This Week in Games
Tokyo Xanadu

by Dustin Bailey,
I bought a New 3DS XL last week. I'd hoped to ride out the remainder of the 3DS' life on my original XL, and assumed that Nintendo would be dropping the handheld-only brand like a hot potato once it became clear the Switch was taking off. Yet E3 proved that wouldn't be the case, with a new Metroid, more Pokémon, a reissue of one of the best Mario RPGs, and that weird sushi game all coming up on the near horizon. Given the number of 3DS systems in the wild and how well Pokémon Sun and Moon sold last year, maybe that support shouldn't be surprising. Yet when you start to hear about the disappointing sales of an adorable, charming Nintendo-published game like Ever Oasis, you have to wonder if that sort of thing might be better served on a new platform with users hungry for more content.

Ah, well. At least I have a console where the 3D effect works now.

First Impressions - Tokyo Xanadu

Before I talk about Tokyo Xanadu, I want to talk about Valkyria Revolution. I spent most of the last week working on that review, and when you invest a lot of hours into a mediocre game you get some real time to think, channelling introspection through dull combat and tedious cutscenes. I started to wonder if the ultimate quality of a meaty RPG was inherently limited by its budget, if maybe a small scope was incongruous with the goal of delivering a lengthy, epic adventure. After all, a lot of Revolution's flaws could be tied to mechanics that are sound in concept, but lousy in execution. Maybe that's just what happens when your genre has epic scope but you're clearly on a B-team budget.

That's why jumping into Tokyo Xanadu was so refreshing. The latest Nihon Falcom release is a clear Persona derivative, and especially coming so soon after the release of Persona 5 (in the West, at least), its limited scale and budget are obvious. Yet even within those limitations the game is thoroughly charming and engaging. At just a handful of hours in, the best compliment I can pay to Tokyo Xanadu is this: it's a warm blanket of an action RPG, a veritable bowlful of video game comfort food.

Though it shares a name with Falcom's medieval fantasy-themed Xanadu games, Tokyo Xanadu couldn't be more different. Set ten years after a disastrous earthquake in a rebuilt Tokyo, you're in the role of Kou, an everyday high school student whose only real abnormality is a constant appetite for new part-time jobs. Naturally, Kou meets a girl with magic powers and is drawn into an evil underworld filled with monsters and demons. The order then is to be a normal guy by day, attending class and maintaining friendships by day, and be a magical warrior by night, doing battle against the darkness in a parallel dimension.

The Persona comparisons aren't just a handy reference point for games writers. Tokyo Xanadu is in love with Persona—the lighter, more colorful tone of Persona 4 in particular—and it's not afraid to show that love. One item description regales you with the description of an udon bowl filled with “glorious meat,” and suggests that “C**e would be proud.” Spending time with party members after school and raising your friendship level eventually unlocks new abilities in battle. The tune that plays in daytime scenes sounds so much like the same song in P4 that I can't distinguish which is which in my head now.

That's not to say it's ALL Persona, because Tokyo Xanadu does have its own identity. Most obviously, it's an action RPG, with combat in each dungeon taking place in real time. You can execute basic and ranged attacks with your magic weapon, dodge, and jump to start up mid-air combos. It all feels good, too. The weapon strikes are meaty and satisfying, and your evasive rolls give you expedient ways to get out of the way of enemy attacks and follow up with counters. Each party member has an elemental strength and each enemy has an elemental weakness, and you can instantly swap between active party members—take out an enemy weak to fire, make the character switch, and continue the same combo against a wind-vulnerable enemy.

The combo system also adds a lot of texture to what might otherwise be flat dungeons—made up as they are of rectangular hallways and square rooms. Combos can keep going all the way up to the end boss as long as you properly space out smashing treasure-filled crates between enemies along the way. It's a very small touch, but one that keeps pressing you forward and keeps the pace of the dungeons energetic.

The story doesn't have quite the same energy, and the push toward new characters and new dungeons has been pretty meandering in the early hours, without a clear overarching goal for anyone in the party. But despite the failings of a lot of high school RPGs, the characters manage to mostly avoid roles as obvious stereotypes. And in a nice little touch that keeps the world feeling lively, most of the NPCs you meet wandering the streets are named, and you'll often run into those characters you've already spoken to as bit players in future cutscenes.

Looking ahead toward the dozens of hours the game has left, my big concern is the dull pace of the segments between dungeons. In the Persona games that defined this structure, you're constantly torn between a wide variety of activities that you can spend time doing to the exclusion of something else, always leaving you with a goal for what to accomplish tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. Tokyo Xanadu doesn't have the time crunch, and you're free to do pretty much whatever between story bits, with clearly marked warnings about what will push things forward and leave other options behind. Your only constraint is the limited currency of affinity stones you use to buy friendship time with your comrades. Every story event and new dungeon excursion is laid out in linear order, and there's not much to miss in between—which makes those in-between parts pretty dull by comparison.

The ultimate quality of Tokyo Xanadu will be determined by how grating the slow pace between dungeon sequences ends up being, and whether the story starts to pick up pace following the introductions. What's there is solid—fundamentally entertaining gameplay buoyed by a decent cast of characters—and I really needed a pretty good RPG in my life this week.

