Tokyo Xanadu eX+ PS4 Review
Nihon Falcom is a developer that has been around almost as long as the most well recognized Japanese companies, but has slowly yet steadily grown in Western recognition over the past few years, thanks in part to the frequent localization of their titles across various platforms including PC. Even newly converted fans are starting to dig deep into the fan wikis to try and catalog the exhaustive timeline that links most of their titles together, especially those of the Legend of Heroes franchise, which has grown in notoriety thanks to cult hits like Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel.
Tokyo Xanadu eX+ comes from an even more obscure Falcom series, originally known as Dragon Slayer, which eventually branched out into the Xanadu subseries by the second game. Confused yet? To put it more simply, it’s like how Persona was originally spun off from Shin Megami Tensei (if you don’t know what SMT is, there isn’t enough space in this review to explain it, so Google it later). Speaking of Persona, Tokyo Xanadu shares many similarities with Atlus’ JRPG darling, from its premise to several of its game mechanics.
Like Persona, Tokyo Xanadu takes place in modern day Tokyo, which is a change of pace from the usual steampunk/fantasy settings Falcom is better known for: the story follows Kou, a high schooler who was on his way home after a late-night part time job, only to chance upon the mysterious paranormal escapades that his classmate Asuka have been getting into. Throughout the city of Morimiya, a strange interdimensional gate known as the Eclipse has been springing out randomly, and those unfortunate enough to fall into an Eclipse find themselves trapped in a labrynthian world occupied with dangerous monsters known as Greed. It’s up to Asuka and her underground organization to take out the Greed and close off the Eclipse, a task that Kou finds himself participating in once he discovers that he can summon a weapon that can combat the Greed called a Soul Drive, just as Asuka can (and later on, several other fated party members).
Just like other Falcom games, the strength in Tokyo Xanadu’s story isn’t with its main plot, but with its characters; though many of the leads follow familiar tropes commonly seen in anime and JRPGs (Kou being the aloof, quiet protagonist with the determined spirit, Asuka being the stoic heroine who tries to hide her teenage mentality, Sora being the spunky tomboy who is adapt in martial arts, etc), it’s their interactions with each other as well as the world around them that make up the most interesting aspects of the game’s writing. In typical Falcom fashion, the game also features an exhaustive amount of dialog surrounding NPCs and other secondary characters; nearly every single person, from fellow students to shopkeepers to restaurant patrons has their own unique routines and ongoing storyline, often doubling if not tripling the amount of dialog the game has to offer. Completionists will be driven mad trying to follow up with every single one of these optional dialogs, but RPG fans will undoubtedly appreciate the extra attention to detail and the commitment to make Tokyo Xanadu’s world feel alive and expansive.
Even though the NPC interactions are entirely optional and without any tangible rewards, keeping tabs on your main homies offers more gameplay benefits. In what is sure to be the biggest comparison to Persona, Tokyo Xanadu also allows players to interact with their fellow party members in the form of “Free Time”, which refers to the period after class and before the next story mission where Kou can choose to spend time with one of his friends. Just as how Persona limits the number of times you can hang out with your buddy at any given time, Tokyo Xanadu also imposes limits so that it becomes virtually impossible to see every character interaction on the first run. Nevertheless, these interactions also benefit players by raising the affinity level between characters, which makes up one of the key components for the battle system.
Speaking of which, the battle system is where the similarities between Tokyo Xanadu and Persona end: while the latter series has stuck to traditional turn-based battles, Tokyo Xanadu instead relies on real-time combat, bringing it closer to character action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, albeit with less over-the-top flair. While traversing the maze-like dungeons, players will control one character at a time when fighting enemies, with the ability to instantly switch between characters at any given time. Each character has a different weapon that has their own strengths and weaknesses (Kou’s weapon is a chain whip that is powerful yet slow, Asuka has a rapier that is speedier yet weaker, etc), and also possesses a unique element, which is important to note as each enemy carries a specific elemental weakness: use fire attacks on enemies weak to fire, some enemies die faster with ranged attacks, etc. Despite these nuances in weapons, every character has the same core abilities, including ranged attacks, air dashing, dodging attacks, etc.
Players will want to master every single one of these abilities, because they all play a crucial role in the combat system, as well as for bonus rewards. The dungeons in Tokyo Xanadu have an Arcade-like scoring system to them, where additional items, EXP and currency can be obtained the better you play. These include strategic actions like finishing off enemies with their elemental weaknesses, dodging deadly attacks at the precise moments, collecting every treasure chest…the better you play, the more you earn. If nothing else, it pays to keep all these systems in check, as boss enemies can prove to be quite challenging (but the game is also generous enough to let you restart the fights instantly).
It wouldn’t be a JRPG without some flashy attacks, and Tokyo Xanadu has them in spades. In addition to each character having crowd-clearing attacks that can be used once their respective gauges fill up, players can also temporarily call in a second AI-controlled party member to fight alongside them. Each team-up offers unique passive bonuses, such as healing HP or doing extra damage, but their primary use is to unleash hell on every enemy in sight within the limited timeframe. That timeframe can be increased further, thanks to the Free Time events to raise affinity, or by just running the dungeons with each character in the party.
The eX+ in Tokyo Xanadu’s PS4 re-release naturally refers to extra content, including side stories that are added to the end of each chapter. These side stories typically feature different playable characters and are meant to flesh out the main story and characters even further. There are numerous other additions, including some extensive content unlocked with New Game that makes this lengthy RPG even longer and more feature-filled. And while the visuals may not hold a candle to recent releases (including the supremely stylish aesthetics of Persona 5), the blisteringly fast framerate goes along nicely with the equally fast-paced combat. Being able to fast travel instantly between areas and even shops without any load times is also a bonus, as well as the numerous unlockable costumes and accessories each character can wear.
2017 may have been an exhausting year filled with quality videogame releases across different genres and multiple platforms, but Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is still worth setting aside some time for, especially for those starving for more Action RPG hybrids. The exp and loot grinding is still there for hardcore fans, but the smooth and solid action adds an extra layer of responsiveness and fun that can’t always be felt with turn-based battles, resulting in a winning combination that will eat up more of that free time no human could possibly have at this point.