Retro Review: Faxanadu (NES)

Content Warning: Fantasy violence, use of magic

Faxanadu_Box

Story

If you spend all your money, the king will give you more! What a guy!

If you spend all your money, the king will give you more! What a guy!

You are an adventurer, returning from your latest excursion to find your hometown of Eolis, capital of the Elf Kingdom, in a sorry state. There are few people around, no guards, and the walls are crumbling. The Elf Kingdom, which sits at the base of the World Tree, is under attack by the Dwarf Kingdom, who once lived in harmony with the elves.  To make matters worse, the source of the Elves’ life water has been cut off. If something isn’t done quickly, the entire Elf Kingdom will perish.

Fortunately, the Elf King is still around, so when you go to see him, he gives you a big bag of gold, and implores you to make the water flow again. Once that is done, however, there is still the matter of the dwarves’ attack. Your quest will take you from the bottom of the World Tree to the tippity-top, and eventually to the mountain citadel where the Dwarf King, Grieve, resides.

Gameplay

Memorizing boss monsters' attack patterns is the key to victory.

Memorizing boss monsters’ attack patterns is the key to victory.

Faxanadu’s style is that of a 2D side-scrolling platformer/RPG. You can jump, fight, climb, and even fly, if you have wingboots. Your life and magic power are indicated by red and greenish-yellow bars, respectively, at the top of the screen, along with your experience, gold, and currently active item. There is also a timer for counting down the time of limited time-use items (such as wingboots).

There are stores galore in this game. You can find a service for just about anything you need. There are some stores that only sell keys. That’s right; keys. The martial artist, the butcher, or the doctor can all restore your health. The magic shop will replenish your magic and teach you new spells. There are also tool shops where you can acquire traditional adventure items, such as weapons, armor, and potions. However, your inventory space is incredibly limited, so choose the gear you pack wisely.

Restoring the flow of water is just the first leg of your quest.

Restoring the flow of water is just the first leg of your quest.

As mentioned, in standard RPG fashion, defeated enemies will give you experience points. When you have earned a set amount of experience, you can visit a guru to raise your rank. Unlike traditional leveling systems, however, higher ranks have no impact on your base stats. Instead, it influences how much gold you start with after dying.

Additionally, when visiting a guru, he will give you a mantra. This is actually a password that you use to continue your game if you should happen to die. These passwords are very long and the password input process is extremely cumbersome. Furthermore, if you should mess up writing it down, and even one character is incorrect, you’re sunk, and stuck starting all over again.

 

Steve’s Tip: There are some points in the game where you have virtually no choice but to let your self take some damage in order to continue. Don’t be afraid to lead with your chin once in a while, and pack plenty of red potions.

Graphics

Mascon will likely be your least favorite section of the World Tree.

Mascon will likely be your least favorite section of the World Tree.

Faxanadu boasts a non-traditional color palette that employs earth tones to truly help the players embrace the fact that they are indeed traversing a gigantic tree. There are greens, blues, and browns throughout all the environments, and are even prevalent in the vast assortment of enemies you have to fight. Unfortunately, the area in which you start is a dull and monochromatic brown. This could very well have been done purposely to set the player into a mood conducive to selling the plight of Eolis, but that doesn’t change the visual lack of appeal. Happily, you don’t spend too much time there.

One of several ways to restore your health.

This is one of several ways to restore your health.

When talking to certain NPCs, such as shopkeepers, an animation of their face will pop up, to actually show them talking. Now, anyone paying close attention will realize quickly that the mouth movements do not sync with the text (and some people have an odd eye twitch), but it was rather progressive for a game built on 1989 technology.

“Fun” Fact: The Japanese version of this game featured Christian elements. The gurus held crosses, and the windows of the churches depicted the Crucifixion. However, Nintendo of America’s policy against religious imagery in games demanded that these things be removed from the North American release.

 

Music/Audio

King Grieve is a tough customer. Hope you have plenty of potions.

King Grieve is a tough customer. Pack potions!

Wingboots anyone?

Wingboots anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The music of Faxanadu spreads over a wide range of melodies, from the upbeat strains of the game’s overworld theme, to the haunting notes of Mascon. Even Faxanadu’s title screen music will fill you with a sense of ambition to play the game. Towns, shops, churches, and dungeons all have their own thematic, appropriate music as well. The sounds governing actions like attacking enemies and firing off magical spells are par for the course. Also, the sound of you getting hit is annoying enough to make you not want to get hit. However, it is with a heavy heart that I inform you that you will get hit-a lot.

Writing

The nonchalance of some people during a time of crisis is striking.

The nonchalance of some people during a time of crisis is striking.

Faxanadu’s script is rather short. The longest body of text in the game is by far the king’s plea at the very beginning. After that, you get NPCs who mostly want to shoot the breeze, with the occasional kind soul that will give you a valuable piece of information. There is also a slight aspect of narration. Each time you use a key, or pick up an item from the environment, you get a box of text telling you that you’re doing it. Unlike many RPG games, there are no impassioned, villainous speeches by any of the bosses before you fight them, even in the case of the game boss. As soon as you walk in the door, it’s on like Donkey Kong!!

Conclusion

This is a fun game that has the potential to keep you hooked for hours. Hudson Soft has given us what has been considered a side story of the game Xanadu, which is a chapter Falcom’s Dragon Slayer series. So, if you’ve played the Dragon Slayer series and you haven’t played Faxanadu, give it a go and see if you can make any connections.

Don't stop climbing!

Don’t stop climbing!

Photo Credits: RPGClassics and GameFAQs

The Bottom Line

Faxanadu is much, much more than a poor copy of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, which many critics like to call it. There's no princess to save, no recurring villain to fight, and dungeons aren't sealed when completed. This game is definitely worth a play.

 

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Steve Schoen

Live to game; game to live. Nominal Christian from birth; practicing Christian since 2002. I love to talk all things gaming, from console classics to Dungeons & Dragons.

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