North American cover art
|Designer(s)||Hitoshi Okuno, Toshiaki Takimoto|
|Platform(s)||Family Computer/NES, Virtual Console|
|Genre(s)||Action role-playing game, Metroidvania|
Faxanadu (ファザナドゥ Fazanadu) is an action role-playing platform-adventure video game for the Family Computer (Famicom) and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The name was licensed by computer game developer Nihon Falcom ("Falcom") and was developed and released in Japan by Hudson Soft in 1987. In 1989, Nintendo of America released the game in the United States as a first-party title under license from Hudson Soft. Nintendo also released the game to the European market in 1990.
Faxanadu is a spin-off or side-story of Xanadu, which is the second installment of Falcom's long-running RPG series, Dragon Slayer. The title Faxanadu is a portmanteau formed from the names Famicom and Xanadu.
The game follows the story of an unnamed traveler who returns to his home town, which is part of a massive inhabited tree, only to find it ruined and abandoned because the tree's water source has stopped and is tasked with finding out the cause and saving the tree.
The game uses typical sidescrolling and platforming gameplay. However, the game also employs various elements that classify it as a role-playing video game including its expansive story and medieval setting. Along with that, the game has graphics that were unique compared to other games at the time. The game was relatively unknown and fell below the radar of many gamers at the time of its release. In spite of this, Faxanadu received overwhelmingly positive reviews, with reviewers calling it better than The Legend of Zelda and Castlevania and was eventually released on Wii virtual console in 2010 and 2011.
The player-controlled protagonist of Faxanadu is an unidentified wanderer. He has no name, though the Japanese version allows the player to choose one. The game begins when he approaches Eolis, his hometown, after an absence to find it in disrepair and virtually abandoned. Worse still, the town is under attack by Dwarves. The Elven king explains that the Elf fountain water, their life source, has been stopped and all other remaining water has been poisoned and provides the protagonist with 1500 gold, the game's currency, to prepare for his journey to uncover the cause.
As the story unfolds, it is revealed that Elves and Dwarves lived in harmony among the World tree until The Evil One emerged from a fallen meteorite. The Evil One then transformed the Dwarves into monsters against their will and set them against the Elves. The Dwarf King, Grieve, swallowed his magical sword before he was transformed, hiding it in his own body to prevent The Evil One from acquiring it. It is only with this sword that The Evil One can be destroyed.
His journey takes him to four overworld areas: The tree's buttress, the inside of the trunk, the tree's branches and finally the Dwarves' mountain stronghold.
Players guide the hero through a screen-by-screen series of fields, towns, and dungeons. The hero can walk, jump, and climb ladders – all typical characteristics of a platform game. Along the way, he may also purchase usable items with gold, equip and use bladed weapons against enemies, equip armor, and cast magic projectiles. In addition, he can access information regarding the game's events by speaking with townsfolk or by consulting other sources.
The limits of physical damage the hero can sustain from enemies is tracked by a life bar, and the magical power he can exert is tracked by a magic bar. These are listed on the top of the screen along with total experience, total gold, time (for items with a timed duration), and the currently held item.
When the hero defeats an enemy, it usually leaves behind gold or life-giving bread, and the hero gains a set amount of experience. Experience points help increase the hero's rank (see below). Occasionally, an enemy will also drop an item, some of which activate specific effects when touched and some of which can be stored for later use.
The game utilizes a password system. Passwords, or "mantras" as they are known in the game, can be obtained from church-dwelling Gurus. Gurus also bestow ranks to the hero when he meets certain experience totals; these determine the amounts of experience and gold a player will possess upon resuming a game via password.
Faxanadu employs a color palette that relies upon browns, greens, reds, and blues, creating an earthy atmosphere to complement the underlying, real-world legends of Elves, Dwarves, and the world tree itself. This was somewhat atypical compared to other games from its era, as many showcased bright, cartoonish graphics and outlined sprites rather than the more flushed, slightly Gothic style of Faxanadu. Similarly, the game's music (the work of June Chiki Chikuma) is designed to convey a rich, sometimes haunting tone during play. From the pedestrian beat of Eolis and the majestic melody in the Elven King's throne room to the driving theme of The Evil One's fortress, the compositions are intended to set the mood for each area, assisted by an array of organic sound effects.
Many aspects of the game's setting, especially the different shapes and forms of enemies, are largely inspired by a mixture of Norse mythology and Japanese mythology with some derivatives of Eastern religion, with several reminiscent of the works of H. R. Giger.
Christian icons found in the Japanese version are removed in the international release. In the Japanese version, Gurus can be seen holding a Holy Cross and images of Jesus' crucifixion are displayed inside the churches.
Faxanadu was largely unknown at the time of release and eventually fell into obscurity. Despite this, the game has received critical acclaim. IGN gave the game an 8 out of 10. GameSpot also gave the game an 8 of 10, with one reviewer calling it "a highly overlooked masterpiece." IGN re-reviewed the game in 2011, after its Wii virtual console release, giving it a better score of 8.5 out of 10 and called it a hidden gem. IGN went on to call it a better action RPG than Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Marcel van Duyn of Nintendo Life gave the game an 8 out of 10, saying that it is a surprisingly fun game and an absolutely essential purchase for those who like RPGs. However, he also criticized the password system for western audiences, but felt grateful the Virtual Console port eliminated that feature.
The November/December 1989 edition of Nintendo Power, Faxanadu debuted on the magazine's "Top 30" list at #6. It gradually fell from the list in subsequent issues.
The game world was featured in two Season 2 (1990–1991) episodes of the Nintendo-based, Saturday morning cartoon series, Captain N: The Game Master. They are "The Feud of Faxanadu" and "Germ Wars". The Elven King was named Melvis and looked and sounded like Elvis Presley for his first appearance; the voice was changed in the latter episode. The Dwarf King was not featured and was replaced by Queen Dwarfine.
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- "Top 30". (November/December 1989). Nintendo Power, p. 81.