While I never knew it until first experiencing Ys series 4 years ago, but Falcom (Nihon Falcom Corporation) were essentially responsible for the creation of action RPGs and evolution of jRPGs. Specifically the second game in the Dragon Slayer franchise, Xanadu: Dragon Slayer II, wasn’t just popular, but actually remains one of the best selling titles on older PC systems. Despite that, Xanadu didn’t become it’s own thing in the same way The Legend of Heroes did until this Xanadu Next from 2005. And the easiest way to describe Xanadu Next would be – a mix western aRPG (Diablo) and eastern aRPG (Ys) that, surprisingly, mostly works.
As a result of this mix, we have a mostly top down-ish view, but with camera you can rotate in most locations, you have a realtime menu reminiscent of Diablo, mouse-focused controls, stats you can (and need) to increase during the level ups and gear that has minimum requirements, but at the same time nothing in the main game is randomized, there’s a clear pre-defined progression to the gear you have, skills are learnt by using weapons they are attached to and numbers are incredibly important. You know how in western aRPGs it’s common to not really feel the difference between level 20 and level 23 and only at around 25 you might start noticing the difference? As common for Falcom titles, 2 levels can mean a LOT in terms of your defense and damage output.
Which, of course, also means that Falcom did a grindy again. It’s not bad most of the time, and Falcom really know how to make it more fun to grind if you choose to, but there are several non-optional moments and locations where you might feel quite a bit overwhelmed by a boss or enemies unless you grind a bit to get stats higher and get better gear. Like in Ys, it is possible in many cases to just “be good”, but not always and besides, there is another issue worth mentioning – controls never feel right. You can control the game with both mouse+kb and a gamepad, but both control schemes feel off. It’s incredibly imprecise to run and fight when using mouse, but if using gamepad – all menus require mouse (and feel better with it anyway). I’ve lost count of moments where I was trying to flank the enemy for back attack damage only for my character to not then hit the enemy and run in circles or just hit a patch of grass nearby.
Because these things pile up, and because a lot of (thankfully mostly optional) stuff is genuinely unfun, I can’t say that I had a consistently good time with Xandau Next. I had some fine times. The mood and the story are rather basic, but nicely dark fantasy-sh, something Japanese studios tend to know how to pull off nicely. The music is, as always for Falcom, really good with some memorable tracks. And the whole mix of this Diablo-like gameplay, with all the action adventure elements of Ys just works surprisingly well, adding a lot of depth to the otherwise mindless experience.
But I liked it. It looks pretty ugly, in many ways worse than Ys VI, released 2 years prior. It has a lot of questionable things to it. It controls not particularly great. And it has occasional weird bugs. But I liked it. Wouldn’t recommend it as a first experience with Falcom titles, but if you like their action RPG stuff, do check it out.