Review by Robot2600
Faxanadu: A Detailed Review with Everything You Need to Know
Faxanadu is a side-scrolling action adventure game. You play as an unnamed elf on a quest to kick ass and save the World Tree (a mythic Tree from Norse mythology. In Faxanadu, however, the tree has been somewhat redesigned from its mythical counterpart, essentially acting as a giant world, home to both the elves and dwarves). After a long journey you return to your hometown at the base of the World Tree to find that things have gone horribly wrong. Everything is dead and dying, monsters ravage town, and villagers blink faster than their mouths move (probably lead poisoning).
The King of the Elves gives you 1500 gold and tells you to fix everything. So you buy a knife and some potions, a key to get out of town, and start smacking around some monsters. As you proceed in your journey, you'll discover more powerful weapons and armor, eventually becoming a full-plate clad knight with the legendary Dragon Slayer sword (I'm assuming it's literally supposed to be the same sword as the Dragon Slayer from Legacy of the Wizard, considering both games are in the same series; while mostly irrelevant, is pretty interesting). Equipment was done very well in Faxanadu, sometimes you find an upgrade, sometimes you have to buy it. The game spaces them out evenly across the entire sprawling epic. You might get a new sword in this town, or a new magic spell outside the next dungeon. The Magic was done very well, because there were no useless spells. All spells act as a projectile, and simply get stronger (and consume more mana) as the game progresses.
The game has some of the best graphics on the NES. It has a nice earthy palate, which is consist throughout the entire game, and actually makes sense because you are inside of a giant tree. Character sprites are even more amazing, with good animation and proportions. There are also a lot of nice touch in Faxanadu: you sometimes walk behind columns and branches, adding perspective to the game. One level has fog that makes it hard to see (but not too hard). Your equipment changes your appearance. Spells have unique animations. Overall, the game is well polished. If you are interested in screenshots, to better illustrate (no pun intended) the graphics, I have a wide variety posted on my blog for your convience: 8bitcity.blogspot.com
The developers were very intent on producing a mood throughout the game, as evidenced in each level's design. You start in a town (the biggest in the game) and run around in an area that is half outside-half inside the World Tree. This is its base. After solving the mystery of the magic springs, you'll proceed into a locked good on the outside of the tree, which leads to the mist-covered inside. Fungus grows on the wall, and giant squids fly around. Haunting, off tune music will make you want to speed your way through this section. When your business is finished here, you will encounter the World of Branch, and finally, if persistent, you might find your way into the dwarf king's fortress.
The music is Faxanadu fails to live up to its potential. An encouraging melody plays when you die, urging you not to "have negative thoughts." The mist world is eerie, and the other areas have equally well-composed tunes. The only downside, is that the music sound very privative. Unlike other NES games that really push the hardware, Faxanadu feels somewhat weak. The melodies are all kicking, but that sound too rough, too beep-ish and boop-ish. It's hard to describe. It's almost as if the composer knew a lot about music, but not a lot about making 8-Bit digital music. In all fairness, I did listen to the music for the entire game (rather than creating my own soundtrack, as I am sure we have all done from time to time). It's quite good, but obviously flawed.
The World Tree also has dozens of houses scattered about, some are in towns, but you will meet several hermits that prefer life away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. Abandoned castles require exploring. Monsters require slaying. You will meet plenty of colorful characters on your journey, but be prepared to search hard for some of the secrets.
The monster AI is one of the only problems in the game. All of the monsters are dumb as hell. None of them move like a real monster would, and they act completely unaware of their surrounding. Honestly, they seem like lemmings. Lure one towards a cliff, and he will gladly jump off of it. In addition, the monster palates are limited to blue, orange, or tan. There might be a few more, but I found the monster colors to be lacking (compare this to Legacy of the Wizard, or even Zelda 2, where monsters have palette-swapped versions). Combat is still fun and challenging, requiring the player to memorize enemy patterns and figure out the way to most effectively rid the world of your foes.
Faxanadu even has a level-up system revolving around monsters and "gurus." If you kill enough monsters, and then speak to a guru, he might raise your level. Level does not affect gameplay except for 2 important aspects. First, the wing boots will not last as long. This is not a big deal, because later in the game you only need to wing boots for about 5 seconds. Second, when you die, you restart with a set amount of gold based on your level (or "rank," as the game calls it). This just flat out rocks, because, sometimes, you can die to get free money. Gurus also act as save points, giving you a mantra (password) and returning you to life if you die. The password system sucks, but for some reason every North American developer thought they were awesome. A save battery would have been nice, but password systems do have some benefits (easily de-coded, weird effects, etc).
Faxanadu also has a cool key system, where you have to buy keys that match certain doors. The doors re-lock after you use a key, and the key disappears. If you die, you'll have wasted precious gold. This makes the stakes even higher inside a dungeon. You really won't want to die, and that extra level of difficulty has a way of pushing one to the top of his/her game.
There is a hell of a lot going on in Faxanadu. I spent about three days playing through this game. I had never beaten it before, and it was nice to finish a game that I had always heard a lot about, but never really got into it. Once I got to the first dungeon, I was hooked. I wanted to know more about this strange, post-apocalyptic world and its residents. I wanted to explore the World Tree, and fix the problems. Faxanadu has a way of really pulling you into the game, through its atmosphere, artistic direction (which is very consistent, although not mind-blowing), and addictive gameplay. I'd easily recommend this game to anyone.
It's an amazing feeling when you are traveling through the castle where the laws of space, time, and geometry do not apply. You might not even realize you've stumbled into the Final Boss's room until your sword is swinging, and you are downing red potions. Faxanadu proves that flawed game can still be outstanding. For all of its shortcomings, it offers an incredible amount of high-quality gameplay. No matter how long you spend playing Faxanadu, not a second of it will be wasted.
What Faxanadu really needs, however, is a Virtual Console release. Considering it was developed by Hudson, I'd say we have a good change at seeing this game released for 5 bucks within the next year. But I wouldn't wait that long... play Faxanadu today if at all possible.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Faxanadu (US, 08/31/89)
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