Same game, different… story?
Quickly! Name a classic game! What was it? Super Mario Bros.? The Legend of Zelda? Pac-Man? Well whatever it was, chances are when you attempted to answer that question you immediately jumped decades back. That’s all well and good because none of those answers would be wrong in the slightest, but it’s 2016 now – “classic” doesn’t necessarily have to mean something from the NES or Atari eras (or perhaps even further back!). There are plenty of “modern classics” that, while they may never truly replace the pioneers of the video game industry, deserve some love and attention too! I get it though, it’s harder to come up with games that match that description because they’re kind of in the middle of old and new. Fortunately, this review just so happens to be about one of those games (what a coincidence!) – I present to you, Xanadu Next!
Before we dive into the gameplay Xanadu Next, let’s first take a look at its history because it’s actually pretty interesting. Xanadu Next was inspired by a game released all the way back in 1985 called Xanadu which, in turn, was part of the Dragon Slayer series. Neither Dragon Slayer or Xanadu ended up making their way outside of Japan but, much like with the Final Fantasy series, the games had little to do with one another. Considering the fact that Xanadu Next came out in 2005, this was most definitely a good thing because it meant that players wouldn’t have to link things together from 20 years ago make sense of this game’s stories – yep, stories. This is where things start to get a little weird.
Xanadu Next was released in June 2005 on N-Gage (remember that relic?) worldwide, and October 2005 on Windows PC in Japan. Despite supposedly being the same game, they were developed by two different companies and contained few differences from one another. The N-Gage version featured a multiplayer mode, a system that granted players bonus EXP for playing longer, and slightly different battle mechanics from those in the PC version. The biggest difference, however, was in the story. The N-Gage version of Xanadu Next placed players in control of a mercenary hired by the town of Marion Berck, tasked with finding a girl named Momo who went missing after an attack on the village by King-Dragon.
The PC version of Xanadu Next, and the version being reviewed, follows the story of a dishonored knight hired by a scholar named Charlotte to investigate the ruins of Harlech Islands for her. While his initial investigations prove to be quite successful, he is soon struck down by a mysterious soldier named Dvorak. Normally his wounds would have proven fatal however, thanks to a quick intervention by the town’s Priestess, his life was saved. By fusing his soul with one of the local Guardian spirits, the ex-knight would yet live to fight again. This came with a heavy price, however; because of the unique way through which he was being kept alive, the ex-knight would never be allowed to leave the island. This tie to the island of Harlech could only be broken by finding the Dragon Slayer – a sword capable of making the desires of its chosen wielder into reality (and also a title drop).
Phew! That was some history lesson, huh? Hopefully it was enjoyable for you. If it wasn’t then you may be happy to hear that, despite all of this hubbub over changing the game’s story, Xanadu Next‘s storytelling elements are actually very light. Most of the focus is on good old-fashioned gameplay. Xanadu Next features gameplay that combines elements of games such as The Legend of Zelda and Secret of Mana. Gameplay is largely focused on exploration and combat with quite a few standard RPG elements mixed in. As players progress through areas and fight hordes of monsters they will acquire gold and experience which, of course, allows players to purchase items and level up – though leveling up works a little differently within Xanadu Next. Upon leveling up, players do not immediately experience a boost in their stats (with the exception of HP). Rather, players must return back to the game’s one and only town – which serves as a hub world of sorts – and visit the Priestess who will then allow players to freely allocate their bonus points into one of five stats. Because of this there’s a nice amount of depth in terms of character customization, but there is a bit of bad news for those who like min-maxing characters (such as myself). Armor is a relatively important thing in this game (which I’m sure isn’t surprising), and equipping armor requires the player to meet stat checks. While it would make sense to have different sets of armor based on different styles of play in this game, that doesn’t seem to be. I assumed that this was the game’s way of making sure that you didn’t end up becoming too unbalanced, but I still found the lack of freedom in terms of equipment to be rather frustrating. As a spellcaster I didn’t want to waste points by putting them into my physical strength, and I really wish that the game didn’t try to force me to. If you’re curious, I didn’t end up bending – I played through the game with the basic armor. I got killed pretty easily, but MAN did my magic pack a punch!
