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Dragon Slayer Series

I: Dragon Slayer

II: Xanadu

III: Romancia

V: Sorcerian

VI: Legend of Heroes

VII: Lord Monarch

VIII: Legend of Xanadu

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Xanadu Series

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Legend of Xanadu 2

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by Kurt Kalata - November 5, 2006

Xanadu (ザナドゥ) - X1, PC-8801, PC-8001mkIISR, FM-7, MSX, MSX2, PC-9801, Saturn, Windows, Mobile (1985)

X1 Disk Version Cover

Guide Book Cover

MSX Cover

Scenario II Cover

Scenario II Guide Book Cover

Revival Xanadu 2 Cover

Xanadu is one of the most important Japanese RPGs developed. According to Falcom's website, it sold more than 400,000 copies and is one of the most successful PC games in the country. It's the second title in Falcom's Dragon Slayer line, which aren't technically related, but the early titles shared much the same staff, and you can find small similarities in graphics and music between them.

Xanadu was the summer capital of Kublai Khan, ruler of the Mongol Empire. Its name has become synonymous with "wealth paradise". Many unfortunate people have surmised that these games had something to do with the much maligned '80s Olivia Newton John movie by the same name - as one might guess, this is not the case. It's a pretty standard RPG, with the basic goal being to crawl through dungeons, defeat enemies, find hidden crowns, uncover the lost Dragon Slayer sword, and kill the dragon Galsis.

The game is a side-scrolling, dungeon crawling RPG. You begin in a town with no money and no strength. It's filled with people, though they're only there for flavor, and you can't interact with any of them. A quick visit to the king will allow you to name your character and net you some cash, which you can use to train the hero in several different fields. Then you delve into the caverns below the castle.

Just getting into the dungeon is an abstract, nonsensical puzzle - unless you figure out, you'll wander around in a circle forever. (Fall straight down, head left until the hole you fell from scrolls off the screen, then head right. A shop will appear out of nowhere, in where case you can head back left and down the ladder to the first cave.)

The look of the game should be familiar to fans of the NES game Legacy of the Wizard, which is actually the fourth game in the Dragon Slayer series. Each dungeon is several screens tall and several screens wide, though it loops horizontally. The goal is to not only find the exit, but gain enough strength and find enough equipment that will allow you to defeat the boss, before moving onto the next dungeon. There are ten dungeons in total. The game auto saves at certain points, but you can also save your game at any time at the cost of some gold. Navigation is incredibly confusing, considering there's almost no real logic to the placement of platforms. You can climb up and down ladders, but can only "jump" a single square. This being an old computer game, the characters move a single tile at a time, so the movement feels very choppy.

The landscape is naturally littered with enemies. Colliding with one will bring up a separate overhead battle sequence screen where you engage in combat against multiple bad guys. Similar to its predecessor Dragon Slayer you can attack them simply by nudging up against them. If you're facing them and you're powerful, you'll inflict a bit of damage, but if you're attacked from any other side or are too weak, then you'll take damage instead. You also have magic spells which allow you to attack from a distance. It is possible to run away from enemies by walking off the side of the screen.

Leveling up your character is a very important aspect of the game. Melee and magic experience is distributed separately, so you need to attack with both methods if you want a well rounded character, or just stick to one if you want a concentration. To level up, it's necessary to go to a temple after reaching the required amount of XP. There's a catch here though - they won't let you in if your Karma stat is too high. Every enemy in the game is classified as either "good" or "bad", even though they all will attack you. If you kill too many "good" enemies, your Karma will raise, and you'll be turned away at the Temples. In order to lower your Karma, you need to drink posionous black potions, which deplete a good chunk of your HP. These potions cannot be purchased and must be found during exploration. None of this really makes any logical sense.

Beyond experience points, killing enemies will also grant gold, which you can use to buy equipment from any of the shops strewn throughout the caves. You also need to replenish your constantly dwindling food supply, lest you want to starve to death. Some areas are locked off and require keys to proceed.

Your weapons also level up independently, so you need to continue to reuse them before they gain in power. As a result, you might feel a little weaker when you get new equipment before you fully break them in. The number of enemies is limited in each dungeon, so it's important to carefully manage your resources and experience distribution.

