In the West, Nihon Falcom’s output is tarnished with the rare blemish. Notably, The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion and Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch– the first two entries in the Gagharv Trilogy were released out of order, with both PSP titles suffered from a slipshod localization, and subsequently suffering from middling sales. But after speaking with Nihon Falcom President Toshihiro Kondo, I learned that the developer has an unblemished track record in Japan. With a legacy spanning thirty-five years and nearly a hundred titles, the studio hasn’t had a single disappoint, with even tepid launches turning into successes and most efforts enjoying popularity for an uncharacteristically prolonged period.
Pleasingly, the Tachikawa City-based studio’s latest game, Tokyo Xanadu upholds that near-spotless track record on this side of the Pacific. The title might not quite be as gratifying as Falcom’s Ys or Trails in the Sky series and bears no significant semblance to the studio’s lapsed Xanadu series. But a skillful blend of high school recreation simulation, social bonding, dungeon exploration, and real-time combat congeals into an experience poised to bring enjoyment to fans of Japanese born-gaming.
Initially, Xanadu’s plot might appear to move too sluggishly. Players first meet the game’s protagonist, Kou Tokisaka, as he’s leaving a late shift at one of his numerous part-time jobs. While eager to head home and receive some rest before the next school day at the Morimiya Academy, he witnesses a classmate named Asuka Hiiragi accosted by a pair of street thugs. With the young women’s safety in jeopardy, the lead follows. Just as the things are about to turn ugly, a crimson-colored crack opens, pulling in the ruffians, Hiiragi and even Tokisaka. Once on the other side of the fissure, Kou witnesses a mysterious labyrinth, as the seemingly susceptible young women summons a giant weapon that annihilates a horde of encroaching enemies.
Like many games, the unusual incident serves as Tokisaka’s entry into a secretive underworld, and without spoiling any part of the plot, he soon learns that he can wield a same power. And even though the storyline indicates that a very limited number of people can see this alterative reality known as an Eclipse, a growing number of the Xanadu cast is also privy to the power. Eventually, the game’s plotline transcends the mystical, weaving in religion and transcontinental meddling as well as a bit of ecological warning into its exposition. And while the story takes it time to get up to speed, the episodic format proves effective, gradually introducing new characters by way of title card. By developing an affable entourage of main characters and secondaries, as well as a succession of crises that emerge with each chapter, Tokyo Xanadu’s slower speed allows for some satisfying development. The only real failing stems from the game’s conclusion, which attempts to wrap things up too quickly, sullying the enjoyment cultivated from the previous fifty+ hours of play.
But even with its problematic ending, I plan on playing through the title again when Tokyo Xanadu eX+ hits PlayStation 4 and PC. Kou Tokisaka is a relatable lead, occasionally regarded as slightly aloof but demonstrating a warm demeanor to those around him. Similarly, Asuka seems reserved, but gradually Xanadu reveals the motivations behind her disposition. Although a story of a rag tag bunch of teens teaming up to fight a metaphysical foe might have been done before, there’s genuine charm to be found in the game’s storytelling and mobile-phone driven dialog.
And if the preceding paragraph made you think of the Persona series, then you’re not far off the mark, at least during Xanadu’s sunlit hours. Exhibition is rooted in a free-time, which like the name implies is far more relaxed than the constantly ticking clock in Atlus’ franchise. Beyond augmenting your character and using affinity shards to build rapport with companions, Tokyo offers a number of recreational pursuits that mirror the myriad of options in actual real-life location. Whether you like shopping, skateboarding, playing mini-games, tackling side missions, or just idle chat with NPCs, the game can indulge your yearning for overworld autonomy. And while the title can’t hold a candle to the verisimilitude of Yakuza 0 or Akiba’s Trip, visiting the game’s onsen, shrine, and memorial park offer respectable reproductions of Japan’s beauty. While the areas are large and reasonably populated, between a fast-travel option and an in-game tool known as NiAR, you probably won’t get probably lost or confused.
While exploring a simulated Tachikawa City is certainly enjoyable, it’s the exploration of Tokyo Xanadu’s Eclipses that are the star of the show. Sure, they’re largely linear and succinct in scope, but they allow players to dig into the game’s enjoyable combat system. When encountering an enemy, players can pepper the for with melee or ranged attacks powered by a renewing meter. With the ability to jump, double-jump, dodge, and launch special attacks, there’s a constant sense of commotion, as you dart around enemies and whittle away their health.
Play on the game’s easy difficulty setting, and you can largely strong-arm your way through most dungeons. But for anyone seeking a challenge, you’ll watch to ratchet up the level of intensity, and take advantage of the game’s elemental attributes. With party members having different styles of combat and a variety of elemental affinities, Xanadu offers a decent amount of flexibility. But more importantly, those who dislike digging into menu systems can change characters with a single button press still gaining an advantage on adversaries. Sure, they won’t maximize the most dungeon-scoring, and might even burn through their HP-replenishing items, but brute-forcing is possible.
Mini and main-bosses help endow the journey through the Eclipses with distinction. Refreshingly, these encounters favor fast reactions and careful evasion over the typical scrutiny of patterns, making these showdowns enjoyable. And while lesser monster types are restrained, here there’s some ingenuity in the look of these hulking menaces, who appear sufficiently threatening. Pleasingly, since there’s only one ally characters on the screen at a time, the framerate usually stays solid, with only the occasional dip in delivery.
Mirroring free-time’s inspiration, Tokyo Xanadu channels Shoji Meguro recurring jazzy style, endowing the game with an upbeat vibe. Sonically, the game forgoes an English dub, which should be a burden of J-game veterans. What in an inconvenience are the localization typo. Although they’re not frequent, they can disrupt immersion when they induce you to reread dialog. On the upside, Xanadu’s outdoor environments are attractive, occasionally pushing Sony’s portable.
Save for a few transgressions, Tokyo Xanadu preserves Falcom’s winning record. Although some might want to wait for the supplements in the eX+ edition, the title is an ideal portable title. With city exploration or dungeon runs capable of being completed during commute times, Nihon Falcom looks to end their run on the Vita with a journey worth taking.
Tokyo Xanadu was played on the PS Vita with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: June 30th, 2017
Price: $39.99, available via retail or eShop