After playing Faxanadu for the first time in 20 years, I’m happy to say that it’s even better than I remember.
Countless nights were spent staying up far too late, engrossed by a tale of Dwarves and Elfs locked in a war that raged in, around, and on a massive tree. Unfortunately, I never made it that far in the game (I was, after all, 7-8 years old at the time), but I still spent a considerable amount of time with it. The music, the graphics, the cheesy writing, the items, the sound effects…every aspect of Faxanadu is deeply etched into my gaming memories, doubly-so since said memories were created during my young childhood.
As we all know, nostalgia can often cloud reality, but I’m very happy to report that this is not the case with Faxanadu. While I’ve listened to the soundtrack many times over the years (I find it to be perfect for writing code while at work), I recently decided that just listening to my memories wasn’t enough: I took the plunge a few days ago, and bought it through the Virtual Console on the Wii, prepared to have my perfect nostalgia ruined. Imagine my surprise when I discovered just how well Faxanadu has aged.
Controls and interface
While the controls are stiff by today’s standards, they actually have a solid rhythmic aspect to them. This is something that’s a bit hard to describe without playing the game, but suffice it to say that combat in Faxanadu is a unique experience. True, it has some similarities to other side-scrolling games from the era (such as Castlevania and Zelda II), but there’s an intangible special something to Faxanadu’s combat that provides you with an experience you won’t find elsewhere.
The way you move, the satisfying “tingtingting” of being close enough to an enemy to hit them multiple times with a single button press, deftly blocking a projectile, jumping out of the way of a charging foe at just the right time…the combat as a whole conveys a satisfying sense of accomplishment, and provides a decent challenge without feeling cheap (or, as Brittnie likes to put it, “Nintendo-hard”.)
As for the interface, it’s a little confusing at first, but you’ll find yourself acclimating to it quickly. There is, of course, the annoying inability to equip anything while indoors, but aside from that one little rub, the interface is well laid out. The inventory system is kept as simplistic as possible, and there’s rarely a time when you’ll mistakenly use an item without meaning to. The only exception to this is with the keys: once you use a key, it disappears from your inventory, so when you decide to go through a locked door, you better be damn sure you’re ready to continue on. If you didn’t buy two keys to begin with, you’ll be trekking all the way back to town.
The password/mantra system is probably one of the best from the era. The mantra system allows you to easily restart with all the same gear should you die during your voyage, while the password system allows you to continue your game if you turn the system off. Even though the password system suffers from the dreaded “holy-crap-how-many-letters-are-there” syndrome, the passwords themselves are clean and easy to read. One big help is that the zeros and upper-case Os are differentiated from each other by way of a line going through the zeroes. You damn kids today likely won’t understand why that’s such a big deal, but as the folks that grew up with this stuff can attest to, clearly showing what’s a zero and what’s an O can save a ton of frustration.
Of course, thanks to the Virtual Console’s awesome save-state feature (go back to the main Wii menu, and the next time you load up the game, it will continue from where you left off), the password system is a bit moot. Still, it’s in your best interest to occasionally snap a picture of the password screen.
Faxanadu’s music ranks as some of the best the NES has to offer. Picture this scene: it’s one o’clock in the morning, eerie light from your TV flickering across the otherwise dark room. It’s just you, a blanket, and the controller, when suddenly this music starts to play:
It still gives me chills every time I hear it.
I could show you countless photos and videos, but that would be doing a great injustice. This truly is a beautiful game, one which has stood the test of both time and nostalgia. In an era with 100+ hour RPGs, HD graphics, gory visuals, and explosions everywhere you look, Faxanadu may be just what you’ve been looking for. Turn out the lights, turn up the volume, and prepare to traverse the dangerous realm of the World Tree.