Xanadu Next is an action RPG made by Falcom and released in 2005 for the PC and N-Gage. The player plays the part of silent knight looking to find the Dragonslayer sword in order to reclaim his soul and find the secrets of the ancient kingdom of Xanadu.
My overall thoughts on the story are a bit split. Not due to the quality of it, but the presentation. At the start, after getting a sword to the face and damaging your soul, the plot stops being told via proper cutscenes.
Instead, you find tablets and manuscripts out of chronological order which you then give to your sidekick Chara for translation. It works well with the exploration to try and piece together the history of Xanadu as you go along.
But I'll admit that I didn't care for these texts one bit. I think that was mostly me being hasty and wanting to get back to exploring, but you do at least get healing lunches out of the ordeal.
It provides you a way to puzzle out the main plot before it becomes relevant, which is always nice. And even with my cursory knowledge of Xanadu, I still managed to understand the last part of the story when it returns to cutscenes.
The whole thing is pretty nice. It's basically the plot of any Ys game, plus a bit of extra texture here and there.
The construction of the world is to be commended. I am contractually obligated to compare it to Dark Souls. The game consists of a semi-open world barring two areas. I don't think it makes complete sense spacially, but it's really fun to explore it. I'm pretty sure you're always presented with at least two places to explore at a time, which is welcome.
After making enough progress in an area, you'll probably unlock a shortcut back to the village where you began. It's paced rather well and the design doesn't break once you get access to teleporting.
They space out teleporters, let you make beelines through areas and the final dungeon is so big and compact that it only needs one teleporter, plus half a dozen shortcuts.
It all comes together to a compact world that is pretty easy to navigate, even if you forsake teleporting.
I really like what the game does to make the most out of itself. Once you set out from the village, the challenge is to get as much done as possible in a single rest.
Healing is limited for a long while, since potions are rare to find and gold is best spent elsewhere. Your spells and skills are limited as well, though you do get a fair amount of uses.
Then it's just a matter of mapping out the current area, finding treasure, fighting monsters and solving puzzles. You're not free to explore as you please though.
As is common in these sorts of games, there is a limiting mechanic to force you back to base. But instead a durability system, the game uses skeleton keys. They work in a similar fashion to small keys in Zelda, except you need to buy or make them. Early on, this is a bit of a money sink, but at that point, you can't get far without dying anyway, so it isn't as bad. As you get stronger and richer, you can get away with longer runs. There's also a half-interesting way of keeping the escalating prices of keys down by selling the the item merchant monster bones so he can make more.
I understand that they wanted to force people back to avoid them making too much progress without saving. And with a free teleport back to the village and the excellent world design, it isn't bothersome.
The game let's you return to the village if you die by losing some gold and assorted consumables. It really feels like Demon's Souls' (please tell me I spelled that correctly) bloodstain mechanic could just be slotted in here without issue. You can also respawn on the spot by using a rare elixir.
We can't have a game with some Zelda DNA in it without some puzzles, can we?
I can't say I enjoyed the puzzles presented that much. They are almost exclusively box pushing puzzles. A tad innovative, since you can attack boxes to make them into stepping stones, which makes them immovable. The game also expects you to do some tricky diagonal jumps that feel like I'm breaking some sort of unnamed video game rule.
But since I'm an idiot who can't think a few puzzle steps ahead, I had to resort to Gamefaqs guidance a few times, YMMV.
The dungeon items aren't that interesting. They're mostly there to remove obstacles in a boring fashion or reward backtracking with some shinies. It's good that the game rewards you for keeping an eye out for secrets to use dungeon items on though.
But since the game is more focused on combat and the item limit is rather generous, I'll give 'em a pass. Still, some fun puzzles for every item would've been nice.
Once I got into the combat system, I realised that it reminded me greatly of King's Field(plugplugplug), except not as bad. The atmosphere isn't far off either.
The fundamentals remain the same. You spot an enemy, run to their back, attack, back off and spam magic if you need it. It's tad monotous outside of boss fights, but I find it really satisfying.
The speed of things is the big factor here. There's no stamina system, so the only limit to attacking is your greed and SP for skills and magic. There's a really good rhythm to the whole thing and using spacing to dodge and select targets works well.
I didn't use skills much, but the magic was a blast. Quite literally, as it's very powerful. I love it when magic systems aren't garbage. Do you hear that, King's Field 4!?
It isn't always useful due to elemental resistance, but you are allowed to spam certain spells at incredible speeds. And AoE spells are really good for escaping when you're surrounded by enemies.
The fact that you can swap out spells at any time means that you'll always have some spells to stun enemies at a distance, even if they don't deal much damage.
Xanadu Next uses systems similar to Ys, except with a few extras. Leveling is a rare event, and once you get one, you earn a few stat points to distribute. (It's like the Dark Souls of dungeon crawlers!)
These stats are then used to buff yourself up a tad and make it possible to wear better equipment. Just like in Ys, there aren't that many things to equip, but every new thing is usually a decent upgrade.
By using a weapon, your skill with it increases. This makes it stronger and let's you learn its skill for use with other weapons. Everyone one of these is unique, so you're rewarded for leveling every weapon. It isn't as bad as it sounds, since the first area is loaded with grass that also increases weapon skill.
It's a fun little system, especially since you can get some passive support abilities to pair up with active ones and magic as you please. Combined with the Guardians, the game succeeds pretty well at providing options.
Guardians are spirits you find across your journey. Each gives an unique stat boost and can be leveled via killing enemies or the rare ancient statue. They make for some ok choices, but as often happens, there are a few that are much more useful than others. What would you use, an EXP booster or some status effect protection?
All right, let's end with a list of some small things that got to me.