Publisher: Hudson Soft
Year of Release: 1989
Date Reviewed: 1-24-98
I truly believe -- as do most people* -- that human beings should, despite the toil involved, constantly examine themselves if they are to correct their errors and evolve personally. We all make mistakes. No one is exempt from it -- any bucolic twit who still believes world leaders are should be taken to the proverbial woodshed, if I may be candid. I know for certain that I have erred more than a few times in my life. Witness, for example, some proclamations I’ve made about Faxanadu. I am noted as having liked this game better than any other on the NES, which I did, but only for about a week. Thankfully though, Faxanadu didn’t prove to be another Godzilla -- a game that went from preeminence to utter crappiness in fewer than sixty seconds. There is a lot to sustain the player here, yet somehow not quite enough...
For this game’s hero, it seems rest and relaxation are doomed to be restricted to his dreams. After having been off on an adventure of unspecified length, the moniker-less fellow returns to his home in Eolis -- a town inhabited entirely by his elfin people (they’re not short) -- to find it in rather poor condition. A townsperson informs him that the king has been awaiting his return eagerly, and thus the hero advances to meet with his sovereign (dodging strange spiked blobs that have taken over the town square on the way.) Upon the hero’s arrival, the king discloses the rather sorry state of affairs in Eolis. The Elven Fountain, the Eolisians’ (I’m assuming that’s what they call themselves) source of water, has stopped flowing, and none of the emissaries that were sent to assess the situation have returned. This, of course, indicates that something portentous is taking place outside the village, and, rather than send the taskless knight who just paces around outside his castle (or some other better-rested fellow), the king instructs poor, fatigued you to go and figure out just what in Hell is going on (are you honestly surprised?) Now, despite the fact that your character has supposedly been off on some kind of trying sojourn, he doesn’t have any tangible weapons or armor (cynics might suspect that he’s truly been off on some kind of tropical vacation, but not me -- oh no, not ME.) So, he buys all the necessary accouterments with the money his lord supplies, and sets off in the shadow of the awing World Tree (a bunch of elves who depend on a tree... does anyone else suddenly crave fudge?) to solve the mystery of the fountain.
Not long into the hero’s adventure, he discovers that the “Dwarves” -- synonymous with evil in this game -- have begun dabbling in general sadism, and takes it upon himself to put an end to their threat once he fixes the impeded fountain. This is where the first of the game’s disappointments comes into play. Restoring the fountain is something of a lengthy task, which insinuates to the player that actually getting rid of the dwarves will be an odyssey. It’s not, however. The remainder of the game is less than twice the length of the fountain escapade, and the so potentially excellent plot virtually ceases to exist after the end of said task. Townspeople stop offering worthwhile information -- as a result of which your task becomes simply walking around listlessly until you stumble into where you’re supposed to be -- and the lack of any palpable objective completely eliminates even the vaguest facsimile of a story.
The stores also get in the way of the plot. That is, the interchange between the player and shopkeeper is overly drawn-out. When spoken to, the shopkeeper welcomes you, which would be pleasant if not for the slowly-scrolling text. After that, you choose from the two options -- “Come here to buy” and “Come here to sell” (“BUY” and “SELL” would have sufficed, Hudson.) More sluggish text ensues, and then you choose your item. The shopkeeper tediously thanks you for your patronage, and then, if it happens that you need more than one item, YOU HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE BLASTED INTERCHANGE AGAIN! Perhaps this doesn’t sound as though it has much to do with the story, but I will say from experience that it slows the game down to such an infuriating degree that the player stops caring about what takes place.
Speaking of the text, I should also mention that it’s accompanied by a rather grating, “chop-chop-chop” sound -- like an electric typewriter sealed up in a paper bag. Plus, because both the shop and village songs lack a variety of instruments, that sound tends to drown out the music. Fortunately though, the songs that play when there is no text to be heard happen also to be the game’s best. But to be frank, the “first overworld” theme is the only one I find myself wanting to hear when not playing the game, though several other songs elicit somewhat moderate enjoyment when heard. The key word there, though, is “moderate.” Faxanadu’s soundtrack, though unique in terms of composition, suffers from the most horrible of all musical maladies -- self-repetition. I fear that it’s more for that reason than because of any great quality that the songs are hummable, but I’m not reaching by saying that what little composition exists ranks, for the most part, among the “above average” fraternity of game soundtracks.
