With Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition’s recent release on the Switch, it’s been amazing to see so many fans of the franchise – both new and old – get their hands on the game. While those of us that managed to play the Wii original loved it, up until now its been undeniably difficult to actually market the game to folks that might otherwise be interested. While Europe received a wide release for the game back on the Wii, for folks in North America we weren’t quite so lucky. A whole campaign – Operation Rainfall – had to happen in order to convince Nintendo to bring Xenoblade over to our shores, and even once they did, the game itself was exclusive to GameStop, with a few copies available directly from Nintendo’s online storefront. In other words, the release was under-marketed, limited in scope, and very short-lived. While the game did end up seeing a re-release on the New 3DS, arguably that release was even more limiting – as the number of New 3DS’ sold was only a fraction of the overall user-base, and doubtlessly limited the potential audience for the game yet again.
Seeing Xenoblade receive a second (third?) chance like this – with proper marketing, a much more traditional wide release, and on a platform that is still very much in its prime – feels great. Now almost the entire Xenoblade series is represented on the Switch, and is easily accessible for anyone that wants to play them. Again, almost all of them.
Xenoblade Chronicles X deserves a second chance, too.
In many ways, Xenoblade Chronicles X is the black sheep of the franchise. While the original Xenoblade, 2, and Torna all tie into one another – as far as we can tell, X is a whole different planet entirely. While the rest of the series’ focus is on a central narrative, with a dedicated cast of characters – X takes a different approach, with the games focus squarely on the planet Mira – a truly open-world to explore; with an emphasis on mobility, verticality, and above all else the freedom to digest the game at your own pace and with your own unique experience.
As I mentioned on the Tetracast recently, Xenoblade Chronicles X is probably my favorite in the series, which makes the precarious situation that the game finds itself in all the more painful. As of right now, it’s one of only a handful of Wii U exclusives that have yet to make the jump to other platforms – and as far as I can tell, the only meaningful RPG that still absolutely requires a Wii U to play. While you could certainly emulate the game as I have, that’s by no means a perfect solution – and even if it was, it’s not an official or sanctioned way of playing the game either. As of right now, the game is as stranded on the desolate Wii U as humanity is on Mira.
I don’t even need to expand on that much, do I? The Wii U is a console almost as synonymous with “failure” as the Virtual Boy. While the platform did end up lasting for a good 4 years and some change – and died with a perfectly decent library when all was said and done – it’s abundantly clear why Nintendo and other companies have been steadily porting the platform's library over to other systems. The Wii U was poison – and only the most surefire of successes were ever likely to leave an impact. Games like Mario Maker, Smash Bros, and Mario Kart. Xenoblade 2 would never have sold more than a million units on the Wii U – and I have little doubt that Fire Emblem: Three Houses would have similarly flopped on the system.
X did actually end up selling decently well all things considered, but it’s not hard to see that it probably didn’t sell as well as either Nintendo or Monolith Soft had hoped. Perhaps more than the rest of the series, when playing Xenoblade Chronicles X it’s incredibly clear just how much effort went into crafting its world and game design.
Xenoblade Chronicles X has more than its fair share of faults, but for every one of its issues, the game has something unique that the rest of the series simply lacks. Whether it’s the impressive array of player and party customization options, the foreboding yet beautiful atmosphere that remains unmatched, or the sheer scope and scale of a world designed for exploration on foot, in Skells, and even with degrees of flight in mind.
Of course, with all this freedom comes its own fair share of jank – FrontierNav, as cool as it is, can be more than a little confusing. Being able to tell what sort of objective you’d need to clear to chart each node of the map at a glance is nice and all, but the specifics about how it works and stuff like probes, color-coding, and more undoubtedly takes some getting used to. While objectives for some quests might be marked on the map, the game could certainly take a page from Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition’s book to improve things further – to make it so that you could see exactly which of the collectible nodes on the map are the ones you need, and to see where enemies that might drop a quest item spawn, among a few others.
Xenoblade Chronicles X’s tone is unlike any other RPG that I’ve played, let alone any of the other Xenoblades. While the title’s emphasis on side quests and side stories means that the main narrative can feel half-baked, or even a little threadbare – the sheer variety of stories and themes tackled in side quests puts the sidequests in the rest of the series to shame. X tackles issues such as racism, xenophobia, sexism, and more – and the maturity of many of the storylines and the way that the game handles them feels almost at stark contrast to similar story beats in Xenoblade 2. Seeing NLA grow from a small settlement to one bustling with life as you court more and more aliens to link arms in peace feels like an expanded version of the Colony 6 restoration from the original Xenoblade.
That alone is enough reason for me to want the game to be accessible for more players, but as any Xenoblade X fan might tell you, it’s far from the only reason that we’d want a port to Switch. Although the game’s story did leave many players wanting, the potential was still there, and the allure of what Monolith Soft could still do with the world and its characters is more than just enticing – it’s sorely needed. Xenoblade X ended on a cliffhanger, leaving anyone that managed to beat it wondering just when, and if, we would ever see a follow-up. The game more than deserves one, but I’m sure the only way that we’ll ever have the opportunity to see one is if the game can find a wider audience.
I just can’t shake the feeling that the sort of resurgence in popularity that we’re seeing with Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition could very well happen for Xenoblade Chronicles X as well. Now that the expectations have already been set for what sort of game it is, a port with even just a handful of improvements and on a much more popular system would absolutely give the game a much larger audience. I hope as much, at least – and I can only hope that Nintendo and Monolith Soft feel the same way, too.