Sunday, November 29, 2009

Legend of Xanadu

Falcom / NEC Home Electronics
Super CD-ROM

A number of years have passed since I first beat this action-RPG. I loved it so much back then that I actually found its brilliant sequel just a bit disappointing when I gave it a try shortly thereafter. The first game is about ten times longer and twenty times more difficult; it's an incredible epic that dwarfs the beautiful-but-brief followup in scope, and trekking through it made for one of the most satisfying game completions I've ever experienced.

But I do need to stress the "long and difficult" aspect. This probably shouldn't be your first Japanese adventure game; it's definitely one of the toughest to be found for the PC Engine. But if you've been through a few Blood Gears, Eferas, and Magicoals already, then you certainly should try your hand at this title. I just finished playing through it for the third time, and there was hardly any consternation this go--partly because it's a very memorable game and a lot of it has stuck with me, partly because I can understand some of the Japanese now, and partly because I experienced plenty of other JPN RPGs in the interims. Nonetheless, it was still quite a challenge--and I loved it just the same.

95% of the adventure is composed of Ys-esque fast-paced overhead-view action that has you knock enemies off by crashing into them. There are so many people to speak with, tasks to complete, puzzles to solve, and dungeons to explore that the whole affair can be quite overwhelming for the PCE RPG neophyte. And some players may be turned off by the need to go back and forth between locations while they try to trigger the next significant event. But if you dig the Ys style of play and you're willing to engage in some trial and error, you should derive plenty of enjoyment from LoX. And while the game is fetch-quest-based material at its core, the interesting missions one must undertake--from holding secret meetings on a slave farm late at night to pursuing diplomatic relations with a tribe of yetis--make one forget about the basic go-there-and-come-back sequencing.

Then there are the sidescrolling hack-and-slash scenes, which feature plenty of parallax and large, well-drawn bosses. You've got to see these sequences in motion to get a sense of just how beautiful they really are. They're full-fledged action stages, not mere side-view boss fights like LoX2 offers. And they can be pretty difficult at times--as if the overhead stuff weren't hard enough!

It all culminates with the most incredible game labyrinth ever created, a massive thirty-two-floor tower. This is a true triumph of dungeon design, a maze containing so many traps, secrets, and puzzles that it can drive players mad. You actually don't need to know any Japanese in order to conquer and enjoy it. You just need to keep your wits about you, pay close attention to your surroundings, and use plenty of brain power.

Yes, this game is killer. Most of the music isn't red book, but it's fantastic nonetheless; and hell, even the cute start-up screen rules.

The only complaint I have concerns something I thought was neat the first few times I played the game. LoX keeps track of its imaginary land's time of day; and naturally, townspeople go to sleep at night. This is cool in concept and allows for some interesting events to take place, but it sucks to be in a position where you need to talk to someone who has just hit the sack, and it's easy to miss things like cave entrances when it's really dark at night. (I should note, however, that there are ways to accelerate the cycle.)

But that's a minor gripe. The game kicks ass, pure and simple. You might want to play LoX2 first, however, as it's much easier to get into and complete. In any event, this one is very cheap, so purchase it and accept its challenge if you enjoy action-RPGs and have some experience with Japanese ones.

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