Faxanadu was a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was published in 1988 (Japan) and 1990 (elsewhere) by Hudson Soft and was developed by Falcom. The game itself is a side-scrolling action game with RPG elements, reminiscent of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest or Zelda II: The Adventures of Link.
The story behind the game is pretty much standard fare for video games of the time, with a few small interesting twists. The story is set in the elven kingdom of Eolis, which is built at the bottom of the "World Tree," which is a massive tree that provides water and life for the kingdom. Of course, the evil "dwarves" have blocked up the source of this water. In the kingdom, there is chaos: plants are withering, people are dying, and civilization is collapsing. Is there any hope?
You left your home of Eolis long ago to explore the world, but now you've returned after seeing the world. But when you return, everything has changed. The walls are crumbling and there is madness and death in the streets. You go to visit the king, who tells you that you are their final hope and that you must ascend the World Tree and beat back the evil "dwarven" menace. He gives you some money with which to buy some basic weapons and armor in the town, then off you go into the World Tree.
The game itself is quite enjoyable to play. It has many elements of early console RPGs (level advancement, purchasing better weapons and armor and items in shops), but still retains the excitement of a side-scrolling action game. This gives the game a lot of variety; you have to manage your money and carefully plot whether or not to invest the time to advance in level before progressing, but you've also got the sheer joy of mindless hacking, slashing, and jumping of many classic console games such as Ninja Gaiden.
You have a variety of swords to use (and many of them look very cool; they're HUGE compared to the size of your character), as well as a number of spells with which to burn your magic points. Basically, you run around the countryside, hunting down the foul "dwarves" and their evil minions and giving them the quick slice-and-dice. For this, you receive experience points, gold (which rolls around on the ground and you have to chase after, a la Super Mario Brothers), and an occasional item of some sort. After a while, you can visit a priest who, if you have gained enough experience, will grant you a new title and some status bonuses (mostly more magic points and hit points). As usual, if you get hit, you lose hit points; if you go to zero, you die and lose the game.
I really only have two complaints about this otherwise truly enjoyable game. The first is the lack of a battery back-up on the cartridge. Rather than saving the game (and this is a long game), you are given a mantra when you visit a priest, which is much like the password scheme used in Metroid, a long string of gibberish. My other complaint is the unorthodox jumping style; when you jump, you float in the air for just a bit, making the timing of the jumps tricky. Even more tricky is the fact that you float for just a touch longer each time you progress in level, forcing you to alter your timing. Still, these aren't enough to bring down a solid game.
The game looks gorgeous for a 1988-era NES game. The characters move very fluidly and the graphics are well presented. The only odd part of the game graphically is the "dwarves," who look nothing at all like fantasy-style dwarves. They look like a wide variety of beasts, but nothing like dwarves at all. It's kind of surreal, actually; I believe that the English translation was somewhat botched here.
The audio sound has very mellow Arabic style music, which is again much better than one might expect from a 1988-era NES game. In fact, the audio is of a higher quality than I believed the NES could actually produce; whoever did the sound for this game should be proud of themselves. The sound effects are appropriate, with nice slashing noises and so forth.
I got this game for Christmas one year along with Final Fantasy; to this day, they are the only two NES cartridges that I significantly miss playing. To me, this is one of the best side-scrolling action games of the NES era, but part of it might come from the fact that I am a sucker for RPG-ish elements. If you get a chance to play this game, take it; Faxanadu is quite enjoyable.