When Nihon Falcom made a graphical leap for The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, it evidently decided that the effort spent on the upgraded engine warranted its use on more than just one series, and thus Tokyo Xanadu was created. Though its setting certainly is a distinct step away from those of its other major series, Tokyo Xanadu draws significant inspirations from both of Falcom's major ongoing series and isn't shy about it. Fortunately, the approach looks like it is a highly successful one in this case, at least in the first set of chapters that I've so far had time to get through.
Certain parts of the premise will be eminently familiar to those who have played other RPGs set in modern-day Japan. The game follows Kou Tokisaka, a high-school student who fills his time by taking as many part-time jobs as he can. While returning from one of his later shifts in Moriyama City, a fictional suburb of Tokyo, he stumbles across a classmate coming under the attention of some undesirables. Before he can successfully intercede, however, a portal appears that sucks the two of them inside. His classmate reveals that this was actually what she was here for, and Kou is introduced to a strange otherworld known as the Eclipse.
The story doesn't throw out too many surprises early on as it focuses on introducing the main characters and the overall premise of the Eclipse, which in the early stages usually require that Kou and the far more knowledgeable Asuka Hiiragi go and rescue someone who has fallen in. Though it doesn't yet have the depth of Cold Steel's narrative early on — a bit of an unfair comparison considering the sheer amount of backstory and world-building that was already present in the Trails series — it's clear that there are still many things to learn ahead and the way the narrative has been handled so far is highly engaging thanks to the excellent way the characters are brought to life. The game goes through this with all the charm one would expect from Falcom's narrative-focused titles and Aksys Games' localisation has so far been on nice form. It would be nice to have some English voice acting, but Japanese voice acting does the job nicely and when that's not present the charm still exudes in abundance through the text.
Tokyo Xanadu's structure closely mirrors that of Trails of Cold Steel, though events are kept within Moriyama City as opposed to taking the cast on cross-country school trips. The game skips forward along the calendar as required, with Kou getting to spend certain days using his free time to advance his relationship with his friends and acquaintances as well as to undertake quests provided by the townspeople, before more pressing matters turn up and he heads into the Eclipse for the latest crisis. Kou has three mental attributes — wisdom, courage, and virtue — though it's not entirely clear at this stage whether upgrading these through actions like selecting ideal responses, reading books, or doing quests is required for events or unlocking other things down the line. At the very minimum, Kou receives bonus items from his grandfather for every rank-up he achieves.
The menus and equipment borrow heavily from Cold Steel, complete with Orbment equivalents, but combat itself is action-based and has much more in common with recent Ys titles. Up to three party members can be taken into the Eclipse dungeons, though only one is active at a time. Players can freely switch between characters with a single button, and this is a heavy part of the strategy of combat as each character has elemental strengths and other style differences to match up against the various enemies' weaknesses. The game gives hints as to what elements will be present in each dungeon so players know who will be most useful to bring with them beforehand. At the end of the dungeon there is usually a boss, and again this seems to be inspired by Falcom's action titles; players need to learn and pay attention to the boss' attack patterns to be able to switch back and forth between avoidance and attack in order to emerge victorious.
Although combat perhaps isn't quite as fluid as in Ys, it has so far been very effective and enjoyable, keeping things moving along at a good pace in dungeons that require a bit of thought but aren't too long. The story has got off to a good start, mostly thanks to Nihon Falcom's traditionally strong work with its characters. Tokyo Xanadu is full of familiar elements that nonetheless blend together very nicely with all the charm one would expect from the developer. The game is an excellent fit on the PlayStation Vita and although I'm still in the early stages, it feels geared up to be another great handheld RPG, though those wanting to play it on console will be able to get the slightly enhanced PlayStation 4 eX+ version with some extra side-stories, dungeons, etc. later this year.