Tokyo Xanadu (Vita) review
"The Xanadu legacy lives on, but perhaps not like you'd expect."
Even if youíve never heard of the title, every modern action RPG owes a debt of gratitude to Nihon Falcomís classic, Xanadu. The game presented players with labyrinthine dungeons to explore, complete with an oppressive environment, dangerous puzzles and cunning enemies. Itís fair to say that infamously obtuse games like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest and others were inspired by Falcomís 1985 masterpiece. With Tokyo Xanadu, Falcom attempts to bring the series into the modern day, but does it work?
Tokyo Xanadu opens by explaining that Tokyo was devastated by a large earthquake ten years prior, and the city has only just recovered from the catastrophic event. Kou Tokisaka, the protagonist, is currently working part-time jobs after school. Soon, he discovers a doorway to an alternate dimension called The Eclipse. He meets up with his classmate, Asuka Hiiragi, who has been working to eliminate these doorways. From there, the pair join forces to eliminate doorways to The Eclipse that are appearing throughout the city.
Compared to the political intrigue and interpersonal drama of Falcomís Trails series, Tokyo Xanadu is far more limited in scope. The story is largely derived from the usual anime cliche plot of other worlds that encroach upon our own and the people who fight to put a stop to the process. Itís not going to surprise anyone, but it certainly works. It at least kept my attention throughout my entire time with the game, which sadly is something I can't often say.
Tokyo Xanaduís biggest strength, however, lies in its characters. Just like in Trails of Cold Steel, players are given a number of chances to hang out with their party members throughout the game and learn more about them. Doing so allows players to explore each characterís varied backstories. None of the characters are of Trails quality, but they certainly are a step above the usual JRPG fare. By the end, I really cared about my party and wanted to see them through to the end.
While the main party is interesting enough, Tokyo Xanadu doubles down on Trails of Cold Steelís strategy of giving nearly every NPC a story that evolves throughout the game. Youíll want to talk to every NPC after each major story event, not only to see their take on current events, but also to learn about their dreams, hobbies and relationships. Falcom is pretty much the best at characterizing NPCs, and Iím so glad Tokyo Xanadu continues that fine tradition.
Exploring the city and hanging out with friends only makes up half of Tokyo Xanadu, though. At its heart, the game features plenty of dungeon crawling, just like previous entries did. Unlike those past titles, however, each dungeon is its own separate location that has to be accessed either through story events or by locating them in the city through a tracker.
Unfortunately, Tokyo Xanaduís dungeons are a little lackluster. Theyíre primarily composed of hallways full of monsters and only the occasional puzzle. It wasnít until halfway through the game that I began encountering dungeons that even remotely gave me that Xanadu vibe by introducing basic traps, like pendulums and poison ponds, but it never went far enough. Some people may say it's unfair to criticize a modern video game for not being as hard as a mean PC RPG from the '80s, but I honestly think Tokyo Xanadu would be a better game if the dungeons were more devious.
Thankfully, the game's combat really shines. At its heart, Tokyo Xanadu is a basic action-RPG with three types of attack: melee, ranged and air. To add to the variety, each character has an element thatís weak and strong against the element immediately preceding and succeeding elements on a wheel. While only one character can be on the field at a time, the game allows players to switch between three party members. By using this ability effectively, most players will be able to target and exploit the elemental weaknesses of most enemies.
While the general enemy riff-raff found in dungeons rarely pose a threat, the boss fights are an entirely different story. If youíre familiar with Ys bosses, know that Tokyo Xanadu features large, imposing bosses of a similar nature. Theyíre usually immune to any elemental weakness, so itís up to the player to use not only their attack skills effectively, but also quick movements (like jumping and dodging) to avoid the many AOEs and ranged attacks bosses toss around.
To give players an edge in combat against the bosses, Tokyo Xanadu employs a system similar to the orbments used in the Trails series. Every character has a phone where orbs that bestow certain abilities (like ice-based attacks or a higher defense stat) can be placed into upgradeable slots. Unlike Trails, these slots eventually give each character a buff that goes alongside the slotted orb. Additionally, there are new slots that provide the potential for specific benefits, like increased damage relative to combo meter or health restoration when taken off the front lines and placed into reserve. Itís not as an-depth as the system in Trails, but it does add a little more complexity to keep it from getting boring.
Tokyo Xanadu is an easy sell on the Vita, but a recommendation does come with one major caveat: in November, Aksys will release Tokyo Xanadu eX+ on the PS4. Not only does the game look better and run at a full 60 FPS on that platform, but it also includes more story content and better dungeons. While I encourage you to check out Tokyo Xanadu, especially if you want a great JRPG for your Vita, I wonít fault you if you wait for the better version to arrive later this year. Youíll get a great Falcom JRPG either way, even if it doesnít quite live up to the Xanadu legacy.
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (July 06, 2017)
Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.
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