The Lost Pixels – Faxanadu

Welcome to my first Lost Pixels column. In these columns I will be reviewing rare gems from the earlier generations of Video Games. These are games that I feel are fantastic, but may be lesser known to a wider audience. This is not going to be a review column where I make fun of terrible games. There are hundreds of people on the internet who do that far better than I could. The games I will review here are games I like and I want to see get a wider audience. Now with the intro out of the way let us get on to the review.

The game I’m going to talk about today is called Faxanadu. Faxanadu is an offshoot of a relatively obscure Japanese RPG series called Xanadu that was made for the NES/Famicom. It gets its name by combining Famicom with Xanadu. With the history lesson out of the way let’s discuss why this game is great.

In Faxanadu you play an Elf who returns to his home land in the World Tree (A big tree that serves as the setting for the game) to find that something has happened to the Dwarves of the tree that turned them into monsters, and that you are the last hope to save the elven people and the World Tree. At first the concept of setting the game in a giant tree might sound kind of childish or silly but it’s actually done really well here. The little world of the elves and dwarves is really well fleshed out.

The game is a side scrolling action RPG in the vein of The Adventures of Link or Castlevania II Simon’s Quest. The execution here is far better than either of those two games. It’s got a challenge but it’s not fiendishly difficult as Zelda II is, and unlike Simon’s Quest the clues on how to proceed are not cryptic and near useless. You won’t find yourself stuck on where to go very often and even if you do it’s only momentarily until you figure it out. You gain levels as you get experience, while the levels don’t increase your strength or life like in the Adventures of Link they do allow you to continue with better resources if you die. To power up and improve your life in this game you do that by improving your equipment. You fight in this game with swords and magic attacks. You can use your sword as much as you want, magic does damage at a range at the cost of a limited magic pool. There are potions that restore your life easily but magic is a little harder to fill, you either need to go to town, or have an expensive and rare elixir in your inventory.

Faxanadu has a Metroid style layout where everything is connected together, though the game is more linear so you won’t find yourself backtracking as much as you do in Metroid . The transitions through areas are seamless and you get definitely feel how interconnected the world is. You start out in the roots make your way up through the trunk and into the branches where you will do battle with the corrupted Dwarf King. The colors of the areas change as you move up; from the brown earth tones of the roots to the open blue sky through the branches every area of the game looks different. This makes the game far more interesting because unlike a lot of games of the NES era the backgrounds are not repetitive, every section of the game feels completely different from the section before it.

The music of Faxanadu is amazing for an NES game. I’d put the music of this game up against any other game of the 8 bit era. It’s better than 99% of the music of the time. The intro music gets you hyped up to play the game. The music of the password screen is this beautiful. The music in the Mist area is a haunting creepy song that fits with the weird area that you’re going through. And the music for the final area and the final dungeon are as epic as they should be to let you know that something awesome is about to go down.

The game is a near perfect NES game but it does have two minor flaws. As with a lot of the games of the era the controls are kind of stiff, especially if you are used to the modern controls. The controls however, are not too difficult to get used to and soon you’ll be able to time your hits and jumps without trouble. The other flaw is the password system. As there are so many variables as to what equipment you may have and levels the passwords can be very long and using both upper case and lower case letters make it imperative that you write them down clearly.

All in all, the few flaws this game has are not nearly enough to detract from the overall quality of the game. The game is definitely worth getting your hands on. If you have an NES or an aftermarket machine the cartridge isn’t so rare that you can’t get your hands on it, and if you have a Wii, even better $5 and a few minutes of downloading and you can have one of the best NES games ever made ready to play. That’s right I said one of the best NES games ever made. If you haven’t played this game then do yourself a favor and give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.