The Godswood it ain’t.
By: Brian Gunn
Xanadu Next is the latest PC port of a niche game from XSEED. Originally released in English only on the ill-fated N-Gage, one of Falcom’s most well-regarded titles is finally available in English via Steam after nearly 12 years. Was it worth the wait, or should it have been forgotten like the platform it made its western debut on?
Originally developed for PC, Xanadu Next generally controls well. It is sort of odd though, as it is occupying a realm between pure action and RPGs. For instance, you can’t wildly spam your attack button; you have to be near an enemy to queue up an attack, as the game automatically soft locks onto the nearest one.
That takes some getting used to, especially as random tufts of grass and flowers can sometimes be targeted. Furthermore, the game’s interface hasn’t been fully translated well to gamepads when it comes to inventory management and shopping. These are done during relative downtimes usually, but it’s still kind of a chore for anyone that doesn’t play with a mouse nearby.
Visually, Xanadu Next is fairly dated, especially on the character model front. Everything is blocky and comprised of hard angles, which, to be fair, was often the style when it came out.
XSEED has at least cleaned up images in the port by providing custom resolution support and a few other tweaks. Still, there’s something to be said for the creative ways developers hid their limitations. A sense of mystery, isolation and dread still permeates the atmosphere.
Things fare far better on the sound front when it comes to standing the test of time. Like most Falcom games, Xanadu Next comes with a great soundtrack full of epic boss themes and hard rock that will get you pumped for the fight.
There’s no voice acting, which is kind of distracting in the game’s cinematics, but it’s understandable for the era. Sound effects offer satisfying feedback, particularly when you score a critical hit.
Your nameless protagonist has been traveling with his young friend, a fellow orphan named Char. Soon enough you land in Harlech, a small village surrounded by many ruins and a mystery about a castle in the middle of the lake that can only briefly be seen. After a bit of exploring, your intrepid hero is nearly brutally murdered by a mysterious stranger.
With a temporary cure in place, it’s time to set out to find the disappearing castle, as it is said to house the Dragon Slayer Sword, which will restore you to normal health. After this setup, the story mostly takes a backseat, aside from the occasional strange person making vague remarks that take a while to pay off.
Harlech Village acts a hub where you’ll frequently unlock shortcuts to return to. You’ll need to stop back there to resupply, get new weapons and spend your ability points. It’s also the only reliable place to save, and so it quickly becomes a literal safe haven.
The game’s rhythm of setting off from the town, exploring, unlocking a shortcut to the hub, spending whatever resources you found and then heading back out to a boss fight ended up reminding me a lot of the Dark Souls series.
Combat itself is pretty fierce, and you’ll often run into enemies out of your level range. While the game offers some magical abilities, on your first playthrough you’re likely going to want to go the way of the warrior.
There’s a limited used system for magic, which only replenishes when you save or level up, both of which are not always going to be in reach. Further compounding matters is that you’re only able to equip four abilities at a time, which can feel like the game is railroading you.
If there’s one glaring flaw, it’s that Xanadu Next flat out expects you to grind out a level or some gold every once in a while. Your attacks will do almost no damage while absorbing a ton if your stats aren’t at the right point. Even just an extra point or two in your strength attribute will make a huge difference. A few too many box puzzles also appear over the course of the story.
Those grindy moments shouldn’t deter you, though. When Xanadu Next is at its peaks, whether it’s the incredible boss fights, or the ludicrous amount of secrets to uncover, it managed to scratch an itch only a few games a year do for me.
Xanadu Next is a masterclass in general game design. Sure, the visual are dated and the controls take some getting used to, but they’re well worth looking past to get to meat of the game.