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  • Writer's pictureRoberto Nieves

Tokyo Xanadu is a great metaphor for facing depression and anxiety

If you played video games for long enough, you become familiar with the term, JRPG, or Japanese Role-Playing Game. Compared to more west RPG's, JRPG tend to do things very differently, from gameplay mechanics to story and direction. In the last decade or so, most JRPGS tend to follow a multitude of tropes, form their anime aesthetic to their "lost-in-another-world" setting and their takes on gameplay mechanics and systems. The amount of JRPGS release dint he last few years are numerous, but there is one that has struck me recently, known as Tokyo Xanadu. Developed by Nihon Falcom released by Aksys Games, Tokyo Xanadu looks to check off the checklist of typical JRPG's, but the biggest difference that sets this apart from other JRPG's is the fact that mental health, and our emotions, are half the battle.

Tokyo Xanadu takes place in Tokyo, the city of just about most anime an JRPGS out there. Kou Tokisaka is just your regular average high school student, when suddenly he witnesses a dangerous gang beat up one of his classmates, Asuka Hiiragi. Before he can act, the woman dispatches the gang, then disappears. The next day, the two run into each other again, when suddenly, a mysterious portal opens and the two are both pulled into the vortex. They are in what is known as an Eclipse, a surreal dimension beyond time and space, mimicking the structures found on Earth. It is inhabited by the Greed, vicious and foul creatures that are attracted to humans and need them for energy and growth. After fighting through the first Eclipse and making it safely back to Earth, it is revealed that the Greed are attracted to strong, negative emotions. Fear, despair, anxiety, depression, Greed are most attracted to humans exhibiting these emotions. Every human has these emotions, but if one reaches a fever pitch with such an emotion, it greatly attracts the strongest of Greed, akin to sending up a flare in the middle of the night. To stop these monsters Kou and Asuka band together, plunging into The Eclipse to stop this threat.

Tokyo Xanadu is a strong action JRPG. It's filled with great gameplay, a strong story, and a multitude of characters and activities to partake in. However, what strikes me most about the Tokyo Xanadu is its incredibly relevant story regarding mental health and emotions. In Tokyo Xanadu, mental health isn't simply a distraction or a side quest, but is routed into the conventional Japanese high school setting. While this may be loathsome for the anime or JRPG enthusiast, it doesn't ignore the real mental toll that is taken upon students. Cultural differences aside, high school can be a real minefield of emotional and mental events. There is a strong sensation of worry and overthinking, wondering how one will grow up and what they will become. The fear of failure are dreadful, and of course, there's just the mental stress of interacting with complete strangers. It's a clash between dark and light, where everyday can bring its own set of challenges, and for young high school students, those emotions can become extreme.

The theming is important, but in Tokyo Xanadu, the characters take center stage. Each character has a remarkably believable arc in relation their mental state and insecurities. One character is happy and cheerful on the surface, but fearful of not being good enough. Another character takes to using a supernatural drug to grow stronger out of fear. Another character dives hard into computers, ignoring the world and allowing media to affect himself. Tokyo Xandadu does a good job, fleshing out these character and their struggles. They feel remarkably familiar, as if these are emotions I have personally experienced, or witnessed during my time. Players don't have to be teenager in high school to understand the the emotions and their repercussions in the game world, as the writing is done in a way that helps players understand why they are experiencing such feelings. It's a refreshing perspective, one not often seen in other JRPG's.

In the Eclipse, their emotions take over and they become Greed. This exemplifies a metaphor of emotions taking over and seemingly swallowing these characters in a void of darkness. The Greed come in various dimensions and sizes, some more powerful than the other. Fortunately, these Greed can be defeated and the humans that have been transformed can be saved. To do so, the heroes transfer their souls into weapons, and therefore, fight with their souls.

Depression and anxiety are things that can be addressed. In Tokyo Xanadu, it involves fighting the the Greed themselves. In the Eclipse, the characters use their souls to manifest weapons to fight the Greed. Kou has a whip and Asuka has a more elegant sword. Sora uses her gauntlets, as she is a karate champion within the game. Each character seen in Tokyo Xanadu is seen encountering an obstacle, being overwhelmed, but making their way to defeat that obstacle and find a means to both learn from it and live with it. The characters use fantasy based energies and weapons, as well as their teamwork, to conquer the Greed, but never resort to extreme acts of violence. It's a strong statement for Tokyo Xanadu, as most JRPG's typically resort to being gifted or using more war-like weapons to fight an enemy. The fact that the weapons are embodiments of the characters, and their spirits, represents that their fears will be with them, but they can also conquer them. Thee are goals and dreams to live for, and a life that's out there worth living. It's important not to see yourself fall to ruin at the hands of emotions, but it's perfectly okay to have them, live with them, and even manage them to ensure they don't control you. The characters show their weaknesses, but through the effort of Kou, Asuka, and other supporting characters, they work to fight and quell the dark feelings that humans inhabit within themselves. Also, the combat is cool as heck. Each weapon has its own unique abilities, and taking down the larger Greed monsters are always a good, challenging fight.

Outside its themes, Tokyo Xanadu is still a strong action JRPG. The world, setting, and combat are all enjoyable and the overall story is worth the journey, but its themes are remarkably relevant, even as the game came out several years ago. It isn't easy breaking from the norm to focus on such a subject matter, especially in JRPGS, so seeing this is worth praise and recognition. It's been said that video games can help build our character and increase our strengths in various ways.

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