Levels and equipment aside, Xanadu Next provides further opportunity for character customization by allowing the player to freely change their Guardian spirit. Guardians allow players to augment a wide variety of parameters that include anything from basic HP and MP increases to passive bonuses that improve skill mastery rate and enemy drops. Much like the player, Guardians gain EXP which allows them to level up and strengthen their given ability. Guardians are also not merely presented to the player – they need to be found. Throughout their journey, players will find cards depicting Each of Harlech’s spirits scattered across the land. A lot of the guardians are out of the way, but they’re generally well worth the hunt. Really the only problem that I had with the Guardian mechanic was deciding which one to take with me!
In contrast to the surprisingly in-depth RPG mechanics, actual gameplay is fairly straightforward. Have you played one of the N64 Legend of Zelda games? Most of you said yes, right? Good! It controls a lot like that. There are, of course, some differences. Combat itself is slightly more hack-and-slash and, with additions such as hotkeys for skills and items, ends up feeling less like Zelda entirely and more like a combination between Zelda and Diablo. Battles are usually quick, plentiful, fierce, and quite bountiful if you come out victorious. Xanadu Next also has its share of bosses though, and does quite well with them if I do say so myself. Each boss encounter highly unique and does a great job of feeling unlike anything else that you may have previously encountered. Switching back to a more Zelda feel, bosses are generally not as hack-and-slash as normal enemies. Many have weak spots and weaknesses to certain types of attacks, which can make things easier or harder depending on how you’ve been leveling up. Some bosses also have segmented HP, meaning that certain parts of them must be dealt with before you can hurt their “core” and finish them off for good.
Xanadu Next also has some puzzles strewn about but almost all of them revolve around pushing and climbing atop wooden crates. They’re a bit uninspired when compared to the rest of the game, but generally require a bit of thought when it comes to some of the later puzzles. A lot of the puzzles are optional, meaning that if you either don’t like a puzzle or don’t understand it then there’s a decent chance that you may not have to spend time messing around with it. I would recommend trying to complete any puzzle that you come across, though; you’ll generally be rewarded with rare equipment or new Guardians.
Xanadu Next is 11 years old. This game is not an update of the original, but a port of the once Japan-exclusive PC version of Xanadu Next. With that in mind, I really can’t bash the graphics too much. Now I’m fully-aware of the fact that there were games in 2005 that looked better than this one, but you need to keep in mind that this was originally on the N-Gage – not the PC. For a game on a short-lived handheld system, I would say that these are some pretty nice-looking graphics. Characters and locations are all unique from one another and, despite any shortcomings, there is a very noticeable amount of graphical detail overall. If you’re purchasing this for next-gen graphics, you’ll be disappointed. Then again, I highly doubt that anyone will be doing that. I mean that would be kind of weird in the first place, right?
The best word that I would use to describe the Xanadu Next soundtrack is “solid”. It’s definitely a little dated due to the time of its original release, but it was enjoyable and did its best to mix things up from area to area. Aside from that there isn’t a ton to say about it apart from the fact that it apparently has some remixes of songs featured in the Dragon Slayer games, but I wouldn’t know anything about that anyway.
So, there you have it. Xanadu Next may be a little dated in today’s terms, but that didn’t stop it from being an enjoyable experience for me in the slightest. Despite already having over 10 years on its track record, Xanadu Next still managed to provide a very engaging and entertaining experience that never once let me down.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: XSEED Games, Marvelous USA, Inc. ; Developer: Nihon Falcom ; Players: 1; Released: November 3, 2016 ; MSRP: $19.99
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a PC review copy of Xanadu Next provided by XSEED Games