Aksys Games revealed Tokyo Xanadu eX+ for the PS4 in the summer of 2016 as a port of the niche hit Tokyo Xanadu, a title that released on the PS Vita to relatively strong success. Developer Nihon Falcom found a winning formula for its new JRPG, building on the classic action elements old school fans of the Xanadu series had come to expect with social sim elements borrowed from Persona. The handheld title struggled with localization and plot issues, however, and North America was far more unkind to Tokyo Xanadu than Japanese fans. Now, with a re-release that aims to bring Tokyo Xanadu eX+ onto the PS4 and PC, can Asksys and Nihon Falcom make good on the promise of the PS Vita version?
One of the first things that struck me about Tokyo Xandu eX+ is just how dated it looks, especially for a title that released in late 2015. While the transition from the small screen and technological restrictions of the PS Vita certainly hindered what the developer could do for the PS4 version, the fact of the matter is that Tokyo Xanadu eX+ simply doesn’t look good. Characters look like they would be more at home on a PS2, and the various labyrinths that make up the bulk of the game’s dungeon exploration are dull to the point that, outside of the few end-game locations that are suitably epic, everything just kind of blurs together.
It’s also telling just how mundane the day-to-day life of Kou, the game’s protagonist, seems to be. While other JRPGs with social sim elements find ways to make daily life exciting through character development and a vibrant environment, Tokyo Xanadu eX+ bucks the trend, instead offering a world that feels small—and stagnant—enough to fit inside a snowglobe. A “bustling” street might be populated by about five people, while the shopping district’s generic item shops are only slightly different from the city square’s generic item shops.
For a game that’s built to be explored, and features a number of ease-of-life elements like fast travel and dungeon repetition to enable that philosophy, the fact that Tokyo Xanadu eX+ doesn’t look the part is a huge strike against it on a console as powerful as the PS4—or the PS4 Pro, for that matter, which is what I played it on.
If graphical prowess had been sacrificed for a better story and crisper gameplay in Tokyo Xanadu eX+, the simplicity of its character and environmental designs might have been easier to overlook. Unfortunately, Tokyo Xanadu eX+ also features the same plodding, uninspired story about a high school protagonist who can do no wrong. Kou is a good friend to the point that it is nearly unbelievable, sacrificing his own free time and personal goals in an effort to protect those he cares about—and Kou cares about a lot of people. I was frequently baffled by Kou’s decision-making process, which was less logical and more about whatever would drive the plot forward more quickly.
Kou’s formative teenage years begin, as most often do, when he stumbles across a portal to another dimension opened up by the inherent negativity present in humanity’s collective consciousness. Once transported inside, he witnesses transfer student Asuka fend off some demons called greeds before she attempts, quite unsuccessfully, to wipe his memory of the endeavor. Eventually, Kou gets dragged into a supernatural conflict between humans attempting to suppress these portals to the Eclipse, the demon world, and the greeds who are attempting to prey on humanity.
Still, Kou is a generically handsome and popular protagonist in a JRPG that features a predictable apocalyptic plot. That’s not a strike against the game so much as an indication that it needs a strong cast to draw out the story and its emotions. Unfortunately, here is where Tokyo Xanadu eX+ stumbles the most. The cast is as stereotypical as it gets in a JRPG in 2017, and I never felt personally invested in any of their struggles together. Tokyo Xanadu eX+ offers a number of side stories that the original Vita version did not include, playing out in between the game’s regular “episodes” and offering more insight into the daily lives of the crew outside of Kou. While this seems good in theory, what the side stories actually do is highlight the failings of the rest of the cast, and I began to feel a sense of dread as I came up on completing a new chapter only to be faced with the prospect of slogging through another side episode. There are only so many times “friendship is good” can be reiterated in a game without elaboration before it becomes mind-numbing.
All of this being said, however, there is a saving grace in Tokyo Xanadu eX+. The game’s combat system, simple though it may be, essentially never grows old. It’s an arcade-style beat ‘em up with a few RPG elements sprinkled in, and it never ceases to be addictive. Players are rewarded for exploiting enemy weaknesses, and can alternate between party members to better address them. Equipment is highly customizable, and despite there really only being four attacks—those being regular, heavy, flying, and ranged (magic)—the game does an excellent job in presenting different situations that reward switching up attack patterns.
The boss fights in Tokyo Xanadu eX+ are also a delight. While the game, even on its hardest modes, could be described as extremely forgiving in general, the boss fights are a different story. Players will be presented with a save point right before most bosses, and it’s a good thing, too, as each boss has a unique attack pattern and series of weaknesses that often require more than one attempt to get completely down. These boss fights don’t ever feel frustrating, however, and beating them feels like a nice accomplishment to cap off an episode of the game’s story.
Over the course of the game, I was never able to find a combination of equipment and ability customization that made boss fights feel trivial, or dungeon running more of a mindless chore than an active bit of monster bashing. That’s a testament to the surprisingly deep combat system present in Tokyo Xanadu eX+, and if nothing else, this game is proof that good game mechanics can make even the most average story worth pressing through.
If Asksys Games and Nihon Falcom were serious about porting Tokyo Xanadu to the PS4, there was a lot more that could have been done. Graphics needed a major overhaul, and the additional side stories were merely fluff that didn’t contribute a lot to making an already bland story more interesting. When the game is at its best, however, it is an enjoyable dungeon runner that features intriguing, fun combat, and it’s definitely worth playing for those who never experienced the original Tokyo Xanadu for PS Vita—just with the caveat that players will need to stomach a lot of flavorless JRPG tropes to get to what makes Tokyo Xanadu eX+ tasty enough to merit its forty-hour-long runtime.
Tokyo Xanadu eX+ review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.