Faxanadu Sounds Equal Parts Dark, Mysterious, And Catchy

Image: Nintendo / Hudson / VGMuseum.com / Kotaku
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Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s new, daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today we’re listening to Hudson’s Faxanadu for the NES. It’s dark and moody, like 2020, but in a more endearing way.

Faxanadu was a NES/Famicom action-RPG that hit Japan in 1987 and the U.S. in 1989. It’s a little tough and definitely archaic, but probably still worth trying for two reasons. First, it’s incredibly atmospheric. Your adventure inside the ailing World Tree is dark, moody, and strange. The evil “dwarves” you’re supposedly fighting look more like monstrous H.R. Giger cast-offs than anything from Tolkien. Nintendo’s iffy English translation only adds to the weird vibe.

And then there’s the music. As with many good NES soundtracks, a bunch of its tracks take just seconds to launch into catchy melodies, resulting in little ditties that can stick in your brain like pleasant, tuneful shrapnel. But then, the other half of the soundtrack is uncommonly atmospheric, going for mood and tone more than most NES OSTs.

Let’s listen. Playlist:

Nintendo / Hudson / Iamspider (YouTube)

Opening Theme” (all titles made up by the YT uploader) gives you a small, rousing taste of what’s coming. The password screen theme “Mantra” sounds like it’s just going to be a 10-second loop, but then launches into an elegiac melody. “The Kingdom” sets a mood as you explore the first town, ruined by the dwarves. Take your 1500 “Golds” from the king, buy a crappy dagger, and then head out into “The Overworld.” Ahh yeah, there’s the jaunty shit that inspired a thousand guitarists.

Por exemplo.

Nintendo / Hudson / eman3624 (YouTube)

As the game progresses the tunes get more and more anxious, touch-and-go, strange. It’s hard to describe with typical genres but it all fits Faxanadu’s grungy world like a glove, a crucial player in the atmosphere in an intensely atmospheric NES game. Chiptunes really are their own thing sometimes, aren’t they?

Faxanadu was composed by Jun Chikuma, a woman of many talents about whom I will have more to say in a future Morning Music. But suffice it to say she invented Bomberman music and may be a genius. Myself, I can only make a solid case for one of those claims.

As far as I’m aware Faxanadu never got an official soundtrack release or even any official arrangements, but its VGMdb page shows its music has appeared on at least two dozen NES fan albums. Some folks just made a rap about it even, one of many ways to stay occupied during the ongoing plague.

The game never explains its title, so my young mind was blown when I learned that it was a combination of “Famicom” and “Xanadu,” the latter being Falcom’s well-known proto-Action-RPG series. So Faxanadu was a (very different, weird) take on Xanadu for the Famicom. Huh!

And never forget…

Screenshot: Nintendo / Hudson / Kotaku

That’s a wrap for today’s Morning Music, and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow. Say hi in the comments below! “There is a mark of ‘comments’ by the keyhole,” as Faxanadu might say. ...No? Okay, idk. Ehh, go touch some poison.

Staff Editor, Kotaku.


I Was Saying Boo-urner

This was one of the first games I owned as a kid. A family friend gave it to me for Christmas in 1990, if memory serves. I never made it very far, but it made a real impression on me on account of how creepy I thought it was. Even as an adult, I feel like it has this low, creepy hum to it.

I remember one time, just as I left the gates of that first town, I found this door that took me to some kind of room with a talking monster in it. It was a glitch, but I spent so long trying to find that door again.

The music definitely takes me back. I’ve been humming Mantra in my head for 30 years.