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Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country Review

Talking about Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country is a bit weird if you’re thinking about hopping in without having played the base Xenoblade Chronicles 2. This 'stand-alone' expansion may be set 500 years before the events of XC2, but the premise of its story relies so heavily on prior knowledge of events that don’t even unfold until many hours into the main game. I believe that diving into The Golden Country with completely fresh eyes will damper the significance of a few revelations in XC2.

Alas, this review will inevitably have a few spoilers from XC2 to establish the premise of XC2: Torna, although I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum. Once again, I don’t recommend this story expansion DLC for players who haven’t played through most of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, though nothing is stopping you from playing the expansion first. I thought Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was a great game in my review, for whatever that’s worth.

Our review code of XC2: Torna shows up as a completely standalone separate entry on the Nintendo Switch menu based on the retail release. Expansion Pass owners will have to boot up XC2: Torna from XC2's main menu. This review is written with XC2 players in mind, so a lot of terms from that game will be thrown around under the assumption that readers have played it. With all that said, you’ve been warned!

As mentioned earlier, Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country throws players way back into the past. It revolves around Jin and his previous Driver, Lora. We’ve seen her here and there in XC2, but this story expansion delves deep into their relationship and clarifies many underlying narrative elements that were tippy-toed around previously. Unlike Rex’s coming-of-age tale, XC2: Torna explores the circumstances that drove Jin into his ultimate fate as one of XC2’s primary antagonists. Thus, this new story carries on a darker underlying tone.

It shines a bright light on some of the enigmatic parts of XC2. The mysteries behind Addam and who he was to Mythra, where Minoth fits in all of this, and Mor Ardain’s involvement with Aegaeon, Brighid, and its emperor at the time - Hugo. XC2: Torna covers how this merry band of Drivers and Blades came together to stop Malos from wreaking havoc among the world of Alrest. Since Lora’s party find themselves on-the-go more often than Rex’s crew, XC2: Torna has them set up camps around bonfires out in the field. These are basically XC2’s inns and crafting stations all rolled into one; there aren’t many big cities you visit.

Several characters you barely knew in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 get expanded upon a lot in The Golden Country.
Monolith Soft has taken a bold approach to XC2: Torna. XC2 players should already know the end result of this whole story. It’s been spelled out time and time again in the base game. The current state of what Torna has become in the 500 years between the XC2: Torna DLC and XC2 itself are obviously very different - and that’s where this story expansion both shines and falls.

There’s a lot of important setpieces that eventually become a chain reaction of ramifications in XC2; seeing the gears behind the subtler narrative hooks in retrospect has me left appreciating XC2’s story in new ways. Still, there are a few bridges between both of these stories that I would’ve liked to see touched upon and I was hoping XC2: Torna would’ve given me that.

I was surprised by how relatively small the scope of everything was. Compared to XC2, there are not many places to navigate. However, almost all of the explorable areas are brand-new, since the vast majority of the expansion takes place on the Tornan Titan. There’s only one other area outside of Torna to travel around and that’s in the main open area of Gormott. It was neat to see how that area of Gormott looked five centuries prior, but I felt it was a very big missed opportunity. I would’ve loved to see how Mor Ardain looked at the time, among other regions that would’ve seemed like obvious choices to show for a prequel set this far back. It took me just a little over 17 hours to complete the main story with most of the sidequests done.

It's important to note that you’ll pretty much be forced to engage with the sidequests whether you like it or not. If you’re one to mainline your RPGs, this is one you’ll definitely want to be diligent when it comes to completing the optional stuff.

A new Community system is introduced in XC2: Torna that serves as a way to pad it out a tad bit. Every new NPC you talk to will pop up a notification and register the NPC outside of your community circle; turn this registration animation off immediately if you don’t want to go insane. The game even tells you that you can the first time it happens and it’s the best tip you’ll receive in the entire DLC. This system acts as a sidequest hub that ropes in relevant quest NPCs into your inner community circle upon finishing their tasks.

Once you’ve got enough NPCs in your community, it levels up which brings along… more new sidequests! Eventually, you’ll be able to get community EXP from talking to key individuals that you can track.

The Community system's UI may look overwhelming at first, but it's really just a fancy way to keep track of sidequest NPCs and their stories.
This system in itself isn’t so bad, but there are certain points in the story that will block you from progressing unless you reach a certain community threshold. Once you reach these parts in the story, you most likely won’t have met the requirement so it’ll open up other questlines. Thankfully I was thorough enough with my sidequesting habits to not be too far off from the requirements; even I was still irked to see that this type of gating happened more than once.

