Torna: The Fun-Sized Xenoblade

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country, is an Action RPG developed by Monolithsoft and published by Nintendo. It released in September 2018 as a Nintendo Switch Exclusive. Torna is a prequel to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and can either be bought as DLC to the original Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on the Nintendo eShop for $30, or can be bought physically for $40.

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So *technically* Torna – The Golden Country is DLC for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but the more I played it, the more it felt like an entirely different game altogether. The combat is tweaked, the party setup has been streamlined, and the story can stand on its own. New game it is! Leave it to Monolithsoft to take DLC to the next level.

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These two… they’re so cute I’m gonna die.

Torna – The Golden Country takes place 500 years before the events of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Because of the enormous lifespan of Blades, several Blade characters you meet in the original game appear in this one, with different drivers on different Titans. You could technically play this without playing the first game, though some mid-game reveals would be spoiled. I don’t think you HAVE to play Xenoblade Chronicles 2 first, though. And in some ways, if you don’t have 90+ hours to devote to that game, Torna is a good alternative, clocking in at only 20+ hours for me.

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The game begins with Jin, one of the antagonists of the first game, and his driver Lora. Lora is a lovely, compassionate soul – 1,000% more likeable than Rex. And she has female armor that actually makes sense, too! The biggest downside is that Lora never makes large, dynamic changes during the course of the story the way that Shulk or Rex does. But her bond with Jin is just so precious. In a way, it’s more Jin’s story than Lora’s. You can see Jin begin to question the world and the seeds of doubt begin to grow. It’s light on the philosophy this time, instead giving vignettes of interaction between the characters. It’s a lot of story setup for the first game, kind of like what the Rogue One movie did for the original Star Wars.

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The new characters also have much better designs, but their personalities are quite flat. Addam is a dashing, heroic fellow who struggles to fully grasp Mythra’s power. Hugo is a calm and collected kid that grounds the party. Mythra’s attitude has so many rough edges you could cut yourself talking to her, but as the story progresses she becomes more rounded out. As it’s a prequel, you feel a looming sense knowing what’s about to happen to them all, and the ending holds no punches in its tragedy.

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Speaking of punches, Torna – The Golden Country significantly changed the Action RPG combat from is predecessor. You still have Arts and Specials, along with Combos for making big damage. But instead of collecting Blades and selecting which to bring to a fight, you have a set party. The Drivers can change their weapon’s element, which allows for some customizability, but it’s overall much simpler from the original.

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The bigger gimmick, though, is the ability to freely control the Blades. Driver and Blade can swap out, which brings several advantages to combat. I particularly like how you can recover damage if you time your switch just right. It makes for another highly rewarding combat system. Blades can also learn their own Arts, now, and both Driver and Blade have a separate set of Arts to use when you’re not controlling them. So while most of the “party setup strategy” is done for you, it’s still up to you to utilize it to its fullest.

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Torna – The Golden Country still has several beautiful areas for you to explore. But as this is a much shorter game, these areas are only placed on a new Titan, Torna, and a much younger version of Gormott (from the original game). It’s quality world design, with several secrets and cool ideas here and there, but it’s not as ground-breaking or awe-inspiring as other Xenoblade games.

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There’s a camping mechanic in Torna! Anyone who saw my Dragon Quest XI review knows that I adore camping in video games. When you sit around the fire you can see optional Party dialogue, craft helpful items, and use bonus exp to level up even more, once again mitigating any Level grinding you may need to do.

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The other big change present is the Community system. By completing side quests for the people on these Titans, you recruit them into your Community. Building up your Community will offer you more side quests to complete, with more goodies and bonus exp. However, around midway through the game, and then again near the end of the game, you’ll need to increase your Community level before proceeding with the story. For people who just want to fly straight through the main campaign, this will probably come across as tedious. As for myself, I like to take my time and do many side quests, so I had already done most of them by the time I reached these gatepoints, and I found the mechanic inoffensive. It helps that many of these side quests, like in the other game, have mini-stories with small twists to help them become more meaningful.

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Many of these side quests are actually rather sad…

As you can see, there’s so much even with this quote-unquote “DLC” game to talk about that I couldn’t just tack it on with the last review. Thanks to its streamlined mechanics and shortened length, Torna – The Golden Country is perhaps the most approachable Xenoblade Chronicles game to date, one that I think fans and newcomers alike would really enjoy.

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