Sometimes ports or localizations of games hit markets anywhere from 1 to 2 years later from their original release. I think we might have a new record here, as Xanadu Next was originally released in 2005, so talk about a blast from the past. Now as a player that frequently goes back and visits old classic games, I know far too well some games don’t hold up really well upon revisiting them. So playing an 11 year old game, does Xanadu Next end up grabbing me, or is it something I wished stayed in the past?
Xanadu Next is a classic style of dungeon exploration, crossed with a few other franchises. Imagine The Legend of Zelda meets Diablo, with a dash JRPG. This is Xanadu in a nutshell and when players are greeted with the playable character, a dishonored Knight, and NPC scholar Charlotte, coming up an island surrounded with fog sets the tone right away. Not only from a mysterious and questioning standpoint but also from the FMV that definitely reminds me of a time when full motion video was a prime focus in games and storytelling.
Once arriving on the island, the town hub will be presented and this is an important element of Xanadu as it’s used as a main location base for upgrading levels, buying equipment, and also getting various story elements. It’s a home away from home and players will find themselves returning here often to save the adventure or recoup from a harsh defeat.
The story elements of Xanadu present a compelling enough adventure and give the player justification on why they are stuck on the island. After a battle with a mysterious enemy, the main character is hurt and revived using an ancient technique that binds him to a guardian. If he leaves, he dies. So thus the adventure to discover the plot and find a famed Dragon Slayer sword begins. The best part about the story is that after the rather length intro and opening moments of the game, it sort of takes a step back and lets the gameplay come into focus. It takes a little bit, so expect a bit of heavy exposition but after that it’s pretty much back to the gameplay.
So adventuring out from the hub town, leads to various shortcuts, loot to find, and bosses to battle. While most games of this nature have the player just jamming on an attack button till enemies die, Xanadu adds a little bit of strategy to this, even if only slightly. Attack enemies from behind, or to the side, after avoiding an attack leads to more damage being dealt and sometimes it can make the difference between life and death. Using different weapons on enemies leads way to different special attacks that can be eventually learned and then used with other weapons. Combat feels snappy and solid, which is good because there is a lot of battling here. It can even become a bit of a grind at times, but the gameplay loop here is so satisfying, I hardly minded it.
When players die, they are given two options. Either restart from the last save game at the town or warp to town with everything the character received but loosing 50% of gold in the process. Personally, as long as I’ve gained new items or leveled up, I’m taking the gold cut. Gaining levels, gold, and better equipment always lead to being able to push just a bit further into the maps, moving further and further away from the hub. At the start it can be a bit tiresome to have to travel all the way back to the city when players need more keys from the local store. Eventually an item is found early on to warp back to the city, which helps elevate that frustration.
Xanadu Next is a very surprising game in that it holds up extremely well. Some old games simply don’t work or just feel rough in comparison to games today. Xanadu Next really seems to avoid most of those troublesome elements even though it’s not shy of a few issues here and there. The menu system can be a bit confusing, especially when trying to use a controller instead of a mouse. I also notice some minor stuttering in the town or on occasion when exploring maps. Otherwise though, this is a pretty rock solid game for something that originally released in 2005. Seeing as it was able to keep me interested not only with its premises but its core gameplay designs, Xanadu Next just feels fun to push further, explore farther, and fight mobs and mobs of enemies. A true testament to a retro game, only now being giving life to the US audience which I am thankful for.
A Steam code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.