2005 saw the release of some very genre defining action RPGs such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, and Suikoden IV. Each of these titles in their own right were just a few of the giants of the video game world that fans were literally inhaling every second of gameplay that they could get in. In that same year, the 20th anniversary of the game considered to be the grandfather of all action RPGs quietly hit store shelves in Japan. Xanadu Next was the spiritual follow-up to the late ‘80s cult classic, Faxanadu, which was also considered to be a late entry in the immensely popular Dragon Slayer series. For the first time ever, Nihon Falcom has released on PC in NA, an adventure crafted in the way that only the acclaimed creators of the Ys and The Legend of Heroes RPG franchises could.
Harlech Village is where your adventure will begin.
Set on the mysterious Harlech Island, you take on the role of Brave Sir Knight (you get to name him yourself), when you are gravely injured while on an errand for your friend. As fate would have it, she finds you in time to save your life, but only just barely as your condition is so grave that there is only one way to ensure your continued longevity. That is, of course, to embark on a quest to uncover the mystery of the phantom castle, “Castle Strangerock,” and find the sword called the “Dragon Slayer.” Questions abound in the beginning so your only recourse is to set out to discover the secret to Castle Strangerock as if your life depends on it…because it does.
The Fire Salamander is fast so you have to learn his attacks and strike when he is vulnerable.
Action RPGs are preferred by fans of the genre because of their smoothness of combat as opposed to the rigid JRPG standard of turn-based combat. In an action RPG, combat takes place in real-time allowing for some fast-paced, in your face interaction between your player character and the many enemies you will meet on your journey. Xanadu Next mixes in the exploration and item crafting elements of The Legend of Zelda series with the weapon crafting and skills leveling of the Diablo series to create an experience that was very well received in the early days of the genre. This style of gameplay is still very well received which is a plus for a game that is eleven years old and will no doubt help to catapult this game into many Steam libraries.
Treasures abound so keep your head on a swivel and you camera trigger finger as well as you never know where something may be hidden and you just can’t see it from a particular angle.
As is true for just about every RPG made, exploration is the key in Xanadu Next so looking into every nook and cranny for hidden treasures while chopping down tufts of grass and wildflowers for errant coins, bones and potions is the payoff for the satiation of your wander lust. This game is about going out into the world, facing the myriad dangers that will block your path and remaining steadfast in your journey. Enemies will come out of nowhere and it will take strategy to best even the weakest of them. Choosing the right weapons and equipping the best items and equipment is paramount because you never know what is lurking around the next bend.
Your character and your weapon will level up as you fight enemies.
You start the game with a simple dagger that you can level to 200% effectiveness while on the way to learning a weapon skill that will carry over to every other weapon that you upgrade to. Enemies are weakest when you attack from the rear or from the side, but they are not gonna just let you do that so you must determine the proper angle of attack to do the most damage; or just grind early for the gold necessary to buy the strongest weapon available and get the word out that you are handing out a$$-whoopins and Phoenix Down and you just handed out your last Phoenix Down. Enemies will attack in groups and will try to distract you with one while another circles around to attack your rear. The action is intense at times so making sure that you have the best equipment possible as well as a store of health potions and magic spells is crucial to your survival out in the wilds of the island.
Don’t just spend your points frivolously; plan out your stats according to the weapons that you want to use.
You have the standard stats that you must keep in mind such as your strength, intelligence, constitution, etc., as this will determine the types and strengths of weapons that you will be able to use. You will earn experience points from defeating enemies which will allow your character to level up. When this happens, you are rewarded with a certain amount of bonus points which you then can use to increase those stats. However, you can’t just go and apply them willy-nilly because you may be cheating yourself out of the ability to use the most powerful weapon that would be available to you at that time. Don’t worry, however, if you go in a direction that you find you need to change later on as the game sports a cool leveling-down feature that will allow you to return to the last level earned while returning half of the bonus points given to get to that earlier level.
The visuals look pretty good but they do show their age.
The graphics in Xanadu Next, to be totally honest, are woefully dated, but that is to be expected for a game that was made in 2005. Character models are blocky with sharp edges while the environments are filled with repeating patterns that make up the various landscapes and dungeons. This is a somewhat dark story so many of the areas that you visit are dark as well. Don’t let this deter you from playing this game if you are a fan of the Ys series or a fan of action RPGs in general. Many of the greatest stories told in video games came from this era so you would be doing yourself a disservice to pass this one up.
This bloke will unleash upon you the beating of your life, but the joke is on him. He didn’t finish the job and that may be his eventual downfall.
One area that I had a hard time getting into was the music for some reason. The tunes that play while you are in town shopping for goods or talking to the townspeople as well as that which plays while you are exploring the areas around the village where you first land on Harlech Island is repetitive and got very boring to me early on. I found myself turning the music down low and just listening to a podcast or a little video game music on Pandora. The dialogue is subtitled so there is no voice acting to miss so doing as I did wont be a hindrance to you getting all of the info you need to play the game. It wasn’t a game breaker for me, but it was pretty close. Thankfully, the game play is very fun and the story isn’t too bad so that was enough to keep me playing.
Having the best visual angle could mean the difference between success or failure.
Another issue that I had was with the camera in the game. Most games in any genre these days takes advantage of the right stick to allow the player to control the camera; not in Xanadu Next. The camera is instead controlled but the LB and RB buttons on the controller and allows you to peruse the landscape one-eighth of a turn at a time. The right stick is not used in any way and I can’t remember the last time I played a game that didn’t use it. Eleven years is a long time as far as video games are concerned but if you can get your head around this (I found that I didn’t mind it too much after a bout the first hour or so) you will be good to go. If you haven’t guessed by now, the game supports controllers. I used my Xbox wired controller to review this game and it worked great.
Your character: “Wait!! Quit playin’! I QUIT! I QUIT!”
Overall, I really enjoyed my time on Harlech Island and I would recommend this game to anyone who is a true fan of the genre. Even so, if you have never played an action RPG, you could do a lot worse than to start with Xanadu Next. The enemies are varied and kept me on my toes at every juncture, the story is engaging even though it is a little rote and predictable, and the leveling system and weapon and items selection system are surprisingly robust. While the music may drive you bat-$#!t crazy after a while, the game is solid for its advanced age. You can grab a copy on Steam now for $19.99 but that is the only way to enjoy it at the moment as it is not available on console…yet.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
The spiritual follow-up to the late ‘80s cult classic Faxanadu.
Challenge - 8.5/10
Gameplay - 8.0/10
Design - 7.0/10
+ Great story and characters
+ Action is fast and engaging
+ Skills leveling is fun and robust
- Music is fairly boring
- Character and environment design shows its age