RPG Grind Time – Three Upcoming Nihon Falcom Darlings To Watch

by Kimberley Wallace on Jul 02, 2017 at 04:14 PM

Now that the dust has settled on E3 and I’ve had time to process the show, I wanted to take a closer look at some games that might have got lost in the shuffle. Many of my favorite RPGs are from Nihon Falcom, a developer I’ve been a big fan of for some time. Falcom has been around for over 35 years, best known for pioneering the action/RPG with Dragon Slayer and the Ys series. Later, the studio found much fanfare with The Legend of Heroes, especially the more recent Trails in the Sky and Cold Steel entries. 

What I love most about Falcom is that its games all have a classic feel, but still take into account a modern audience. In addition to fun combat systems, Falcom also has a way with detail, adding extra care to every facet of its worlds. Few games compel me to talk to every NPC, but Falcom crafts interesting stories around them, providing plenty reward for you doing so. That extra heart and care is something I think a lot of RPGs are missing these days. That’s why I couldn’t be happier that three Falcom RPGs are coming out in the next few months. Here are my impressions and what you need to know about them.

Tokyo Xanadu (Vita), Tokyo Xanadu EX+ (PS4)

This game is right around the corner, launching this Friday for Vita. If you’ve played the recent Trails games, it has a lot of similar elements, except Xanadu ditches its traditional setting and turn-based combat for an action focus in modern Tokyo. Portals to a strange and dangerous world called The Eclipse are opening, which holds a strange connection to an earthquake 10 years prior. The Eclipse feeds off humans’ negative emotions, such as jealousy, greed, and anger. You split your time by dungeon-crawling through these alternate dimensions to find answers and living your life as a regular kid – taking part-time jobs, attending school, and building friendships. The social and school loop mimics Cold Steel’s; building your bonds helps you out on the battlefield with battle bonuses. 

The action combat is slower than Falcom’s Ys series, and focuses on exploiting enemy weaknesses and selecting the right fighter for situations. You can only control one character in a dungeon, but with a button press can swap to another. All characters have unique fighting styles and weapons tied to certain elements, making them more effective against certain creatures. I’ve played about five hours, and while the camera isn’t the best and sometimes it feels a little too close to Falcom’s previous efforts, it’s still interesting and fun to play. I’ve already had some pretty cool boss fights and I’m genuinely interested in the characters, but time will tell how it all plays out. An enhanced version called Tokyo Xanadu EX+ is debuting on PS4 this fall. EX+ contains new monsters, dungeons, and modes alongside a brand-new playable character and new scenarios that flesh out characters. 

Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection (PC)

Falcom developed this game exclusively for PC back in 2008, but it only launched in Japan. Now we’re finally getting a chance to play it in North America. This one has a more humorous bent and a cartoonish art style to match. Zwei has two protagonists: a spirited pilot and treasure hunter for hire named Ragna and a sharp-tongued vampire princess named Alwen. The two pair up after Alwen saves Ragna's life, forcing him to enter into a blood contract with her. Alwen needs his help so she can retake her castle and recover her stolen magic. Xseed said how these different personalities come to understand and even appreciate one another is the “heart of the game.” Similar to Ys and Trails, Zwei’s NPCs all have their own stories and conflicts that evolve throughout the adventure, and they play into the game’s comical vibe. For instance, there’s a chain-smoking nun and a girl in a giant penguin costume to learn more about.  

As for combat, you have both Ragna and Alwen at your disposal and can swap between them at will. Ragna is skilled at melee, while Alwen has magical powers to take down baddies from afar. Zwei is an action/RPG, but what’s interesting is how you can use these two characters to complement each other. For instance, you can use Alwen’s whirlwind magic to stunlock enemies, and then swap to Ragna to unleash a midair combo on them. Throughout the journey, you can also upgrade your weapons for new skills. In my demo, Ragna had the Glide Gear, which let him fly on a small jet to damage enemies, which really picks up your pace through dungeons. Another weapon called the Claw Gear lets you grab enemies and toss them either into the wall or into each other. You also have pets you can equip to help you out. In my demo, I had a chicken who laid explosive eggs to damage enemies; it also picked up dropped items in the vicinity. Zwei intrigued me; I liked its light-hearted approach, and the combat felt exciting and interesting. It hits this summer, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PS4, Vita)

Ys VIII was one of my favorite games from the show. I was treated to a 20-minute demo that let me explore and get a sense of the world. Compared to past games, this entry has larger spaces and I appreciated the greater focus on exploration, with fun things to find around every corner. The sense of discovery ties into the plot, which has you stranded on an island and searching for answers. Of course, you play as the series' mainstay redhead, Adol, who unsurprisingly ends up shipwrecked, but what’s cool about this entry is you are essentially building up your own base. As you search the island, you not only find valuable resources, but you also come across other people you can recruit to a village. For instance, maybe someone roaming around is a doctor or a blacksmith who just might come in handy. 

Navigating the world is quite engaging. Treasure chests are hidden around the island, but you can also find important crafting items by attacking trees, rocks, and beehives. This essential for upgrading your weapons. You’re not just traveling on ground, as you also have a jump button to maneuver some light platforming segments. As you discover more about this strange place overflowing with monsters, you also unlock new skills to open up previously inaccessible areas. For instance, when I first started my demo, I didn’t have the special gloves required to climb up vines, but acquiring them added some verticality to the experience.

The highlight is the combat, which is fast, responsive, and what we’ve come to expect from Ys. You control one character in your party of three while the A.I. controls the remaining two, but you can swap between them at any point. In my demo, I had Adol, a basic melee fighter, Laxia, a quick-jab fencer, and Sahad, a heavy-hitter. Every enemy has certain attack types they are weak against, so changing to the character with the advantage is in your best interest. You basically alternate between your light and heavy attacks alongside your four equippable skills. While this is easy to grasp, battles aren’t easy affairs that you can button mash your way through. This is where combat shines, as you dodge, jump, and use the array of attacks in your arsenal to get enemies down. 

The larger-than-life bosses all have unique attacks, and test your mastery of combat. For instance, I faced a chameleon who would disappear to throw me off from his whereabouts, while a turtle threw lava rocks and snapped at me. Everything here may seem standard for an RPG, but what I enjoyed so much is how it all just comes together so nicely for a complete package. Swapping to characters and experimenting with their abilities is blast, the explorer in you always has something to find on this mysterious island, and taking down epic bosses is satisfying. I also love any game that lets me recruit characters to a base à la Suikoden, so I’m curious how deep those mechanics go. That being said, Ys VIII quickly skyrocketed to my most anticipated RPGs list after my playtime. 

If you’re a fan of Falcom, it goes without saying that you should keep your eye on these three games, but they’re also worth noting if you’ve been wanting to try something out from the lauded developer. I’d point you more toward Ys for your first foray into Falcom games, but the others could be good for getting your feet wet before Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana launches on September 12.