Xenoblade Chronicles (Definitive Edition) on paper and in practice has many things I enjoy going for it: A fantastic soundtrack, an earnest (though riff-worthy) voice cast, big maps to explore in a unique setting, more side quests than possibly lines of dialogue… There's plenty to explore, encounter and resolve, but my enjoyment gets hampered by the combat systems that leave me feeling like I'm just tapping buttons in the hope I can make cool things happen.
Anyone familiar with (J)RPGs may already know of differing roles, like tank, healing and damage dealing, and Xenoblade Chronicles makes use of these roles too. With team compositions limited to three and taking direct control of only one character, direction in battles is guided by the player. Generally, telling your AI teammates to focus fire on one target is the way to go, but depending on the circumstances, tunnelling in on one enemy is more harmful than practical. Like many MMOs, your unlocked arts (skills/abilities) can have cooldowns whose length is typically linked to how significant an effect it has in battles; a healing burst covering an area has a longer cooldown than a lesser heal that targets only one teammate, for example. Unlike many MMOs, however, you have a finite number of arts slots. You won't have to worry about having too many until some hours into the game, but once you reach that point, specializing your controlled and AI teammates becomes more important. If Reyn is your main tank, you want him to come equipped with a lot of aggro (their term for threat/aggression against a specific target) generating arts and defensive ones. Sharla primarily is a healer, but throwing on some support arts wouldn't hurt as well.
While some arts require particular positioning for greater effects/damage, others can combo off one another. An early one is break, topple and daze, leaving an enemy to wail on without counterattack for a brief time. Since regular attacks are automated, any micro-management is for your arts and keeping your eyes and ears on teammates to know what arts they're using so you can plan accordingly - In theory. The wheels start coming off trying to cooperate with your teammates, who tosses out arts to sustain themselves, the team and deal damage, though in context-sensitive moments, restraint isn't something you can enforce on them. I've had more moments than I care to count of having a combo nearly ready to go or initiate, but Reyn already burned his arts or used it while I was trying to backslash the enemy for an extra whack of damage. No worries, then! Instead of playing as Shulk, I'll control Reyn so that I can then save the topple and daze for back to back usage when break is inflicted! Except now I'm not controlling Shulk and saving his Monado charge for when it's direly needed, like being able to damage Mechon enemies or avoiding colossal damage from specific attacks. No problem, I can play as Sharla and save her healing arts instead of burning their use when someone gets a bruise. Except no, that won't really work because now I cannot deal as much damage in comparison, making fights longer.
Granted, and as you might rightly point out, these complaints are avoided when performing chain attacks or looking into the future and warning a teammate, and these features shine wonderfully during boss fights, both mini and major. Minibosses have been more challenging than major bosses since they tend to be gimmicked, but in either case, that's been the most fun I've had with the gameplay so far. When you can directly influence your AI teammates, the hectic combat feels excellent, sound and collaborative, but when you can't, it feels like an unruly MMO group flinging out whatever's not on cooldown since it's there and ready to go. By no means do I think this system is bad! I'm more disappointed that these moments of teamwork are fleeting, especially since the cast is so chatty and supportive of one another, not limited to just cutscenes.
On the subject of speech, the English voice actors are subject to riffing like no tomorrow, but there's an earnest quality in their deliveries that just keeps them from over-acting or emoting like a hastily done anime dub. Eventually, that will wear off as unique lines of dialogue in combat will get exhausted in a hurry and make the chatter grating after a long play session. While I wish Riki would stop shouting (the title of heropon be damned) and Shulk reminding me that yes, the Monado does have power, the heroes have proven themselves to be a likeable bunch of goofs so far. It's refreshing that with their quirks and characteristics, the cast has yet to come down with a case of sudden incompetence during scenes of conflict. The opposite is true from the amount of 'just in the nick of time' situations that feel less like great sighs of relief, and more like the writers realizing they need to have an out for the heroes lest events from the prologue happen again (elaborating would be significant spoilers).
The comical number of side quests does mean there's plenty to do, but the number of cookie-cutter generic quests greatly outnumbers those with any sort of narrative about that character or the location. Still, it does mean that there's more Xenoblade Chronicles to play! An issue I run into with many JRPGs gets addressed in this one: Doing too much side content results in your characters becoming way too overpowered, whether through levels or equipment, making later content trivial. Purposely kneecapping yourself through not doing side content or wearing weaker gear are solutions, yes, but they're far from elegant. Xenoblade Chronicles lets you level characters down and up from a menu option, allowing you to be under, match, or exceed that region's level. I adore this feature and wish more games would adopt it, as while I do like the power curve of eventually stomping through once challenging areas, that doesn't lend itself when wanting to try new builds, load-outs or strategies efficiently.
While I might've put the game down for good, I'd still recommend it all the same for those looking for a new, colourful and expansive JRPG. Well, 'new'; the Definitive Edition brings in quality of life additions and tweaks that I can't wholly or confidently comment on since I didn't extensively play the original Wii release. Nevertheless, even though I'll be hearing 'REYN TIME' echo through my skull until the end of days, it's a good, well-functioning game that has many, many hours of entertainment to offer.