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‘Tokyo Xanadu’: Offers Shades of ‘Persona,’ But Doesn’t Quite Hit The Mark

For a game that is so heavily shaded in the Persona series’ style, unfortunately the story of Tokyo Xanadu doesn’t quite gain a grip.

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Tokyo Xanadu
Developer(s): Nihon Falcom
Publisher(s): Nihon Falcom (JP), Aksys Games (NA)
Platform(s): PS Vita
Release Dates(s): June 30th

For a game that is so heavily shaded in the Persona series’ style, unfortunately the story of Tokyo Xanadu doesn’t quite gain a grip. The game is all about being a high schooler whilst being thrust into an entirely new world where you need to be a hero, fighting off the forces of evil and protecting your friends. It sounds and feels familiar, and the cast of characters do nothing to separate this game from all the other pieces of media that follow a very similar plot line.

Part high school simulator, part dungeon crawling character action, Tokyo Xanadu is the newest installment in the long-running Xanadu game series. This entry however deviates from the prior games, taking the elements of action-RPG and fusing them with a Persona-esque system. Neither does the story hearken back to the previous games, standing alone with the name being the major link into the series.

The protagonist of the game, Kou Tokisaki, finishes a shift at his part-time job and sees a classmate, Asuka Hiiragi, being followed by a duo of delinquents. Sensing trouble, Kou follows them, and witnesses a strange crack in reality form and take in all three people, and eventually him as well, thrusting him into a strange new place filled with monsters. From here he finds that not only does Asuka wield a magical power that allows her to defeat the monsters, but that the same power lies within himself, as well. As the story progresses his friends become wrapped up in this world referred to as the ‘Eclipse’ and find their own powers as well as they try to find the secrets that lie within.

Everything feels very run-of-the-mill, with very cliched characters, who all fit neatly into the genre in their respective positions. There’s the childhood friend, the mysterious exchange student, the best friend who’s got hormones running wild, and they all don’t get much further than 1 dimension. That being said, they are well-formed cliches, and their interactions together lead to some fun moments. The cast and story feel like an anime, and the game is complete with an opening cinematic with a theme song that plays at the start of every chapter, like it’s a new episode.

There’s an implied sense of urgency, in that a friend is usually inside the ‘Eclipse’ and is in danger of being killed by the various evils within, but there’s not a grounding event at the start to solidify that danger. There’s no death, no injury even caused by the things on the inside. They’re monsters, and obviously are hostile, but without an event showing what they really can do, the urgency is weakened considerably.

Tokyo Xanadu is broken up into two distinct gameplay segments, one being free time, and the other being the dungeon crawling action side of things. Free time is interesting, with a lot of people to talk to, and stores to visit and buy from. So whilst the town Tokyo Xanadu is set in, Morimiya, isn’t all that interesting a location inherently, there’s at least depth to it, and the stores constantly updating their wares is a bonus. There’s quests to be done, although they’re fairly limited and are mostly just fetch quests, and you can hang out with central members of the cast during free time to increase your ‘friendship’ level. As their equivalent to ‘social links,’ this gives an insight into their characters and personality, but are often incredibly brief. The game fails to create real connections between the player and the characters in these moments, and due to the elision of the time they spend together the other characters don’t get much development time.

The other side of gameplay is much more well-realized, with character action style segments fighting the monsters in the ‘Eclipse’ referred to as the ‘Greed.’ In the story it’s explained that negative emotions create the rifts between worlds which allow you to access these dungeons, and severe negative emotions or trauma create a shadow that feeds off an individual referred to as a ‘Phantom.’ These Phantoms are the bosses, whilst the Greed are the fodder enemies on the way.

The gameplay in ‘Eclipse’ is fairly enjoyable, whilst it never gets anywhere near Platinum character action levels, it’s straightforward and has some variability with character switching and movement. It feels incredibly rewarding and satisfying to get the hang of character switching in accordance with enemy weaknesses, and the dodge feels responsive and fluid. Here is where the game feels smooth, the combos are as simple as mashing X, but you also have a charge attack, a ranged attack, and air attacks. The puzzles aren’t very intriguing and most of the dungeons are very linear, but the journey is still very enjoyable. Another big win for these segments is the enemy designs, while there aren’t a wide variety of them most of the enemies look macabre and detailed. The music is a bit hit-or-miss, feeling very derivative but still competent, and as the game progresses the average quality of the soundtracks seems to improve.

There are some clever references to both real life and other games, including a self-aware nod to Chie from Persona 4 on a meat item, and there’s a refreshing amount of comedy. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the main character is convincingly ‘real’ about situations. However the lightheartedness seems to heavily outweigh any threat or dark undertones in the early portion of the game, releasing any tension from the overall situation as it grows.

As an action-RPG the game is solid, and the free time side of the game doesn’t do anything particularly egregious, but overall it doesn’t quite hit the mark on any narrative front. Tokyo Xanadu is definitely worth the price of entry for those into these sorts of games that have become so popular as of late, but it doesn’t do anything special and doesn’t leave a strong memory behind. In the end it’s an alright game with a shining light in the combat.

Shane Dover is a Melbourne, Australia based freelance writer contributing to Japanese punk news site Punx Save The Earth, punk publication Dying Scene, Diabolique Magazine and Goomba Stomp. Not just a fan of punk music, he's spent most of his life obsessed with the horror genre across all media, Japanese cinema, as well as pop culture in general. He plays music and writes fiction, check out his Twitter (https://twitter.com/Karzid) for updates on those projects.

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