A few years ago I was craving a JRPG with deep story-telling and slice-of-life elements. I’m also very interested in Japanese culture and despite knowing next to nothing about it, I wanted something that took place within modern Japanese setting and had some great dungeon crawling. Modern-day Japan doesn’t have dungeons and monsters, of course. Pretty sure they don’t exist in real life.
Anyway, eventually I discovered a title called Tokyo Xanadu for the Vita for $12 on Amazon! Why was this so cheap? I couldn’t afford not to pick it up at that point. What followed was one of the most pleasant 40 hours of RPG gaming I’d had in years, and then completely forgot to mention it here right up to this point. Well, today I aim to change that.
Tokyo Xanadu was initially a Playstation Vita exclusive title releasing very late into the console’s life-cycle in 2017, later that year expanding scope to both the Playstation 4 and the PC under the moniker Tokyo Xanadu eX+, presumably to get the title in front of an expanded audience. The game itself was an attempt by developer Nihon Falcom to try something outside the box of established franchises The Legend of Heroes and Ys, and some sort of hybrid style was created for Tokyo Xanadu. It was certainly a departure from the aforementioned with the day-to-day gameplay from the Persona series, but with a dungeon crawling aspect that used real-time combat. Certainly a blend of established systems for Falcom, but the end result was a very special title that I believe was under-appreciated.
The world of Tokyo Xanadu takes place exactly where you would expect it to, but where the game really nails it is letting you get lost within the world. You’re given “free time” (which is exactly what it sounds like – time to wander around and converse with fellow students and faculty) is offered frequently, and made infinitely more pleasant with one of the smoothest soundtracks ever. It was accidentally stumbling upon the soundtrack on Spotify (where you can listen to all Falcom game soundtracks, by the way…) that prompted me to write this in the first place.
If you’ve played any titles by Falcom, you know the music is a core part of the experience, the cherry on top of the gorgeous environments, the rich characters, and the overall ever-present vibe that defines a game under the Falcom umbrella, and Tokyo Xanadu is no different. The various melodies are always perfect and make you want to spent as much time as possible interacting with everyone on screen. Yes, I said those words! Me, who can’t stand wall of text conversations about nothing important, spent hours having random conversations with people in high school and on the streets of fictional Tokyo.
Like many games in Falcom’s arsenal, forming relationships with those around you is core to the gameplay. This is not a dating sim, but learning about your companions heavily enriches the gameplay experience. While the majority of the game takes place in a high school, you venture outside of this comfort zone to find eclipses in the world that take you to dungeons. The combat within these dungeons is excellent and addicting, and end with Ys-like boss battles, not quite with the complexity of Ys but certainly with their own choreography to learn that will demand your attention and understanding of the combat system. Oh yeah, and they have great music too, if I didn’t mention that!
In between dungeon crawls, you’ll unlock bonding events that let you dive deeper into the minds of your companions and strengthen bonds, as well as unlock non-story related side quests. It gets a bit deeper than that but like with everything else in this game, just getting to experience the soundtrack as a backdrop to all the gossip and shenanigans is a treat.
I don’t particularly want to talk too much about the story because I feel it would cheapen the experience to anyone who may feel inclined to play it, but after stumbling upon the soundtrack and watching a bit of a playthrough of it, I realized just how great this game really was. If you’re a fan of this type of thing, that is, interacting with rich characters and having interesting and sometimes silly conversations, and then partaking on exciting dungeon crawls with an excellent action-RPG combat system and blood-pumping boss fights, than Tokyo Xanadu is definitely a title to check out.