Faxanadu – Dwarves Elves and Evil Oh My!

I told you all that I was digging into the barrel of NES games that I wanted to complete now that my JNES emulator is working. I just finished off another one of them last night. The platform-RP (picking up on a trend yet?) Faxanadu by Hudson Soft.


Faxanadu centers around an unnamed hero who evidently did something great for the land of Faxanadu many years ago and then he just left and journeyed the world. Well, when the game starts, he has come back to his hometown to find that it is overrun by monsters and there is evidently a war going on between the elves and the dwarves (I think the hero is considered an Elf but you can’t tell). This guy is so well known that the King of the Elves calls him to his throne immediately. He tells the hero that the wells of life that keep the Elves alive have started to dry up and now all the dwarves have become monsters. Man! It’s a good thing the hero came home! Evidently there is some meteorite that fell from space and has corrupted the Dwarves and you have to fix it.

So as the adventure goes on, your hero travels throughout the world of Faxanadu setting right what is wrong. He must restore the water flowing to the wells of life and also figure out just what’s got the dwarves so mad. You adventure through a series of ‘towns’ where you gather information and items and then you travel to various towers (dungeons), the completion of which will either restore a fountain, provide a powerful item needed to restore order or simply give you more clues about what happened.


Faxanadu is light years ahead of its time (common for HudsonSoft games) and features a great gameplay, an extensible item system, magic and weapons. The music is pretty good for an 8bit 1988 game. The world features several different environments and color palettes and a wide variety of interesting puzzles. One thing that REALLY jumped out to me is that the store owners you meet have FULL MOTION ‘portrait’ screens when you speak to them. The tools owner is a portly man with a beard who reminds me of Bill Dautrieve from King of the Hill whose mouth and belly moves as he talks. The key shop owner reminds me of Billy Idol and has a moving cigarette in his mouth. The ‘guru’ in each of the town’s churches looks like an elf from the Hobbit (sans ears of course) with curly hair and the meat salesman reminds me of an older Ned Flanders with a bald spot. At the time that this game was created, there were NO portraits that I can recall and certainly not portraits that moved as you talked.

Your hero can choose from a finite but useful set of actions. He can attack with his various swords (the looks of which actually changed based off the sword you have), he can cast one of 5 spells (you must buy these over time) by pushing the Up arrow and attack, and you can jump. Certain special items such as the keys have no visible change when equipped, you will either receive a messages that the door has a keyhole with the words “Jack” or “King” etc. above the keyhole or (if you have equipped the correct key) you will simply see a message that says “I used the key” and it is removed from your inventory. There are 5 different keys you can acquire through various means: The most common key is the Jack Key (listed as Key J in inventory), the Joker Key (listed as Key JO in inventory), the Queen Key (listed as Key Q), the King Key (listed as Key K) and the super-special Ace key (listed as Key A). Each door will only accept ONE key, you cannot use a higher ranking key (aka King Key to open a Jack door) on a lower ranking door and vice versa. You can acquire a J Key, Q Key, and K Key from the various key makers (different towns have different keys) but you can only acquire the Joker key and the Ace key from special people at certain points in the game.

Outside of these things, you basically jump, hack, blast (magic), and climb (ladders) your way around the game. You face enemies such as Duckmen, Death Angels, Hornets, Frogmen, Gladiators, and my personal favorite for messed up names – the Bone Demon Dog… yes… that is what he is called. Your character can collect golds (that’s actually what they are called) which he uses to buy armor, spells, potions, keys, etc. He also can collect ointments which will restore his HP and make him auto-heal for a brief period of time, he can collect a power glove that will make his attacks stronger for a short period of time, and a few other things. You can also purchase a unique item called the Wing Boots (I usually buy a few pair when I find them in a store) which will allow you to float around for a brief period of time and are required to use in one particular event in the game (flying to restore the water to the sky fountain). There are various rings you are given that allow you to enter certain doors and will also be required to speak to certain people.

As you progress, your hero can purchase stronger weapons and stronger magic and eventually acquire 3 pieces of magical equipment (The Battle suit, the Battle Helm and the Dragonslayer sword) which are required to beat the final boss. When you equip new armor or weapons, the character’s appearance changes accordingly which was rare in those days. You start out looking like some sort of Roman man in a toga and end up looking like a true knight. Once you have restored all the fountains and acquired the Battle Suit and Battle Helm, you must square off against the King Dwarf (who is later revealed to be named Grieve) who has hidden the Dragonslayer sword in his body to protect it from the Evil One. You defeat King Dwarf and receive the Dragonslayer and now you can pound on the Evil One.

So after getting a magic ring from the last guru, you enter the confusing, though relatively short, final dungeon. You make your way to the core of the Evil One’s palace and defeat him. Once he is defeated, the dwarves are no longer possessed and order is restored. What does the hero do now? Easy! He just leaves again after getting a gracious thank you from the King of the Elves. The hero is seen walking away from the Tree of Life and Faxanadu and the game ends.


As I  mentioned earlier, Faxanadu was a game that was well ahead of its time. It did an amazing job at using the full graphic power of the 8-Bit NES system and its sound processor. The world is relatively lush for 8-bit and contains a wide variety of enemies and puzzles. If you haven’t understood how awesome it is to see a full character portrait when you speak to shop-keepers, let me remind you that this is NINTENDO, this is 1988. Sure, you might see a full screen graphic for the title screen of a game and maybe a fancy full screen for a major scene or the end sequence but that’s it. Faxanadu did it. Granted, the shopkeepers ALL look the same based on the shop they run but it’s’ still cool.

Much like Castlevania 2, the world of Faxanadu is relatively open. Granted, you will eventually be blocked by a door or other barricades at the end of certain areas but otherwise you can pretty much cruise around the world in no particular order. You could use the J key on a different door, for instance, and go to a different part of the game. Overall, you can explore a large part of the game map without any issue at all.

The fact that the game features in-game menus to allow you switch between different items, armor, and magic makes it more similar to an RPG than a platformer even though the battles always occur in real-time instead of turns. The equipment and spells, though limited, offer a great variety to the game play and make it easy to try multiple different ways to defeat a bad guy until you find the way that you prefer. The more enemies you beat, the gurus will provide you different titles which become more unique as the game progresses until you reach the class of “Champion” which can be considered as a character advancement (though it doesn’t actually impact play). Overall, the game features many RPG elements that became the staple of the genre even to modern day games.

All in all, Faxanadu is a fun game. It is well translated with virtually no “Engrish” found within the script. The story is a bit strange and leaves some to be desired in the motivational department but not enough to bore the player. The platforms and puzzles of the game are just challenging enough to require precision but not so much so that the games seems overly difficult. I found that the range of enemies was decent enough for a game of the era and the different environments are also interesting to the player. The game may not offer too much in replay value for high-end gamers or those seeking a mind bending challenge but for a retro gamer boy just wanting to relive the old world of games, it won’t disappoint.

Until next time, this is Retro Gamer Boy signing off!



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