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Faxanadu and Crystalis

posted on November 30th, 2006 by chris

I’d like to bring a couple of old games to your attention. To me, these games pioneered the Action/RPG genre, which sadly has not received the attention it deserves.

First on the list is Faxanadu. An offshoot of the Dragon Slayer series in Japan (of which we received Faxanadu and Legacy of the Wizard), Faxanadu has much in the way of fantasy stereotypes: your character is an elf, and your mission is to make your way to the World Tree and track down those crazy dwarves who keep shutting off the elves’ water supply (thereby bringing about the deterioration of the world, etc, etc).

Although the plot is there, it is not particularly interesting. The important part is that you keep exploring, crossing vast expanses of diverse terrain, and you fight whatever gets in your way with magic, swords, and items. As an early Action RPG, there isn’t any particular way to make your character better at magic or melee combat; you just use whatever amount of each you see fit. Better weaponry generally increases your attack range, while better shields deflect enemy projectiles.

I really want to find out who came up with the enemy designs. Some of the enemies you’ll come across: bizarre cyclopean foot-people, empty Eskimo parkas that shoot magic and dwarves who are just the right height that they’re tough to hit.

Items are varied but none are particularly interesting. The only really cool idea is the wing boots, which allow you to float and find a place that’s required for the plot.

The game taken as a whole looks a bit drab, but gameplay is consistently fun, and difficulty is not too bad (although the enemies that attack you from anywhere get annoying). Unfortunately, there is no save feature (there was in Japan… grr), but there is a password feature.

Second, and more interesting in my mind, is Crystalis. A post-apocalyptic fantasy, in Crystalis you play the part of a cryogenically frozen amnesiac destined to save the world. How can you not enjoy that?

Once you start into the actual game, you find four different swords which each affect different monsters. Eventually, you master several forms of magic which give you various useful effects, and once you reach a certain point in the game you can consult sages via telepathy to find out what you’re supposed to be doing.

The large number of quest items in this title make it feel almost like a puzzle game. Much like Zelda, you can equip a secondary item to the A button, which allows you to do various things – the Rabbit boots, for example, allow you to jump, which lets you reach places that were previously inaccessible. A gas mask allows you to breathe in particularly dangerous environments.

The environments in Crystalis are discrete and generally exciting. They would be clichéd, except that this game probably existed before the video game clichés. You’ll fight your way through grassland, caves, mountains, deserts, and even the ocean (with the aid of a friendly dolphin).

The music is consistently excellent. It blends in with all of the monster-filled fields and towns flawlessly, and I still find myself occasionally humming tunes from the game.

At the end of Crystalis, the plot ramps up a bit and actually becomes more interesting. You find out more or less how the apocalypse came about, and who exactly your character is. The plot development at the end comes in little pieces as you fight your way through the final dungeon, which is a great way to do it.

Both of these games blurred the line between RPG, action, and adventure, and they are great games. If Nintendo can get games like these – both games that were mostly unnoticed but very important, and these specific titles on the Virtual Console – on their platform, I will buy a Wii for sure.

9 Comments

  1. Matt said on December 1, 2006:

    I remember reading a review for Crystalis for the GameBoy Color a few years ago. It always interested me, but I couldn’t pick it up due to financial issues. It would be very cool if it came to the VC. I’d finally get a chance to play it, and it’d probably be only 500 points.

  2. chris said on December 1, 2006:

    I heard the GBC remake was kind of lackluster.  More plot, but it’s a smaller-sized screen which makes it hard to see enemies…  at the same time, I’d like to try it. 

  3. max said on December 1, 2006:

    oh man, Crystalis used to be one of my favorite games.  I picked it up at first because it looked like a decent knock-off of Zelda, but later realized it was actually a much different game and I totally loved it.  I particularly liked the way in which the story moved along: you’d get to a town and be confined to that town and the particular area around it until you got to know the inhabitants, got to fight the local monsters, got to try out the products of the local smiths and solve a number of local quests.  Finally, a path would open up that would send you further into a totally new part of the world, new towns, new quests, new monsters, new items, new everything.  The way it was done if felt like 20 or 30 mini-Zelda’s were woven into one game.  It was totally cool.  Plus all that sword-magic stuff was totally awesome, and yes, the music was also very very good.  One of the few games of that era that I fondly remember to this day.  When I eventually sold off all of my old Nintendo games, this was one of the very few I kept for pure memories  sake.

  4. DeeMer said on December 1, 2006:

    Being a former owner of the GBC remake, it’s my duty to inform you that it pales in comparison to the original.  Which is a shame, given how much I was looking forward to it. Of all the little issues wrong with it (smaller screen, bludgeoned plot points, rearranged ending), the fact that the music was changed is the worst offender.  Gone are the great overworld, ocean, town, and dungeon musics.  Instead: forgettable nothing.

  5. Stefan said on December 1, 2006:

    I take issue with Faxanadu being called drab. Bleak, dirty, and desolate, yes. But not drab.

    It was the first console game I ever played that set a definite mood. They took a very limited color pallete and made a game with real athmosphere – almost the graphical precursor to Shining in the Darkness. As a young kid, it had a serious impact on my perception of games as art. (although I didn’t think of it that way at the time)

    Don’t have negative thoughts.
    Remember your mantra.

  6. chuck said on December 4, 2006:

    Glad you reviewed Crysalis. One of my all-time favorites and, like max said, one of the few I remember fondly to this day.

  7. Andreas said on November 24, 2009:

    can some one help me to fint the bracer of wind
    the one u need to max the power of the wind sword
    i am totaly stucked att that icey mountan i ahve talked the the trainer upp there and he says i need the bacer and a nother buy says that it shold be in those mountan? is is some way you can walk on the ice whidout slipping?
    please help me dyxeldoff@live.se
    i love the game and i whana keep playing!!

  8. Andreas said on November 24, 2009:

    bha i spell like an ass sorry =(

  9. chris said on November 25, 2009:

    Hah! You, my friend, are one lucky son of a gun, because I got the Wind Bracelet myself last night! I started Crystalis a few days ago on a whim.

    In the mountains, before you reach any caves, there’s an icy section that’s fairly short (you should be able to walk about halfway up it). If you’ve got the Rabbit Boots (should have gotten them a little bit earlier) you can jump your way up it. The bracer will be in that area.

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