Xanadu Next is an RPG from over a decade ago that released on PCs and the N-Gage over in Japan while only now seeing a worldwide localized release. While it shows its age a bit in regards to graphics and character designs (which gives it an awesome retro feel by today’s standards), it was interesting to try something different from Nihon Falcom which is known for both the Ys series and the Legend of Heroes (Trails in the Sky and of Trails of Cold Steel).
If Xanadu had to be compared to anything else that Falcom has developed it could be said that it somewhat resembles the Ys series. Instead of the usual red haired and often amnesiac Adol who sets out on a new and wondrous adventures however, Xanadu is much darker in its approach.
Given control of a young blond man that you name yourself, he soon finds himself left for dead after exploring ruins of an island in search of a clues to a mysterious castle that only appears in the mist. With his life saved just a breath away from death, a priestess performs a ritual to bind a guardian spirit to his in order to allow him more than basic movements in which those alone are a strain on his body. There’s a catch however as being so close to death’s door the spirits could leave at any point and without them, he won’t survive or ever be able to leave the island. Told of a legendary sword with immense powers that could heal him and not require the tentative bond with the spirits, he sets back out in order to find both it it and possibly the one that left him in this state.
On a gameplay and exploration front, Xanadu Next follows the path of having the player find their own way. There is zero hand holding and like some of the other older RPGs talking to everyone is not simply important, but sometimes mandatory in order to figure out what the next step is. Now while most of the time the dialog will simply just add a bit more to the world you find yourself in, there are moments in which someone tells you exactly what you needed to hear in order to keep moving such as someone having a key to a locked door. It is completely possible to be stuck running around in circles for a while looking for exactly what you are missing. Sometimes it’s a dialog trigger, and sometimes? It’s a fireball.
The small town that you arrive in not only acts as a hub for resting and commercial purposes, but it also acts as an exploration nexus with various shortcuts that can be opened up to make exploring easier. Leaving town through one door does not necessarily mean that you’ll come back from that direction. Set up in a variety of interconnecting “rooms”, there will be multiple environments with ever increasing powerful monsters that stand between you and the clues you search for.
Passages and pathways may be blocked by monsters or other intriguing devices that require a bit of legwork but on the overall these parts aren’t what will hold you back. That is until you forget about things such as fireballs that you’ve used to light braziers to open up a shortcut back to town. Using fireballs on them in the dungeon has the same effect as long as you remember that you can do that and it’s not some other trigger. Live and learn. It took about an hour of running around and trying other things and looking everywhere else before remembering that I could simply use a fireball to light my way forward. Thankfully our “near death” hero does not have a time limit.
Now while the part of forgetting to light it up with a fireball was on me the second time around, it can be the difference between being able to move forward and being able to head back to town quickly. While one is nothing more than a nuisance, the other one can throw a wrench in your gears as you search for your way forward. This isn’t a complaint but more of a statement of “keep your eye on the ball” otherwise it will cost you time but yield money and experience as Xanadu really does zero hand holding which is nice. What is a complaint however is that a majority of the interconnected rooms have locked doors a la Legend of Zelda with silver keys required to unlock them but unlike the other series you’ll need to buy them and they only ever get more expensive.
Silver keys can be bought in town for an original modest amount which increases for every subsequent key that is bought. After buying about five or six keys and looking at your wallet there may be a thought of wondering if you should go back out to defeat some monsters in order to pay the path forwards. While money becomes easier and easier to get as the paths forward open up there is thankfully a deal that can be brokered with the key selling merchant. Selling him bones in which he uses as a base for the keys will reset the price counter back down to its original modest cost. Like money as the adventure moves forward these become easier to get your hands on and other merchants outside of the city may even sell these bones to you.
Where these keys can get in the way is when you run out of them in either the dungeon or out in the surrounding areas. Even leaving with a modest amount it can take up to no time at all to have gone through all of them and have to head back. Before certain shortcuts from these areas are opened back up to the town or access to items that can teleport you back are acquire it can be a long trek back. Even with an amulet that lets you instantly go back to town as often as you want, you still have to run back there if those shortcuts are not opened all because of the fact that you ran out of these keys. Some of these doors happen to be wood with a metal lock and unfortunately your fireballs cannot just melt the lock or burn the door down.
How many keys you decide to take with you aside, where things can falter a bit is in how you decide to play Xanadu. Choosing my weapon of choice the longtime controller I had a choice between using the controller and grumbling to get anything inventory based done or use the mouse. In a lot of cases regardless of how I was set up, in front of the computer or the larger screen used for consoles, I needed my mouse close by to either shop or move my skills from being in my inventory to the bar in order to make them active. Otherwise the “start” button had to be held down in order to get the analog stick to act as the cursor while the confirmation button had to be used in order to move things around. Considering the time that it took, the mouse was necessary.
With either controller equipped or mouse in hand and ignoring inventory management, Xanadu does play smoothly from a combat perspective. Our hero has a standard attack with any equipped weapon and up to four supporting skills that can be used. These skills can all be learned by using the various weapons that can be either bought or acquired through treasure chests. Learning skills is as easy as using the weapon and while using the weapon your proficiency with it gets better allowing you to do more damage with it. Once a skill has been learnt then it simply needs to slid into the slots to be used while outside of town.
Having skills being learned on your own time was a double edged feature. While not having to wait to being a certain level in order to learn it was great, you still had to make sure that you had the stats in order to equip the weapon in order to learn the skill. Each level grants attribute points to be put into one of the various categories. Each weapon and armor piece have their own requirements and without them they cannot be used meaning often enough it was possible to have to wait until the next level in order to use them. Where things could be somewhat interesting is that these attribute points could only be allocated through the priestess that saved you and through her these points could be taken back all the way until your next character level is achieved. Once you have leveled up then it is possible to level back down allowing you to fix your stats but keep in mind that you’ve leveled down and have to reacquire all of that experience again.
On a whole I loved playing Xanadu Next. It does have controller interface issues if you are using a real controller and the key system that was put into place could be annoying but that’s all it was. A minor annoyance compared to the rest. The skill system is a lot of fun to use especially when passive abilities are discovered such as adding fire to your weapon or being able to do more damage from behind. All of these little features add up to a fun Action Adventure RPG that takes place in an interesting interconnected environment.
N-Gage (Japanese only 2005)
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Article by Pierre-Yves