You’d be forgiven for never hearing of the Xanadu series before, so it may surprise you to learn there are a plethora of titles bearing its name. You’d also be forgiven for missing them altogether as the majority were released in the 80s and 90s on obscure Japanese gaming computers. Granted, there was a release in 2005 named Xanadu Next, but this effort hardly penetrated the mainstream given it was release on the obsolete Nokia N-Gage.
More recently, Falcom have enjoyed enough RPG success with other properties that they’ve dusted off Xanadu and given it another shot in the modern era. Tokyo Xanadu eX+ doesn’t quite revive the series with a home run, but there is enough promise here to suggest the name may not lay dormant for so long again.
Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is an enhanced PS4 version of a PS Vita release, adding some additional gameplay features and an extra chapter. It follows Kou Tokisaka, a workaholic high school kid whose snarky attitude and emo hairstyle aren’t enough to stop him diving head-first into anyone else’s problem at the drop of a hat. A chance encounter with mysterious female lead Asuka Hiiragi introduces him to the dangerous alternate dimension known as the Eclipse. Evil creatures called Greeds prowl the Eclipse, fuelled by negative human emotions and often breaking through into reality when someone suffers great emotional turmoil.
The Eclipse can only be perceived by ‘wielders’ such as our heroes, who have awoken to powers and can summon bespoke weapons with the ability to take down the Greeds. The plot is set against the backdrop of Tokyo suffering a devastating earthquake ten years ago, which took thousands of lives and had a profound direct effect on each individual cast member.
Fans of Falcom’s Trails of Cold Steel series will immediately feel at home. The graphical style is almost identical, from its interface to the environment and character models (there’s even a character called Towa, identical to the Cold Steel fan favourite). For the uninitiated, this means a passable visual performance that does the job without coming anywhere near the boundaries of the PS4. Meanwhile, unlike Cold Steel’s turn-based battle system, Tokyo Xanadu eX+ draws inspiration from Falcom’s other popular RPG name, the action-based Ys series.
Anyone who’s played a Persona game will also find many similarities. Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is set on the outskirts of a fictionalised version of Japan’s capital, and includes regular slice of life events where Kou can bond with party members. He even has three Persona-esque social stats which are bettered throughout the passing days and months, clocked on the in-game calendar. Virtue is improved by completing optional quests, whereas courage boosts are earned by clearing Eclipse dungeons with high ranks. Wisdom increases with things such as correct dialogue choices and reading books. Unlike Persona, these stats don’t particularly affect general gameplay and rank boosts from each stat only bestow items, courtesy of Kou’s hard-to-please grandad.
The concept of high schoolers using special powers in a secret dimension is hardly new territory for JRPG players, but Tokyo Xanadu eX+ tries to keep us guessing with a few mysteries such as the identity of a secretive individual called the White Shroud, who has a propensity for standing on rooftops at night muttering things that sound important. The plot twists slowly unravel through Tokyo Xanadu’s chapter-based narrative, and whilst some admittedly took me by surprise, without disclosing spoilers these revelations were a bit of a mixed bag in their execution.
Chapters are broken up by side stories, usually taking place from another party member’s point of view. These excursions slow down a story that already has a tendency to spin its wheels, but despite the initial frustration of halting the main narrative I ended up enjoying these. It was good to see events from different perspectives, and it’s a nice touch for Tokyo Xanadu to explore the relationships other characters have with each other, rather than everything always revolving around the protagonist.
I also loved the little feature of Tokyo Xanadu eX+ replaying the excellent anime opening in-between chapters. Each time you watch it again, you’re aware of new characters and appreciate the scenes flashing before your eyes all the more, some of which you’ve just experienced in gameplay.
Each chapter also grants Kou himself some free time to see the sights, hang out with his friends and enjoy a bunch of solid mini games like skateboarding or fun card battles. As an agency worker outsourced wherever a need arises, Kou’s part-time work takes him all around Moriyama, with a different job in every chapter that ensures no area of the map is neglected. This helps locations gradually open up, no doubt inspired by real Tokyo landmarks without sharing their exact names. Kou can wander around a lush green park, explore the shopping street or ascend to the viewing deck of Acros Tower.
Using Kou’s limited number of affinity shards each free day allows bonding events that can boost relationship ranks and reward the player with some additional power in battle. These combat benefits are a neat bonus but with only a handful of shards the tougher and more important side to the choice is which of the characters’ bonding events you would like to view.
The result of juggling these activities is a city setting that has quite a lot to do but still feels a little empty. When compared to Persona 5, or even Tokyo Mirage Sessions with their relentless silhouettes of faceless passers-by, Tokyo Xanadu eX+’s depiction of one of the busiest cities in the world is too bare, though the sporadic Japanese-only voice acting does help with the immersion. The NPCs dotted around typically have quite a lot to say, and feel no guilt about sending Kou around town on mostly dull optional fetch quests, some of which lead him to backtrack a previously-cleared dungeon.
It’s Kou and Asuka who get consistent growth, with a dynamic that pits Asuka as the all-knowing guru of the Eclipse against Kou’s newbie instincts. Asuka’s tendency to push others away and carry everything on her shoulders is contrasted with Kou’s eagerness to assist with her dangerous missions as an enforcer of underground Eclipse-group Nemesis. As a protagonist Kou isn’t anything to particularly write home about, with Asuka scooping many of the best moments, but his droll sarcasm and growing ability to deliver a motivational speech are endearing nonetheless.
