Xenoblade Chronicles: Monolith’s Epic Gamechanger

Xenoblade Chronicles Main Image

The popularity of JRPGs began to decline in the early 2000s. While the genre mostly stuck to the same formulaic random encounters and turn-based battle systems that had been around since its inception, the average AAA game had begun to incorporate elements that were popularized by JRPGs as standard practice. Experience systems, talent trees, inventories, upgrades, more in-depth story telling. Monolith Soft needed a game changer, and it arrived in the form of Xenoblade Chronicles for the Nintendo Wii.

Monolith Soft was acquired by Nintendo around the time that Xenoblade Chronicles began development, and has since proved to be a key component in Nintendo’s roadmap, with the Xenoblade franchise making up some of the Switch’s most anticipated releases. Having previously developed the Baten Kaitos and Xenosaga franchises, Monolith Soft was no stranger to the genre.

Xenoblade Chronicles was initially planned under the title ‘Monado: The Beginning of the World’, a reference to some of the events that happen in the game, but it was changed by Satoru Iwata, then CEO of Nintendo in order to honor Tetsuya Takahashi, the lead writer and executive director of the game, who had worked on the ‘Xeno’ franchise in the past, from Xenogears to Xenosaga

The game is set in a universe where two giant beings, the Bionis, an organic lifeform, and the Mechonis, a machine stand in the middle of an endless ocean, locked in battle with each other. As the battle comes to an end and the two remain still, lifeforms begin to grow on each, essentially marking the birth of a world. 

Ages later, the human like ‘homs’ that live on the Bionis are under constant threat of invasion by mechanized robots originating from the Mechonis. Xenoblade Chronicles tells the story of Shulk, a hom who comes to wield a weapon known as The Monado that might hold the secret to defeating the otherwise invincible-seeming Mechons. 

And what started off as Shulk’s story paved the way for a spinoff, and a sequel. The unexpected popularity of the first game is what made this possible.

Fans Effectively Made the North American Release of Xenoblade Chronicles a Reality

In June 2010, Xenoblade was released in Japan. It was over a full year later that a localization was completed for Europe, featuring British voice actors. For unknown reasons, the game was not planned for release in the North American region. Although it had been previewed during the previous year, the game was not present at all during the E3s leading up to its release. 

This was due to the fact that Nintendo of America didn’t want to show the game, which would have a European release, but no North American one. This sparked the organization of Operation Rainfall, a campaign led by fans to raise awareness of, and hopefully push for the global release of Pandora’s Tower, The Last Story, and Xenoblade Chronicles, three titles for the Wii that were set to be exclusive to Japan. 

Upon the European release of Xenoblade Chronicles, the game was a massive critical success, generating buzz in all directions. Gamers in North America would end up importing the game from overseas with little to deter them from doing so, as the game was already fully translated and localized into English. Operation Rainfall was successful in raising awareness for the game, but the positive critical reception played a larger role in turning the heads of the executives at Nintendo. 

Xenoblade Chronicles Game Screenshot

In April 2012, the European release of Xenoblade Chronicles received a release exclusively through GameStop in limited numbers. Despite the fact that the Wii was at the edge of its lifespan, the game continued to attract attention and often commanded a premium price due to the demand. The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower were also released in the West, but neither was anywhere near as successful as Xenoblade Chronicles. Success marked the dawn of a new era for Xenoblade, and Nintendo would not sleep on the franchise in the future.

Nintendo Doubled Down on Xenoblade in the Following Years

Nintendo Direct became a thing. A web-based live stream that showed off Nintendo titles scheduled for release in the immediate and near future. Following the release of the Wii-U, Nintendo was looking for substantial games to help sell their console. Xenoblade Chronicles X was shown off as ‘X’, with the familiar style of the X in Xenoblade, as well as some mech-like designs that were reminiscent of Xenoblade Chronicles

In 2015, Xenoblade Chronicles X hit the Wii-u, a spin-off to the first game featuring a completely unrelated story revolving around the colonization of an alien planet in an attempt by the humans (under the threat of extinction) to save their race during a war with extraterrestrial assailants. The game was less story driven than the first one and focused more on exploration and side quests. It did not receive quite the same recognition as Xenoblade Chronicles, but nonetheless did about as well overall as a game on the Wii-U could hope to. It was praised for having exceptional visuals, pushing the Wii-U far beyond what most people considered it to be capable of. Xenoblade Chronicles X also featured integration with online play, as other players could complete objectives for factions that the player could join, contributing to server-wide progress. 

Xenoblade Chronicles X

With the release of the Switch, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was teased as an even larger part of Nintendo’s gameplan. Leading up to its simultaneous global release on 1 December 2017, Nintendo promoted the game vigorously with a detailed release schedule in mind for DLC, just like their signature titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild got. At this point, it was clear that Xenoblade had become one of Nintendo’s key franchises. Trailers leading up to release featured information surrounding Xenoblade Chronicles 2 characters and plot.

Similar to the first game, the direct sequel takes place in the clouds, where societies are formed on the back of giant creatures called Titans. Humans are able to harness the power of blades, creatures that are contained within crystal cores who are then loyal to the person that awakens them, becoming their ‘driver’, for as long as that person lives. When Rex, a salvager, accidentally awakens a core of unusual power and becomes the driver of Pyra, the ancient blade trapped within, he becomes entangled in a plot involving the blades and their drivers that has unfolded over the course of hundreds of years. 

As part of the planned ‘DLC’, an entire stand-alone story campaign titled Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country that focuses on the events before the start of Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s main story was released. It was included with the $20 DLC season pass for owners of the original game, but also purchasable on its own for $40, twice the cost of the DLC but half the total cost of the original game plus DLC. While this stand-alone story doesn’t offer the 80+ hours of content that the original game does, it has a respectable amount of content equal to about 1/3rd to 1/2 of the massive original. 

The Original Xenoblade Chronicles Has Received Revamped Releases

Following the release (or lack thereof) of the Wii version of Xenoblade Chronicles, the game has since been ported to other Nintendo consoles, in an effort to make more widely available the game that many people missed out on due to the timing and poor management of the overseas release. 

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D was released for the New Nintendo 3DS in April 2015, 3 years after the European localization of the original game finally got a limited release in North America. It somehow managed to port the entire Wii game to the less powerful handheld Nintendo 3DS without making too many sacrifices and adding 3D functionality. This monumental task however limited the game exclusively to the New Nintendo 3DS model, which featured more powerful internal hardware necessary to run the game accordingly.

In May 2020, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition was released for the Nintendo Switch as the end-all version of the original game. It features improved graphics, and an updated UI, as well as some additional features, quests, and supplemental story added to the game to give it some fresh elements for long time fans looking to play the game again.

With Xenoblade Chronicles 2 selling almost 2 million copies to date, gamers being introduced to the series for the first time will undoubtedly want to go back and play the first one, and Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is the perfect way to do so. The Xenoblade franchise has continued to attract attention ever since Nintendo made the decision to invest in it as a global franchise, so it is highly likely that we will see more of it in the years to come. If not, Monolith Soft surely has something else equally as grand planned for the future. 

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