There are so many stories that revolve around a chosen hero who is destined to save the world from evil. Faxanadu puts a strong twist on that age-old cliché by making the protagonist no one special. He is just the latest after several others have all failed in their mission. The world Faxanadu starts you in makes you the last person left in a long line of potential saviors.
The Role You Play
There really is nothing all that special about the protagonist. You play as a traveler returning to his hometown after a long journey who finds that everything is in ruins. He is given no name. Most of his equipment, magic and items can be bought at tool shops and key stores. They are available to the general public and can be bought with money that is easily acquired by defeating monsters. All of this further adds to the story that the quest to defeat the evil caused by the invading dwarves isn’t exactly a quest for a chosen one. It’s a quest for the first person with enough strength and courage to persevere through the challenge.
After the main protagonist returns home and speaks with several of the townspeople and visits the local church, he receives a ring identifying himself as an elf and is told that dwarfs are taking over the land, have already invaded the town, and to meet with the King. He tells you that the elf fountain water has stopped flowing and all of the fountains have dried. Up. Many people have gone out to investigate what caused the water to stop, but no one ever came back. The king gives him 1500 gold and says that he could be the last hope to finally save the town.
The gameplay in Faxanadu is structured almost like an early Metroidvania game, but with a much more linear structure. The challenge comes from platforming sections, action RPG combat and plenty of enemies strewn about to obstruct your progress. Missing a jump or taking the wrong path can lead you astray and wear your health down. If it gets reduced to zero, you’ll be sent back o the last church you visited. Thankfully, you can stock your inventory with potions and other helpful items to help make the journey easier.
The path ahead is usually pretty straightforward, but there are a lot of obstacles that inhibit your ability to progress. You need keys to move through locked doors that you can only use once. Some doors require special rings to open. Other areas can only be accessed if you can fly to them with wing boots. Running from place to place and getting the items you need is a bit time-consuming. It becomes even more so if you go to the wrong place, forget an item, or die accidentally and have to restart from the last church you visited. On average, the game takes about 3-4 hours to complete.
While not the broadest range of music, Faxanadu does have a pretty good soundtrack, especially for an NES game. The respective tracks for the town, church and shop are repeated throughout the game, but they’re catchy, memorable and fit well. That feeling carries over to melodies like the one for the Land of Mist which sounds very dour and troublesome as if something bad has happened. It goes along well with the atmosphere of the area as everything is hazy and purple and just looks like some kind of disaster has befallen the area.
Faxanadu, like a lot of games of its era, uses a password system as opposed to a battery backup which became more popular later on. You learn a new password by visiting the church in town and talking to the priest. It’s not necessary to talk to the priest if you just want to have a place to continue from in case you die, but you do still have to enter the church and it’s easy to forget that. It gets really bad if you die and get sent back to the last church you visited, and if that was 4 or 5 towns ago, you will lose a lot of progress.
What makes Faxanadu’s password system especially bizarre is that it gets longer the farther you are into the game. Passwords from the beginning of the game are about 14 characters long and passwords near the end are 22. This means that if you try to write a password down and remember it for later, it can be a lot easier to make a mistake or forget one of the characters. That’s in addition to the usual hazards of entering in long passwords such as similar letters, which is also a problem since there are upper and lowercase letters, numbers, commas and question marks.
The Talking Parts
Everyone in the towns will have some bit of advice to offer about where to go and what to do. At least one person in town will serve as your primary source of information on how to get to your next destination. They will usually give you a clue like how you need a mattock to break through the rocks, but not necessarily how to get the mattock. That is ultimately up to you to figure out. There is someone like is in nearly every town. Even without the clues, most of the time, it isn’t too hard to figure out what to do.
The people do speak very cohesively and in complete sentences, but there is the occasional moment where there is a mistranslation. Something might be called one thing in dialogue, but then the item goes by another name. One example is a lot of the townspeople talk about the meteorite which is causing the dwarves to go crazy. When you get the meteorite, it’s called black onyx. It’s a little confusing, but it won’t throw you off too much.
Z…We’ve Reached the End. Anything Else?
I spent a very long time trying to figure out why one of the spells is called ‘TILTE’. I had never heard anything like that before and I haven’t since. It turns out that the spell’s name is a play on the word tilde (this symbol (~)) and tilt. It’s because the spell moves in the shape of a tilde, and then it tilts and flies diagonally upward.
Faxanadu puts you in the head of an adventurer who has to rise up and carry on in the place where other potential heroes have fallen. It’s a story that doesn’t seem spectacular at a glance, but once you get into it, it feels great to truly immerse yourself in the adventure it puts in front of you, and it only gets better the closer you get to the finish.