Review by kazekirifx

"A good action RPG worthy of the Falcom name"

Introduction - I'm a huge Falcom fan, and since I now live in Japan and have plenty of money to spend I have been purchasing all of Falcom's games on their release dates since Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. I especially liked the new 3D Ys games and Legend of Heroes VI: Sora No Kiseki. I somewhat enjoyed Gurumin, but I wasn't crazy about it.

Xanadu Next was another title that I wasn't especially excited about, but went ahead and pre-reserved on Falcom's web site when it was announced. I've played the original Xanadu game (which by the way has been released on many Japanese PC and console platforms, but never outside Japan, though the game is completely in English). I never got very far into it because of the high level of difficulty, though I've always wanted to. Xanadu was part of Falcom's "Dragon Slayer" series, and there are many other Xanadu-related games like "Faxanadu" for the Famicom/NES and "Legend of Xanadu" 1 and 2 for the PC Engine. Xanadu Next is based solely and loosely on the original Xanadu game.

You may also know that there is another game called "Xanadu Next" that was released on the N-gage before this PC version. I don't know much about the N-gage version, and I am still very confused about why it exists at all. (Falcom only releases for Windows and no consoles nowadays, but N-gage?! Why?) But from what I know about the N-gage version, it appears to be a very different game. From the screenshots it appears to have somewhat similar gameplay and some of the same monsters, but definitely a completely different game. I'm actually thinking about buying an N-gage just to see what this game's "deal" is, but let's forget about the N-gage version for now. The Windows version is definitely the "real" version and obviously superior, though released at a later date.

Story - When you first start up the game, you get to name your character and watch the opening sequence. The story begins with your character and his small female companion on a boat, on their way to another land in search of the fabled sword the "Dragonslayer". As they are approaching land and the town where their adventure will begin, the old man steering the boat explains that they may catch a glimpse of the mysterious old castle on an island where the Dragonslayer is said to rest. They say no one has been inside since the castle is said to disappear as you approach it. And just as they are approaching town, the mysterious castle emerges shortly from the mist to show its shadowy figure. The graphics and music really make this an exciting prologue to the game. I couldn't wait to get to this castle and retrieve the Dragonslayer myself, though they already made it seem almost too daunting a task for anyone to achieve. (Don't worry. It's not that hard.)

The story after that is a little sparse. You are soon taken down by an unknown swordsman and on the brink of death, and are only saved by implanting a "guardian" spirit in your body which gives you special abilities. But in order to cure your body so that you can live without a guardian, you must retrieve the Dragonslayer. Your own character never speaks, and the other characters are pretty hollow, showing very little personality. There is very little story to be had, so don't expect a dramatic 'Final Fantasy' type story - or even an Ys-calibur story for that matter. The lack of any plot or character depth worth mentioning is one part of the game that reminds one of older RPG's like the original Xanadu, and that is one of the primary aims of this game. The whole game somehow has a bit of a retro feel that reminds me of older Falcom games like Xanadu, Sorcerian, and Brandish; yet it is still modern. You might say that Xanadu Next is a modern RPG with a bit of a classic RPG theme to it.

Gameplay - Though this is an action RPG, you play the game using the mouse. You point the cursor in the direction you want to move and click the enemies that you want to attack. This system has been used in many American PC games, but I've never played a Japanese action RPG which uses this system before. It sounds as if it would give only limited control over your character, but I quickly became accustomed to it and discovered it gives control almost as full as with an analog pad. After you become adept at controlling with the mouse, you'll forget that you're not using an analog pad. The first dungeon is also quite simple and acts mostly as a tutorial for how to play the game, so the learning curve is very easy and anyone should have no problem easing their way into the game.

Later, Falcom released an expansion program for this game that you can get only by subscribing to their mailing list. In addition to adding an extra dungeon and changing your character's max level from 20 to 30, this program adds the option of analog thumb pad support. When this program was released I still hadn't finished the game, so I ended up playing through the rest using the thumb pad. Since I'm traditionally a console gamer, I found myself a little more at home with the thumb pad. It controls just like any other action RPG when using the thumb pad. Since I had already became accustomed to mouse control, it took me a little while to become accustomed to it, but once I did I found that I had a slightly easier time fighting the enemies. The thumb pad turned out to offer better control for me, but it seemed kind of like a cop-out on my part since I had already mastered playing this action game with the mouse (which was a first for me). This game is primarily a mouse-controlled game, but if you feel you would be more comfortable with an analog pad, you should download the expansion program from Falcom.

The main part of the game is just dungeon exploring and puzzle solving. The puzzles are somewhat Zelda-esque, and when you solve a puzzle and make something appear, a door open, etc.; it even plays a little musical chime just like in Zelda. Most of the dungeons are quite cleverly designed, however, so it is quite enjoyable and not unoriginal. All of the game is interconnected, and you will have to go back to earlier parts in the game after you gain new abilities (the ability to breathe under water, break rocks, walk in mid-air, etc.) so you will need to remember the dungeons for later in the game. There is only one town in the game, and you will have to constantly return to it in order to refill your HP and save the game, etc. This works out just fine as the game and dungeons are completely interconnected, and there are many shortcuts and warps available to quickly return to the area you are currently exploring. The last few dungeons in the game are particularly great, and the whole game has a nice Falcom-feel to it. Bravo Falcom.

