The past several years have been kind to Falcom fans. We’ve seen localizations of multiple games in the Ys and The Legend of Heroes franchises, as well as less recent titles like Xanadu Next and Zwei II. Which is good; for all of the extremely niche Japanese titles that make their way west, the fact that a lot of these nearly slipped through the cracks is criminal. Well, before you had the chance to close the book on everything 2017 had to offer, Aksys manages to sneak one more into the release calendar. And while it doesn’t stand out from the pack quite enough to win any awards, it’s still an enjoyable time in its own right and a great way to cap off the year.
Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is an enhanced release of the vanilla Tokyo Xanadu that launched earlier this year for the PlayStation Vita that includes all of the DLC of the original, plus some added side stories that weren’t present in the original. Now, if the name Xanadu sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a part of the same franchise as Faxanadu that was released on the NES, which itself is spun from the Dragon Slayer series that The Legend of Heroes splintered off from. Confused yet?
However, Tokyo Xanadu opts for a more modern approach as compared to its more fantasy styled brethren. It takes place in a fictional region of Tokyo (which is based on a real area) and centers around Kou, an indifferent teenager that works long hours at a new part time job everyday, much to the dismay of his family and friends. Though he has a good reason; a catastrophic earthquake occurred a decade prior that devastated Tokyo and left him with some very serious trauma. One night, after the conclusion of a late shift, Kou happens upon his classmate, Asuka, being harassed by some local thugs. But before he can step in, Asuka and her assailants are whisked away into an alternate dimension and Kou along with them.
Much like the Persona games before it, Tokyo Xanadu‘s alternate world ties directly into human emotion; opening a portal unleashing mysterious creatures called Greed that abduct those in the vicinity of these gateways. The thing is, average folks can’t see these pathways or the Greed that come from them, so these instances are written off as mere missing person cases. However, some people (such as, you guessed it, the game’s protagonist) are sensitive to this alternate reality and can materialize weapons out of the air to fight off the Greed.
It’s an interesting premise, and certainly a great platform in which to debut a new series of games that link up with one another. Unfortunately for Tokyo Xanadu though, it tries a bit too hard to mimic Persona with its narrative. Nearly every character on the roster can be directly tied to the cast of the most recent Persona games to the extent that if you’ve played those titles before, you’ll feel as if you’ve seen what there is to see with these characters before even getting to know them. Falcom’s Trails titles aren’t innocent of utilizing common anime tropes, but they’re not executed nearly as well here.
This isn’t to say the story is bad. Far from it, in fact. However, it is held back by being very predictable and slower paced, particularly in the beginning. And I did find an alarming number of grammar issues and typos for a game that already existed in another form for six months (and this is even after a day one patch set to address some of these). The cast did grow on me after a time though and some of the late game plot twists were legitimately surprising and made the build up worth it.
The side stories that were added do a good job of fleshing out some of the characters that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten as much screentime and building upon relationships. Even without playing the Vita version I can see the value in this. That said, adding dungeons to them that cannot be skipped feels like a way to pad the experience further when I just want to get on with the story (and yes, I do know it ties into the post-game After Story, but very loosely). This added content is something of a double edged sword as it were, so if you are looking for more of an abridged version of the plot, you’re better off with the Vita release.
Folks jumping into this after playing the excellent Trails of Cold Steel will feel instantly familiar with the presentation considering Tokyo Xanadu was developed in the same engine. The bad news is, this also means that it’s not particularly impressive looking in comparison to other titles on the PS4. It looks very much like a Vita game running on the PS4, though it at least runs really well and there are hardly any load times. There is no English dub this time around though, which is unfortunate since the Trails cast was so good. But then again, it does take place in Tokyo, so it’s at least consistent. The soundtrack is pretty great too.
Gameplay-wise, there’s more in common here with Ys than there is Trails, though some aspects of the latter’s customization are present. Each character is outfitted with a master core that determines the elemental affinity of their attacks, which can be changed as the situation calls for it. But in addition, they connect up with slots that house performance enhancing gems and the more you spend materials unlocking and upgrading them, the more you can tailor a character to your needs. It’s not nearly as in-depth as Trails, but then, this particular sub-genre doesn’t really require it to be that deep either.
Rather than being turn-based, players are in direct control of their characters, hacking and slashing the Greed in real time. All characters have distinct move sets, but they all have the ability to do basic melee, ranged attacks and jump abilities. There’s even an assortment of gauges that fill up that allow special maneuvers, chainable finishing moves, and calling in teammates for a limited period of tag-team action. In addition, up to three party members can be alternated on the fly in order to take advantage of any elemental vulnerabilities. It’s not handled quite as smooth as the Ys games (I’d take Lacrimosa of Dana over this any day), but pretty decent and I had a lot of fun with it.
Tokyo Xanadu eX+ made the wise choice of supplying multiple difficulties to match pretty much any skill level, some of which were added for the PS4 release. The ones on the easier end are incredibly simple to the extent that you can ignore many of the customization mechanics and still perform alright. On the opposite end of the scale, there are modes so punishing that they give Ys a run for their money, making for a nice spread for potential players.
Despite all of the dungeons operating rather similarly, I didn’t experience design fatigue with it at all. You pick your party, navigate your way through the corridors tackling a puzzle or two along the way, and then face a boss. Many of these dungeons (or eclipses as they’re called) are hidden away and contain rare items and must be found with the use of an in-game radar. This is in addition to the myriad number of sidequests that has Kou doing everything from tracking down items for people, answering trivia questions and dressing up as a mascot. These side activities contribute to raising raising Kou’s wisdom, courage, and virtue, which while useful for gaining rewards from his grandfather, is also necessary in acquiring the true ending. And if that isn’t enough, as I alluded to earlier, an After Story unlocks that adds even more content and hints at a possible followup.
When you’re not questing in the eclipse, the game’s social elements come into play. You’re given a limited number of Bonding Fragments per chapter and opting to spend time with a character will expend one of those fragments. You can usually get one or two more by doing other side activities, but generally there is not enough to bond with every comrade each time. But the time doing these is well spent, as each of the character arcs is legitimately interesting and has a satisfying conclusion in the final chapters.
Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is not going to redefine the way you think of action RPG’s nor show you much that you haven’t seen before. But there are enough good ideas here that I believe can form the basis for a new series for Falcom and I would like to see more of it. I just hope that next time they come up with something a little less derivative.
Short Attention Span Summary
Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is an enhanced port of a Vita title that released earlier this year that supplies new side stories, more post-game content, and much better performance overall. It plays like a sort of love child of Ys and Persona with a few touches of the Trails games here and there. But these nods to other titles act as a detriment, as the game is neither as mechanically sound as Ys nor is it as well written as Persona. Heck, I felt like I was playing with a reskinned Persona cast on more than one occasion (just lacking a mascot character!) But even judged on its own merits, it’s still a very fun game and one I would recommend checking out, especially for Falcom fans.