Nihon Falcom have been creating some of the most memorable JRPGs for decades. Now that they've brought back their lesser-known Xanadu series, do they still have what it takes to make a worthwhile RPG?
Beginning as Dragon Slayer II back in 1985, the Xanadu series is one interesting mix of games. However, this installment is more in-line with Nihon Falcom's more recent titles (namely Ys and Trails of Cold Steel with gameplay from the former and visuals from the latter). As expected, the characters that fill this familiar-looking world are incredibly endearing. Just like in Trails of Cold Steel, you follow the daily lives of a ragtag group of students who find themselves in a whole new world once teleportation gates start opening up around the city. The gameplay is divided between exploring the dungeons contained beyond these gates and interacting with NPCs around the city. Meeting new faces, carrying out quests, and reading interactions is surprisingly engaging if you're the kind of gamer who appreciates a multi-layered plot with a charming cast.
Unfortunately, this story has been done many times before. Basically, mysterious portals are opening up throughout the city and they seem to be caused by people's personal turmoil so it's up to our heroes to clear these dungeons and mend their fellow man's hearts in the process. Off the top of my head, very similar stories were told in Persona 5, Akiba's Beat, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions. How many times does this plot need to unfold? Anyway, although the visuals look almost identical to a Trails of Cold Steel game, the audio is something different. For starters, the voice cast is entirely Japanese which adds authenticity to the setting. Each actor portrays their character very well and you can tell who's talking even without looking at the screen. One part that I found funny is when the students are in English class so the voice actors had to say a few lines in English. It was very cute and made me smile. The music is fantastic as well with plenty of mood-setting melodies in the overworld and more aggressive electronic tunes in the underworld.
Moving on to the gameplay, Tokyo Xanadu is basically an action RPG where you traverse massive 3D dungeons while fighting off enemies. Of course, you'll spend much time outside of these dungeons in the city but let's focus on the meat of the gameplay. As you run around and encounter enemies, you can perform melee attacks, special abilities, go into an overdrive mode, and unleash a powerful move whenever its meter is full. All of this is standard stuff but when you consider the fact that you can switch characters on the fly in order to take out foes with whatever element they're weak against; you're looking at a rather unique spin on RPG combat. It's so rewarding to tear through powerful foes simply by using your wits. I found myself completely addicted to mastering dungeons even after playing for hours and hours. It's a sort of basic yet immersive gameplay premise that'll keep you hooked until the very end.
On the other end of the spectrum, setting up your party can be kind of underwhelming. Sure, you can equip the best gear and select some enhancements and abilities but the lack of depth makes it far less satisfying than it could be. That being said, the gameplay is so enjoyable that spending a lot of time setting up your party could possibly hinder the experience.
As I've already mentioned, you can switch characters on the fly in the middle of battle. This creates a sense of comradery among your party members as you watch them take turns beating on foes and spouting one-liners. On top of this, there is a system in place where one reserve character is tied to the character that you're controlling. This allows you to take advantage of their attributes as you fight which creates an even more rewarding team dynamic. I can't think of any other action JRPG where I felt a sense of kinship with my party in the heat of battle as strongly as I did in Tokyo Xanadu. It really makes combating foes quite the rush.
Finally, my last complaint is that the world presented in Tokyo Xanadu is somewhat confined. You'll find yourself warping around the city in order to watch bonding events with friends, complete quests, and move the story along. Then, you run through the dungeons which are fairly linear as the most complexity is in the form of branching paths. This makes the sense of exploration rather limited.
Complaints aside, Tokyo Xanadu is nothing short of engaging action RPG goodness that'll have you coming back for more. Ultimately, the lovely cast of characters and immediately gratifying combat combine seamlessly to make it a must-have JRPG.
- + Endearing characters and great audio
- + Awesome action RPG gameplay that will keep you hooked until the end
- + Combat has a rewarding team dynamic
- - Story is mostly "been there, done that"
- - Party customization lacks depth
- - The world is rather confined