There are also numerous castles and towers underground, and upon entering the perspective changes to an overhead perspective like the battle scenes. They are dark at first, but can be lighted with lamps from chests dropped by defeated enemies. Further items that help during the quest include spectacles to read an enemy's status, invincibility rings, healing potions and a mantle that allows to pass through walls for a short time. At the end of some mazes, a giant boss creature guards the main treasure. Only these bosses are fought in the side-view perspective, which makes it very difficult to reach them because of their long moving tentacles. However, the size of these sprites was considered extremely impressive at the time. Xanadu is one of those games that's clearly very advanced for the mid-1980s, as it's a huge game with lots to see and kill. But the mechanics are so ancient and the graphics so repetitive that it just amounts to seemingly endless stumbling and grinding, so much that it's really difficult to actually play.

The original releases of Xanadu were for the Sharp X1, Fujitsu FM-7 and NEC PC-88 home computers. The X1 version was released on tape as well as disk, though the load times for the tape version are insane. The game was ported to both the MSX (on cartridge) and MSX2 (on disk). The graphics are lower resolution, but a little more colorful. Curiously, the MSX version actually looks a bit better than the MSX2 version. The MSX versions also have an entirely different soundtrack that was written by Mieko Ishikawa which utilizes PSG synth, rather than the FM music of the PC-88 game.

The Japanese home computers also received a second release titled Xanadu Scenario II: Resurrection of the Dragon. It's technically an expansion set, since it requires that you have the original Xanadu disks in order to create your character, and it uses many of the same basic graphics. But it adds a significant amount of new features that it almost feels like a sequel. Beyond including new and different enemies, the game is now non-linear, and you can explore any of the eleven dungeons in any order. However, some are more difficult than most, so it's generally to your advantage to stick to the lower level dungeons at first. The dungeons are 8 screens wide by 8 screens tall, compared to the 16 wide by 4 tall layouts of the original game. You can also sell back items, and each shop buys and sells different items at different prices.

The soundtrack is also greatly expanded, with each dungeon having its own song. Most of the music in the original game consisted of a single song, "La Valse Pour Xanadu", with a basic melody that was played at different tempos depending on the scene. The soundtrack in Scenario II is completely new, with many more tracks. The music was composed by Takahito Abe and Yuzo Koshiro. This was actually the first work by Koshiro. He did not write tracks specifically for Xanadu, but rather he submitted a demo of his music to Falcom, who ended up purchasing the rights and using it in the game.

In 1995, Falcom released Revival Xanadu for the PC-98. The graphics are improved, but only slightly, with the visuals improving from 8 colors of the PC-88 version to up 16 colors. The shopkeeper portraits and character sprites are more detailed, but the backgrounds are still the spartan blues and greys as before, and the scrolling is still pretty choppy. Compared to the other version, melee combat is pretty much impossible, basically requiring you to play a wizard. However, a rebalanced "Easy Mode" version was later released that tempers the difficuly. It was also followed up by a Revival Xanadu 2Remix, which is analagous to Xanadu Scenario II. The Revival Xanadu games are not exact ports of the original games though, as they both have new soundtracks (supplied by Abe and Koshiro again) as well as different dungeon layouts and enemies.

The first Revival Xanadu was ported to Windows 95 by Unbalance, who also developed versions of Romancia and Asteka II for the platform. Visually it's similar to the PC-98 version, but is stuck using WAV recordings of the music rather than native FM synthesis, and it's extremely glitchy, with a number of small inaccuracies from the original versions. It doesn't play nice with modern operating systems either. As a result, the digital distibution platform EGG just features emulations of the PC-98 versions. A mobile port was based on this version.

Xanadu is also one of the three games on the Falcom Classics disc for the Saturn, released in 1996. The graphics are much better, but still pretty subpar, and the music arrangements are terrible, considering the capabilities of the system. Although the scrolling is smoother than the PC versions, the ridiculously awkward jumping is still present. There is a "Saturn" mode that streamlines some of the processes a bit and makes it a little less irritating (it eliminates the puzzle to get into the dungeons, for example, and makes it easier to create the character), but it's not nearly enough to make it playable for modern audiences, even back in the mid-90s.