The original Xanadu game was praised for giving the player a lot of freedom in character building. You could choose which stats you wanted to raise yourself. In Xanadu next, they sought to recreate this aspect of the game, thus every time you level up you are allowed to choose which stats you want to raise yourself. The guardian system and spell-learning system also give you a lot of freedom to choose what kind of character you want to make, and every time you buy a new piece of equipment the appearance of your character will change. Each weapon also comes with a special "skill" that you can use when you have the weapon equipped, and if you use the weapon long enough, you will acquire that skill for use even when the weapon is not equipped. Compared to most Falcom titles, this game does give you more freedom, but I still think it falls a bit short of the mark. There are plenty of other games today which give you at least this much or more freedom in making your character. Since each piece of equipment has a certain stat requirement in order to be equipped, I found myself being forced to raise certain stats in order to equip certain things rather than being able to choose for myself. My other complaint is that there isn't enough equipment available in the game. It would be cool if your character ended up looking completely different by the end every time you play, but he doesn't. Everyone begins with the same character, and everyone will end up with basically the same armor, shield, and helmet by the end - and there are only about five different helmets in the game! That's far too little in my opinion. I feel they could have done more with this part of the game overall - especially since this is the part that Falcom brags about most in the game description.

Graphics - The graphics in this game are much the same as other 3D Falcom titles released recently. It's about on the same level as Ys: The Oath in Felghana - maybe slightly higher. They're nothing spectacular for the most part, but do their job throughout the game. There are a few parts that are done quite beautifully, but just as I said in my review of Legend of Heroes VI (You'll have to look under my old username "kazekiri" for it. Something happened to my account.), it just can't compete with current console games. The 'reflection' technique on water is used a lot in this game, and that's about as impressive as it gets. If this were a console game, it would be considered par for the course, but this is still marginally the most advanced 3D game Falcom has released thus far. Legend of Heroes VI had some graphics that were well thought-out and lots of care had been taken, but Xanadu Next is a bit more advanced. The graphics are good and you can tell they tried, but it's not quite as spectacular as some of the breathtaking console games released these days. Still, since there aren't any other Japanese companies that make PC titles on this level, you have to give them some credit. Overall, this game features 'good' graphics, but not quite breathtaking.

Sound - More than just about anything else, Falcom has always been known for their music. Most of their Windows titles, however, don't really go all the way in my opinion, and I have always wished the arrangement was a little better (with the exception of Ys: The Oath in Felghana of course, that rocked!). With most titles like Legend of Heroes VI, I could say that the composition was pretty good at least, and most of the tunes were memorable. I wish I could say the same for Xanadu Next. The score consists primarily of forgettable mood-setting music. Since it does its job of setting the mood pretty well, I guess I can't complain too much, but the tunes are just forgettable. The most memorable tunes are the new arrangements of the original Xanadu theme music. The theme is also hinted at and peppered throughout the soundtrack. Overall, this isn't a soundtrack that you will want to listen to outside the game. The music is way 'par for the course'. It's mostly "generic RPG music".

I do like the sound effects though. The monsters let out screams and moans when you destroy them. The sounds of your weapons slicing and hitting shields are completely unrealistic, but I like them because they are satisfying and make attacking the enemies fun.

Challenge and lasting interest - The game is easy enough so that most gamers should be able to finish it, and not unrealistically difficult like the original Xanadu was. If you do get stuck, however, you will have to be able to read Japanese because there are currently no FAQ's available in English. There is only one difficulty level, unlike Ys: The Oath in Felghana which had many. The game is said to take 40+ hours to complete (and I took even longer than that), but many of these hours will be spent saving experience and not necessarily progressing the game. The game seems short since everything is intertwined and there are so few dungeons in all, but it offers enough gameplay to satisfy you for a while. It was enough for me, but if you expect every game to be as big as Final Fantasy you won't be satisfied. As I mentioned before, there is a program you can download which will add an extra dungeon, but it's not much of a dungeon and is filled with very difficult enemies that will kill you very quickly. It's an extra challenge for those who just can't get enough. Me, I found it a bit too challenging and time consuming, so I gave up on completing it since it's not necessary to finish the game. I wouldn't say the game has much replay value. After I finished it, I had no desire to start over and play again. The game ranks your playing level after you finish the game in which I got straight D's and one C. Still, I was satisfied. Again, there would be considerable replay value if the character building system allowed for more variation. Then I would be excited to see what my next character would turn out like. But no, once was enough for me.

Overall - This game isn't the next Ys. Ys is more memorable than this. Still, it is a fun RPG romp worth playing if you like action RPG's. You may be confused by the amount of pros and cons I gave in this review, but hey, this is a good game and I absolutely recommend that you pick it up and enjoy it. And if you are one of those people who claim to be a Falcom fan (like a real Falcom fan such as me), then you have no excuse not to play this game. Of course you already own this game, right, Mr. quote-unquote "Falcom fan"? There are so many wannabes out there who only bother with Ys. The lack of English releases is no excuse. Play this game!

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/06/06

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