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Xanadu Next

Platform(s): PC
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Release Date: Nov. 3, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Xanadu Next'

by Brian Dumlao on Jan. 16, 2017 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Spiritual follow-up to the late ‘80s cult classic Faxanadu, Xanadu Next is an exploration-centric action RPG.

Most Japanese RPGs that hit the PC in recent years were upgraded ports of titles that existed on the console or handhelds. Some are hitting around the same time as their console counterparts, but others are done years after the initial release, mostly because of the developer's relatively low experience in developing for a more open platform. Xanadu Next is different in a number of ways. It was originally a PC game from Japan. It came from Nihon Falcom, one of the few Japanese developers that's well versed in making PC games. After flirting with the doomed N-Gage portable, the game has been localized and is now available worldwide via Steam.

You play the role of a user-named knight who's been disgraced by a ruler who saw no value in your group despite your efforts to bring peace to the land. To put you mentally back on track, your fraternal sister Charlotte takes you to the island of Harlech to help in her archaeological studies. Her goal is to explore Castle Strangerock, a structure that appears in the fog and disappears when someone gets close to it. After you explore a cave and find a valuable treasure inside, a rogue knight stabs you and leaves you for dead. To remain among the living, you must seek out the legendary sword in Castle Strangerock and hope it infuses you with life.

What you'll find interesting about the story is its pacing, which seems to avoid going at a steady flow. You start with lengthy cut scenes and a ton of exposition, and that's followed by brief explanations about the various shops and their roles before you finally reach the first cave and fight. Once you die, you get even more exposition before the game lets you do your own thing. You get more lore pieces to learn about the history of the world, but the story doesn't pick up again until the middle, where it's slowly fed to you until the conclusion. It's a little disjointed and uneven compared to how modern RPGs dole out their tale, but it remains an easy-to-follow story.

The game is an action-RPG with an older Japanese flavor. Each dungeon is sprawling but segmented into rooms, so you have a specific area to fight in, though it takes a few seconds to load the room transitions. Attacks are done in real time, but you can't block or dodge, so you must be deft enough to stick and move so you take the least amount of damage from opponents. That's easier said than done, since the rooms are often narrow or crowded with unbreakable objects or enemies. Aside from fighting back with melee attacks, you can use special moves that drain stamina, which is separate from health, or magic, if you acquire the books to learn the spells. You can also equip a card of a Guardian Spirit, which grants buffs like increased magic ability or more health.

Leveling up is interesting since you're going to level up three things at a time. Using your weapon eventually levels it up, and this doesn't just apply to enemy kills; destroying torches and cutting grass also contributes to your weapon's progression. You can level up yourself and your Guardian Spirit by defeating enemies and finding relics in the world. There isn't a verbose skill tree to open up abilities, just a simple point system that's split into six categories. What's different is that your Guardian and weapons have things done automatically, and you can return to town to divvy up your points.

Just like the leveling system, the save system and overall difficulty of the game hearken back to JRPGs of a decade ago. Enemies have no problem swarming you and attacking almost simultaneously, and getting hit by anyone takes a significant chunk of your health, even if it was done by the lowliest of enemies. Saving isn't automatic, and it can only be done at certain totems, which are quite far from one another. Careless play can lead to loads of lost progress. You can continue from the town but with the penalty of half of your money and some of your items; it's quite severe, considering how it isn't easy to obtain any of those in the field.

Overall, Xanadu Next is a pretty linear RPG that can take about 15-20 hours to finish, depending on your skill level. It could be shorter, but there's an overwhelming desire to grind in an area to progress. Part of that comes from the fact that you're going to start off pretty weak until you go up a few levels; slimes can be tough, and you'll barely do any damage to imps unless you put lots of points into strength. The other reason to grind is because the equipment you want can be quite expensive. With gold payouts being so low, you're going to want to farm.

One of the things that players will take umbrage with is the game's constant need for keys. Every dungeon has a number of locked doors blocking your progress, and the doors can only be opened with keys that are immediately disposed once a door is unlocked. You can get lucky and uncover a few keys in the field, but most of the time, you'll buy them from the town's sole vendor. It becomes habitual to buy keys when the chance arises. On top of this, the keys are the only item where the price continues to increase. You can lessen their cost by selling bones to the merchant, but it can be deflating to see that you only get a coin for a fairly rare item.

Aside from a few questionable design decisions, the only noticeable gaffe is in the translation job. The actual translation is quite good, and it transitions nicely between modern speech and Char's more antiquated style. The lore is done well, and the syntax always seems on point. However, there are spots where the correct characters for words are replaced with dots or garbled, and while you'll ultimately understand what's being said, it would've been much better to see these tiny details cleaned up.

Both of the available control schemes aren't ideal. With a keyboard and mouse, the game controls similarly to Diablo and its ilk, as dragging the mouse cursor or clicking on a spot is the only way to move a character. It feels a little awkward, possibly due to the camera angles. The game supports a gamepad, and the viewpoint makes it seem like the title is tailor-made for that control scheme, but you have to keep in mind that this was made before Xinput was a thing. Thus, buttons are referred to by number instead of the more common letter designation, and triggers fail to function at all. You also lose the ability to select items for your quick slots, which makes the experience cumbersome for those who want to play in the living room instead of at a desk. Unless you don't mind playing with both a controller and a mouse, you might be better off using the controller configuration settings in Steam Big Picture mode to fuse mouse controls into the controller of your choice.

For a game released in 2005, the graphics compare to very early PS2 titles that were originally meant to be on the PSOne. You can see the angular nature of some body parts, and there's no hiding the fact that the hands are cubes with lines painted on them to denote fingers. Some of the effects, like fog and fire, look decent but not top-notch, and while the frame rate holds at a high 60fps most of the time, it stutters at random points for no discernable reason. The game can display a good number of characters on-screen without much trouble, so that is certainly a benefit. With the upscaling, anything polygonal looks much sharper, and the colors stand out vividly. Some of the environmental textures can be blurry, and it would've been nice if some work had been done to clean up the polygon seams.

The sound is good but limited. The musical score conveys something epic but does so at a budget rate. It remains solid, but the sense of grandeur seems constrained during boss fights, and the absence of background music in some cut scenes makes the game feel empty at times. The sound effects are good, but they have to be since the game has no voice acting at all. There aren't even sound effects for on-screen text, something that would've been expected from an era when voices in JRPGs weren't as commonplace as they are now.

Xanadu Next is the kind of throwback action-RPG that we don't see much of anymore. It lets the story trickle out slowly while all of the needed mechanics are presented early, leaving the player without a guide much sooner than contemporary JRPGs. It helps that the gameplay is strong, and the difficulty can be appreciated more now that the public seems to dig games that punish the player. It's not a game for everyone, and some won't like the older presentation, but genre fans will appreciate that this title has an official translation and can play on more modern machines.

Score: 7.5/10

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