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Robot 08-08-2012 07:50 PM

Curious About Faxanadu?
The long-standing friendship between the elves and dwarves of the World Tree is on the verge of collapse. Without provocation the dwarves have besieged the elves and destroyed many of their homes. Now Eolis, the final stronghold of the elf's kingdom, is under attack by its dwarven neighbors. There is something terribly wrong about the dwarves, though. They have become twisted and mishapen as if they were subverted by a dark power - a dark power born of the black meteorite. These horrific stones have been striking the World Tree for some time and have polluted the realm. One of the meteorites was taken by the dwarves and has since been worshipped deep within their mountain kingdom. Whatever is in the stone has mutated the dwarves and driven them mad. Now they are attacking all that are in their way and will continue to do so until the meteorite is destroyed.

Just when Eolis was about to collapse an adventurer appeared at its gates. This individual had just returned to his home at Eolis to find it battered and nearly abandoned. The adventurer made his way into Eolis where he was informed by one of its remaining inhabitants to go see the king. During his audience he learned of Eolis's plight and was asked to aid them in the restoration of the elves fountain. Without its flow of life giving water the remaining elves would surely perish. The adventurer knows what must be done and immediately sets off on his journey. What he will learn on his way to the fountain will put him on the path to save the elves and confront the evil of the black meteorite.

One of the genres closely associated with the NES would have to be the action-role-playing or action-adventure genre. There are at least fifteen games within the genre available on the NES in North America, with each one focusing on top-down gameplay, side-scrolling gameplay, or both. Faxanadu fits neatly within the side-scrolling group which includes the likes of Castlevania II, Metroid, The Battle of Olympus, Milon's Secret Castle, and others. Faxanadu, however, is not as deep or as complex as any of the aforementioned games. In actuality it is the most linear of the group, featuring a quest that will continually push the player forward from one area to the next. That's not to say that Faxanadu doesn't feature some exploration or backtracking to older areas; it's just not as widely used as it is in other games.
Exploration does pick up near the end of the game

In regards to Faxanadu's gameplay, its combat and platforming is remarkably similar to Castlevania (minus the ability to crouch). The player's attacks and movements are deliberately paced, jumping is fixed, and pressing up and attack fires the selected secondary ability. This style of gameplay works for the most part, but there are times when a more nimble hero would have been useful. The game's platforming is a good example as to why. Faxanadu's dungeon design regularly uses vertical passageways with pits that will send players to the area below. During these parts players need to be careful of enemies and obstructions when they are jumping (they cannot alter their course once airborne), as the former is able to push them off from damamge recoil. This is especially true for the longer jumps that require the player to build up momentum in order to cross. At least players have a recourse if they encounter trouble with the game's platforming; they can buy wing boots that will allow them to fly for a limited time.

As for Faxanadu's combat, the rigidness of the character makes fighting difficult. The early portions of the game feature an abundance of low profile enemies that the player cannot strike. Magic must be expended to deal with them until the player can purchase the longsword. Speaking of magic, certain enemies can toss large fireballs at the player. Jumping over these projectiles is a tricky endeavor, especially if there are two or more mages on screen. At that point it is better to block their attacks and take reduced blocking damage until they are close enough to strike. Then there are issues with enemy placement when the player scrolls from one screen to another. Some enemies will be waiting for the player in akward positions, sometimes occupying the high ground casting fireballs uncontested.

In addition to those hazards, there are times where the player will climb a ladder to be immediately smacked off by an enemy waiting at the top. At that point the game requires players to make use of an unlisted attack where they are able to bounce at the top of the ladder and attack. It's quite sloppy, but that's not the worst of it. Later in the game players will encounter nests that will spawn enemies that will home in on their position. Not only are these enemies highly dangerous, but the massive nest can actually hit the player as it slides across the screen while the player moves into another area. Faxanadu also features an enemy that can hit the player without ever touching them.