Amusingly, a lot of the shopkeeper graphics in the original releases were traced from the manual for Ultima III, which caused an especially awkward moment when Falcom demoed the game to Origin in search of American publishers. (The complete comparisons can be seen in our Tracing the Influence feature. Subsequent ports changed them completely. Ultimately the game never found a publisher outside of Japan, though for non-Japanese speakers it doesn't really matter, since most of the text in the game is in English anyway. )

Quick Info:

Developer:

Falcom

Publisher:

Falcom

Designer:

Yoshio Kiya 木屋善夫

Genre:

Action RPG

Themes:

Big Maze Levels
Fantasy: Sword & Sorcery


Xanadu (PC-88)

Xanadu (PC-88)

Xanadu (PC-88)

Xanadu (PC-98)

Xanadu (PC-98)

Xanadu (MSX)

Xanadu (MSX)

Xanadu (Mobile)


Comparison Screenshots


Saturn Screenshots


Faxanadu (ファザナドゥ) - NES, Wii (1987)

Japanese Cover

American Cover

The success of Xanadu on PC platforms was too big to ignore, so plans came together to create a version for the Famicom. The job went to Hudson, who would later work together with Falcom on Ys. Rather than porting it, they tossed out almost everything from Xanadu and created an entirely different game, named Faxanadu. The title comes from a portmanteau of "Famicom" and "Xanadu".

The player takes control of a wandering Elven adventurer who returns to his hometown of Eolis to find it in a miserable state. The local Dwarven population has been turned into monsters and began attacking the World Tree, cutting off their water source. As the only able-bodied warrior, you're chosen by the king to enter the tree, defeat the evil forces that corrupted it, and save the village.

While it's not close enough to deem it a rip-off, Faxanadu is very clearly inspired by Zelda II. It's a side scrolling action-RPG where the player must explore towns, kill enemies for gold and experience, and find equipment to clear barriers. However, there is no overhead map or random battles, making for a more consistent experience.

At the beginning of the game, controlling the hero is a little awkward, considering it takes up a couple of steps to ramp up to full speed, and jumping doesn't quite feel right. Plus, the weapons at the early stages of the game are very short and tough to use. But these are things that you can get used to, and you eventually get better weapons as the game goes on.

In addition to melee weapons, you also get magic spells, most of which are forward firing projectiles. For some reason, you can't duck, so magic is the only way to kill certain enemies that lie close to the ground, otherwise you need to jump over them. Similarly, magic is also required to beat the bosses. Unfortunately, your MP is in limited supply, and there's no way to replenish it without recharging at the towns. It's always a bummer to beat a dungeon and have to crawl your way back to the entrance with no magic.

In one of the only nods to the original Xanadu, you gain experience when fighting, but only gain levels if you visit a church. This will increase your rank, though the only thing this actually changes is how much gold you receive after dying or restarting a game already in progress. There is no battery save, but there is a password system.

Compared to a lot of action-RPGs from the era, Faxanadu is remarkably straightforward. While the levels occasionally require a bit of exploration, you're rarely at lack of direction, and the townspeople actually give relevant clues on how to proceed. There are some minor translation snafus, but it's still remarkably less confusing than something like Castlevania II or Falcom's own Legacy of the Wizard.

The graphics aren't exactly attractive, considering the overtly brown color palette, but there are very few games that take place almost entirely inside of a gigantic tree. Most of the levels are set by its roots, jumping up and around its branches, or delving into rooms built into its skin. The character's sprite also changes depending on their equipment, which was a novelty in this era of RPGs. The music's chirpy in spots, but some of the main themes are catchy.

There are also some rather rather goofy looking shopkeeper portraits. It was published before all Nintendo's censorship policies were finalized, so many townspeople are seen smoking. However, the religious iconography has been removed or changed. The password-giving members of the churches are clearly supposed to be priests, even though they're called "Gurus". The Japanese version also lets you name the main character, whereas he's nameless in the English versions.

In North America, Faxanadu was clearly marketed as a follow-up to the Zelda lineage, with the cover artwork even features a shield design meant to invoke the original Zelda. It's not quite up to the level of quality of Nintendo's games, but as far as action-RPGs on the NES go, it's not too shabby, and it's aged one hell of a lot better than the PC Xanadu.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Hudson

Publisher:

Hudson (Japan)
Nintendo (West)

Genre:

Action RPG

Themes:

Fantasy: Sword & Sorcery


Faxanadu (NES)

Faxanadu (NES)

Faxanadu (NES)

Faxanadu (NES)

Faxanadu (NES)


View all "Faxanadu" items on eBay


Xanadu Series

<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Xanadu
Faxanadu

Page 2:
Legend of Xanadu
Legend of Xanadu 2

Page 3:
Xanadu Next
Anime

Back to the Index


Dragon Slayer Series

I: Dragon Slayer

II: Xanadu

III: Romancia

V: Sorcerian

VI: Legend of Heroes

VII: Lord Monarch

VIII: Legend of Xanadu

Back to the Index