With the visuals, I have my gripes -- most of which are concentrated upon the repugnant scenery of Eolis. However, once you get out of that town, the game’s appearance improves dramatically (seriously, what color blind fool designed that place?**) The palette gets about ninety-seven thousand times better, and the scenery in general seems more detailed. The sprite engine never quite rebounds, though. Other than the bosses (which, to be fair, include some magnificent gargoyles), the characters tend to be a tad blurry from a distance, and downright ugly up close. Also, the towns never quite attain freshness. In fact, they manage, by way of their unattractive houses and lack of backgrounds, to be even more generic and repulsively-colored than Eolis. And we’re talking about the makers of Adventure Island here! Sure, its sprites weren’t great, but the color palette still stands among the best ever to grace the NES. So what happened here? Between “AI” and Faxanadu, Hudson’s graphic engineers obviously either resigned, lost interest in their jobs, or just smoked a lot of hashish.
And yet, they still managed to turn out the game’s character portraits -- depictions of the many shopkeepers, gurus (holy men who supply you with passwords -- aka “mantras”), and other important figures. While these don’t rank at the level of Ninja Gaiden or Vice: Project Doom, they’re still a hell of a lot more than most games of this kind ever tried (ahem, Castlevania II.) However, while I can’t speak for these rendered folks, I imagine that I’d be a little downcast if my voice sounded like a typewriter in a bag...
Many side-scrolling adventure games (which Faxanadu is -- I don’t think I’ve mentioned that in the body of this review) suffer from the same drawback that beleaguers this game -- erratic jumping control. Actually, I have to amend a part of that statement, as the hero doesn’t really jump. Rather, he hops quite tightly, never getting much of any distance, and barely clearing even the shortest of gaps. As a result of this, the player will fall into more than a few pits simply because he/she failed to jump at precisely the right moment. These pits, though, aren’t of the typical “fall-in-and-die” variety. Instead, the player will end up in some other part of the dungeon in question, thus being forced to retrace his steps and make his way back to the pit he fell into. Personally, I think I’d prefer it if my character just died.
However, this game is something of a hallmark in that it is the first to apply momentum to a humanoid character. As the hero walks, his velocity builds, leading eventually to some abstract maximum. The growth of speed is kind of abrupt, I admit, but this innovation is quite an interesting novelty. Thankfully though, momentum doesn’t build both ways. That is, though the hero does accelerate, he doesn’t coast before stopping -- something that has been troublesome to more games than I can think to count.
Because the hero’s life meter is quite expansive, and several enemies drop life-restoring bread when defeated, one can last quite a while in this game. However, Faxanadu doesn’t seem to care much where it places enemies in its many dungeons. It often throws a smattering of beasts at the hero, which knock him between two higher partitions, wedging him rather tightly into a corner from which he can escape only by wasting some magic he would likely rather save for a skirmish with a boss. Still, the aforementioned sustenance is often left in droves when the hero escapes from such a jam, and thus the player is seldom in any real danger of being defeated -- frustrated, yes; defeated, no.
The ultimate demise of this game is, as Tim Connolly suggests, its failure to hold the player’s interest. In the opening bits, Faxanadu entices the player, but to be blunt, everything that redeems the game is concentrated into the “fountain” episode. After that -- and rather abruptly, sad to say -- the game’s fascinating qualities peel away like layers upon layers of paint, leaving in the end only a bare, rather rough and uninteresting wall. My suggestion? Don’t peel away the paint. If you get past the first part the game, leave it for a couple weeks, then play the first part again. You’re honestly not missing anything by approaching the game in that way.
* Wow, my beliefs belong to a majority. How often does that happen?
** Two messages to those of you people out there who are excessively concerned with “political correctness.” First, you’re idiots. Second, this isn’t a slur. If you think it is, get over it.
Play Control: 6.5
Analytic Score: 6.9
Personal Score: 7
"Okay, so maybe jumping was disrespectful, but now my head's stuck in the chandelier!"
"Smoking causes emphyzema, lung cancer, birth defects, and makes your breath smell! PUT IT OUT, MAN! PUT IT OUT!!!"
Bill Cosby put it best, and I suspect it's befitting of this scene: "BAP!"
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