Faxanadu (NES) Second Opinion Review

By Athanasios 20.11.2022

Review for Faxanadu on NES

Medieval fantasy RPGs reached new heights in popularity after the creation of the legendary… well, The Legend of Zelda, which still holds up (and then some) as one of the best games ever made, in this nerd's not so humble opinion. Popularity breeds sequels, with Zelda II: The Adventure of Link trying to repeat the success of the original, but while it was pretty good, it failed offering something of better, or at least equal quality. There was "another" Zelda II, though. Created by Hudson Soft. in 1997, Faxanadu acted as a sort of spin-off of Nihon Falcom's Xanadu, with its name actually being a portmanteau of the words Famicom and Xanadu. Somewhat similar in its design philosophy, this became a cult classic that is actually considered to be better than its more famous "sibling" by many an NES afficionado. After a - very old - look on it, here's another one, 35 years after its creation.

Upon his return at the Elf town of Eolis, the unnamed protagonist sees a world ravaged by meteorites, and the titanic World Tree that once stood proudly there being on the verge of death, with its wells completely dried up. Even worse, your once peaceful neighbours the Dwarfs, have turned into hideous monsters, and are being controlled by a certain Evil One, who sits on his throne in the Evil Place. The King asks for his help, because… reasons, and funds him with a few gold coins that are barely sufficient to equip this unfortunate hero with a measly kitchen knife, and an armour suit made from paper or something. Boy, what a warm welcome!

Screenshot for Faxanadu on NES

Needless to say, of course, that similar to the rest of the NES library, the story here basically acts as the excuse you need to start exploring, and nothing more than that. Surprisingly, despite the archaic "narrative" techniques used here, this actually works in that magic way of the 8-bit era, with NPCs providing just enough pieces of lore to get you interested, with the rest being up to your imagination. It also helps how most of the "storytelling" is done through the visuals. As was the case with this reviewer, many will initially find the dark shades of brown and "dirty" textures of this world to be ugly. In reality Faxanadu manages to create quite the post-apocalyptic atmosphere.

This is a sick, dying world, something that will be felt while walking under, or on top of the dried branches of the World Tree, or when inside one of its crevices, where a thick mist covers the view. NES is at its best with clean, cartoony aesthetics, but this will definitely please those who prefer its grittier side. There are some tiny, immersion-breaking flaws, like how goofy the townsfolk, well as the protagonist look, or how their eyes blink like crazy during the, painfully slow, albeit short dialogue sequences, and so on. The music is a bit hit-and-miss too, with the best tracks being the ones that strengthen the feeling of dread, with the overly happy ones feeling ill-matched. Finally, while immersion isn't really hurt by it, this lacks variety, especially when compared to the far richer world of Zelda II's Hyrule.

Screenshot for Faxanadu on NES

Immersion, shmersion, though, right? This is basically a game of exploration; a pro-metroidvania the likes of Simon's Quest, where the hero has to explore a small, kind of maze-y world, with a couple of even more maze-y dungeons, do some light puzzle-solving, kill the bad guy, and get the girl - minus the 'get the girl' bit. How it fairs on all that? The answer is: pretty good actually. The overworld, while impressive, is actually a linear affair, but dungeons can be quite labyrinthine, forcing players to pay attention, and not get careless, as there are occasions where they can't simply turn back and leave. Word of caution: buy a few health potions before leaving town. As well as keys. Never, ever forget to get some keys.

Screenshot for Faxanadu on NES

Sadly, Faxanadu doesn't belong in that small family of timeless classics that can be enjoyed decades after its creation. You need a specific kind of mindset to enjoy it. That being said, even those who carry that mindset will struggle with some of its many flaws. There are some weird design choices, like how there are various kinds of doors spread throughout the kingdom, forcing you to fill a big part of your - limited - inventory, "just in case," how gaining experience only influences with how much gold you start with after entering a password (no save mechanic), and some other minor stuff like that, but the real problem is definitely the controls. Say what you will about Zelda II, but it was made from Nintendo, which, even at its worst, produced games that were usually mechanically flawless.

The hero moves slowly, can't duck to avoid projectiles, and has to rely on… well, an unreliable jump. He also falls like a brick, making most leaps over gaps quite aggravating whenever you are one pixel off. Even worse than the controls, however, is that there's little sense of progress. Apart from the linearity of the world, the whole thing is kind of repetitive, with no area standing out from the rest, so it all feels the same from beginning to end, with the only thing changing being the enemies, and the gear you can carry - with the latter usually being stronger variations of the previously held weapons and armour. Finally, while most will disagree on the following, this actually needed a bit more… cryptic-ness. Townsfolk are way too helpful here, whereas Zelda II would let players experiment a bit with powers and key items. All in all, a nice NES ARPG, but not really the cult classic most have make it out to be.

Screenshot for Faxanadu on NES

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 6 out of 10


Faxanadu belongs in the collection of every NES or retro gaming afficionado… without that meaning that it's a great game. It certainly has its charm, with its surprisingly bleak, "dying world" atmosphere, and Zelda II-lite gameplay mindset, but few, even amongst older players, will be able to look past its flaws (especially the irritating jump controls), and have fun with this cult piece of video game history.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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