Luckily, XC2: Torna’s sidequests do wonders for establishing the world building in XC2. Many of their stories build the foundations of things Rex and his party run into. Some can be as small as how some locations in Gormott got their name and others will address several significant topics like how the followers of Addam were founded. Those who paid attention to XC2’s world will get a lot of mileage from XC2: Torna’s approach to it.

Battles in XC2: Torna have received a little facelift. Much of the core functions are similar, though a few parts of it were reworked to match the time period it’s set in. Unlike in XC2, the concept of using your Blades’ weapons is a new wild concept in XC2: Torna. Therefore, combat encounters now involve Drivers and Blades physically switching between vanguard and rear guard roles. It’s much like a tag-team fighting game dynamic where switching out your frontline fighter gives them a chance to heal some of the HP they’ve lost.

New types of Arts are introduced in XC2: Torna - the Switch Art and Talent Art. Switch Arts activate upon tagging in your rear guard up to the vanguard. Talent Arts, on the other hand, have special properties that have a prerequisite to use. For instance, Hugo’s Talent Art makes use of his tank role that requires his HP to be above 30% in which he can activate his talent to expend 25% of it to draw aggro on himself temporarily. Blades have their own unique Talent Arts too. This is a much welcome addition that not only appropriately reflects the current state of the world’s tactics at the time; it also provides a way to always have access to your entire arsenal so you never feel like you’re investing in a skill that you may not even use.

Each Driver will have up to two Blades that you can switch between as well. Much like XC2, all their Arts are available to use as they dive into the fray. If you were good at canceling into Arts consistently before, those skills will be extremely beneficial into one of the bigger changes in XC2: Torna’s battle system.

Everyone now has two sets of Arts to level, though the real treat in this story expansion is being able to directly control Blades in and out of combat.
Every single elemental Special attack you use places an elemental orb around the enemy now. Remember the hassle of getting those orbs in XC2 by successfully completing a Blade Combo? Now that process has become much more efficient and intuitive; it’s possible to have 3 elemental orbs circling your foe with a Blade Combo that involves three different elements!

Any combination of elements will work together now to complete a Blade Combo too. There’s still the special routes with the named elemental Special attacks, but it is now entirely possible to mix and match any and every element together without being confined to the strict routes in the Blade Combo tree. In fact, they’ve taken that daunting diagram out of the top right-hand corner and replaced it with a linear line to remind you what level of Special you need next in your Blade Combo. Chain Attacks work identically to XC2 so it’s much easier to achieve Full Bursts thanks to XC2: Torna’s changes.

Aside from these enhancements to combat, many of XC2: Torna’s mechanical systems remain largely the same. Both Drivers and Blades have different Arts to upgrade for vanguard and rear guard roles. Blades can now be controlled out of combat too. I also want to point out that somewhere among the final battles lies one of the coolest mechanics I’ve seen yet in a Xenoblade battle system.

There’s a lot less fiddling around in menus this time around due to the absence of opening Core Crystals and managing mercenary squads. A few problems still remain nonetheless, like a Blade’s Affinity node not activating unless you manually head on over to their Affinity Chart to see it filled in. Monolith Soft addressed the issue of tutorial messages never being accessible again from XC2 by including a new tips section listing all of the ones you’ve encountered. XC2: Torna’s technical performance is identical to what XC2 offered. Handheld mode still has a noticeable dip in resolution and slows down when things get too hectic on-screen. The Japanese voice option is included with XC2: Torna already, so there’s no need to download it separately from the eShop.

Some tweaks to the combat system in XC2: Torna make it more engaging, exciting, and a bit easier to digest. It's one of its key strengths.
Players who do not have the Expansion Pass and plan to buy XC2: Torna separately will still have access to the special game settings that were locked behind it in the base XC2 game. I don’t have the Expansion Pass yet, but I was still able to activate auto-battles and automate QTEs from specials which were both exclusive settings to Expansion Pass owners for the main game. Both the Bringer of Chaos and Custom difficulties unlock in New Game Plus along with hidden affinities for Drivers and the option to lower their levels at camps or inns.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country is a great supplementary experience that adds another layer to the story of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It’s a meaty expansion that clarifies a lot of important details in the histories of several central characters inside the main game. I enjoyed the laid back vibe throughout this story expansion. Its musical score leans hard on mellow jazz tunes that I totally dug, and XC2: Torna’s new battle theme is downright awesome. I also liked quite a few of the new, cozy night themes.

While many of its gameplay systems remain the same, Monolith Soft did a tremendous job tweaking battles to make them a bit faster-paced and more digestible all at once. Even though the expansion has its share of problems, like gating progress with forced sidequest thresholds, I still found it a lot of fun and people who loved the world of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will have an absolute blast with this new perspective of the stories they’ve heard before.

8 / 10

Versions tested: Switch

Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.

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