Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: June 30, 2017
ESRB: T for Teen
Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game
Falcom has gradually been winning over the hearts and minds of Japanese role-playing game fans overseas these past several years. With the Ys series, they have hit a sweet spot with action-RPG fans due to the purity of their fast-paced and fun combat design (their sweet soundtracks helped too).
On the other end there are The Legend of Heroes titles where, despite having quite the troubled localization history, they have enticed fans with their incredibly meticulous world-building and character development with such releases as the fashionably late Trails in the Sky: The Third earlier this year.
Now arrives a rather loose spiritual successor to one of Falcom's oldest dungeon crawler series, Xanadu, under the newest entry called Tokyo Xanadu. With a far more modern setting and gaming influences does Falcom continue to hit their stride or does Tokyo Xanadu just feel out of touch at what they do best?
Right out of the gate Tokyo Xanadu feels dense with anime tropes and a modern Tokyo flair.
So you'll see no shortage of anime cliches like idols, a super hacker, a bancho-esque delinquent, and plenty of high school life. This can totally be fine if well-written enough, or they subvert such tropes in clever ways, as titles like Persona 3 and 4 have certainly proven. And, well, Tokyo Xanadu kind of does that and... kind of does not; it's weird. It also wears the influence of recent Persona games on its sleeve too, which is all the more strange after having played Persona 5 released just this year.
The basic premise is something along the lines that the lead character, Kou, stumbles upon a rather odd scene returning home after working late at his part-time job. Just before he attempts to play the hero in order to stop thugs from harassing a female classmate of his, a dangerous portal to another world randomly opens up and sucks everyone into it. Turns out, "Eclipse" portals are a common occurrence outside of the public eye that an underground organization, known as "Nemesis" (that his female classmate, Hiragi, happens to be a part of too) has to deal with to protect normal people from otherworldly monsters. So, after the Eclipse phenomenon impedes upon Kou's personal life a few too many times, he decides to help Hiragi with dealing with the eclipse to protect his friends and family. Oh, and Kou can manifest a magical weapon in the other realm too, because anime.
As a game, Tokyo Xanadu is a hodgepodge of a lot of ideas, but most of all it is a dungeon-crawler action-RPG with social elements.
It's like a mix of both Falcom's recent Ys and The Legend of Heroes releases but in a lite sort of way. It doesn't exactly satisfy when it comes to either their strengths, but it does evoke the feeling of both.
Throughout the story, as well as optionally, players will come across different Eclipse dungeons. In these moments one will gain control of three different party members to play as and can switch between them on the fly in an action-RPG fashion. Tokyo Xanadu attempts to justify this through the use of strengths/weaknesses affinities, very much like recent Ys, but the normal difficulty is not skewed in a way that makes it feel all that necessary. I only really tried to exploit enemy weaknesses to get higher completion ratings and what I believe to be increased drop rates on items, but the practicality of it rarely surfaces for anything other than a player-imposed sense of changing it up. Which, well, the game doesn't do all that well to justify. The dungeon and enemy design are not particularly varied outside of bosses, but combat is entertaining enough despite not quite getting as frantic as Ys does.
The rest of the experience feels more closely linked to like Trails of Cold Steel, which, by further extension, were influenced by Persona 3 & 4. So plenty of optional friendship events to uncover both in and out of school, sidequests and side activities to undertake from skateboarding to arcade games, and main character traits to increase based on specific actions (though, the stats feel pretty superfluous in this title beyond fairly minor bonuses). These tried and true systems work fine, and in pure presentation improves upon Trails of Cold Steel a noticeable amount, but the underlying story and cast of characters it's centered around makes these systems come off more like fluff as neither are all that compelling.
As stated before, the anime influence is incredibly strong in Tokyo Xanadu (outside of obvious character art). And not exactly in a good way.
It feels very much like a weekly show with the opening song to start it off, and a new companion by the end to conclude most chapter arcs. Plus, it is pretty aggressive with anime tropes like going pro hacker to a "bancho" like figure so shortly after. While none of the characters are particularly obnoxious (except maybe the "pro hacker" guy.), they are also not all that interesting either and barely subvert the apparent anime character trope they are based on, if at all. This stands out even more because there are fairly long stretches of storytelling where you will do little more than move to different parts of town to trigger new cutscenes.
It's weird because Tokyo Xanadu is quite well made from a production standpoint. They clearly made it with the Vita hardware in mind and it plays and runs smooth both in and out of combat for the most part. The soundtrack is fairly catchy, and it is respectable how much (and how well) Japanese-only voice acting is prevalent throughout. Little details like how it is presented fairly stylishly as well are cool too (not Persona 5 stylish, but no other game really is). Facets like the NiAR phone interface make it easy to keep track of storytelling to sidequests to in-game UI and conveys a lot of information quite well. Despite all of this, however, Tokyo Xanadu feels somewhat hollow and it hugely boils down to its storytelling and cast it revolves around.
The strangest part of Tokyo Xanadu is that it is a fairly well-made game but rarely excels at any one thing (except maybe music). Its storytelling straddles the line of inoffensive and also dense with anime tropes. Combat is entertaining but is not varied or challenging enough because of the dungeons and enemies themselves.
I find myself thinking that I would sooner recommend the likes Falcom's other properties that one can also play on the Vita instead. Like, if one wanted a fun action-RPG I would suggest Ys Seven on PSP. If one wanted to see very intricate world-building, smart writing, and good character development I would suggest Trails in the Sky on PSP or Trails of Cold Steel on Vita.
Tokyo Xanadu is a solid title but it feels like a half step in both gameplay and storytelling when Falcom has clearly proven better when they are focused on either one.
+ Has several cool gameplay ideas, if shamelessly similar to Persona, that mixes school sim and dungeon crawling
+ Catchy soundtrack
+ Slick presentation and gameplay interface
- Neither the storytelling or characters are compelling enough for how much of a focus is placed upon them
- A few too many anime tropes with the inherent setting can get annoying (idols, super hackers, and banchos-- oh my)
- Dungeon design gets repetitive
Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)
Tokyo Xanadu is Falcom's attempt of blending two of their best franchises (Ys and The Legend of Heroes), but rather than feeling like a perfect combination of both it comes off as a half-hearted attempt at their individual strengths
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.