While the Xanadu series hasn't been localized in the West, we did at least get the Famicom adaptation of it via Faxanadu. Outside of that -- and along with most of Falcom's back catalog -- there hasn't been much activity...until recently, that is! It seems like there's been a Xanadu reawakening, thanks to efforts of companies like XSEED Games, which work tirelessly to bring these fun titles to the West. Xanadu Next is the perfect primer for those interested in the next title, Tokyo Xanadu, next year courtesy of Aksys Games.
This entry into the series is a straightforward plot about a wandering former knight, who travels to a town to be the bodyguard for an archaeologist researching for the lost land of Xanadu. Upon getting there, your character more or less does the exploration of the ruins, sending their findings to the young archaeologist, Char. However, the deeper in you go, you'll find yourself facing off against an ancient evil. So yeah, pretty simple setup, but it's the perfect excuse for the dungeon-crawling, action-RPG gameplay.
Xanadu Next's gameplay is a blend of several different styles. While the original was a mix of 2D top-down view that played like YS, there were side-scrolling levels that played more like YS III. This game actually ditches that mode entirely and plays more closely to the original, albeit in 3D and more similar in structure to YS VI (i.e.: A Link to the Past with the puzzle elements and Vagrant Story's actual gameplay). You move about with the keyboard and mouse, or a gamepad, and have a melee attack along with a skill/magic attack button. These skills each have their own charges attached to them, so there's a lot of wiggle room to get out of hairy situations.
There's a bit of Diablo-like mechanics with how skills are set up, but the game only has room for four skill slots, including passive skills, so swapping in the middle of a fight can be difficult. This also applies to your items and accessories, which can be a pain. A lot of situations will require you to suddenly swap out an accessory to clear an obstacle. It wouldn't be too much of a problem if some of the accessories became innate skills, but it works for the most part. Also taking cues from Diablo are the allocation of skill point to meet equipment requirements, and a passive bonus mechanic with the Guardian Spirits.
Combat in Xanadu Next is pretty fun, even if there are issues with being able to do melee attacks only when the reticle is highlighted. This is a problem, since the game will sometimes auto-target the next available target, like a blade of grass. The environments are destructible, and getting caught in a situation where you'll keep mowing grass instead of slashing an enemy can crop up. Despite these issues, it's still a solid game, especially in the boss fights, which can be pretty intense. It's not as hard as YS games go, but there is definitely a challenge there.
The game definitely looks dated, even considering Falcom's budget in 2005. However, if you can look past the visuals, lack of voice acting, a strong narrative, or slightly older mechanics that lack some design foresight, Xanadu Next is a solid recommendation for dungeon crawling and action RPG fans, especially of Falcom games. If you played the awful port of the game on the N-Gage, forget about that version and play this to wash the bad taste of it out of your mouth. You won't regret it!
The Good: The game is a weird amalgamation of Zelda, YS, and Vagrant Story, but it works well.
The Bad: You can't attack an enemy unless the reticle is active, which can be a problem.
The Ugly: The fact that the puzzle solving accessories constantly need to be swapped since they aren't innate additions to your arsenal.
SUMMARY: Xanadu Next is a great entry into small developer Falcom's portfolio and an overall great dungeon crawler that holds up years later.
Promotional consideration provided by Cody Martin and XSEED Games