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Nowadays, a decent number of retro gamers out there know that Faxanadu is a Xanadu game made for the Famicom. Back in the 1980s, when the game first came out in the West, it was simply a fun time. Xanadu has been a long-running action RPG in Japan, appearing on a number of platforms over the years, but for many outside of that region, Faxanadu was their first exposure to the series. When it came out a lot of people really enjoyed it, and it became a very popular game on the NES.

The game follows the story of an elf returning to his home in a giant World Tree. However, things are a mess. For the longest time it was inhabited by elves and dwarves, and the two races got along wonderfully. Unfortunately, a meteorite crashed nearby the tree one day, and a being called The Evil One emerged. This creature quickly set to poisoning the tree’s water supply as well as transforming the dwarves into hideous monsters and having them go out and attack the elves. With that, players visit the king of the elves who sets them on a quest to cleanse the waters, retrieve a legendary sword, and eventually slay The Evil One. It’s a very straightforward plot but the series often put a lot more attention on action rather than storytelling.

Combat was typical of 2D action games during this time with the player equipping various sharp, pointy weapons, as well as some armor and a shield, then getting down to stabbing and slashing hordes of enemies. There were also some magic spells, but mana is fairly limited, so one needs to be conservative when using these. From there, players go about exploring the World Tree, searching for quest items to help the elves, defeating bosses wrecking havoc in an area, and gathering important keys that are needed to gain access to higher level regions.

On a basic level, this is the sort of stuff that was common in a lot of action RPGs at the time, but that didn’t stop Faxanadu from being a lot of fun. Controlling one’s character was simple enough, although jumping could take a bit of getting used to. Meanwhile, there were a decent variety of enemies to fight, and bosses were plenty challenging. The game also had a decent amount of exploration as players looked for important items, albeit this was somewhat gated by the various keys. About the only thing that could get a bit tedious was that the game had a tendency to be grindy. Upon reaching a new town, players would inevitably discover a bunch of new shops with new weapons, armor, and spells. They usually cost a fair chunk of change, and required players to park themselves just outside of town and kill the same monsters over and over again in order to collect the gold needed to purchase all these things. This sort of thing was par for the course in a lot of RPGs from this period, but coming back to a mechanic like this now won’t be much fun for people.

Another way that the game was a product of its time was that it lacked a save feature. Instead, players would visit an NPC who would chant a mantra where a password would appear in the conversation bubble. From there one would need to very carefully write down what they saw on the television screen. Making a mistake here could lead to having a password that didn't work and losing one's progress. This was very common at the time as save features were still relatively rare at the time.

Visually, the game looked decent. Monster designs were varied and looked appropriately hideous. There were also a number of different portraits of townsfolk that would appear when talking to them, and these have a very memorable art style to them. That being said, the environments themselves aren’t much to look at. Cities, dungeons, and various areas of the world tree all get the job done in terms of portraying what they’re supposed to, but there isn’t a huge amount of detail. Offsetting this is the vibrant color palette used throughout the game. This really helped everything pop off the screen and grab the eye.

One particularly notable facet of Faxanadu was its soundtrack. It has a ton of really good music that will definitely get stuck in players heads. Interestingly, the music was handled by Jun Chikuma, who is best known for composing most of the music in the Bomberman series. Faxanadu is one of the rare times she created music outside of that series.

People looking for a quality action RPG on the NES should seriously consider taking Faxanadu for a spin. It looks and sounds very good, the action is fun, especially the boss fights, and it has a decent amount of exploration. It may also provide a nice introduction to the Xanadu series as a whole, which in itself could turn into quite the rabbit whole to wander down.

- IroIro
December 26, 2019

More RPGs that We've Discussed:

- Phantasy Star II Review (Mega Drive)

- Emerald Dragon Review (Super Famicom)
Platform: NES
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1989

Faxanadu Image 1
NES Box Art

Faxanadu Image 2
Mini Boss Fight

Faxanadu Image 3
Exploring the World Tree

Faxanadu Image 4
Wandering one of the towns