Xanadu Next’s narrative economy is evidenced across the game’s prologue. Here, players find a trio of characters, making their way across a massive lake shrouded in thick fog. Exposition is mostly handled by a boatman who speaks in colorful dialog, who brings attention to an enigmatic spire, arising from the island the party is approaching. Purportedly visible only when mist blankets the air, the phenomena captures the attention of Charlotte L. Well, a young archeologist with a talent for ancient tongues and an innate sense of curiosity. Remarkably silent is the game’s lead and namable protagonist, a valiant knight and childhood friend of Char. After landing at the island’s port, and introducing himself to the local townfolk, he enters a derelict dungeon.
Battling a few lower-level bats and manipulating the wooden boxes that are strategically placed in each room foreshadows core elements of Xanadu Next’s journey. After discovering a grandiose crown, the knight is confronted by Dvorak, a mysterious armored man who demands the item. With the Knight is unwilling to hand the artifact over, Dvorak dishes out a devastating blow, nearly killing his opponent.
When the adventurer awakens, he finds himself resurrected by the port’s local priestess, who amalgamated his soul with a Guardian Spirit. Unsurprisingly, there’s a significant stipulation to the resuscitation. With the Knight reliant on the Guardian’s power to keep him alive, he cannot leave, since spirits are confined to the island. As such, real recovery can only happen if the brave warrior were to find the Dragon Slayer, a mythical sword able to bestow immortality to its wielder.
While that premise might be enough for some action-role playing experiences, it’s only a portion of what Xanadu Next offers, with the mystery behind Castle Strangerock and at least one other major intrigue awaiting players. And while the game’s storytelling is succinct, it’s surprisingly effective. Developer Nihon Falcom is smart enough not to split storytelling between a superfluous number of NPCs, splitting concise conversational description across a shrewdly constrained cast. One of the advantages of the technique is that Xanadu’s story rarely lingers, allowing the twenty-hour title to feel remarkably brisk.
The game’s other strength is found in its interconnected network of dungeons, with exploration and combat finding a deft balance between accessibility and nuance. Using either a mouse and keyboard or the controller functionality that was patched onto the original PC version, players scour successions of rooms, while a convenient mini-map at the top of the screen extends navigational assistance. Recalling the golden era of games, each area resets upon reentry, respawning enemies, puzzle parts, and those environmental adornments that tend to contain a few gold coins. Notably, there’s an abundance of gating in the game. Mercifully, the local town vendor can help, selling universal keys that open almost all entrances. The only downside is that key prices tend to escalate in price, goading players into finding and selling bones to the merchant, in an effort to bring down the expense.
Initially, combat might draw comparison to Diablo, with the intrepid knight hacking and casting spells at encroaching foes. But there’s a bit more strategy going on than what first appears. Striking at a foe’s stern intensifies your output of damage and can be a vital tactic when handling hordes of opponents. The title extends an arsenal of thirty different type of weapons- each improving with use and having a related skill. Once you achieve a mastery level of 100%, you can even use that technique with other weapons, endowing Xanadu with a great deal of control over how you cultivate your character. One remarkable characteristic is that leveling up doesn’t automatically provide a stat boost, allowing players to devote points in five different attributes.
For players who prefer the a robust, melee-focused character, an assortment of blades, axes, and maces will be essential for battling enemies. But for those favoring a ranged approach, Xanadu Next’s collection of spells can be just as potent. Using either spell books found during exploration or purchasing the tomes back at town, magic certainly has its merits- especially against creatures with an elemental weakness. It should be noted that opponents have their own miraculous abilities, showing at least two irking incantations that demand immediate attention.
Guardians are another essential part of Xanadu’s equation, both empowered the Knight and adding variety to your offensive arsenal. Encouraging players to comb each above and below-ground alcove, gradually you’ll accumulate an assortment of assistive guardians, each bestowing abilities like augmented spell damage or item drop rates. Speaking to the port’s priestess allows you to switch spirits, but since they level up much like your character, there’s a compelling incentive to stick with one that matches your preferred play style.
That said, Xanadu prudently doesn’t extend complete autonomy, putting a few checks so that players can’t nature a defective character. Increasing your main stats also augments your secondary attributes, so by adding points to strength, you’ll automatically amplify your attack power and accuracy. Core stats also dictate that weapon and armor you can equip, and you’ll need definitely require superior gear to tackle the title’s escalating enemies. Another detail is accessories, which can give provide a number of useful passive abilities, and are another detail that will spur persistent pondering about your current loadout. Finally, there’s are tablets, which when uncovered during your journey provides a bit of backstory as Char translates them as well as a HP-rejuvenating meal.
As expected for a Nihon Falcom title, boss battles are one of the highpoints of the adventure, punctuating cycles of exploration and lower enemy encounters. Largely, they’re suitably challenging on Xanadu’s single level of difficulty, tasking players with identifying weak points that must be attacked before large amount of damage can be dished out. Occasionally, there’s the impression that you haven’t sufficiently leveled up your knight, which can induce a bit of grinding- which might be the game’s only prominent transgression.
Sure, they are some that might disparage the game’s visual delivery, given the game’s eleven-year age. But largely, a lack of detail is forgivable, as Xanadu Next does a respectable job at constructing Harlech Island. From areas of the overworld where grassy patches have overtaken cobblestone walkways to the aged tile and water reflections in the underground areas, the graphics are undeniably evocative. More importantly, they scale incredible well, extending fluidity on a midrange i5 laptop with only integrated graphics, extending a widescreen delivery that doesn’t distort the visuals. Musically, Xanadu Next is a little mellower that the usual Falcom effort. While there’s the occasional guitar lick, more common is an upbeat, atmospheric melody to drive the action. On the downside, the game’s localization divulges a number of obvious blunders (even one on the first few lines of text). Hopefully, these will be remedied as they tend to dampen the experience.
Xanadu Next cements Nihon Falcom status as one of the best action/role-playing developers around. From hewing a fulfilling sense of exploration to an elaborate stats system that drives an invigorating combat system, the developers entwine a number of expertly crafted elements into a wholly satisfying experience. If you’re have even a fleeting interest in the genre, a trip to Xanadu Next should be at the top of your interactive itinerary list.
Xanadu Next was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release date: November 3rd, 2016
Price: $19,99 via Steam, currently on sale for $17.99