In Xanadu did Nokia a stately pleasure dome decree. This pleasure dome doesn't include caves measureless to man, however, as Xanadu Next features just one dungeon and one village. A competent dungeon crawler marred by some presentation and design shortcomings, Xanadu is a bare-bones action role-playing game that we recommend only to more forgiving fans of the genre.
The denizens of Xanadu long ago lived in unearthly opulence. This paradise was disrupted, however, by the malevolent King-Dragon, whose name was hyphenated after an interspecies marriage. As a blade for hire and the new village heartthrob, it's your job to send King-Dragon back to the dark abyss whence he came and save the maiden Momo in the process.
To accomplish this, you'll have to do an awful lot of level grinding. As the game basically takes the form of a single quest, there's nothing to govern your leveling, save your own RPG instincts. What if Titus had been forced to grind through green slime until he was strong enough to defeat Sin? What if Cloud hadn't had numerous bosses to prepare him for Sephiroth? This is the reality you face in Xanadu, in which mindless enemy-slashing is made more tedious by the need to return to town every time you need to level up--although the way in which you do so is actually quite interesting.
After going to the temple, you proffer up your experience points to the guardian of your choice. Your divine patron will increase your stats based on her own proclivities. Valkyria is more of a Dionysian, favoring raw physicality over the arcane rituals of magic. Mercuria, like the similarly named Roman god, is sprightly and clever and will increase your capacity for magic. After leveling, you can improve specific statistics, which lets you use superior equipment and fare better in combat. Finally, your affiliation gives you access to differing skills and magical abilities.
As for combat, you control your character with the directional pad and two buttons. One initiates a standard slash of your weapon, while the other performs a magic attack of your choice. This is pretty standard action RPG fare. Most of the challenge comes from alternately attacking and dodging your opponents' counterstrikes. If you like this sort of gameplay, and don't require the structure of short, single-session quests, you might have a fine time with Xanadu.
The RPG genre is hardly competitive on the N-Gage, so certain players might find Xanadu to be a diamond in the rough...but rough it is. The game looks considerably worse than Saturn-era three-dimensional RPGs and suffers from occasional bouts of slowdown, apparently brought on by the graphical effects surrounding certain locked treasure chests and doors. Clean, sprite-based visuals would likely have looked a lot better on the N-Gage's small, vertically oriented screen. Xanadu's sound isn't particularly bad--it's just not very memorable. Monotonous background music follows you on your adventures, along with the obligatory sword-slashing effects. Perhaps the game's biggest presentational oversight, however, is its completely broken continue function. You'll have to load your save file manually each time.
Xanadu's connectivity features are worth noting. While these won't allow you to fight alongside a buddy, you can trade artwork cards (found throughout the world map) over Bluetooth or download time-attack minigames via N-Gage Arena. These test how quickly you can defeat boss characters. In the future, other quest scenarios may become available for download, which would add to Xanadu's replay value.
Xanadu Next isn't a full-featured RPG, but it's not a bad dungeon crawler. If you're an N-Gage owner starved for role-playing--even in its loosest form--give Xanadu a look. Otherwise, content yourself with offerings in other genres.