'Faxanadu' on the NES

by Aaron Dennis about a month ago in nintendo

A Retro Review

'Faxanadu' on the NES

Faxanadu was licensed by computer game developer Nihon Falcom, which is a pretty good company. They continue to develop games today, and have most recently helped to release The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV. They're also famous for the Ys series. Faxanadu came out in the United States in 1989 as a first-party title under license from Hudson Soft.

I've read that this game is a spin-off or side-story of Xanadu, the second installment of Falcom's Dragon Slayer series. I think the only game I've played in that series is Dragon Slayer Jr., a not so great game, but whatevs. On to Faxanadu.

By all appearances, it’s a standard side-scrolling, fantasy, action adventure game. In reality, it’s a little more than that.

You play as a hero who has returned to his hometown after an interminable journey. The King of Elves informs you that something has happened to the Dwarfs (Dwarves?), and they have begun to attack the town. Being the heroest hero that you are, you forget about resting from your long journey, take the king’s money, and go buy some weapons to kill the Dwarfs.

Faxanadu takes you through numerous dungeons in order to collect items, which allow you to climb farther up the World Tree. Your goal is to climb high enough into the tree to find and defeat the Evil One, a creature from outer space, which has corrupted and contorted the Dwarfs.

While Faxanadu is a simple NES game, it’s infected by an odd charm. Being far from the best game the NES has to offer, Faxanadu is just fun to play, and that’s what’s great about the NES in general; the games released for this "old man" of a system were fun to play even if they sucked. In fact, some of the worst games, like Jackal, are really fun to play with a few beers in you.

The good:

Faxanadu has some wonderful artwork, creative monsters, and a neat storyline. Its best feature, to me, is that the different weapons, armor, and magic actually appear different, which is pretty ambitious for an ancient game. On top of great graphics and animations, Faxanadu boasts some pretty cool themes throughout the hero’s adventure.

I also really like the monsters. I have to say that they’re original; rather than bats, slimes, and ghosts, you get this guy. He runs aroun$d like an asshole and jumps at you if you get close.

The bad:

Unfortunately, Faxanadu is far from a perfect game. It’s barely a good game, in fact, but why? The controls…

As you move from one side of the screen to the other, you build momentum. That momentum also comes to a dead stop when you let go the arrow button. That momentum is very important for the platform jumps throughout, so you have to run and jump a great deal. Worse than jumping from platform to platform, you often have to jump onto a ladder.

Jumping onto ladders can be the worst thing ever because you often grab hold of the thing, slide off from the momentum you had to build to catch it, and fall down three stories of a tower you were climbing.

If the ladders don’t get you, the screen will. Yeah, the screen might be worst enemy in the game.

When you move to the end of a screen, the game stops, the screen scrolls to the next scene, an enemy at the edge of the screen bumps you, and of course, you go flying back to the previous screen where the enemies have respawned. They bump you, and you fly into the next screen, where you get bumped again, and so on and so forth.

The game design in and of itself is a right pain in the keister, and it’s these mega-flaws that turn what could have been a great game into a mediocre side-scrolling adventure.

I like Faxanadu, I do, but when I play it, I usually use a password in order to have all the best equipment and magic without working for it. I mean, I’ve been playing this game for almost 30 years, and I usually play it all the way through, so I figured I’ve earned the right to cheat.

I’ll say it’s a good game. It deserved a sequel on the SNES. This could have been a wonderful series, but as a single game, I’ll rate it as a mediocre C. Play it, don’t play it, you’re not missing out on a classic, but it’s a decent addition to the NES’s library.

Thanks for reading another retro review. If you like learning about old games, or you simply enjoy reliving games you played when you were a kid, be sure to check out my video game reviews tab for more retro fun.

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Aaron Dennis

Creator of the Lokians SciFi series, The Adventures of Larson and Garrett, The Dragon of Time series, and more.

See all posts by Aaron Dennis