Xanadu (video game)
MSX cover art
|Composer(s)||Toshiya Takahashi (PC‑8801)
Yuzo Koshiro (Scenario II)
Takahito Abe (Scenario II)
Xanadu (ザナドゥ Zanadu?), also known as Xanadu: Dragon Slayer II, is an action role-playing game developed by Nihon Falcom and released in 1985 for the PC-8801, X1, PC-8001, PC-9801, FM-7 and MSX computers. Enhanced remakes were later released for the Sega Saturn, PC-9801 and Windows platforms. It is the second in the Dragon Slayer series, preceded by Dragon Slayer and followed by Dragon Slayer Jr: Romancia, which, as most games in the Dragon Slayer series, have very little relation with each other.
Xanadu is notable for several reasons, including its sales record for computer games in Japan with over 400,000 copies sold there in 1985. It was also one of the foundations of the RPG genre, particularly the action RPG subgenre, featuring real-time action combat combined with full-fledged character statistics, innovative gameplay systems such as the Karma meter and individual experience for equipped items, and platform game elements combined with the dungeon crawl gameplay of its predecessor. It also had towns to explore and introduced equipment that change the player character's visible appearance, food that is consumed slowly over time and essential for keeping the player character alive, and magic used to attack enemies from a distance. The following year saw the release of Xanadu Scenario II, an early example of an expansion pack.
The game begins with the player directly in control of the protagonist, with little to no introduction. To progress, one must speak with the king, who gives the player the bare essentials and a small amount of cash to train. After selecting which attributes to raise, the player must find his way out of the city and into the vast underground complex. Finding this exit is the first of many cryptic puzzles the player will encounter, though the game is not a puzzle game but a role-playing video game with puzzle game and adventure game elements far ahead of its time.
Xanadu features a unique gameplay system for its time; one which has aged well and continues to be unique in the face of newer ideas. Though it is a very difficult game, it provides many systems that can be used to the protagonist's advantage if used wisely.
- Control: With the arrow keys, the protagonist can move left and right, climb down ladders and jump. The space key is used to cast an equipped spell or enter doors. The return key will use the currently equipped item. Various other commands are accessed by keystrokes, such as "S" for status screens and "E" for the equipment screens. Attacking is similar to, but should NOT be mistaken for, Falcom's own later Ys series; damage is done by walking directly into the enemy, but unlike with Ys, in Xanadu it doesn't matter if you bump in the middle of the target's body or the sides: you are susceptible to trading hits if both you and the opponent dash towards one another.
- Viewpoint: The main view in Xanadu is a side-scrolling platformer view, though it is more in line with Sorcerian than a typical platformer such as Super Mario Bros. When engaging in a battle, or entering a building, the view is changed to a top-down perspective. Each "layer" or stratum has its own complex network of buildings, caves and tunnels, and are often very elaborate, sometimes approaching constructionist art in appearance and complexity. There are ten levels which are progressively more challenging.
- Encounters: While traversing the sprawling underground cities, the player will come in contact with enemies on the screen. When the player and enemy meet on the map, the game switches from its regular sidescrolling view to a top-down perspective. The aforementioned bumping-style combat takes place here. When finished, a short victory tune is played and the player continues back to the side-view screen to explore.
- Karma: Each enemy killed is either good or bad, even though all enemies will attack you. If the player kills too many good enemies, the Karma statistic will rise, at which point the temples will refuse to level up the player. This can be remedied by drinking a black poison bottle; however, these cannot be carried nor bought, and must be found within dungeons, and will halve the protagonist's hit points (not the maximum HP, but the current HP—nothing permanent).
- Temples: As the player gains experience, levels are not automatically given like in most RPGs. The temples are churches where a minister will grant a level up to the protagonist provided he or she has enough experience points. Otherwise, the minister will let the player know how much is needed to go up a level.
- Levels: Leveling up is very important in Xanadu, and there are two types of levels: fighter and magic user. Fighting experience is raised through combat, and magic though spell use. Each category has its own title for each level (for example, Novice Fighter raises to Aspirant, Novice Wizard raises to Initiate). The two systems go hand in hand and are used at the same time.
- Item Experience: Separate from the other levels, all equippable items, such as swords and armor, have their own experience levels. This is raised simply by using the item; for example, swords by attacking, armor by being hit, magic by casting the spell, and so on. In this sense, a highly developed dagger will be more effective than a brand new longsword. However, a highly developed sword will be far more useful than a maxed out dagger, so it is vital to upgrade equipment.
- Enemies: In a forward-thinking move, Xanadu has a limited number of enemies in each area to deter powerleveling. This requires the player to think ahead about how he handles the enemies, how to best get the most experience out of them, and to keep Karma from getting too high. This is a factor that must be juggled with weapon experience; if the player defeats all enemies using a dagger, then upgrades to a sword and proceeds to fight the area's boss, the player will be at a disadvantage and should have either kept the highly developed dagger, or bought the sword early on so as to level it up with the finite number of encounters in the area.
