Xanadu Next

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Xanadu Next was created as an experiment, to be deliberately different from other Falcom games. Even though I found the game to be a tad simplistic, this was still a pleasant surprise, in how well focused and tightly executed it is.

This might be the smoking gun for where FromSoft got the idea for how to design the world in Dark Souls. There is only one town in Xanadu Next, and it contains one of the very few save points in the game. At first, there's just one way to get in and out of town, but all the dungeons loop back into town in surprising ways, so at the end, there are loads of ways to reach each corner of the game quickly. This style of designing dungeons still feels unconventional, because it makes them feel more like how you would design a real place, with multiple entry and exit points that connect them to all the other dungeons in the game. I struggle to think of any game apart from Dark Souls that has designed an entire world like this. It did a lot to make Xanadu Next still feel relevant; because it is not following a generic mold of how you would make a game like this.

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Combat in Xanadu Next is not like anything Falcom has done before. It is a slightly more complex version of Diablo. It's mouse-driven, so you click on enemies to attack, with the twist that it matters how you're positioned, as you do double damage from behind. So the basic tactic is to wait for enemies to start their attack animation, run behind them, and button mash them to death. Enemy variety is decent, as they throw different kinds of animations at you. However, it is no match for Ys. It is well suited to play while you listen to a podcast. Cutscenes and boss fights are signposted clearly, so you have plenty of time to pause whatever you are listening to. If I played it without having something else on at the same time, I got a bit impatient.

The story shows unusual restraint in the number of words used in dialog. In maybe three text boxes, you will get all the character, worldbuilding, and game objectives conveyed in a condensed and efficient manner. It doesn't feel like anything was lost by writing it like this. It is the opposite to Ys Seven, which wasted thousands of words to express nothing in particular in the most wasteful way possible. It probably only has the same amount of dialog as the old 1980s Ys games, but the quality of the story it's trying to tell is so much better it feels like it's playing in a different league. It is nostalgic, without being as bad as an old game. If you were going to reboot the Ys series, this game is a good model of how you should do it. The story loosely follows the same archetypal structure, but it puts so many novel spins on it in the execution that it feels nothing like Ys. It is how you should do mythic fantasy stories today, without having the story feel like an unimaginative retread. Absolutely nothing about it feels clichéd.

I am glad I gave Xanadu Next a shot. Even when it was new, I thought the game looked archaic, both in its visual style and CG intro. But once I started it didn't take long for me to get into the game. The opening dialog and how it flows into the intro, that was enough to suck me in. And as I got further it hit the right notes, with a soundtrack that sometimes gave me Chrono Trigger vibes. As a bonus, the game ends strong. Arcs come to satisfying conclusions, and it was the right length for its mechanics. If you can look at this game without immediately running away screaming, you will probably be able to appreciate it.

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Peter HasselströmComment