NEWS

NINTENDO IS MAKING THE SUPER NES CLASSIC BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY ARE

What an incredibly strange journey Nintendo has taken into the world of microconsoles. First, they release the NES Classic, which despite some minor emulation flaws and some seriously too-short cords is an instant, holiday rush hit that both consumers and scalpers go crazy for. Then, amid widespread supply shortages, they announce they're increasing production. Then, amid continued supply issues and demand which can only be described as frothing, they announce they'll never make them again.

Now it's time for the Super NES Classic. Launching at a higher price point and with a smaller game selection than its predecessor, the improved software quality on SNES means that this is probably the even bigger, badder miniconsole. And hey, Nintendo is saying that those cables will be longer and that they'll make more—though they're already hedging on whether production will continue past the end of the year.

$80 on a sure-to-be shopper-crazed September 29th gets you two controllers and 21 built-games, which do a pretty impressive job of hitting the big notes, including the SNES “trinity” of Super Mario World, A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid, along with a big handful of RPGs and other stuff—the only obvious missing component is Chrono Trigger, or maybe Donkey Kong Country's much-improved sequel. On top of all that is Star Fox 2, which is getting an official release for the first time ever following its cancellation shortly before the planned release in 1995.

At a minimum, this thing will be what the NES Classic was—a darn nifty sampler for one of the best game consoles ever made. The SNES Classic has the advantage of a library that's aged much better, and hopefully it will enjoy the benefits of Nintendo's learning through the previous release. Or so I can dream.

FINAL FANTASY XV GETS RID OF THE RAILS

Every time I write about Final Fantasy XV, I preface it by saying that I really liked (often even loved!) FF15, but boy did it have some problems. One of those problems was that it gave you an ultra-rad car to drive, but it acted like a train, gliding along the rails of prescribed pavement until you unlocked the flight option—which in turn forced you into very specific landing and takeoff options. But lo! The Regalia can now get off-road capabilities by transforming into a monster truck, making FF15's stylistic vision of rural Americana a bit more complete.

FF15 has been slowly improving itself over time, but the attempts to bandage the game's most fundamental flaws—notably the spectacle-fueled trainwreck the later stages of the story turned into—have been less than successful. The promised Chapter 13 update ended up being little more than a teensy gameplay demo for Episode Gladiolus, which in turn was a pretty forgettable piece of paid story content.

This update comes alongside Episode Prompto and a preview for Episode Ignis, both of which I hope are better than the add-on that preceded them. I would have thought the release of Final Fantasy XV would put to rest questions of its quality, but instead every the original release and every update that followed have just further confused the question. Was FF15 good? Was it a redemptive story after a decade's development? Was I just blinded by the boy band-i-ness of the whole package? I continue to seek answers.

THE OTHER CURRENT FINAL FANTASY IS THE SUBJECT OF A FANTASTIC TWO-HOUR LONG DOCUMENTARY

Speaking of numbered Final Fantasy games with troubled development and shaky launches—FF14 does have a clear story, and it's one that starts with the game being very bad until a mostly new game came in to replace it. It's a uniquely redemptive tale in game development. When else has something so huge released to such widespread criticism before being apologetically relaunched as an entirely new game? More significantly, when has that ever worked?

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We've known that story from the outside for a while now, but the story of how it went down inside Square is even more interesting. That's the subject of the latest documentary from Noclip—a series you should really be following, by the way—built on extensive interviews with Square staffers from localization leads, relaunch director Naoki Yoshida, and even the CEO of the company itself. It's a surprisingly candid selection of interviews that covers everything from what went wrong with the original release to how the ship was righted in A Realm Reborn, and given the unfortunate rarity with which we see this kind of coverage inside big Japanese publishers, it's fascinating.

UPCOMING RELEASES

CRASH BANDICOOT N. SANE TRILOGY
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Publisher: Activision
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: June 30
MSRP: $39.99

After years of desperate pleading from PS1 fans, Crash Bandicoot is making a return on PS4. This package contains remastered editions of the original, Naughty Dog-developed trilogy, with fully rebuilt visuals molded around the skeletons of the original levels. They're updated with a modern interface and save system, but otherwise promise to play just like the originals.

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD - DLC PACK 1: THE MASTER TRIALS
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch / Wii U
Release Date: June 30
MSRP: $19.99 (bundle only)

The age of Nintendo DLC is upon us, and we all should have seen it coming after Smash Bros. and Hyrule Warriors. This first pack adds a host of new costumes with special abilities, from the eye-searing Tingle outfit to an absurdly useful Korok-tracking mask, along with a new map function (that should probably be free) which shows your path through the world, and a more challenging difficulty option with upgraded enemies and new treasure locations. The centerpiece is the Cave of Trials, a new challenge dungeon that strips your equipment way. Also, you'll have to buy this too if you want that story DLC later in the year.

TOKYO XANADU
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: June 30
MSRP: $39.99

There's not much to say about Tokyo Xanadu that I didn't get to earlier. It is worth noting that an expanded, visually improved edition for PS4—Tokyo Xanadu eX+—will be coming later this year, along with a PC port.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Technically not upcoming, but it is worth noting that Princess Maker 3 has made its way to Steam this week, proving once again that there's no longer any series too niche to localize.


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