Written by  :  Christina Nordlander (26)
Written on  :  Sep 11, 2005
Platform  :  NES
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars

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A miracle of rare device

The Good

"Faxanadu" is a side-scrolling fantasy action-adventure of a style similar to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link or Battle of Olympus. As an elfin warrior, having returned to your hometown to find it plagued by disaster and monsters, you are appointed by the King to defeat the evil that is plaguing the World Tree.

Trying to pierce through the mists of nostalgia isn't easy, and I am not quite sure what made "Faxanadu" such a wonderful experience for me. However, I can point out some of the contributing factors:

Graphics. "Faxanadu" looks, if not actually stunning, then beautiful and atmospheric. There is an emphasis on carved stone and architecture, a certain faded opulence. In fact, the colour scheme might be said to be a little too faded or dark, but that is suitable to the theme of the withering World Tree. The hero sprite changes depending on what armour he is wearing - something I can imagine was quite a novelty in the day. Character portraits are excellent (if sometimes a bit strange, see below). The monsters are consistently grotesque, some of the later bosses (King Grief in particular) rising to the level of sheer horror.

The music, as I remember it, is like the graphics: good, but not cheerful. It adds to the mood nicely.

Gameplay, that indefinable something, is great. The character levelling system is a nice idea. Different weapons, spells and magical gadgets (like the winged boots) give you a chance against the various monsters. I liked the various keys and rings acquired as I went along. Hack, climb, explore - and there is a *lot* to hack, climb and explore. This can't be explained, just experienced.

Then, there is the mood, on which I've already touched. The spectacle of the World Tree of Norse myth, complete with elves and dwarves, headed for slow destruction. The quiet, sparsely-populated towns with their priests and locksmiths. The mist, the caves, and now and then a vision of beauty, such as the fountain in the sky. Mood is all-pervasive and powerful: it is a bleak world in need of salvation, but such a beautiful bleakness.

The Bad

There could have been just a little more plot. I never got a real sense of the history of this world. All right, so that was probably not the game's purpose. The townspeople were quite reticent.

Speaking of the townspeople, some of their character portraits seemed definitely misplaced: cigarette-smoking blokes in net undershirts, for example, who would look better working a garage in "Déjà Vu" than selling swords in an elfin blacksmithy.

Sometimes, the way to get further in the game was rather hard to figure out. It seemed to take an eternity until I found my way to the first Fog City.

(At one point, the word "poison" was misspelt.)

The gameplay, for all its good sides, did get a bit samey. Apart from the improved weaponry and spells, fighting one's way through a cave at the end of the game is pretty much the same as fighting one's way through a cave at the start.

The final boss was laughably easy (unlike King Grief).

As for the mantras, all I can say is: I'm happy methods of storing game state has progressed since then. Jotting down a randomised string of letters and numbers to use as password is not very enjoyable - and don't make a mistake. (I did once, writing one down, and had to replay from a previous mantra as a result.) Technological requirements have changed, but I still don't like randomised passwords.

The Bottom Line

Like the Xanadu of legend, "Faxanadu" is mysterious and beautiful. If you enjoy swordfighting games and fantasy, I am certain you will enjoy it.