Tokyo Xanadu is going to draw comparisons to Persona, and unlike Trails of Cold Steel 1 those comparisons are warranted. Both are paranormal roleplaying games with slight horror bends set in or around Tokyo and featuring an ensemble cast of teenagers. Persona's themes are rooted in the science of psychology while Xanadu is more so inspired by Shintoism, but I can see how on the surface someone would equate the two. So, in case someone attempts to draw me into a "Persona 5 is better" argument, here's my preemptive "Persona 5 also had ten times the budget" response.
Now that the fanboi wars are over, about Tokyo Xanadu:
Story: Kou, a boy of 16, and his growing list of friends are the protagonists of the story. They live in a suburb of Tokyo with an odd history. Ten years earlier there was a very mysterious earthquake that killed quite a few and left a permanent impression on both their town and on the kids. In the current day, after seeing his class president, Asuka, walk into an Eclipse dungeon Kou gets dragged into this supernatural world that exists parallel to his own, learning that there are beings called Greeds who adversely affect the world around them. In this brave new world he finds secret organizations dedicated to the eradication of Greeds, or the subjugation of them, or even just their study. This happens just in the nick of time because as it were the number of Greed related incidents are on a ten year high. Kou and Asuka try to help their classmates and people in the town as Greeds become more frequent.
Is it the most original premise? Absolutely not. But most games aren't and in my experience the ones that are entirely original usually aren't very good. What Xanadu does well, indeed what Falcom does well, is making me care about the characters. While there are always one or two that I don't like as well as others, Xanadu actually made me like the soft spoken girl (which I assure you, I usually don't like at all). All the characters start trope-ish but with tiny bends here and there to make them their own characters. Falcom is one of those great studios that doesn't have to completely deconstruct in order to make something new or interesting. They just make slight changes that are in character to make them stand out. And that doesn't even touch on the NPCs.
The NPCs are on par with the Trails series. For those of you who haven't played a Falcom game a common element is having NPCs who go on about their lives without the players input. Not through day and night cycles or NPC schedules (in fact none of Falcom's games have either) but by having them talk about what's going on with them and having that change over time. Despite the fact that I'll talk to the same vendor standing behind the same counter he feels more alive to me than Lucan (owner of the Riverwood Trader for those of you who don't know--which is probably all of you because let's be honest, who remembers anything about this guy other than the golden claw and that we married his sister?). All in all it gives the impression that as for the day-to-day crap NPCs don't need your help even if they're willing to pay for it every once in awhile.
Questing: We need to be talking about Falcom in the same breath as CDProjekt Red, Obsidian, and the Sega Yakuza team for being able to present tried quest design in new and interesting ways. There wasn't one quest I didn't enjoy. Once all I needed to do was walk down a street and put up flyers and even that was but fun and interesting (I legitimately belly laughed at one point).
Combat: Xanadu plays exactly like Ys. It's action based where you control one character as you run through dungeons another character is on support and a third is in your party that you can switch out if your health gets too low. The goal is to run through the dungeon as fast as you can while killing all the monsters, breaking all the destructibles, taking as little damage as possible, and keeping your hit streak going for as long as possible. Along the way you'll face a mini boss or two and at the end of the dungeon is a big boss. There isn't really any combat outside of the dungeons except for a few set pieces. You're scored on how well you did at the end of the dungeon but before the final boss. After finishing it once you can replay just about ever dungeon if you want to grind for Greed parts, money, or levels. Similar to Trails, the combat is built on a rock, paper, scissors system of elemental damage types. Having the right equipment can make fights much easier, though you don't really have to (at least on Normal difficulty) as long as your dodge timing is good.
There are platforming sections. I suck way too bad at platforming to give a relevant impressions of them. I'll just say that I made it through them and didn't break my controller in frustration.
Items: Like I said before, Xanadu has its equivalents of quartz (elements), master quartz (master cores), and orbal devices (soul devices). You can't change your weapon because your soul device is your weapon. Other than that there are a lot of items in the game. I mean a lot. Some of the best you can only get through finishing hidden quest chains (similar to Trails of Cold Steel), some require certain Greed parts, and a few really good things you can buy. Pro Tip: You're never gonna get everyone in your party fully outfitted with the best armor unless you save all your money until the end.
4: I don't like platforming. This is obviously a pet peeve rather than real criticism, but there ya go.
3: They did reuse the 'just when all seems lost friends arrive just in the nick of time' too often. At one point I thought about making a drinking game out of it but then realized I would die. I'm not entirely convinced they didn't do that on purpose as Falcom also over used establishing shots in Cold Steel 1 in a very similar manor.
2: The true ending, which you can do if you meet the qualifications right after getting the normal ending, took me 12 hours to clear in what was already a 60+ hour game. It reminded me of watching The Return of the King with someone who hadn't read the books and after Mount Doom they were like, "is this the end?" every five minutes, only in this scenario I was the guy asking. Not that I didn't enjoy it and in the end it made sense but I thought it would be 30 minutes at the most. So consider yourselves warned.
1: While I don't mind that there's no English audio, but because the game usually uses text boxes there were times at the end where important characters in dramatic moments were saying something (in Japanese) and there was no on screen translation. This is a design oversight rather than a translation/port error. Usually I got the gist of what they were feeling in the moment so it wasn't super confusing, but still it would be nice to have an exact translation that I can read in time with the scene.