The other main characters are a pleasant bunch, but sometimes get short-changed by Tokyo Xanadu’s format. Each chapter generally revolves around a new party member, who gets a chance to shine with a hefty slice of screen time and development within the chapter arc. Once their chapter is completed, however, they are largely pushed into the background and can feel a little neglected. Other than side stories and bonding events, key plot scenes entail most characters chipping in with a predictable line relating to their defining personality trait that soon starts to border on self-parody.
In terms of gameplay, escapades into the Eclipse are great fun but lack some imagination. The textures may change a tad, but each dungeon is remarkably similar to the last. They involve navigation through a maze of winding corridors, battling enemies and occasionally solving a simplistic puzzle. Once the labyrinth is conquered, a wide, circular area invariably beckons for the boss to appear from thin air. This repetitiveness extends to the enemies and bosses themselves, whose designs are lazily recycled continuously throughout the adventure. I also found it a little disappointing that despite numerous human antagonists, the boss battles typically involve tackling big, faceless Greeds. Outside of a small handful, the decisive fights lack any emotional stakes and instead feel there for the sake of it.
There are so many gates into the Eclipse, but the monotonous dungeon design is largely let off the hook by the fact that the action gameplay is always pretty enjoyable. The real-time combat features a selection of different attack options for the single character controlled at one time, which can be switched around with the press of a button. At close range, there’s a choice between weaker quick attacks and slower, more powerful heavy attacks. Laser-like long range moves can be fired from afar, and bursting through the air offers a stylish opportunity to land a flurry of hits. As the plot moves forward, more powerful moves are unlocked, as well as the ability to call an idle party member from the sidelines to temporarily join in with your attacks.
As much fun as this is, the balance is a little off. I found ranged attacks were often the best and safest option. These can’t be completely spammed, but the power gauge doesn’t take long to regenerate and a cautious approach is rewarded the best. Some enemies do have ‘shot guard’ barriers and can only be beaten with close range moves, but these are few and far between. As a seasoned Cold Steel and Ys player I opted for hard mode and rarely encountered a problem. In fact, the only time I died was when I pressed the PS button and failed to realise this didn’t pause the game. The powerful moves are only really necessary in boss battles, and Tokyo Xanadu eX+ kindly allows your third party member to sit in support position, which gradually heals them whilst still keeping them ready and able to enter the fray.
Party members have unique weapons initially linked to a set element. Locking onto an enemy reveals which element hits their weakness, encouraging you to substitute the character who has the right weapon to exploit it and deal more damage. A quick briefing at the start of any dungeon shows the Greeds within and their weaknesses. At this point, players can tailor their party to the enemies and ensure the vulnerabilities can be hit as often as possible.
Another mechanic borrowed from the Legend of Heroes is that weapons have a set of slots that can be loaded with orbments, conferring stat boosts or additional abilities. By scavenging materials, further slots can be unlocked to allow for more orbs to be equipped, providing handy benefits like boosting movement speed, buffing health and increasing the effect of healing items.
Like elemental affinities, the playstyle and movement speed of the characters varies. One may tackle Greeds with great agility and fast attack rates, whilst others specialise in ranged attacks or sluggishly wielding a large, powerful sword. Tokyo Xanadu eX+ plays a little slower than an Ys title, and I think slightly cranking up the overall speed of the combat may have similarly cranked up the entertainment a notch. For this reason, I found the naturally quicker characters far more fun to control than the ones that favoured raw strength.
Stages finish with a rank, determined by things such as completion time, damage taken, combos accumulated and number of enemies defeated with the appropriate elemental attacks. The highest ranks are achievable but aren’t a pushover, especially as dungeons get longer and harder. The combo mechanic is simplistic enough, but honestly left me in a state of near-constant anxiety. A combo of at least 200 or more is needed for the best ranking boost, and the only determining factor in keeping it going is the time between striking an enemy or a crate. As soon as you have finished off the Greeds in the area, it’s a furious rush to try and find the closest thing to hit next before the combo timer expires. Reaching the 200-mark always meant a huge sigh of relief, but didn’t stop me obsessively trying to last out the combo for the whole dungeon.
For all the déjà vu of the Eclipse ventures, they break up the story nicely and it’s good to know a dungeon is always just around the corner. There’s a decent balance between the action, character development and plot events, but the latter commonly tips too heavily towards overlong exposition that’s often predictable and unnecessary.
To sum up Tokyo Xanadu eX+ in a nutshell, it’s an offspring of Cold Steel and Ys, with a heavily involved Persona uncle. Falcom references are littered everywhere around Moriyama, from comics and costumes in its shops, to cool arcade games revolving around the lead characters from other titles. It’s great fun to see how many Easter eggs you can spot.
The neat battle system, likeable cast and sound plot have enough strengths to carry the 40-odd hour adventure to its dramatic conclusion. The combat, characters and world-building have all been bettered by other Falcom titles, with the slice of life aspects falling well short of the depth within the Persona series. Tokyo Xanadu eX+ doesn’t do anything to an exceptional level, but rarely falls below a solid JRPG standard. I wouldn’t encourage you to move mountains to play it, you could also do a lot worse. Much like Kou and his umpteen part time jobs, Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is a jack of all trades but a master of none.
Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is available here.