoiler: Shulk gains the power of foresight). Items that have appeared in a vision are also marked in the inventory, so there’s no excuse for accidentally trading those brog legs after all. 

5:  When NPCs have a better social life than you…

One of the best things about Xenoblade are the immersive characters and settlements. Besides the wider lore about the different races inhabiting the titans, every NPC has their own background and schedule. Some hang around the market-place in the morning, others patrol grimy alleys at night. They have dynamic relationships with each other that can be influenced by actions you take in unique quests. Do you help two feuding friends make up? Do you turn a blind eye to the naive kid trying to escape his overbearing mother? The only problem with hundreds of NPCs with their own lives is that they don’t just hang around waiting for you. Thankfully, Xenoblade Chronicles has neat crib sheets for each character that includes where to track them down and when. The ability to change the in-game clock is the ultimate convenience meaning you’re always at the right place and time.

6: Run, Fiora, run!!

Tired of twiddling that thumbstick? Auto-run has you covered. The world of Bionis and Mechonis is great to traverse but, man, it’s BIG. Sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy the sights without the legwork for your fingers. I often let Shulk run across the plain collecting items with only a gentle nudge in the right direction. It was great – and I only fell off a cliff a few times!

Watch where you walk

7: Loading screens are sooo ‘80s

I’ll take my exploration with a side of No Random Encounters and Auto Healing please. In recent years, visible enemies have become more popular in modern JRPGs and for the better I think. By not leaving combat to chance, the player has more control over when and how to engage with enemies. Likewise, there’s enough variety in enemy design, behaviour, and drops to spice up the nth time you fall into a monster pit. As with many open-world games, Xenoblade Chronicles isn’t afraid to scatter some high-level monsters amongst beginner bunnies. The danger relative to your party’s level is conveyed by colour, so you can easily weigh up the potential risk and rewards. When you get strong enough, weaker enemies will ignore you so you can freely wander without having to beat back the time-wasters with a stick. 

It’s all worth it for a view like this

Badly designed bloat can stagnate the player’s pace and it’s especially important in such a humongous game to make grinding work for the player, not against them. The Definitive Edition of Xenoblade Chronicles has definitely taken measures to minimise frustration. That’s not to say improvement isn’t possible. A few more landmarks for fast-travelling and more generous drop-rates for certain quest-specific collectibles (looking at you, ice cabbage) wouldn’t be amiss, but Xenoblade gets a great deal right. For once, I left an open-world game feeling full, not fatigued, and that’s rarer than brassica in a snowstorm.   

What other games do you think manage their grind well? Which guilty offenders would you put on trial? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

Published by nonplayergirl

Long-time lurker turned blogging newb. Lover of all things otaku but especially JRPGs, anime and manga. Always adding something to the backlog. Probably descending into K-Pop hell right now.

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