When Nintendo released Xenoblade Chronicles 2 last winter, it marked a new chapter in the Xeno saga, one that helped usher in a new age of RPG’s for the relatively new Nintendo Switch. Working through the 100+ hours of content was a daunting task for many gamers, myself included. Nearly a year later, Nintendo and developer Monolith Soft have released an expansion to that epic game — Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country. This adventure takes place before the events of the core game and fills in the backstory and motivations for a handful of important characters. In short: this expansion tells the story of the Blade, Jin, and his fall from hero to villain, it explains more of who and what Malos is, and it gives Pyra/Mythra more context for her actions — and explains her importance — in the future.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country is set 500 years before the events of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Players meet a new protagonist, Lora, a Driver, and her trusty Blades, Jin and Haze. Lora and Jin quickly find themselves swept up in an adventure across the Titans of Alrest as they search for her long lost mother. Part of the allure of this outing is that the adventure is contained to just two Titans, Torna and Gornott, and as a result, the 20-25 hour run time feels more refined. There are still plenty of side quests to take on and complete, but the focus here is clearly on telling fans old and new the story of Lora and Jin, a story that is eventually completed in the core game.
The Golden Country gets right to the action, and it doesn’t take long for the player’s team of Blades and Drivers to reach capacity. You don’t spend an inordinate amount of time traveling around and collecting characters, some just show up and then decide to join your quest, including the Emperor of Alrest himself, Hugo. When Prince Addam (and yes, I chuckled at that) and his Blade, Mythra, joins the team very early, players get to witness the divide between Jin and Mythra that resonates 500 years in the future. In fact, Monolith Soft has peppered this game with many little nods to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, even going so far to create a quest that explains the history and naming behind specific areas in the core game. These little touches are nice to players who’ve played the main game but know that this expansion can be played with no prior knowledge of any other Xeno games.
The biggest change in The Golden Country comes from refinements made to the combat system. For better or worse, the combat in the main game was complicated, to say the least. Players juggled Blades, Arts, Specials, weapons, skills and more, and since this is an RPG, there was no shortage of combat. Even though the physical act of fighting is primarily automated, the player still has to manage each battle with timed button presses for various arts and combos, as well as character placement in each battle. Players can now switch Blades on the fly, and when a new Blade takes the lead role, it triggers a power move. Cooldowns help keep the combat reasonable, so you can’t just keep spamming attacks. It takes some forward thinking to succeed, especially with bigger, stronger adversaries, or swarms of mid-size enemies, which make an appearance regularly.
You spend most of the time in combat watching various meters fill up, and in turn, unleashing attacks using the controller’s face buttons. A new addition to the combat flow comes in linking certain Specials in a row to create a new super attack. This is oddly reminiscent of the combat in Square Enix’s PS1 classic, Chrono Cross, as finding the right combination of elements to string together is part of the fun. Switching to the various blades to help build it up — all the while your characters are beating down an enemy — helps keep combat engaging. After spending more than 60 hours in the main game, I had grown tired of the combat system, but here, it is still fresh and fun.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country brings back some solid voice acting, even if the writing is a little off. The game tries to be funny, and at times, it succeeds, but the script still relies on JRPG tropes that might make veteran players roll their eyes. And as in previous games in this series, dating back to the first Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii, the characters are super chatty. Expect to hear the same lines of dialogue hundreds — if not thousands — of times during your adventure. They just don’t shut up — calling out what moves they are doing, encouraging teammates, commenting on flora or fauna — it’s an exercise in patience. And turning the sound down is a disservice, as the jazz-infused soundtrack is one of The Golden Country’s highlights. So, you take the good, and you take the bad.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country works as the perfect “bite-sized” jumping-off point for the Xenoblade Chronicles franchise. As a stand-alone experience, the shorter adventure allows newcomers to dip their toes in the water, and for veteran players, visiting old friends in a new, more civilized time was a pure treat. I’m invested in this story after nearly 140 total hours played across these two games — and close to 600 hours played in the franchise — and I care what happens in the ongoing stories, across all entries in the series. As it stands, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is still the RPG for the Nintendo Switch, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country helps solidify its place.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Nintendo.