RPG Spotlight: Ys
One of the questions readers ask me most is whether they might like a particular series. As a way to provide the answer and celebrate beloved franchises, RPG Spotlight gives a concise overview of the elements that give a franchise its heart and soul.
In this edition, I take a look at the Ys (pronounced "ease") games from Nihon Falcom. Ys requires plenty of twitch gaming skills with its fast-paced combat, but still has the heart of an RPG with its expansive world, a focus on statistics, and a valiant protagonist, Adol Christin.
Claim To Fame
Ys is to Action-RPGs as Mega Man is to side-scrolling platformers: the epitome of precision is required in the hunt for victory. A few pixels in either direction can mean death to our red-headed hero. Falcom has succeeded in providing its games with tight controls and frenetic combat. Most titles start with Adol washing up on shore extremely confused and appearing in some new land. Perhaps he's had some bad luck, but for whatever reason he never knows exactly where he is.
What Adol never forgets, however, is his awesome swordsmanship. Ys doesn't feature a whole lot in the way of bells and whistles during fights, but most everything is tuned just right, so a basic attack, special attack, and jump are more than enough for Adol.
Not to be left out of the picture is Adol's steadfast companion, Dogi. Dogi is not only Adol's best friend, but also an asset in battle. He's so muscular that he earned the name, "Wall-Crusher." Now Dogi isn't involved in every single one of Adol's adventures, but after saving the world and wooing the local girls, it seems that at the end of every journey, Adol wanders into the sunset with Dogi in tow. Now that's true friendship.
Ys is also known for synth rock music that adds to the pulse-pumping, high stakes battles. These tunes are complemented by a classical score that adds personality to towns and specific locales. The music has helped define the series, making it a key part of its identity.
Play If You Like
Fans of classic, pattern-based side-scrollers like Mega Man and Castlevania will find themselves right at home with Ys' challenge, while Diablo aficionados will eat up the skill-based combat. Ys is much faster than most RPGs out there, and even Kingdom Hearts doesn't hold a candle to its smooth action combat and solid controls.
Understanding the history behind the Ys series is complicated, to say the least. Originally launched for the NEC PC-88 (a popular Japanese home computer) in 1987, Ys I made its way to a variety of systems and has been remade almost as much as Square's Final Fantasy titles. Indeed, Ys I & II can be found on several recent systems, including a release on Steam. Here's where things start to get complicated, though. Ys III: Wanderers from Ys was released in 1991, but has been replaced in the Ys canon by Ys: The Oath in Felghana, the 2005 remake from Falcom.
Confused yet? Because that's just the beginning. There are two different games with the moniker Ys IV, neither of which were actually developed by Falcom themselves. Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys was made for the PC Engine (AKA TurboGrafx 16) by Hudson, while Ys IV: Mask of the Sun saw development by Tonkin House for the SNES and a remake on the PS2. Neither of these games are considered canon in the world of Ys, either, though. The latest vita release, Ys: Memories of Celceta replaces both of them as official, being a Falcom-developed remake of Ys IV.
Luckily, things slow down from there with the Japan-only Ys V, followed by the PC/PS2/PSP Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, localized by Konami. It was here where fan-favorite publisher XSeed took over, localizing the aforementioned The Oath in Felghana, another remake of Ys I & II, and the PSP debut of Ys Seven, which introduced new elements to the series like multiple playable characters. Xseed is often praised for bringing literal, solid translations to the U.S. Previously, localizations didn't measure up to what Japan received.
Good Starting Points
Depending on whether you're an action fan or an RPG fan, certain games are better starting points. Should you want to jump immediately into combat, skipping a meaty story, Ys Origin on Steam is a great introduction. The Adol-less prequel story, Ys Origin takes place entirely within a tower and is almost nothing but Ys' famous battles.
RPG fans may want to start with Ys Seven for PSP or the recently released Ys: Memories in Celceta. While the fights remain, both of these games feature multiple characters and less ephemeral stories, bringing in the best from both action and RPG. They're also what I consider the more newcomer-friendly entries in the series.
Older versions of Ys are tough to play for many newcomers, specifically because of the combat systems in Ys I and Ys II. Rather than attack with button presses, Adol hits his enemies by ramming directly into them. Do it from the wrong angle, and you take the damage instead. It's more than a bit esoteric, but many games that age are.
For recent games, stats can often play much too large of a role. A level or two might mean all the difference between doing just a few damage to a boss versus rolling over him with the might of 1,000 warriors. Luckily, the combat is very entertaining, so the grind never becomes overwhelming.
Those who enjoy a solid battle system and fight are sure to walk away pleased, but if you're looking for an original RPG story, Ys isn't your best bet. The narratives use many RPG clichés (the majority of the plots have amnesia); however, a good degree of humor and charm exists in some of the dialogue.
On The Horizon
The horizon isn't far away with today's release of Ys: Memories of Celceta for the PlayStation Vita. A reimagining of Ys IV, where you take control of Adol and try to, unsurprisingly, regain his memories while exploring a huge forest and reporting your discoveries. Check out our review to see if it's for you.
While Falcom hasn't announced any new games, it's not a stretch to think that more Ys is likely on the way. The question is whether or not North America continues to see these games brought over, but Xseed hasn't missed an entry yet since it took over localizing the series.