Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s engaging combat and likeable cast made Monolith Soft’s JRPG one of my favorite games of the Nintendo Switch’s launch year. Although the original game was already a massive undertaking, the developers saw fit to present an expansion titled Torna – The Golden Country, a shorter and more streamlined experience that fleshes out key events and characters from the main story’s flashbacks.
As the Torna expansion is a standalone prequel, it can be played independently from the original. Core gameplay data doesn’t transfer between the base game and expansion, newcomers to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 could theoretically start with Torna, treating it as an appetizer to the campaign proper. However, those who finish the main game first will better appreciate the cast and extensive lore.
Torna – The Golden Country’s story focuses on the events 500 years before Xenoblade Chronicles 2 began. Like in the base game, there are two types of fighters: Drivers – the frontline warriors, and Blades – the unique lifeforms that provide power and weaponry. You primarily play as Lora, a strong and kind Driver who is partnered with the mysterious Blade Jin. While Lora searches for her mother amidst the dreadful Aegis War, she meets up with the Addam, the Hero of Torna, and his Blade Mythra. They soon set out to stop a maniacal man from destroying the world. It’s a prequel, so fans know what eventually happens, but it’s nonetheless enjoyable to witness a more detailed account that fleshes out key relationships and backstories. I appreciated how mature and serious the expansion’s tone was, reflecting the war torn setting. Veterans will feel rewarded by the dramatic conclusion, which is once again accompanied by some of the most exciting anime fight sequences I’ve seen in any game cutscene.
The gameplay is more or less identical to the base Xenoblade Chronicles 2: you explore the open-world backs of enormous landmasses called Titans. The first major change is that the game’s scope is much smaller, with only two Titans, one of which is simply a different version of an area from the base game, Gormott. Torna itself is a large continent, with plenty of wide spaces and hidden nooks. The world is beautiful as ever, at least when the Switch is docked. The soundtrack is still stellar and includes a few remixes including a fun jazz version of Gormott Plains.
The battle system remains an interactive back-and-forth between the enemies and your party that revolves around rhythmic timing and proper positioning. As your character auto-attacks, you can manually activate special abilities, which you can maneuver into devastating combos. In the original game, you played as one Driver in a party of three, each of whom had access to multiple Blades that acted as support. The biggest change to combat in the Torna expansions is that you can now switch between Drivers and Blades midbattle, effectively doubling your movesets and increasing fluidity.
There’s a cooldown period before you can tag in your backup character, but there are some benefits to bringing a Blade to the forefront. First of all, you can heal lost HP upon switching. Additionally, a tagged-in character will immediately deliver a special attack upon entry, known as a Switch Art. In most cases, the Switch Art ties into a combo. For instance, Jin’s ability topples broken enemies down while Lora’s can launch toppled enemies into the air. A well-choreographed switch leads to a great advantage. Consequently, this new mechanic kept me engaged, and I was always searching for the best opportunities to perform ideal character swaps. Aside from other minor conveniences, such as hard-hitting elemental Blade combos being easier to activate, combat is the same and just as engrossing as ever.
The expansion features less playable characters: three Drivers with two Blades each. I was disappointed by the decreased party options, but I admit it made Blade management easier, since I didn’t have to worry about the base game’s annoying lottery system to acquire random Blades. Even with a predetermined party, there is plenty to ponder with all the upgradeable arts, unlockable powers, and a variety of equipment. Plus, since you can control any of the three Drivers and their Blades, there are nine whole characters to work with. If you’re new to the series, this may sound complicated, but thankfully, you can study up on game mechanics via the reviewable tutorial system, a feature that was surprisingly absent in the original.
As a DLC expansion, Torna – The Golden Country is understandably shorter. I found it refreshing to play a much more digestible game in a series that advertises its massive lengths. It only takes about 20-25 hours to beat, compared to the base game’s 80+ hour playtime. However, at least a third of my playtime was spent completing mandatory sidequests. The expansion introduces a Community system, in which performing quests adds people to your circle of support. As you befriend more NPCs, your Community level goes up. I didn’t mind this mechanic until the halfway point in the game, when my journey came to a standstill because I was forced to level up my Community by doing X number of sidequests. This happens yet a second time right before the end, transforming the otherwise solid pacing into a tedium.
I usually don’t mind taking a sidequest here and there in most RPGs. However, it felt like a slog to have no choice but to take on a bunch of them in a row. Plus, most sidequests are dull fetch quests or hunts, and almost none of them give meaningful character development. It artificially extends what would have otherwise been a 10-12 hour game. Not to mention completing numerous sidequests in the same two areas easily grows stale.
All things considered, I had a great time with Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country. However, it’s not necessarily because of what changed. While I liked the streamlined and more fluid combat, that’s balanced out by the Community system’s atrocious padding. I simply enjoy the expansion because it offers more from a game world that I loved, just on a a smaller scale. It also introduces a likable mature cast of characters with a truly dramatic narrative. The Torna expansion doesn’t just offer a novel chapter to the Xenoblade Chronicles mythos, it presents an easy, digestible way for both newcomers and veterans to enter an engaging fantasy.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!