Tokyo Xanadu Review Is Imitation the Best Form of Flattery?
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: June 30th
ESRB Rating: T
Thank You Aksys for Providing A Review Copy of this Game
It’s been a long time coming for the next entry for the Xanadu franchise. It’s been over 10 years since the release of “Xanadu Next” for the N-Gage. Although I will say that this game is nothing like the previous entry. For one, this game ditch’s the design of the previous entries entirely and now feels more that of Trails than anything else. If you take “Trails of Cold Steel,” take out the military background and make it modern day with Sci-fi elements, you’d get Tokyo Xanadu. That’s not a bad thing perse. But it’s not a great thing either. I loved Trails of Cold Steel faults and all but this one feels almost like a carbon copy.
In this game you play as the workaholic high-schooler Kou Tokisaka. You find a girl named Asuka getting cat-called shortly after work and (sort of) go to her to help her out. However, by the time you get there, not only has she beaten them up herself, a gate called “Eclipse” randomly shows up and transports you to another dimension where a ton of monsters lie. In order to defend yourself you gain a Soul Device which gives you a weapon in order to fight back. Also, it turns out that it’s Asuka’s job to find these gates and close them before they get too dangerous or close them immediately if something were to happen. So, to put it simply, unlike Cold Steel and how it uses the school and neighboring town as a backdrop with the main chunk of the game taking place in other places in the country, Tokyo Xanadu condenses it all the way down and focuses mainly on Morimiya Town. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the plot structure itself is immensely similar to Cold Steel.
In both games you start the chapter at school with a few cutscenes. Once those cutscenes are over, you’re given free roam to explore and use said free time to bond with friends, thanks to bonding points. While they’re given out rather meagerly, it helps in battle later, and the feature is fixed in New Game+ to be more fair. When it’s time to continue the story, Cold Steel goes off to a completely new area, while Tokyo Xanadu decides to stay inside its city and barely expands on it, which makes it kind of boring at times. Especially when the plot does begin to thicken a bit, as most parts of the town become unavailable and it makes the small town even smaller. Either way, once all is said and done regarding the current events of the chapter, everything more or less tonally resets by you starting up at school again and going through the process all over again, only with an even worse situation happening in the next chapter.
If there’s a huge positive to using the Trails formula it’s that Falcom has my favorite kind of world building in video games. After every story beat, every NPC will have a new line or two of dialogue. It’s absolutely fantastic. And in the case of concentrating on just the town, there are some cases you see students and their parents hang out or a student is working at their parent’s store or even just kids playing different games all the time. All these little things actually make a big difference.
Speaking of differences between these games; while Trails of Cold Steel is a JRPG, Tokyo Xanadu is an Action Game at heart. When it’s time to go into the Eclipse, you form a three-person team. This team is meant to counter what enemies are in the dungeon. Granted, you don’t know what enemies are in the dungeon at first, though the game does tell you what elements these enemies are and how many of them there, so at the very least you can make a team to counter that as best as you can. If you feel like things aren’t going well, at the entrance as well as at interim points of a dungeon, you’ll be able to switch around your team, upgrade your weapons, and buy items. Keep in mind that you’re graded on your performance in a dungeon before facing a boss. This includes: how fast you finished the dungeon, how many enemies you defeated, how you defeated them (mainly if you defeated multiples at once or defeated them while in the air) how much damage you’ve taken, how much of the treasure you got and so on.
Truth be told, it wasn’t until chapter 5 or so that I could appreciate Tokyo Xanadu’s dungeon design, because by then, it no longer had any problems going all out. By then a dungeon probably only had one or two types of traps or platforming segments as well as being incredibly short. But that chapter and onward, the game decided it was time to take off the training wheels and was constantly throwing something new and devious which was great.
On the other hand, what was not so great was the actual combat of the game itself. It’s fast, but very stiff. Playing on a Playstation TV fixes some of this, but playing on a Vita takes some getting used to. The four face buttons allow you to jump, melee attack, range attack/charge attack, and switch to a character, while pressing right on the d-pad allows you to switch to the other. The main issue rolls around, so when you lock on, the camera locks onto the enemy, not so much the character, so missing ranged attacks will still happen unless you position them. The even bigger issue is that the special attack button and the dodge button are the same button. So there have been plenty of times where I’ve been trying to roll out the way where instead the meter I’ve been saving for the boss was spent on a single enemy instead. It’s completely frustrating.
When not dungeon crawling through the Eclipse, you’re given a few things to do in town. As mentioned earlier, you’re allowed to hang out with some of your teammates, which will allows them (and you) to become stronger. This system increases the soul, so that when a character uses their special attack, another character (should their level be high enough) can jump in and attack with you. This goes even further when you activate Cross Drive where you can achieve crazy bonuses depending on who you’re partnered up with. Outside of hanging out with friends there’s the arcade which is where you can play the minigames that are unapologetic-ally lifted from Cold Steel such as playing as “Demon Prince “Rean,”” in a finishing minigame or the card game Blade (such as Gate of Avalon). In a way it’s a very in-meta joke as there’s just Cold Steel advertising everywhere. You can’t escape it. You can make your own food should you have read the cookbook. The more adept someone is to making that particular item, the better the dish will come out, and this includes bonuses.
As far as graphics and music goes, graphically, the game looks great on Vita. Considering some of the designs and overall art style are just from Cold Steel and it doesn’t feel as original as it should and, truthfully, just makes me want to go back and play more Cold Steel instead. Music wise, Falcom Sound Team JDK keeps doing what they do best and that’s producing great music. Surprisingly enough, the in-game idol group SPiKA (this game takes place in modern day Japan, after all) has about 2 or 3 songs and from what I was able to listen from them, they aren’t all that bad. If there’s something Falcom can’t let me down on, it’s the music.
Tokyo Xanadu is a game I really wanted to enjoy. Not to say that I don’t like it, because I do, but I was expecting a bit more. For what it eventually excels at in dungeon design, it lacks in combat. For what it excels at in world building, it fails in originality and almost feels by the book. I’m not sure what Falcom was trying to accomplish by trying to make Tokyo Xanadu a derivative of their Trails franchise. I’m not happy or even upset that they do, but what they do leave me as, is very confused.