- A huge, inviting world to discover
- Refined, more focused party and combat
- Communities gives side content some meaning
- Anime as hell
- Technical issues still arise
- Can be grindy at times
- Fewer welsh accents
- Review Price: £29.99
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
- Genre: JRPG
- Developer: Monolith Soft
- Release Date: Out Now
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was a fantastic swansong for the Nintendo Switch’s opening year, closing off months of stellar exclusives with a JRPG that could easily absorb hundreds upon hundreds of hours. Monolith Soft’s latest effort wasn’t without its flaws, but effectively surpassed them with a stunning world, engaging combat and a story that charmed and surprised in equal measure.
Torna – The Golden Country builds upon such quality with a new, standalone expansion that improves on a number of niggles that made the original an occasional frustration. Such additions are accompanied by a cast of characters and a emotional narrative that really shines at times, despite it seldom breaking new ground.
If you were a fan of last year’s outing, this is an essential journey well worth taking.
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Taking place 400 years before the events of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you play as Lora, a young woman who has spent her life surviving in the harsh world of Alrest. However, she’s not alone, having been accompanied by a Blade known as Jin, a face fans of the expansion’s predecessor will surely recognise.
Blades are beings born from Core Crystals, bonding with specially-trained humans known as Drivers. Lora is one such warrior, and you’ll stumble upon many throughout The Golden Country’s lengthy campaign.
Her story is immediately relatable as she searches for her presumably deceased mother, looming in the shadow of a wider conflict known as the ‘Aegis War’ that goes onto shape the world of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 we’ve come to know. I’m surprised to say, there is a new candidate for #bestgirl.
Entire continents are sinking due to ancient weapons destroying everything in their wake, leaving our heroes to seek shelter even if it means leaving innocents behind to die. The tone is admittedly dark, although the bright, energetic environments and vibrant character designs help strike a balance that isn’t too gloomy.
It looks lovely, although oftentimes hindered by small performance drops and an iffy adaptable resolution. I’m disappointed that glaring technical hiccups of the vanilla release weren’t ironed out in past months, but perhaps it’s a consequence of such a huge open world.
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The Golden Country is launching both as part of the game’s expansion pass and a standalone release, and it definitely treats the player like they’re embarking on a new adventure. For good reason, as some fundamental changes have been made to the battle system.
No longer do you collect Blades through a randomised gashapon mini-game. Instead, they are all main characters introduced in the early hours. As a result, your party is smaller and more concentrated, requiring a focus on strategic Blade Combos and elemental strategies to uncover enemy weaknesses.
You only ever control one character at any given time. Known as a Vanguard, you’re capable of offensive abilities that can wipe out weaker enemies in seconds, while the a duo of Rear Guards watch your back with curated buffs and healing skills. Having to maintain this balance is fun, although involves watching metres fill up over the action at times.
The twist is that you can switch out a trio of party members whenever you like, which becomes an essential strategy in later encounters. Knowing the combination of abilities require to stagger an enemy before unleashing a flurry of damage is often the key to victory, as swinging wildly doesn’t always work.
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To succeed in combat you need to adopt a certain rhythm, executing bespoke skills just as a standard attack lands to deal extra damage and string together a combo which can last forever if you’re skilled enough. Minor annoyances such as targeting issues and tiresome grinding have been alleviated for the most part, which is a pleasure to see.
Outside of fighting, which is where a large portion of your time is spent, you’ll be sorting through side quests and enhancing your communities, a welcome new addition to Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Taking the place of Blade management, communities chronicle almost every single NPC you meet with across various locales.
Some are merely window dressing, while others have meaningful stories to tell inside activities that can last upwards of 20 minutes. They’re all fun to complete with a varied range of objectives that occasionally verge on monotony. The archaic nature of endless dialogue boxes can grow tiresome, although it does save us from the charming yet sometimes awful voice acting.
Qualms aside, communities are a meaningful distraction that result in worthwhile rewards, and give otherwise generic side quests a meaning beyond experience points and a few items. It also works in favour of Torna’s locales, many of which are completely new. You’ll return to a few old haunts, including the town of Gormott, although it’s nigh indistinguishable this time around.
You could choose to avoid all side quests and barrel through the core narrative, but you’d be missing much of what makes this expansion special. Every location is sprawling with interesting secrets, and they’re just large enough that exploring without a map or waypoints can result in a natural mode of discovery. Stumbling upon treasures previously unknown is a ball, especially if it happens to help me complete a long-winding quest.
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If you’re able to overlook an absurd amount of side content, the unfolding story of Torna – The Golden Country is a surprisingly compelling tale. Being aware of the context of where this world and a few characters will end up pushed me forward, eager to see how the world of Alrest is shaped by such an infamous conflict.
Sadly, it’s still held back by a mixed localisation effort, with some voice lines feeling like they were delivered by an intern with nothing better to do. There’s also far less Welsh accents this time around, which is a bit of a bummer. However, the charmingly cheesy delivery will grow on some, but that’s all down to preference.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country is an exceptional expansion, justifying itself as a major enhancement of the original game with improvements to level design, combat and the majority of side content.
The lack of unlocking an endless list of Blades will undoubtedly trouble some fans, although I feel like a deeper focus on a smaller party and more intimate storytelling help this shine all on its own.
It’s a blast, and essential for JRPG fans with a Nintendo Switch. And, once again, I’m left foaming at the mouth to see what Monolith Soft does next.
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