Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Legend of Xanadu II

Super CD-ROM

I've played through this magnificent action-RPG a good five or six times now. It's a grand, beautiful adventure game that is far too easy and criminally short; it doesn't come anywhere close to its predecessor in terms of challenge or scope. However, that might not be a negative for people who don't feel like contending with a daunting language barrier. This episode is quite easy to get into and enjoy, and judging by my own experiences, it has fantastic replay value.

The action is still primarily bump-and-run Ys-style fare, but combat is more entertaining here thanks to the inclusion of actual attack animations. You still send Areios crashing into his foes as if he's a speedy, maniacal linebacker, but now he hacks away with his sword as you do it. Your computer-controlled allies get attack styles of their own: while you're doing your slashing, Lykos may be tossing knives; Pyrra, hurling fireballs; and Media, shooting arrows, with lots of enemies facing the group at once. Field excursions feel extremely exciting and chaotic with all that action going on, even though the gameplay is still a matter of bumping at heart.

While the first game places much of its focus on puzzles and fetch-quest-type tasks, this one concentrates on elements of combat and exploration. It plops you down in vast, beautiful locations and has you hack your way across the land, enjoying the amazing scenery as you go. I must emphasize that "beautiful" part, as these are amazing visuals that set the standard for PCE action-RPGs.

The music, though mostly chip fare just as before, is also brilliant, especially the dramatic final-dungeon track. I usually don't turn up the volume very high while I'm playing video games, as I'm a mild-mannered fellow and all, but I definitely cranked it for some of these tunes.

Now, the lack of puzzles is disappointing, as there are so many cleverly constructed ones in the first game. Here, the most puzzling conundrum is how exactly Pyrra suddenly became hot. (Even Areios seems baffled by this.)

Also a little disappointing is the omission of full-length side-view stages, as only the boss fights are played from such a perspective. The artwork on display during these fights actually doesn't live up to the visual standards set by the action strips in the first LoX, but there's a fantastic gauntlet at the very end here.

Most of what I'm citing as disappointments are things that bother me only because I'm comparing this game to its predecessor; if you haven't played the first one, you'll of course be judging this episode on its own strong merits.

Among those merits is town design. LoX2 features some gorgeous, enormous towns, very atypical in design for 16-bit metropolises. Now, milling around these gargantuan villages will be anything but enjoyable for folks who want to get right to the action, but if you're the type who likes a leisurely pace and you enjoy taking in the sights on offer as you stroll about fantasy towns, you'll love this for sure, as everything from a humble hut in the woods to a giant urban seaport looks absolutely wonderful.

I'm somewhat fickle when it comes to my view on how the two LoXs compare. When I've played them back to back, I've found the first to be the more impressive game, as it's so much more challenging and rewarding. But over the years I've generally held LoX2 in higher regard because I'm a sucker for its visuals, tunes, and chaotic combat and I've been enticed to return to it twice as often. But now more than ever I realize that it's pointless to compare the two. They are both brilliant and constitute a significant reason the Duo is undoubtedly the best system ever for action-RPGs. Buy them both, unless you really don't want to deal with the language issue in the first one, in which case you should still acquire the second.