Friday, June 3, 2011

Xak I & II

~ XAK I & II ~
Micro Cabin / Riot / Telenet
Super CD-ROM

The whole "two episodes in one" thing along with the knowledge that the main Xak games are action-RPGs caused me to think of Ys Book I & II whenever this particular Riot release would come up in discussion. But it wasn't until I got to try it for myself that I realized just how many commonalities Xak I & II has with Falcom's famous product. In fact, it immediately comes off as an overt Ys mimicker, due in large part to its deja-vu-inducing bump-and-run gameplay. But with extremely fast-paced action and an excellent red book score, Xak proves itself to be much more than some cheap, two-bit imitator.

Nothing could shroud the Ys similarities on display here, but subtle graphical touches and neat in-game moments make Xak special in its own right. Inspect a heavily guarded treasure chest to find a family of helpful little gnomes, don an aquatic suit for a trip across a dual-tower's watercourse, and shrink yourself via magical means for dashes through mouse-made tunnels. Watch for cool little in-game animations: your character sheathes his sword when he's not on the offensive, and his mantle blows in the wind as he leaps from one platform to another. Indeed, there are jumping gauntlets to pass; there are even a couple of vertically scrolling shoot-'em-up sequences.

Most legs of the adventure, regardless of the play styles implemented for them, are straightforward. While some of the dungeons demand a good bit of time and thought, none of them are even nearly as complex in design as the largest Ys labyrinths. This may not be a negative for those who weren't enamored with Book II's required "in and out and all around" Solomon Shrine treks. However, most everyone will miss the unforgettable villains and dramatic plot points that Ys is known for but Xak is devoid of, though the latter does manage to hold its own cinematically.

Perhaps the only significant letdown here is the ease with which all challenges can be passed. The bosses, as cool looking as they are, come off as easily annihilated chumps if you're at reasonably high levels when you encounter them. Of course, power grinding isn't exactly compulsory, but level-ups occur so frequently anyway that you almost can't help but end up an almighty boss-slaughtering beast.

Xak is easy and short, but it's still a very well-executed action-RPG in the Ys vein, and it makes for fleeting-but-fantastic fun. Fans of the first, second, and fourth Ys episodes should consider it a must-buy.