Once minute you’re emo-ing your days away safe and secure in your average and normal high school and the next you’re traipsing around dungeons slaughtering creatures with something shiny and sharp – we’ve all been there. Well this is exactly what’s happened to Kou when a mysterious phenomenon opens up portals to a dangerous underworld of soul-sucking demons. Kou is a wielder. Not only can he see the portals but he can conjure and deftly use a Soul Device, a weapon that can only be wielded inside the Eclipse. Fighting for his life and the lives around him, Kou must keep the evil forces at bay and still turn up for trigonometry – we’ve all been there too.
Tokyo Xanadu is an action JRPG, an AJRPG if you will, or an AAJRPG if we’re going to add ‘awesome’ to the beginning. I could go on, but I’d better not as time is short and there’s lots to talk about. We’ll start with the story, as the lion’s share of this game is good old fashioned plot. Settle down and get comfortable because TX has a great deal of story to enjoy, so much so that the first half of the game feels at times as though you’re playing a visual novel. Good thing? Bad thing? I guess that depends on how much you love your stories. It also depends on how decent the story is, and actually in this case it is pretty good.
The game is made up of eight chapters (plus a few extras). Each chapter is broken down into story, free time (which we’ll talk about later) and dungeons. While some plots can get a little complex too soon, TX errs on the side of caution, choosing instead to build a slow momentum. The first half of the game deals with what the Eclipse is, the different and terrible ways it can effect reality and, in addition, it links each incident and discovery to a new party member. You’ll get over halfway through the game before the majority of your party line-up is in place. You’ll get plenty of time to get to know each character and learn all about the Eclipse and the people who hunt it, but this can sometimes tip over from unhurried to a little bit tiresome. The story itself is great, but the pacing in the first five chapters could do with a bit of a kick. The story beats here feel just a tad too long – all talk, no action, which is fine if that’s what you prefer. If you’re looking for something a bit more up-tempo, however, do not despair, because the last third of the game picks up considerably and is wonderfully balanced between very exciting, mysterious and intriguing narrative and lots and lots of dungeon action.
Between the chunks of narrative and before you run into a dungeon like a kid stampeding into Toys R Us, you’ll have an opportunity for free time. There are some great Persona vibes here. You can hang out with friends, read books, visit the shops, upgrade and attend to the occasional side quest. Kou’s town and school is beautifully rendered with plenty of unique locations to visit. It’s the video game version of stretching your legs after a long car journey, and it’s sure appreciated before you trigger any more story advancement. While you’re wandering about you’ll have the opportunity to use your NiAR, a system on Kou’s phone that lets you view quests, recipes (of course there’s cooking!), friends list, books read and user profile. You name it, Kou’s phone does it, including searching for Eclipse gates. To be honest, it’s just a fancy menu screen and a bit of a gimmick, but hey ho it’s still a fun inclusion even if doesn’t really do much.
I won’t go into too much detail about the upgrade system as that’s the half the fun of playing RPGs, but your weapons have elemental attacks with slots that can be eventually switched out and upgraded. Materials collected inside the dungeons can be smooshed together to make new upgrades and a rather handy blacksmith will help you with some of this and give you the opportunity to buy armour and talismans. There’s certainly plenty to keep you occupied during your free time and if you have enough shards you can play character episodes to get to know your friends a little better. I had to know more about Shio. A few weird and hilarious translation hiccups made him one of my favourite characters and of course I always love a tough guy. You’re not at all short of friends. TX has a beefy selection of characters and by the end of the game your party line-up looks more like a Black Friday scrum. Lots of different personalities, and all well written and engaging. Once you’re done with your merry meandering, there will be a marker on the map that will advance the story, and if you’re a lucky bunny it might just be dungeon time.
And it’s all about the dungeons. At the beginning of each one you’ll get a final opportunity to save your game, change the party line-up and manage your equipment and Soul Device before you dash in to start the butt-kicking, weapon-swinging action. Each character feels very different in the way they play. For example Sora is a quick-as-a-cat martial arts guru, Yuuki and Shio are slower but have devastation swings. Asuka has a great ranged attack and Kou himself is a good all-rounder. Who you pick will depend partly on your own playstyle and tactics. You have a standard attack, heavy attack, jump attacks and the best of them all is a dash attack that not only gets you across chasms but if you angle it right can dish out multiple hits on your hapless enemy. Combat feels, in a word, delightful. It’s fast, fluid and beautifully addictive.
Although you can take three party members into each dungeon adventure you can only play and use one of them at a time. Figuring out enemy elemental weakness and magic defences, and swapping characters strategically to compensate is key. Triangle will allow you to swap between two characters and you can place a third in the support slot. This character, if injured, will gradually heal. This is great for swapping in and out your heavy hitters like Shio and Yuuki. For example you could approach guns blazing with a ranged character and instantly swap to Yuuki when you get close enough to give the bad guy a damn good hammering before slotting him back into the support role. Used sensibly and carefully, this can save you a fortune on cure potions!
The dungeons are a good size and increase in complexity as the game continues, adding aspects such as spiked walls, thick mists and moving platforms. They also get a lot prettier in the latter parts of the game. Each dungeon has a very different feel to it and there are an abundance of enemy types lurking within. Once you reach specific stages of each dungeon you’ll get other opportunities to save. The core is the most important save point as you’re about to face the dungeon’s boss. They’re big, colourful and if you’re playing on higher difficulty levels they pack quite a punch. You’ll be glad of your X-strike skill if you’ve managed to resist using it earlier. Your X-drive is also very handy for bigging-up your attacks and quickly healing at the same time. You’ll need every advantage you can grab and every potion you can get your paws on and I do hope you’ve cooked up a plentiful supply of fluffy omelets. If you like boss fights, just you wait for the final chapters because it’s going to feel like Christmas.
Although a little slow to start, Tokyo Xanadu has an engaging story that builds into something really exciting and emotional. The characters are plentiful, interesting and easy to bond with. The game’s biggest assets, however, are the gorgeous dungeons and fluid combat. What starts out as a Persona-style clone, eventually matures into a good solid action RPG with its own brand of charisma and charm.
S J Hollis Rating – 8/10
You can read our review policy here.