Release Date: August 1989
Developer: Hudson Soft
Genre: Action RPG
A cousin to Legacy of the Wizard, here we have Faxanadu. Ok, I said it properly, now I will refer to it as we did in the 90s, Faxanadu, hard “x”. The World Tree has been pelted with Meteorites that are poisoning the inhabitants and drying up the wells. The Evil One must be overthrown to return prosperity to the land. Enter you, the Hero of the story, back from a journey. The King of the Elves bids you with this quest. Find a way from the base of the tree to the dwarven mountain fortress.
You start in the Elf Town, Eolis, looking worse for wear. The people recognize you and send you to the king. After initiating your quest, you’re given 1500 golds to outfit yourself. Spend it all and head back to the king for another handout. You can enter buildings and talk to people to learn information and then it’s to the tree and to battle! Your first real enemies are jumping heads with arms. You can try to jump and avoid them with the A Button, or you can attack with your weapon with the B Button, or you can use your magic with up+the B Button. You have a limited magic meter that can only be replenished in towns, so using magic wisely is important.
Killing an enemy will reward you with experience. Then, depending on the enemy, you may get golds, food to replenish health, or nothing. Experience is helpful, because you can level up at gurus in towns. The higher your level, the more golds you’re awarded when you die and awake. If you’re smart, at higher levels, you can cut your grinding for money down by spending what you have and then dying to come back with a lot of cash. Golds are used for weapons, armor, magic, equipment, keys, and healing. Pressing down+the B Button to consume red potions will be happening plenty as you ascend the world tree, so stocking up is important.
You need to purchase keys in order to open doors to dungeons. There are different keys for different situations and they get more expensive the farther along you are. Don’t get an extra Joker key without using it or it’ll be stuck in your inventory for the rest of the game. Inside most dungeons are an item necessary to move forward in your quest. Sometimes you can make it through a dungeon on the first try. Other times, you may have to enter and exit as you learn what is needed to succeed. All enemies have a pattern of attack that they don’t stray from. You’d think this would make your task really easy, but it doesn’t. Even if you know where they’re going, you’ll get hit despite swearing they missed your hit box or didn’t even swing. Every time you move from one screen to the next, enemies will respawn. This makes grinding easy when you find a screen you enjoy, but makes running to the exit a bit more difficult.
You start with a measly hand dagger that is weak, has terrible range, and can’t hit the crawling spiny guys, but you quickly upgrade to a long sword and are able to hit any enemy. Early in the game gives you the opportunity of buying a super strong Magic Shield and the overpowered Death spell, but you need to grind for gold for a long time in order to afford them. I used to do it when I played as a kid, but refrained this time around. You need to keep enough golds on you to heal. Towns give you two choices. You can either pay the hospital to refill your health and magic in one shot, or you can go to the dried meats vendor to get a third of your health and magic back for much less than the hospital visit. Go for the dried meats guy.
Platforming is an important characteristic of Faxanadu. You need to get good at gauging how fast you’re moving and how far you’re going to jump. Otherwise you’ll find yourself trying the same sections over and over again. Don’t get me started on if you get knocked down a pit… You gain strength as often as the enemies power up. This keeps the fights from getting too easy. You also see boss enemies from earlier in the game come back as regular monsters later on, but instead of taking a dozen hits, they can only stand a few. Most enemies have a pretty cheap attack pattern and you can find yourself caught taking more damage than you’d like. Once you learn how the monsters can cheese you, you’re more likely to find ways to avoid the situation.
There are five different magic spells that you can get during your adventure. You begin with deluge, which is the only way to hit the spiny crawler until you get the long sword. I found both Thunder and Fire to be underwhelming and rarely used them. Once you earn Death (21:44 Video 2), you have the spell you’ll likely use for the rest of the game. Tilt is the final, most expensive spell, but I didn’t get much utility out of it.
The final dungeon forced me to make a map as it wraps around on itself. I learned that it’s not quite as simple as it seems and my map was pretty worthless in the end. I died more times than I’d like to remember in the final act of the game, especially when searching for the Dragon Slayer. Finally reaching the final boss and killing him in one try felt good.
The graphics are pretty good with grotesque looking enemies galore. The mist effect in the second act and branches in the third obscure jumps, enemies, and items, but by design. The backgrounds can be lacking in color, but I think this is one of the more artistic art directions on the system so far.
All the music ranges from above average to awesome. I don’t have much problem with sound effects, either. Definitely a high point.
This is a very platforming heavy action RPG. The controls work fine, but you are likely to struggle with them in the middle of your adventure as the map obstacles become more complex. My biggest gripe is H looks like N, and the number of screwed up passwords as a kid that caused…
I would say that the difficulty curve of Faxanadu is mostly fair. You need to learn how enemies move. When you die, you’ll learn what you did wrong. Passwords can be earned in every town and if you die, you come back with gold!
Fun Factor: 4.0
It took me four and a half hours to beat Faxanadu and I enjoyed every minute of it. Even if I was frustrated with my poor play near the end.
Overall Grade: 3.6
Faxanadu earns an A-. This is one of my favorite games on the NES. It made my top 25 all-time list back in 2010. I couldn’t say if it still holds that distinction, but it’s a game everyone should play.