Xanadu Next is an honorary entry in the venerable, long-running and extraordinarily confusing Dragon Slayer series, which also happens to be one of the Japanese action RPG genre's true founding fathers.
Released in 1984, the very first Dragon Slayer game may seem primitive by today's standards, but it was arguably Japan's first true home-grown action RPG experience, featuring an adventurer who literally built a house in the middle of a monster-infested dungeon so he could explore it with the ultimate goal of -- you guessed it -- slaying a dragon.
The Dragon Slayer "series" would continue from there for a very long time, spawning not just sequels but entire sub-series, including some fairly well-known ones such as Sorcerian and The Legend of Heroes -- both of which got their start as Dragon Slayer sequels -- along with the NES classic known in Japan as Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family but called Legacy of the Wizard here. This is a point of confusion for many, since most of these sequels have little (if any) connection to the original Dragon Slayer. Indeed, the only commonality present among all of the older titles to bear this name was the contribution of a producer named Yoshio Kiya. Basically, if he was involved, the game became a Dragon Slayer title!
And the very first game to officially release as a sequel to this grandfather of Japanese action RPGs was a 1985 title called Xanadu. Taking a few more elements from the original Dragon Slayer than most other sequels to follow -- the Dragon Slayer sword, the collecting of crowns, and of course the Dragon King himself (who now had a name: Galsis) -- Xanadu was an absolute runaway success, setting a record for Japanese-developed computer RPGs that has yet to be broken, with over 400,000 copies sold in the country's borders alone (and remember, computer gaming has always been quite niche in Japan compared to console and handheld gaming, making this already respectable number doubly impressive).
Much like one of developer Falcom's other popular series, Ys, the name and setting of Xanadu were both very loosely based on historical and fictional tales of the Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan's summer capital, Shangdu, which was popularly referred to as "Xanadu" following the publication of English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge's classic poem "Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment." The game's connections to the summer capital (in either its real-life or poetic forms) are tenuous at best, and almost seem retconned into the lore of the series via Xanadu Next -- but the Ys games' connections to the mythical sunken city of Ys off the coast of Brittany are similarly meant more to convey a certain atmosphere than they are to be taken at face value.
And regardless of its literary provenance, Xanadu represented a huge leap in gameplay depth from its predecessor, featuring deep combat and magic systems, massive dungeons that were explored both in a top-down view and in side-scrolling platformer style, stats for everything imaginable, secrets everywhere, and easily the cruelest resource management challenges the era had to offer. It also, like almost every Dragon Slayer game to follow, became its own sub-series, spawning Xanadu Scenario II (which may be one of the earliest examples of an expansion pack) as well as the Hudson-developed spin-off (and cult classic NES game even here in the West) Faxanadu -- short for "Famicom Xanadu."
Interestingly, the Xanadu name would be revisited once more at the end of the numbered Dragon Slayer series, as Dragon Slayer VIII would come to bear the name Kaze no Densetsu Xanadu -- literally "Xanadu: Legend of the Wind," though it's more commonly referred to simply as The Legend of Xanadu. Playing more like Ys games, The Legend of Xanadu and its sequel had little connection to Xanadu, Xanadu Scenario II or Faxanadu, but did manage to garner a lot of attention for their excellent gameplay and production values, and thus helped keep the Xanadu name alive after it had otherwise fallen into disuse.
The same thing occurred again in 2005 when Falcom released a humble PC game for Xanadu's 20th anniversary titled Xanadu Next. Still prominently displaying the Dragon Slayer logo on its Japanese box, Xanadu Next is a game that does the series' rich history proud, incorporating thematic elements from the original Dragon Slayer and Xanadu alike (such as the Dragon Slayer sword, the collecting of crowns, and Dragon King Galsis himself), as well as effectively tying the game's story back to the legends of Emperor Kublai Khan, and providing a gameplay experience that feels almost like the 3D sequel to Faxanadu we never got.
Though previously released in the West for Nokia's N-Gage system, this PC version of Xanadu Next is a much more complete experience, and remains a uniquely historic title in Falcom's venerable software catalog. Whether or not you've played a Dragon Slayer or Xanadu title before, Xanadu Next is the perfect complement to your PC gaming collection, hearkening back to several of the forefathers of this entire genre and delivering an overall experience very much fit for that legacy.