Xenoblade Chronicles 2 got a prequel in the form of a DLC named Torna - The Golden Country that people could play a week early before the physical version if they already had the Season Pass. I didn't get the pass because I wasn't really interested in the minor extras which were mostly fan service oriented. It was revealed at Gamescom 2018 in Germany that promised an extra 30 - 40 hours gameplay and also marked the game's big update to v2.00 so it seemed like a good purchase. There was even some interesting marketing where Famitsu had an article saying "fans dying to know who the ex-boyfriends of the girl they liked were" should play this so they can get over their curiosity.
The physical version isn't cheap costing an extra £10 than getting a digital Season Pass. Fortunately it does include a DLC code that lets you access everything the Season Pass gave you access to prior to this expansion pack.
So the prequel takes place when Lorna is journeying with Jin in search of her mother during unsettled times when the rogue Aegis Blade Malos is on the rampage destroying places and the nations are at war. Along the way she comes across Addam, Prince of Torna and after crossing Blades, he invites her to join him in the fight against Malos after being impressed by their team coordination skills. Before long their journey leads them to Addam's old friend Hugo, Emperor of Ardania who also happens to be on the hunt for Malos. And so together they set out to put an end to Malos's destruction.
It's a good prequel as you see more of the back story behind characters that didn't have much of a role during the main game such as Haze or the rest of the supporting characters that were with Jin. We also have the familiar faces of Blades such as Mythra and Brighid. It's entertaining seeing their past and how the characters grow through their adventure as was the case with the original game. Many of the cutscenes are like expanded versions of the flashbacks from the main game but all players of the main game will know of the tragic end it meets... Still, they did such a good job directing the story, it really makes you sympathise for the characters.
It's been over 8 months since the original game was released so I had kind of forgotten most of the battle system so for once, I was kind of glad they put the tutorial back in again.
Gameplay fairly much remains the same although you don't have any cores to obtain new Blades with. There's a new Talent Art which has negative side effects and switching between Blades is a little more complex because they added in Vanguard and Rearguard positions. A Switch Art activates whenever you switch with whoever's currently the rearguard and, art gauges also gets filled together with part of your HP. It adds a little more strategy to battles and also makes them quicker instead of having to focus on healing. Each vanguard and rearguard has their own art skills but rearguard skills are automatically triggered which kind of makes you wonder if there's a point investing in them.
Full Bursts and combos are harder to perform because you can't setup your Blades with the correct elements although you can change the element of the Driver's weapon. A skill like Orb Master or just accessories that can speed up the combos made boss fights easier in the main game.
Instead of using inns you're camping mostly instead, allowing you to craft and chat with characters like other JRPGs that work this way. There's not a lot of extra chat unfortunately - they're more like a little extra story dialogue you can optionally view rather than just banter between the characters. There's also a new "Community" where you can gain supporters by completing their side quests which in turn gives you extra rewards. It's actually not that new, more like a sandbox way of doing what the original game already let you did. It can actually be annoying too because you have to wait for a few seconds longer before an NPC conversation will end. Fortunately there is an option to disable the registering screen.
Unfortunately, the game forces you to do side quests before you can get on with the story which can both be a good and bad thing. Good because it kind of gives you a tour of the expansion pack's content and just as the name suggests, the side quests are interwined so it's nice when you end up re-visiting an NPC just to see how they're doing. Maxing out the community even rewards you with a nice picture too apparently. On the other hand, the forced side-questing means they're not really side quests anymore. It's also kind of cheating on the minimum gameplay length offered this way.
You mainly travel between the familiar Gormott and the new Torna but there's also a bunch of UMs to challenge again which is good. They feel much harder to beat too because you don't have all the accessories and skills such as Orb Master for quickly building a fusion combo. Some of the tougher UMs have been tweaked in such a way, you can't just depend on fusion combos any more.
According to the Japanese production notes the graphics engine supposedly got tweaked where they improved the grass - specifically Gormott and Torna. It definitely looks sharper than the original in full screen mode instead of blurred. There's also 11 new tunes although some actually sound more like remixes of old tunes than new such as the Gormott theme but with sax.
Overall, other than the forced side-questing, I think Torna The Golden Country is worth the price because it doesn't feel like an half-hearted DLC. It brings along the full quality of the main game with plenty of story telling, UMs to challenge and places to explore. Finishing just the main story alone I got around 20 hours out of it but, there was still plenty to do including another New Game+ mode. If you choose to go beyond the story and do all the extra stuff it'll go up to around 35 hours so it's definitely worth the price if you enjoyed the main game.
- Plenty of new content to enjoy such as new UMs to fight.
- Good back story for characters.
- Visuals look sharper on full screen.
- Interwined Community side quests really builds up NPCs.
- New custom difficulty setting means you can make it as easy or hard as you want.
- Community can slow down interaction with NPCs if you don't disable it.
- Rearguard arts feel pointless since they are used automatically.
- Forced side questing.