There’s good DLC, and there’s great DLC. And then, there’s Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s Torna: The Golden Country story expansion, big enough to be contained into its own cartridge on a standalone prequel. That’s quite a lot to take in, an impressive feat given how enormous the main Xenoblade Chronicles 2 game already is.
A Short, But Complicated History
My Xenoblade history is interesting. I played the original Xenoblade Chronicles back when it came out in early 2015 on the New Nintendo 3DS. I was asked to cover this game before it officially launched, which may have impacted my overall experience and cut out some of the “fun factor” and joy of exploring an immense open world. Deadlines are fun! My main problem with the original was that given the low resolution of the New Nintendo 3DS, I was unable to properly take in the scale of the world; on the other hand, trying to play the game on the Nintendo Wii on a larger TV made the experience just as bad. I had the worst of both spectrums on hand, but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless. The story was incredibly rich, the world building was something I hadn’t experienced at that level before.
Now, earlier this summer, I found a great deal and picked up Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for the Nintendo Switch. This game came at an incredibly great time. I’ve sunken close to 200 hours of play into this game in just over a month. I found every rare Blade, I’ve started maxing some of my affinity charts, bought out every bloody shop deed, and made enough money to live like an Aegis a God. I’ve gotten all the heart to hearts, I’ve played New Game+, and explored all the landmarks. I’m doing pretty solid, but at the same time, I’m dismayed that I have another six pages of quests to complete, and they just keep coming. I complete six pages, and on my way back to town another six quests pop up. Challenge mode is putting me on my ass, and Bringer of Chaos is making me regret my very existence. I’m lining up for a third run of New Game+. At least, that was the goal, until Torna: The Golden Country.
Telling a Prequel Story in Two Ways
The way that Torna tells its story… it’s a really unique approach. For people that are playing this as a standalone game, I actually recommend not playing this route. There are an incredible number of references from the base game that are in this, and it makes the dialogue much stronger knowing what happens.
The path that Monolith Soft took in telling this tale, though, extends in two pathways. One pathway, playing in chronological order from Torna through the base game, sets up Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as an adventure – starting with the hero of Torna, Addam, and concluding with the adventures of Rex. You go from one happy-go-lucky protagonist to the next and save the world, twice.
Now, there is a second path that happens to exist here. This second path, the path from base game to Torna, makes a gigantic difference in how the events are interpreted. In this second path, Torna is set up as a tragedy. You know what happens from the play back in the base game, but how it gets there packs a much more emotional punch, and knowing what some of these references now mean in context puts the story in a whole new light, but leaving plenty of questions at the end of it. Just how did Addam and Hugo know each other? What the heck is going on with Indol? How did Azurda just pop up out of nowhere in the events of Torna?
This story is definitely one of the darker tales that I’ve seen Nintendo write. Beginning as a comedy, in just a few short hours the tone shifts completely to scenes that are downright grim by Nintendo standards. There’s a lot more… harsh… language seen in Torna, and it’s taken a much more mature tone, something I enjoyed heavily.
A Smaller Alrest, A Bigger Legacy
Monolith Soft manages give us an all new Titan to explore and a different view of another one, Gormott. Well, it’s not really new in that sense given that we saw what happens to it in the main story, but there’s an all-new territory to explore: Torna. Torna is divided into several regions.
Much more than territories, though, are the characters who inhabit these worlds. With a host of new and familiar faces alike, we finally got the backstories and how they came to behave 500 years later. I particularly enjoyed the characterization of Jin, who is vastly different from his menacing persona in the base game. He is set up in Torna as a tragic character who became a villain in the base game by circumstance after the death of his Driver Lora and his companions. They are joined by newcomer Hugo Ardanach; Hugo is the current Emperor of Mor Ardain, and he adds that noble touch to things, with his two blades Brighid and Aegaeon. These two blades, though, did not get much development, which is kind of unfortunate, because from a combat perspective, I liked Hugo quite a bit. He has a prior relationship with Addam, and I wish that was built upon.
The real star of the show is a young Gormotti who follows Addam around as his attendant, Milton. Milton acts as a brother figure to a younger Mikhail, but mainly serves as a roasting device to Mythra, who is a lot more brash and cocky in Torna. Milton is the glue that holds the party together, something that plays a significant role in the final act. Speaking of roasting devices, Mythra gets completely burned by almost everyone. Starting out in the prequel, she has zero compassion and needs to be taken down some notches, which is great because by the ending she develops so much and becomes a much more enjoyable presence. Skye Bennett, who voiced her, nails her delivery and adds much more depth to the character. A nod of acknowledgment goes out to David Menkin, the voice actor of Malos, who adds such an oozing level of scummy to Malos. He’s so damn smooth in his viciousness, and crushes his delivery. The voice actors clearly understood their context and lines in Torna and it’s clear that they enjoyed their time voicing the lines in the booth.
As a bonus, I’d like to briefly touch on Mythra as a character – someone who is perceived in the main game as a tsundere. Torna ends up putting away that trope and fully develops that character spectrum for her, as she genuinely cares about the well-being of her companions by journey’s end. In the span of the DLC journey she evolves into a complex character. Another aspect Monolith did well was by building a credible relationship with her Driver, Addam. As good of a person that Addam is, even he has his own faults and watching the events play out at the conclusion as he is rejected by the weapon adds a whole new layer of sympathy and tragedy to Mythra as a character in the base game.