It would have been appreciated if these mandatory hits were not in the game, even though the game mitigates this through enemies who exclusively drop health. The locations of these enemies becomes increasingly important the deeper a player moves in the game, as all-important red potions are best kept for the brutal boss encounters (or emergencies). Of course, health concerns could have been further alleviated if the magic system was properly implemented. While it's understandable that the game's magic system can be viewed as a last resort, the whole system seems wasted. Unlike health, which can be restored through three different methods, magic can only be recovered at a town (well, there is the elixir, but most players will never have an extra on hand). The player will go for significant stretches before reaching or returning to one (mostly from time spent navigating a dungeon), which pushes players to be extra conservative with magic use. This situation could have been avoided if certain enemies dropped magic restoratives.
Talk to the doctor for life and mana restoring treatment

Within the game's dungeons there are several minibosses, one of which is a huge blue gargoyle. While they are easily dispatched with magic they appear quite frequently. Just two encounters will drain a player's magic to nothing which means the remaining fights will have to be fought with the sword. As a player performs the exhausting task of exploring these areas these monsters will respawn if the player exits the screen and then returns to it. The game tends to put these monsters in locations where the player is forced to fight them at least twice. This pushes the player to learn how to fight them with the sword because they won't have the magic power to continually protect them. In the end, it's better to get used to melee combat right from the start and pretend that magic doesn't exist. And to add insult to injury, the game will eventually send magic-immune enemies for players to waste their precious power on.

There were times when Faxanadu was a chore to play; even the exploration component can give a player grief. Exploration isn't even difficult in Faxanadu due the to smaller area size in comparison to other games (like Zelda II's temples). The real issue with Faxanadu's exploration is the locked doors. These doors bar passage to new areas and require a specific key to unlock. Three of the game's five keys can be purchased (Jack, Queen, and King) while the last two are given as rewards (Joker and Ace). At the start of the game it's not too much of a problem as only one key type is available and it's easy enough to take an extra or two just in case. But, as player's progress further into the game the issue of which keys to take becomes more prominent. Additionally, when player's only have nine inventory slots (eight in pouch, one in hand) to work with to store keys, restoratives, and wing boots, they might run into a situation where they took the wrong key or not enough of the correct one. The whole situation can become annoying because they will need to backtrack to a town and get the proper equipment. If this happened maybe once or twice during the game the issue wouldn't be as noticeable. But, it happens every time a new area is reached.
Key management could have been handled better

The game isn't entirely against the player, though. Of special mention is the game's unusual level up system. On the surface it seems to have no real use outside of giving the player a new title, as there are no stat bonuses or other improvements conferred upon the player. Its real use comes into to play when a player continues via password. Faxanadu doesn't keep track of much information outside of a player's title, equipment, and items. Whatever money or excess experience they had when they quit was lost. Depending on their title they will continue the game with a certain amount of money. This system can be exploited very easily by allowing players to buy items, obtain a new password, enter it, and get their money back. When it comes to stocking keys, potions, or boots, this is the way to go to cut down on gold farming.

That's the only reprieve the game will grant, unfortunately, because Faxanadu even has items that work against the player. There are three items of interest that are quite dangerous. As a player travels through the World Tree, they may come across some hidden items that only appear after a room has been cleared of enemies. Some of them are actually helpful, like the ointment that grants limited invulnerability or the glove that temporarily increases attack power. But then there are the nasty ones.

The first one is poison. This little brown bottle is usually placed in spots that are hard to avoid. Most of the time players will just have to take it, lose some health, and move on. The second item is the hourglass. This item should be quite useful since it can stop enemies for a good amount of time. Unfortunately, it will cost players half of their health to use. At that point it is better to rough it and lose less health by fighting through the obstacle. Finally, there is the pendant which is an item that will permanently sit in the player's inventory. According to the manual the pendant is supposed to raise a player's attack power once collected. In reality it does the reverse. The weapon a player would be carrying at the time of acquiring the pendant is the long sword. Before the pendant it will down enemies with two strikes and three strikes after collecting it. It is unknown whether this was intentional or a glitch.
Grab the pendant and be weakened forever

While Faxanadu does have quite a few nagging issues, its unusual visual style is not one of them. Faxanadu's visuals went against the common aesthethic of the time (which was to use bright colors) and used a muted color palette full of earth tones. Its style also makes sense within its own game world and the player's quest through the World Tree. From the foot of the tree, through its trunk, and into the dungeons within, Faxanadu's visuals remain strong throughout. As for the game's soundtrack, it's quite varied. Whether it's the lengthy title screen piece or the catchy overworld theme, the game will at least entertain the ears while it doles out punishment.
Faxanadu features a consistent visual design

Faxandu is an incredibly difficult game to recommend. The platforming can be frustrating, the combat can wear you down, and the key situation makes traveling a chore. The game, however, isn't anymore difficult than a typical NES action game; it just has a few more details that need to be managed. Still, Faxanadu's adventure is not as deep or as satisfying as Metroid's or Zelda's. But, it is still worth a look if you're in need of an adventure game.

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