Faxanadu (NES)

Whelp, saved the world. Time to strut off into the sunset like a boss, apparently.

I found Faxanadu to be great in some ways, but overall very uneven. You play as an unnamed Elf adventurer who returns to his home town at the base of the giant World Tree to discover that an ominous meteorite has poisoned the water and twisted the Elves’ neighbors, the Dwarves, into murderous mutants. Of course, only you can sort this mess out.

Right off, I have to say that this game looks and sounds fantastic. The art and music combine to give the game a very effective dark fantasy feel. Enemies look twisted and foul and the various areas inside the blighted World Tree appear run down and eerie. The mist level in particular looks fantastic, with lurid purple-grey fog obscuring everything while an off-kilter, disturbing tune plays. For an NES game, the atmosphere is sublime.

The gameplay could have used more fine-tuning, though. Enemy placement is problematic throughout, with some unavoidable hits when enemies literally spawn in on top of you as you switch screens as well as enemies that love to camp directly at the top or bottom of ladders that you need to navigate, resulting in more forced damage. There’s also the matter of the pendant that you’re tasked with locating in the Tower of Suffer dungeon. Despite what the NPCs and the manual say, this item appears to be bugged and noticeably decreases your offensive power instead of increasing it, and there’s no way to be rid of it once you pick it up! If I’d been playing with a walkthrough, I’d have known that I should have skipped it but as it was I had to go back and re-input an old password, losing quite a bit of progress. Do yourselves a favor and skip the Tower of Suffer completely.

These frustrations weren’t enough to ruin the game for me, although the pendant debacle came close. Faxanadu is still a very fun action RPG with awesome levels, enemies, and music. It’s very short and mostly linear, so don’t expect a lot of tricky puzzles, branching paths, or backtracking, just a good, weird time. Go climb a tree!

(Originally written 4/29/2017)

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