Late last year the Nintendo Switch got its first massive JRPG, and everyone was happy. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 released as an enormous adventure with plenty of content, a complex but unique combat system and a lengthy story. By the end of my 120 hours with the game, I could delightedly say it was one of my favourite Switch titles. With Monolith Soft now releasing a standalone prequel story via DLC, namely “Torna – The Golden Country,” I was wary of the value of such an addition, thinking on the inherent weaknesses of prequels. With that in mind, I decided to give Torna a chance to prove my doubts wrong.
Predictably, this game takes us back to the events that occurred surrounding the Titan called Torna, a pivotal element of the original story. Where Xenoblade Chronicles 2 only ever referred back to this time in flashbacks and through discussion, we now see the entire tale of Lora and Jin and their adventures on Torna, from their arrival to the ultimate grim conclusion. Joining them on this journey are other well-known names, from the previously mysterious Addam to some earlier incarnations of Blades from the original game.
Unfortunately, that’s about all there is to discover within the plot this time around. Fans of the original will follow the major beats of the story from start to finish; I could sum up the entire plot in a single sentence, both before and after playing the game. Outside of these moments, the rest of it is a bit of a wandering mess. Despite being a party, there was rarely a sense of what goal was driving the group in the first half, beyond an individual team member’s need or some side-characters demands.
As a further result of this, the overall package is extremely contained. With only two Titans to explore, both containing reasonably similar biomes and few remarkable stand-out sights to absorb, you’ll find yourself wishing for the wild diversity of the original or, if you’re new to the series, be disappointed at the limited things to see. Even the story is padded out significantly by side-questing; my twenty hours of play was roughly split evenly in side-questing and progressing through the story.
That said, the game is still as gorgeous as its predecessor. The sights, while limited, are a delight, and wandering around the fields of the backs of giant beasts is still a fantastic idea. Despite how much more limited the potential area to explore is, I was always eager to uncover every nook and cranny, finder every optional boss enemy, and seek out each spot to use my Blade’s field skills on (whether or not the reward was ever actually worth it.) It’s still got all the charm of the original in here, if a little condensed.
Combat is perhaps the most interesting point to discuss regarding this DLC, as it’s been given a fundamental overhaul. In the original, each of your Driver’s would have three different attack sets and specials depending on which Blades they had equipped. Now, with each party member having a pre-set pair of Blades assigned to them, the combat revolves around rotating your active control between the trio depending on the flow of battle.
It’s difficult to describe precisely how I feel about this change. As a massive fan of the complexities of the original, I didn’t feel the move was necessary, and I certainly miss the extra customisation of multiple Blades. However, it is immediately evident how much simpler it would be for a new player to embrace this battle system early on, where Xenoblade Chronicles 2 doesn’t really engage the player until several hours in. I definitely feel the change will suit a wider audience, regardless of my preference towards the old way.
I feel my primary confusion regarding this DLC set is precisely who it has been made for. Naturally, by trying to elaborate on a story that would have specific meaning to fans of the original, it seems like that would be the likely choice. However, by simplifying the battle-system and making it available stand-alone, they seem to be pushing the newcomer angle. In my view, neither benefits: fans only get to experience a simple game telling a story they already know, while those fresh to the game aren’t given a lot of important context needed to understand the world and experience a story with very little meaning for them.
Finally, since they’ve not taken the opportunity to fix up any of the little issues from the last, I’ll quickly take the opportunity to point them out again. The English voice-over, while well performed, continues to be entirely out of sync with the character’s lips, causing me a constant sense of disconnection during cutscenes. Menuing is not ideal but slightly improved thanks to the removal of Core Crystals. And, my word, why can you still not pause during combat?
At the face of it, the new Xenoblade Chronicles 2 standalone DLC, “Torna – The Golden Country,” is both an elaboration on the story for the fans and an entry point for newcomers, yet it is neither of these things in practice. While it’s still got all the fun of the original, albeit in a smaller package, it fails to add anything substantial for new or old. Ultimately, I would only recommend the experience if you’re in need of another Xenoblade kick, but even then I would steer you towards just considering playing New Game Plus on the original game.