Trimming the Fat
Now, the game play of Torna does an excellent job at keeping the game focused. The base game had features listing from A-Z and then some – there is a lot of stuff to go over. This new game trims out a lot of the unnecessary, and streamlines the game play so that combat is much faster, reducing the time to kill for trash. Not only is combat much more dynamic in allowing for players to now use Blades in battle, but the fact that things like crafting and the tutorial menu now being able to revisit, make Torna enjoyable.
Field skills make their return, and they are much faster as well. You now know what you are picking up, and what rarity of items you can expect. And boy, you better pick up all those crafting materials that you can find, and craft at the new campfire feature because you’re going to do a lot of that. The new camping feature lets you level your characters up like an inn in the base game, as well as using each of the characters’ special ability to craft new pouch items and foods, which provide powerful battle-altering effects. Finally, you’re able to also go inside of the minds of the party with a chat. It’s close enough to the Heart-to-Heart from the main game.
While some features got cut away, some got amplified in return! The new graphics engine, for one, adds a slight improvement to how things are rendered and displayed. Grass in particular looks miles better in Torna, and Monolith Soft nailed their cutscene choreography yet again, with fast-paced action and flashy fights. There is some odd facial blurring in the cutscenes, but to me, it wasn’t a huge deal.
The other addition to the DLC that I need to talk about is something called Community, which replaces Development and Mercenary missions in the base game. When they showed this off at Gamescom, I liked the ideas behind it. It felt like it was going to be fun, and it was in the first few hours. The biggest problem with Communities, was that Monolith Soft decided to use this feature as the biggest hard check for story progression, and it significantlyslows the story down with artificial padding. On one hand, from a story perspective, it builds up this world and provides a neat segway to the final act, but on the other hand, Malos is literally about to sack tap the entire world and you have to go make some hats or save a couple of animals in the field.
See, in the base game, the hard checks weren’t terrible – they may have slowed you down a couple extra minutes with an obelisk that required a slightly high field skill or an overload of electricity that raised an eyebrow, but this? The hard check will add a few more hours minimum to your play time with the forced play of dozens of side quests. And then, the game has the guts to check you AGAIN a few short scenes later. You will more than likely do most of the side quests in the game. I wasn’t a fan of this extra fluff, because all in all, the story is pretty darn good to get through. I think the worst part of the side quests was that they just weren’t that engaging to follow along with.
Mitsuda Masters the Music Delivery for Torna, The Jazzy Country
The good news is, legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda comes back for round two (or is it three, given he did work on the first game?) with the addition of several new tracks, with the help of Kenji Hiramatsu, ACE, and Manami Kiyota. Their songs add a much more jazzy feel to this expansion, featuring a more intimate, acoustic sound. I also have to commend Jen Bird for the incredibly heartbreaking end song.
Something of note in the music, though, is just how much of an impact the delivery has. In one such example, and going back to the much more tragic route of having played the base game first, the player lands in Torigoth in Torna: The Golden Country. Or rather, what’s left of it. When the music plays, new players won’t recognize it, but for the base game players, it’s the song The Abandoned City, which plays in the base game during the final act as Rex finally reaches his goal. I was expecting Torigoth to be a small settlement in the DLC, but I was not expecting to feel that emotion early on. Trust me on one thing, though, you are going to feel a lot at the end of both the base game and Torna.
From the base game, one of the better battle themes was the song Still, Move Forward!– a song which I thought was fantastic and upbeat. Torna ups this by a country mile with a new Battle!! Theme played on a jazzy sounding piano from the mind and talents of Kenji Hiramatsu. Easily one of the best battle themes I have heard in a JRPG, if not the best. Gormott gets a massive upgrade from the choir to a jazzy, quieter tone. It’s actually the preferred version I’d love to hear, much closer to that live band sound. Songs from the base game also make their return and play at the right times; there are little to no errors in the execution and placement of these pieces. Each of the songs on the record, remixed or not, adds a level of immersion to an already immersive game.
What’s the Endgame? Worthwhile?
As I mentioned earlier, play the base game first and enjoy it. There are things you are going to hate. Also, get the Expansion Pass, because it gives you an incredible value right out the gate with new features and quality of life improvements. It also stacks Tornain there with it. Don’t buy it physically, it’s more expensive!
It’s not a perfect standalone game, with some graphical issues and pacing issues with regards to the forced checks that occur during the story progression. It’s a very solid standalone title that offers about two dozen hours of solid content for the new player, and can be paired with the monster base game for a few hundred extra hours – a great deal for no less than $90.
Combining these two games together, though, I got a satisfactory conclusion to a pivotal story event in the base game. I did, however, leave with some questions that are going to require me to mentally fill in some gaps or imagine what happened on my own. On the bright side, you have an incredible soundtrack to guide you in the world of Alrest, and addicting game play that gets further optimized in Torna. Both together are an incredibly enticing package that should be a part of any Nintendo Switch owner’s library. Xenoblade Chronicles 2and its expansion, Torna: The Golden Country, receives my absolute recommendation.