- Bosses: Every area generally has at least one boss, though it is not always required to fight them. Bosses can be extremely difficult if unprepared. Luckily, the game saves itself before entering a boss fight.
- Money and Food: Enemies will drop various items, but most commonly will drop money or food, typically in small quantities in the beginning of the story. Money is important for upgrading equipment and buying items. Food is vital; the protagonist slowly eats his supply of food as time passes in the game. This slowly heals hit points as well. If food runs out, hit points will begin dropping at a rapid pace and the music will get progressively more and more out of tune until more food is found or bought, or the protagonist dies.
- Items: There are few chances to purchase items in the game, most importantly the hidden shop at the very beginning, just before entering the caves. As Xanadu features several ways to finish the game, the item shop may be near-worthless or absolutely vital to the player, depending on how one plans to progress. Items can also be found in chests and in dungeon areas, or by entering a secret code name at the character creation area at the outset.
- Saving: The game saves itself at certain points, such as right before a boss fight or after leaving a building. The player can manually save using the Command-Q keystroke (or equivalent depending on the system), which costs 100 gold. The Sega Saturn remake did away with this by adding a Save command in the status menu.
Xanadu has a large set of followups, despite it being technically a sequel itself to Dragon Slayer.
- Xanadu Scenario II: An expansion pack, Scenario II was a sequel released in 1986 that required the player still have the original Xanadu disks. After creating a new custom Xanadu Scenario II disk, the player needs to insert the original Xanadu disk, create a character as done in the original Xanadu, and then insert the Scenario II disk when prompted. Players were rewarded with a vast sequel to the original, featuring a new soundtrack, a complex shopping/trading system, yet more complex, deep maps, and new encounters with bosses. The game was non-linear, allowing the eleven levels to be explored in any order.
- Faxanadu: A Falcom-licensed, Hudson-produced side-scrolling platform-adventure for the Nintendo Entertainment System. One of the few Falcom titles to be released in North America, its name is a combination of "Famicom" and "Xanadu".
- Revival Xanadu: A PC-9801 remake produced by Falcom. Features a high-resolution graphical upgrade while still maintaining the feel of the original, with upgraded music as well. An "Easy Mode" was released in conjunction with Revival Xanadu II later.
- Revival Xanadu II Remix: A PC-9801 semi-remake of Scenario II, though it has a completely different soundtrack and new maps.
- Falcom Classics: A Sega Saturn compilation, featuring remade versions of Ys, Dragon Slayer, and Xanadu. Many things were altered, including an easier-to-understand "Saturn Mode" and a graphic style very similar to Revival Xanadu with a larger color palette.
- Revival Xanadu (Memorial Games): A port of Revival Xanadu to Windows 95/Windows 98 by developer Unbalance. As with most non-Falcom produced licenses, it is slightly shoddy port, with the music being recorded as non-looping WAV files, the faster tempo battle songs literally sped up to a higher pitch instead of a swifter tempo, and sound effects being played at a very loud volume. The graphics are also overly saturated compared to the PC-9801 version.
- Xanadu Complete Reprint Edition: A commemorative picture-perfect reprint of the 1985 original version, down to the soft plastic case and manual, aside from the game being on CD-ROM instead of diskette. Released for Windows CD-ROM using Project EGG's emulator system. It now goes for high prices on auction sites.
- Xanadu Next: Released in 2005 for Windows and, in an unexpected move for Falcom, the N-Gage. The Windows edition is in almost every aspect superior, and features a completely new story, characters, and gameplay system. Hints of the original Xanadu can be felt throughout the game. Xanadu Next is a departure from Falcom's typical style of the mid-2000s, and was darker and more somber than their upbeat and super deformed look of the time.
- Tokyo Xanadu: Released in 2015 for the PlayStation Vita.
A Xanadu OVA was released in 1987 in conjunction with the MSX version of the game and a manga, titled Xanadu: The Legend of Dragon Slayer. The plot was expanded and altered, with the main character now having a name, Fieg (フィーグ), and several new cast members. The new plot elements included several science fiction themes. For example, Fieg is a 21st-century soldier from the near future who is dropped into Xanadu after a bloody surprise ambush in the beginning of the story.
The manga follows the plot of the movie, and was drawn by Tsuzuki Kazuhiko (都築和彦), who also did work on Falcom's Ys and Sorcerian titles. It was republished as a 17 part serial webcomic by Falcom for the release of Revival Xanadu on the Falcom website, with accompanying music and an English translation.
In its original PC-8801 release, Xanadu features a small but effective selection of music composed by Toshiya Takahashi, most notably the hypnotic "La Valse Pour Xanadu", a 3/4 time waltz with a distinctive, haunting melody. A sped-up version is used for the battle scenes. The inside areas of buildings as well as boss encounters have separate songs as well. To promote the release of the game, Japanese heavy metal band Anthem released an LP with two image songs, appropriately titled "XANADU".
