Xanadu Scenario II (Nihon Falcom, 10/1/86)Posted on June 3rd, 2010 9 comments
Xanadu, put out in late 1985 and therefore predating Dragon Quest, is a historical landmark in Japan’s video-game history. The English Wikipedia article on it is remarkably well-written and concise, more so than even the Japanese one right now, but neglects to mention why the game was such a hit in the first place — basically, it’s the first truly great (and truly original) made-in-Japan RPG, one that didn’t simply rip off Wizardry or Ultima wholesale.
You’ll see a bit of that old-school Ultima atmosphere in the battle scenes and the “Karma” parameter that goes up as you defeat monsters defined as “good” by the programming. (The virtue system from Ultima IV, which came out just before Xanadu, was undoubtedly an influence.) Western gamers will also notice parallels with Legacy of the Wizard, the NES game, which shares Xanadu’s side-view exploration, abstract architecture, and basic premise of collecting crowns and tracking down the legendary Dragon Slayer sword. This graphic style was also inherited by Faxanadu, although Falcom didn’t develop that one.
I’m linking to a speedy walkthrough video of the 1986 Xanadu Scenario II add-on pack, identical in gameplay to the original, mainly because it has better music. Soundtrack duties in Scenario II were handled by Takahito Abe (who I last mentioned in my Susa-no-Oh Densetsu article) and an 18-year-old Yuzo Koshiro, his first professional credit. To be precise, Koshiro didn’t compose music for this game — Falcom simply bought the rights to the PC-8801 music he had on his demo tape and threw it in. The Scenario II opening, dungeon levels 7, 9 and 11, and most of the boss music is his work. (Abe’s stuff shouldn’t be sniffed at, though, especially the two ending tracks.)
The opening few minutes will be a bit confusing if you aren’t familiar with Xanadu previously. In order to play Scenario II, one first had to boot up the original Xanadu disk and start up a new game. You begin in an ersatz castle town, where you visit the king to name your hero and then enter a series of training houses to define your starting parameters. Maxing out your charisma at the very beginning (as seen here) unlocks access to a secret underground shop where you can more fully prepare yourself for the coming expedition, buying potions and level-skipping talismans and such.
Once you enter the dungeon at the bottom of the tunnel network under the town, you’re prompted to switch disks. At this point you can perform a couple of tricks (again, demonstrated here) that let your character weasel out of the disk-switch prompt and access an Easter-egg battle that nets you the Vorpal Weapon, the most powerful sword outside of the Dragon Slayer. After that, you switch disks and Scenario II begins proper.
The aim of Scenario II is to defeat bosses, gather crowns, and defeat the King Dragon. The 11 levels of the dungeon can largely be explored in any order; you’re only limited by your current strength and stats. To beat the game the most quickly, a blitzkrieg approach is best — storming up the dungeon levels, nabbing all the top armor and equipment first, then going back down and taking out all the bosses. Your dexterity is so low at the start of the game that you can’t hit the broad side of a barn with your Vorpal Weapon, but with your trusty Large Shield +7 covering your hide, you can afford to be patient.
By the way, the NEC PC-8801mk2 that Xanadu was developed for uses the Yamaha YM2203 sound chip, with three FM channels and three SSG channels — basically, a standard AY-3-8910 with a bit of FM functionality tacked on. Most of the music uses only the three FM channels, which lend it a barren but oddly charming feel that would influence Falcom’s “house sound” for the next decade.
Thanks for this post. I find early Falcom stuff super-fascinating.
Dude, I’d be pissed to have gone through all that only to get blasted with an eyeful of Revelation.
Man, that’s pretty amazing all around. All the items reminds me of the old days when CRPGS were all about resource management. But there’s also a bunch of stuff in that video that just baffles me.
I kind of wish we could commission you to write subtitles or something for videos like this, explaining the nuances and doling out little tidbits of trivia. Have a dozen or so people contribute $3-5 each or whatever. But I imagine there would be quite a few problems with a concept like that.
man, i’m on the fence about xanadu. it seems like a must-own by virtue of its significance, but i’ve only ever heard about its crushing, brutal difficulty. and i’m struggling with romancia as-is.
hey keving, do you know much about falcom’s panorama island? from screenshots i always figured it was some koei-style strategy/war game, but from the little bit i’ve read it sounds like it was an early rpg? which would make it older than the black onyx, i think?
ah, interesting stuff! i’ve got a pc-8801 collecting bug, and a lot of those really early rpgs look fascinating, although they probably aren’t much fun to play. was amazed to see this one – guess the name has seen a lot of use over the years. http://refugee2005.sakura.ne.jp/library/1983/1983_11.htm#seiken
let me tell you though, i’d kill for a copy of the screamer; horror-themed cyberpunk dungeon crawler, yes please.
Interesting to see this old stuff being featured here. I went through a period years ago where I was obsessed with early Japanese computer game history and collected tons of old magazines and books related to the subject, as well as some of the actual hardware and software.
Anyway, If I remember correctly the first Japanese CRPGs were generally thought to be a handful of Koei titles that came out (on cassette tape) between late 1982 and late 1983 for the PC-8001, PC-8801 and FM-7. Titles were Dragon & Princess, King Khufu’s Hidden Treasure, Sword & Sorcery and Dungeon. Dragon & Princess was really a text adventure with some RPG and strategy bits thrown in, so I’d pick Khufu as the real first one, as I think it was sort of like an Egyptian themed version of the early Epyx (Temple of Apshai, etc.) school of RPGs and it came out in the spring of ’83.
Like Kevin said, most early Japanese CRPGs were usually just simplified and somewhat confused takes on Wizardry and Ultima. There was a big Apple II importing scene among the early computer geek crowd in Japan, so these influences came naturally. My own personal pick for the first true “JRPG” would probably be Hydlide, though. The first version came out some time in ’84 for the Sharp X1, and I can’t see too many similarities to American RPGs there. There was also an obscure early action RPG called Courageous Perseus that’s a good candidate, and of course the precursor to Xanadu itself, Dragonslayer, although that one was heavily influenced by a couple of earlier Apple II titles.
For Sharc, I wouldn’t worry too much about The Screamer. The aesthetics and packaging are awesome, but the gameplay is pretty horrendous. Also, that Seiken Densetsu game was actually a type-in from I/O magazine, which was one of the leading tech/programming oriented Japanese computer magazines (and a great source for old game ads). They released some of their better type-ins commercially, and that’s the version shown in the PC-88 Game Library. It’s a straight rip-off of Ultima II, BTW.
impressed with koshiro’s age-18 music! I guess he must’ve created some of it at an even younger age if he put it on the demo when he was 18? good job guy.
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