Xenoblade Chronicles 2 remains one of my favourite RPGs of last year, thanks in no small part to a bunch of deeply likeable characters and an array of systems that you can easily spend tens of hours mucking around with before you even consider leaving the menus. The arrival of Torna – The Golden Country is the culmination of the game’s season pass, but, arriving as a solo boxed product as well, Nintendo is clearly making a statement that this isn’t just some minimal narrative fluff.
Torna – The Golden Country is a prequel that takes everything that was good about the main game, tightens aspects of it up, and confidently sets out its own stall as one of 2019’s best RPGs.
Set 500 years before Chronicles 2, Torna – The Golden Country brings together some characters that returning players will have met or heard of before, while introducing you to a bevy of new faces. You take control of Lora and her blade Jin – the troubled antagonist of Chronicles 2 – who set out to put a stop to the destruction being caused by the Aegis Malos. Along the way you’re joined by Addam, whose legacy, including his Aegis Mythra, was at the heart of Chronicles 2.
Monolith Soft have managed to balance The Golden Country incredibly well, whether you’re a returning player who’s going to get all of the references or a newcomer being introduced to the world. And it’s a remarkably generous package that will feel like a reward for those that have been there from the start.
There’s been some serious tightening up of the battle system, so that instead of focussing on a driver accompanied by a trio of blades, you just control of a team of two – a driver and their blade – split between the Vanguard and Rear Guard positions. The Vanguard forms the front line of the attack, while the character at the rear supports them, providing buffs or additional attacks as and when they’re needed.
A key component to the enhanced combat is Vanguard Switching, so when your lead character takes damage it appears in red on their HP bar. This is their recoverable HP, and switching places with your Rear Guard will replenish that amount of energy, though you have to be quick about it as it will drain over time. Switching also fills all of your Art gauges so you can immediately hammer home an attack, hopefully finishing off whichever sorry creature is stood in front of you.
You can still switch between multiple Blades, but you won’t find yourself jumping between all of them in quite the same way you did before. There’s also a further special ability called a Talent Art which is unique to each character, and you have to meet certain battle requirement in order to activate it. It’s very much a risk/reward option though, so Tora’s enables her to sacrifice half of her HP gauge to completely fill all of her Art gauges, but when you can do that by switching out you may find that you’ll be giving it a miss much of the time.
For anyone returning from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 you’ll find it easy to adjust to the changes. Timing is even more important this time out, but overall it feels much the same, which, personally speaking, is nothing but a good thing. Chronicles 2’s combat perhaps felt unwieldy, even messy at points, but it grew into a hugely engaging system that kept encounters interesting all the way through the game’s lengthy runtime. Fortunately, that’s much the same here, with the tweaks helping to keep things fresh.
Another new addition is campfires, and while you’re there you can indulge in various crafting tasks like charm-making or home cooking. Whichever you choose to do – each major character offers a slightly different batch of things they can create if you have the right ingredients – you can create pouch items that improve various battle statistics, whereas previously these could generally only be bought or found.
The newly-added Community is an interesting way of drawing out side-quests, and most of the inhabitants of Alrest will tell you their name, job and location, while some will then request that you help them out in some way. Completing quests brings them into your inner circle, and as you expand your community more quests will become available. The only problem is that as you meet new people it automatically opens the Community page which really slows everything down, and you might sometimes not feel like talking to any NPCs because of it.
Many of the small annoyances from the main game are still present here, whether it’s the weirdly inconsistent locking on to items in the field that dictates multiple button presses, or having to drop into the menus for some skills to actually level up despite the game knowing that you’ve achieved the goals. The game’s variable resolution can also mean that the visuals range from being utterly beautiful to smeared in gloop, though it’s most obvious in handheld mode. Overall it’s still a great looking game, but at points you can tell that it’s pushing the Switch to the absolute limit.
Amongst the most generous expansions of all time, Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country is one of the year’s best RPGs. Returning players will love diving further into the history of Alrest and discovering more about the events that shaped the world, while newcomers can rest assured that they’re starting out with the most refined and welcoming introduction to Xenoblade yet.