General game information
Game name: Xanadu Next
Release date: November 3, 2016
Price: US$ 19.99
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
Xanadu Next is a Japanese action RPG set in a small town which just happens to be near a network of cave systems and ruins of an ancient kingdom. Playing as a member of a knightly order recently disbanded, gamers will have to explore the ruins in a bid to discover a ghostly castle and the holy relic stashed away inside. While the story is never force feed upon the player, it’s well written and engaging, and as the game progresses, more and more bits of information about the forgotten kingdoms of Xanadu can be found in the ruins, letting players learn the backstory of the castle and the kingdom’s downfall in great detail.
At the start of the game, the player character is tasked with exploring a set of ruins that have just been discovered, a simple task that acts as a tutorial of sorts, introducing players to Xanadu Next‘s controls and basic gameplay. Being a title developed from the ground up as a PC game (a rarity, considering that our platform of choice isn’t exactly revered in Japan) the mouse controls work perfectly, and the menus are intuitive, with easy to access hotkeys and customizable bindings. Movement is achieved with the left click of the mouse, just like in the Diablo games, and the same button can be used to attack enemies, with the right click functioning as the skill trigger. Combat is highly positional, and flanking the enemy can be the difference between a short and sweet combat encounter and one in which our character leaves the battlefield in a stretcher. Blocking will also play an important role in all combat encounters, with well timed button presses leaving the enemy open for a powerful counterattack.
Different skills can be learned from scrolls or weapons, and leveling up lets players boost different attributes such as Strength, Intelligence, etc. Upgrading the player’s stats affects different secondary attributes as well (such as attack power or accuracy, for example) and later in the game the playable character gains the ability to carry upgradeable Guardian Cards, bestowing different blessings upon him. Aside from leveling up, gamers may also chose to level down, an interesting mechanic that lets players redistribute their stat points in exchange for an experience level. After choosing this option, the game halves the experience requirement for the next level, in order to avoid forcing the player to grind if they want to regain the status they traded for a respec.
Active skills have their own usage meter, and must be refilled with recovery items or a good night’s rest in town, something that adds a tactical element to the combat, as the massive bosses who stand between the player and their goal are weak to certain elements and highly resistant to others, forcing the player to adapt and shape their arsenal accordingly. Passive skills don’t drain resources, and the ones that can be learned from weapons can actually be acquired permanently if the player takes the time to increase their mastery with those specific weapons (something that can be done through combat, or hitting things such as grass patches, barrels or assorted pottery) Other passive skills boost gold and experience gain, and can be a great help to level up quicker in the later sections of the game, or to grind enough money to keep a healthy supply of potions and keys needed to open closed doors. Speaking about keys, there is an interesting mechanic which raises their price if the player buys too many of them, and in order to bring down the price, gamers must sell the material needed to make keys to the shopkeeper.
Although Xanadu Next looks remarkably similar to Western action RPG heavyweights such as the Diablo series, it’s actually closer to the Zelda franchise in most regards, as it focuses on exploration and light puzzle solving over loot chasing. The game’s dungeons are jam packed with secrets, and visiting all of their rooms usually lets the player open up useful shortcuts, since the whole world is a big, interconnected map (Souls veterans will feel right at home here) Aside from the unlockable shortcuts, gamers may also make use of teleportation devices and items similar to the town portal scroll in Blizzard‘s action RPG series, and there are special tools that will let players access previously hidden paths as the game progresses.
Even though Xanadu Next was originally released more than ten years ago, it doesn’t feel like a relic of the past, and only the dated graphics and the lack of autosaves betray its 2005 origins. Luckily, the punishment for death isn’t too steep, as the player will only lose half the gold they were carrying as they died, and will respawn back at the hub town. Storing unused money in the inn before heading out to the dungeons will ensure that death is never a big set back, and the myriad of shortcuts that can be unlocked lets gamers get back into the action as if nothing happened.
As we said before, Xanadu Next isn’t the most beautiful game ever released, and it looks like a product of its time, with blocky 3D models and somewhat low res textures. Thankfully, its art direction is great (quite similar to the Ys series) and the game’s sound design is magnificent, with a soundtrack that will stay with the player long after they have beaten the campaign.
To conclude, Xanadu Next is an excellent action RPG which will undoubtedly keep players coming back for more for the duration of its 15 hours long adventure. Nihon Falcom has expertly crafted an engaging mix of exploration, puzzle solving and combat that can stand proudly beside other classics in the genre.
9/10 – Great.