Ok, let's Begin!
Faxanadu was released in Japan by Hudson Soft in 1987 and was later distributed to North America in 1989 and finally in Europe in 1990 courtesy of the Mattel corporation. So how to describe Faxanadu? I would say it was an action-adventure platformer with elements of role-playing and labyrinth-like level design. The game's style is somewhat similar to Castlevania or Zelda 2, in that it's side on rather than overhead, and you regularly come across towns with NPC's to talk to in order to get clues to your next destination. Faxanadu is supposedly a spin-off of Xanadu which is part of the long-running RPG series Dragon Slayer.
You return to your home after a long journey, finding it in a state of desolation. The rivers are dry and the gates to the kingdom have been closed, but a few men guard the ramparts. Upon entering the town you go to see the King of the Elves and find out what has happened. He tells you that the springs have dried up and the dwarves are responsible. He tells you that he's sent many men but none have returned. He asks you to restore the life-giving springs and put an end to the dwarves madness. At which point he gives you the some of "1500 golds" to help you prepare, by the way, that is not a typo he says "golds". So after grabbing a knife and some food you head off. As you progress from town to town you learn that a meteorite came crashing down. After this event, the dwarves emerged crazed, twisted and mutated, which conveniently explains why nearly everything you fight looks nothing like a classic dwarf. It's explained that the dwarves have become obsessed with the meteorite and possessed by some dark evil force called the Evil One. In order to free them and restore peace, you must find legendary artefacts to take the battle to the dwarves and ultimately the evil at the heart of this madness.
Faxanadu has a decent score of music for an NES game and doesn't come across as overly repetitive. It all feels very adventure like giving you moods of safety (usually in the town), exploration (when your fighting monsters on the road), fear (when exploring the creepier areas) and the action-filled boss battle music.
The Sprite design in Faxanadu is actually pretty good you can tell what's an enemy and what's a piece of scenery and what's a door or not a door. The only things I'd say that look pretty close in the design are the sprites for poison and red potions, but I suspect this was done on purpose as a sort of trap. The sprite design is also actually very good when it comes to the enemies providing you with quite the plethora of monsters to fight. Each monster also has its own way of attacking which keeps things interesting when you run into a new one. Note I say monsters, though the game's NPCs refers to them as dwarves, and for some time you'll be wondering why? Especially when you come across one of the few sprites that still looks dwarf-y in a fantasy traditional sense.
NPCs in Faxanadu are also quite helpful providing you with a decent amount of clues to help you navigate the labyrinths your adventuring through. This is in stark contrast with the likes of Castlevania's Simon's Quest where the clues are stupidly cryptic or just straight-up nonsense. If you want the best chance of getting through the game I'd say take every opportunity to talk to as many NPCs as possible in this game.
I won't spoil it but Faxanadu actually has quite a gratifying badass ending, with a sort of cowboy-like heading off into the sunset kind of vibe. It's actually animated and colourful rather than a horrible white on black background with a terrible misspelt final message or even worse just simply black and then back to the title screen. No Faxanadu gives you an ending that actually feels worthwhile for the NES.
A lot of the Cons in Faxanadu are pretty minor so I'll start with the most frustrating which is items specifically the purchasing of items and the use of keys, let us start with purchase items. Now in most games I know you can select an item, then select the quantity of them before you buy. I'm aware that this is rare for NES games but I have seen NES games where you can at least stay in the store menu and buy the items one at a time. In Faxanadu though you buy one item and the store owner ends the conversation, presumably thinking that you'd only need one health item. I mean who needs two healing items your only going to fight a labyrinth of monsters, come on "hero", man up! So yeah each time you buy an item you have to wade through the shop keeps dialogue. It's not especially annoying but it begins to grate on you after an hour or two.
Then there's the problem with keys, I have to ask you which game have you been in where there's a store that literally sells keys to dungeon doors? I don't know whether this was part of the initial design or put in I suspect to make the game artificially longer because all this creates is backtracking. You get so far to your next destination only to come across a door that requires a specific key usually a Jack, Queen or King. Once you find this you have to backtrack to the nearest key store to get your dungeon key. It's also not like the designers didn't employ the traditional methods of finding a person or completing a quest to get a key or item that unlocks the next area. You know how I know this because you'll find doors marked with other cards like Joker or Ace that you can't buy at the key store. So I recommend if you're in town take some time out to get a stock of the local keys, but remember you only have eight items you can carry so don't overstock.
Faxanadu employs a password system to record progress through the game. Which is provided via the Gurus in the village temples which the Gurus call mantras. So what's the problem with this? Well, it's the complexity of these passwords more than anything. They usually consist of 12 digits of either numbers, letters and symbols. It's not a major issue more of a pain than anything, especially when you've got to account for lower case and upper case letters which look pretty similar when written down.
Nerd O Meter Rating
A high 3 out 5
Faxanadu is quite an enjoyable romp into the NES library. It's presented well and it keeps the player wanting to progress through the game with interesting new enemies and even little extra plot points through the game. Other than the Cons I've already pointed out there is a little money farming in the game, but this is actually quite easy to do as every section you pass through the monsters are respawned. So you can happily move to your left and kill the enemies there then move back to the right to kill the newly respawned monsters there. Then just rinse and repeat till you've got all the money you need for potions, weapons, armour or keys. So if you want an enjoyable labyrinth adventure game from the NES library then I recommend Faxanadu.