The MSX versions of the game, which were released in 1987, have a different score.
Xanadu Scenario II, an expansion pack and sequel, featured a much larger set of songs, and as a whole matches the overall high quality of Falcom's songwriting abilities during the later 1980s. The soundtrack was composed by Takahito Abe and Yuzo Koshiro, who would compose the music for many of Falcom's later titles. Koshiro's compositions for the opening theme and several dungeons were taken from the demo tape he had first sent to Falcom at the age of 18. Revival Xanadu and Revival Xanadu II, two loose remakes made by Falcom in the 1990s, feature their own unique soundtracks as well, also composed by Koshiro and Abe.
Aside from Xanadu Next and Legend of Xanadu, no Xanadu titles have received a full, independent original soundtrack on compact disc, an odd move for Falcom. This is likely due to its release being very early in Falcom's life, before they had established a reputation. However, a soundtrack was released for both Xanadu and Xanadu Scenario II on a 12" Vinyl Record Album, titled, Xanadu Anthem. Selections from Xanadu's music can be heard in various Falcom albums, and in 1987 "All Over Xanadu" was released, featuring arranged versions of Xanadu and Scenario II's soundtrack being played by a rock band combined with a live orchestra and synthesizers. The main theme of the Xanadu franchise, "La Valse Pour Xanadu", has been featured in the PC-88 and PC-98 versions of Xanadu and remixed into several audio tracks in Xanadu Next.
Xanadu was a pioneer in the game industry, and received critical praise from Japanese gaming magazines and a large fan base. To date, according to Falcom, its 1985 sales record of over 400,000 copies sold in Japan has yet to be broken by any role-playing personal computer game released in that country.
The influence of Xanadu and especially its predecessor has been felt in many games developed by Falcom and even other development houses which have copied the look and feel. Ys featured a similar but quicker and more complex "bump" system for combat used in Ys I, Ys II and Ys IV (SFC/PCE), while some of the later Dragon Slayer games Romancia, Dragon Slayer IV and Sorcerian all had similar side-scrolling viewpoints. It should be mentioned, however, that this bump system did not start with Xanadu itself, but rather with its predecessor, the original Dragon Slayer. Several smaller companies copied the "bump" system, mostly in obscure PC-8801 titles.
Dragon Slayer laid the foundations for the action role-playing game genre, influencing future series like Hydlide, Ys, and The Legend of Zelda. Xanadu also was released before the aforementioned titles, with the exception of Hydlide, which was released between the original Dragon Slayer and Xanadu, but featured those influences nonetheless. Xanadu was an early real-time action RPG with full-fledged character statistics, and it introduced several innovative gameplay mechanics, such as the Karma morality system, individual experience for equipped items, a heavy emphasis on puzzle-solving, equipment that change the player character's visible appearance, food that is consumed slowly over time and is essential for keeping the player character alive, magic that can be used to attack enemies from a distance, and training facilities to improve various statistics. It also introduced a platformer-style side-scrolling view, including the ability to jump. The side-scrolling view is used during exploration and switches to the overhead view of its predecessor during battle, while certain rooms also use an overhead view.
The game's influence also extended beyond action RPGs, with the way the game reworked the entire game system considered an influence on Final Fantasy, which would do the same for each of its installments, as its developer Square was previously the publisher for the MSX version of the original Dragon Slayer. Xanadu is also considered a "proto-Metroidvania" game, due to being an "RPG turned on its side" that allowed players to run, jump, collect, and explore, laying the foundations for the more open-ended "Metroidvania" games Faxanadu and Legacy of the Wizard. Xanadu Scenario II, released in 1986, was an early example of an expansion pack. It was also non-linear, allowing the levels to be explored in any order.
Xanadu is the only title Falcom has given a complete commemorative re-release in its original 1980s packaging, and is considered one of Falcom's milestones, if not their defining title (although that has been completely and quickly superseded by the Ys series as their flagship franchise back when it was released, for decades to come, until today (2012)), to a generation of fans. Though they had various degrees of success with older titles, Xanadu was Falcom's breakthrough that brought them into the spotlight.
Xanadu features a number of references to historical locations and legends. The title "Xanadu" is a direct reference to the ancient city Xanadu and its mythological reputation. The protagonist will visit Shangri-La during the course of Scenario II, among other locales. Many monsters are based on legendary and factual figures such as spriggan, samurai, hydra, and countless others.
Cancelled localization and lawsuit
Origin Systems founder and Ultima series creator Richard Garriott flew into Tokyo to have a meeting with Nihon Falcom about having Origin release Xanadu in the US, as well as having Falcom help with releasing a port of Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar in Japan. However, Xanadu contained artwork directly lifted from the manuals of the role-playing game Ultima III: Exodus. During the presentation of the game, several digitized pictures from the manual of Ultima III appeared in various shops in the game. Upon seeing this, Garriott and Origin ended the meeting and decided to sue Falcom; the lawsuit was settled out of court and the artwork in the game was changed to what appears now.
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