Tokyo Xanadu eX+ Review – Everything but Nothing
Platforms: PC, PS4
Developer: Nihon Falcom, Ghostlight Games (PC port)
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release: 8th December 2017
While the west is still far behind in terms of Falcom´s Trails series, publisher Aksys Games decided to localize the quite recent Tokyo Xanadu this year. After releasing the original version on the Vita, this december saw the launch of the enhanced eX+ edition for PC and PS4, which by the way also marks the first time Nihon Falcom actually developed something for Sony´s latest console. So is a trip to Tokyo worth it?
Set in a fictional city just outside Tokyo, the young high-schooler Kou lives a pretty normal life. Yet, when he goes home from work on one night, he comes across one of his classmates Asuka and by following her, he finds out about the Eclipse world. A mysterious dimension, bursting with demons and evil powers, only waiting to consume the real world with all their might. Naturally he can´t ignore this evil power, already responsible for the giant earthquake from many years ago, and decides to do everything he can to help Asuka but he will find out how big the powers behind the Eclipse truly are soon.
Surely the premise of high-schooler battling monsters in a parallel dimension in their free time, sounds a lot like Persona. Especially since it carries so many aspects from it, like the option to spend time with friends during free time or work in a side job. Fortunately most of these beliefs are shattered right in the beginning, when Tokyo Xanadu eX+ begins to unfold its big ambitions. While Persona is a series about teenagers finding out what they want to do and battle the dark side of their friends or others, Falcom aimed for a way bigger scale, where evil corporates and many other things transfer the story into a global conflict. Even though the foundation is very Persona-esque at first glance, it does enough unique things, that everything seems still fresh.
Following Kou and his growing collection of friends battling a whole other dimension and actually saving the world in a way, could very well be one of Falcom´s best modern stories I played so far, besides their Trails series. Unfortunately, where I found Tokyo Xanadu eX+ the most lackluster are the NPC interactions during free time or conversations. Maybe because I played Persona 5 and Tokyo Xanadu nearly at the exact same time, it just had to prove itself against such a giant JRPG and definitely lost in this aspect. Both start out with these rather cliché-y anime characters nearly every game has to offer but the stories behind them can never truly catch one, as Persona 5 does. None of the persons become these very likeable but somehow deeply scarred or hurt figures, mostly delivering new clichés in a very similar manner. The side stories added by the eX+ version, where we learn more about them help a lot at characterizing them but they ultimately simply fall short at truly developing into a loveable cast.
However, because Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is an action RPG, the dungeons located in Eclipse luckily feel way different. By sacrificing the turn based gameplay in favor for a faster one,, without any annoying transitions between battle stage and dungeon, Falcom created a way faster experience than in Persona, despite the initial similarities. On the one hand, the action focused gameplay is a great help at keeping the gameplay fresh. Slashing through monsters in real-time, unleashing special attacks and fight with your partners looks pretty cool.
On the other hand, nearly everything got streamlined to fit a wider audience. Status alignments, speed and basically anything else beyond smashing 2-3 buttons is either removed or so lightly implemented that it can be ignored. Additionally, the dungeons themselves all feel very indifferent, changing only in textures or enemies. Only rarely they offer mechanics to effectively alter the ever same procedure of running on a straight path. Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is a very simple to play game unlike most other Falcom games, lacking the great features of Ys 8 without replacements.
Luckily the free time activities can still be tons of fun, when spending them with Kou´s friends. They´re still entertaining characters, despite their flatness compared to its clear idol, but in combination with the condensed playtime, their stories become faster in their storytelling, almost making up for the lack of depth. While the heavierfocus on job or other activities may distract from the true core with their redundancy, being able to spend more time with the characters actually motivated me more than the gameplay, strange considering how much I love action RPGs.
Since Tokyo Xanadu was originally released on the Vita, only to debut on the PS4 in the eX+ version, the graphics quality isn´t impressing, even for JRPGs standards. Textures are way too mushy, areas rather limited in scope and complexity and the character models seem a bit too undetailed. Surely the improved filtering, actively erasing many rough edges, and solid 60fps throughout the game, a big improvement if you ask a fps freak like me, can make up for a lot of those flaws, especially if played on higher PC resolutions but nonetheless, Tokyo Xanadu isn´t a very pretty game to look at.
Although the added side missions, where side characters get their own playable little stories, a whole new prologue and other side content of the eX+ version, definitely are big improvement over the base version. As previously said I even think being able to explore the characters in their own little scenarios adds some much-needed depth to them.
While the story can deliver a well working teenager drama, combined with a global crisis caused by the mysterious Eclipse, the combat never becomes gripping or deep. Combined with the striking similarities to the Persona series, because of the almost identical free time system, Tokyo Xanadu eX+ struggles in creating a truly outstanding experience. In a year where Persona 5 pretty much surpassed every other JRPG, seems like well done clone at times but not nearly as good. Despite the way different focus, it´s hard to not think about other, better games, effectively letting Tokyo Xanadu eX+ look like an alright but not amazing JRPG for year´s end. Basically, it draws so many ideas from famous series that it often loses track of Falcom´s own spirit.
[A Review Code was provided by Aksys Games]