Prequels are something that are hit-or-miss for a lot of people, since they often feel superfluous in the grand scheme of things. After all, most people come out of a film or show knowing most of the backstory already. Having the backstory expanded into its own larger thing can be aggravating for casual audiences. Look at Star Wars, which is a series that is 50% prequels.

Episodes I-III, Rogue One, and Solo: A Star Wars Story are all prequels to the main ongoing series. You don’t need to watch any of them to understand the story, but a lot of them are written with the intention of filling in gaps that the main series doesn’t. As a result, the films act as small bonuses to those who are keen on the franchise’s lore.

It’s not just films that do this, as video-games also like to explore what happened in the past as well. There’s no bigger example of this than the standalone expansion pack for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which goes by the name “Torna ~ The Golden Country”. Set in the universe of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, this expansion takes place a whopping 500 years before the main game.

Torna takes place on two “Titans”, which are giant monsters that act as continents for the world’s many denizens that live atop them. The game takes place on two of these continents, which are “Gormott” and the titular “Torna”. You play as a young woman named Lora, who travels with a guy called “Jin”. Jin is a “Blade”, which is a being created by a magic stone that follows her around and acts as Lora’s bodyguard. Lora is Jin’s “Driver”, which is a human being that a Blade swears loyalty to.

Along their journey, the pair meet up with several other Drivers and Blades. Together, they join forces in an effort to save Torna from an evil man known as “Malos”. That’s a brief summary of the plot, and it’s all I’ll say on the story. Spoiling any more of the plot would risk spoiling both the expansion and the base game, which is something I wish to avoid.

Regardless, Torna tells a complete and very interesting story. Torna’s gameplay itself is its real draw, however. The game features a very similar combat system to the base game, while adding in several changes. You character still auto-attacks the enemy, and you still have to wait for your moves to recharge before you use them. The biggest change to this is that you switch between the Drivers and the Blades they control in mid-combat, which have their own unique movesets.

Every time you switch out your Blade and Driver, they will inflict a status effect on the enemy. On top of this, switching out your party members allows the others time to heal. This adds a lot of strategy into choosing when and when not to switch out your teammates.

However, it’s not a perfect system. Since there’s only a single healer in your entire party, your options for reliable healing are very limited. Even switching out your teammates isn’t the most helpful during the really tough boss fights. There’s also the fact that the ally CPU is really dumb. I can’t tell you how many times Lora used an ability WHICH SPLIT HER HEALTH BAR IN HALF, resulting in her dying in 90% of the fights we were in.

It got so bad that I had stopped using the other characters and relied solely on controlling Lora and her Blades, even though I didn’t want to. Keep in mind that the game had two other sets of Blades and Drivers to control, both of which I’d rather use. Due to Lora’s tendency to use her suicidal ability however, I had to take control of her directly to stop any possible dumb actions.

Regardless, I still found the combat a lot of fun. It was simplistic at first, but the ability to stack status effects really added to it. I also dug how fast combat tended to go, and overall I found it fairly balanced. Let’s move onto my favorite part of the game, which is its open-world. While Torna’s open-world is much smaller than that of Xenoblade 2’s, it’s still packed with an insane amount of things to do and see.

There are tons of side-quests to do, secret bosses to fight, and secret areas to discover. While all of this stuff is fun to do, the game sadly makes a fair bit of it mandatory. In order to beat the game, you need to complete at least 50 different side-quests. This means that a lot of the side-stuff you would’ve done voluntarily is now forced down your throat.

As a result, it pretty much destroys the “optional” nature of these side-quests. Regardless of them being mandatory or not, I did find a fair bit of the side-quests to be fun. Now, let’s get down to the game’s visuals and sound, which is one of its stronger aspects. The game looks gorgeous, sporting fantastic character designs and detailed graphics. The characters look great most of the time, but had a strange glow around their bodies in most cutscenes.

I found this odd, and didn’t really understand the purpose of it. I wasn’t sure if it was a stylistic choice, or some kind of design bug. I found the sound design for the game to be truly fantastic, which featured a strong soundtrack and some good sound-effects. Unfortunately, the voice-acting just isn’t as good. A lot of the VAs tend to stumble over their lines, or just sound bored when reading them.

There are some standout performances here or there, but most of them definitely missed the mark. Another thing to note about this game is that it’s an expansion to Xenoblade 2, but you don’t need the original game to play it. You can easily play this as its own thing, and get the base game at a later date. Torna definitely does enough to stand on its own, while also being its own thing.

Torna is definitely a great game and expansion, while also being the game that brought me back into JRPGs. I stopped playing them for so long, but Torna got me really interested in them again. Torna certainly has its flaws, but they don’t detract too much from the final product. The game’s dark story, fantastic combat, and vast open-world make it a joy to play. This is definitely a prequel that’s worth your hard earned cash!

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