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Ys Book I & II (Turbografx-CD) artwork

Ys Book I & II (Turbografx-CD) review

"No other game opens quite like Ys. "

No other game opens quite like Ys.

After NECís elegant logo fades, a foreboding mural fills the center of the screen with hand-drawn majesty as if to announce All is not well with the world! Flashes of lightning illuminate Esteriaís distinctive midnight landscape; series of broken chords vibrantly contrast against a single, steady note. Through the gold-embroidered darkness, three simple words shine with subdued but palpable force: Ancient Ys Vanished. These three simple words effortlessly carry the weight of twenty. Without warning, a lilting melody overtakes the ominous music and the tapestry unfurls to reveal a lush full-screen vision of cinematic beauty.

ďYs, the ideal utopia. Ys, an empire watched over and blessed by the enchanting aura of its two beautiful goddesses. Ys, the seemingly tranquil paradise suddenly pulled from the height of its civilization to the empty abyss of infinite isolation. How could such a land of promise simply vanish from the face of the planet?Ē

Enough pretentiousness! After sending delightful chills down playersí spines with its dire portents and poetic narration, Ys busts out the wailing electric guitar because this is no musty old fable, this is an exciting adventure!

The thrilling epicís hard-rocking start shows roving swordsman Adol Christin in action, sailing his knavish self to the docks of Minea in pursuit of glorious adventure, fabulous riches and perky young women. This dainty little town on the western banks acts as the gate between Esteria and the outside world, but few visitors have arrived in recent years due to the sudden appearance of one devilishly handsome demon by the name Dark Fact. At the eastern edge of this impoverished nation, Darm Tower ó named after a cruel god of legend ó pierces the heavens with its demonic spire.

From the beginning, thereís never any doubt as to where Adolís journey will take him.

Without any curmudgeonly old wizards hellbent on killing themselves or any annoyingly mischievous party members to send players on irrelevant tangents, Adol follows a straightforward but entertaining path through a scant two dungeons and two towns before reaching a surprisingly daunting end: twenty-five floors of mutant-infested Darm Tower terror. Up each spiral floor, step by lonely step, Adol struggles to reach the source of mankindís plight . . . a place where no manís allowed.

Be warned: this imposing stronghold of villainy is just the stepping stone to an even greater adventure.

When Book II begins, predictability is hurled screaming from the roof as Adol liberates podunk villages, thwarts gruesome human sacrifices, spies on demonic politicians and does his best impression of a walking talking slime beast thing. Adol also fights bravely against an ancient evil while the worldís fate hovers in a hopeless situation. Presented together as they are on the TurboGrafx CD, these two Books, originally released as separate games on Japanese PC, comprise a daringly ambitious union (which makes it all the more disappointing that even the later PS2 and Saturn ports separate the two). Book I eases players into the adventure and focuses on memorable, mood-setting scenes; Book II expands the gameplay and challenges playersí minds, cementing Ysí place as not only a great experience but as a great game.

Consider ďthe fieldĒ. Traipsing through a barren field is a boring concept but, when you step out of Minea town into the fields of Esteria, the game makes it exciting with a sudden jolt from serene village ambience to a rambunctious adventurerís theme. Enter a temple and the music slows in pace, punctuated by reverberating chimes and the sounds of dripping water. Plip! Plop! Varied and always appropriate (to be expected from a quality RPG), the music changes style as Adol travels from one scene to the next, making its point with every dungeon: Youíve entered a new world. Each area has its own theme, never to be repeated again.

Memorable audio wouldnít work without a memorable game to match. Set in the ever-popular birds-eye view, Ys combines the traditional RPG staples of powerful storytelling, level building and shapeshifting into a cute floppy-eared goon with an action-based combat system. Itís an action-based system unlike any youíve ever known; in Ys, you fight slithering snakemen or flaming porcupines by bumping into them. Thatís right, you donít manually swing your sword. You bump into enemies to kill them.

Get over it.

Some see the omission of pressing a button to swing your sword as a fault, but Ys ó like the Grand Theft Auto games ó exploits its own limitations. Thereís a reason you can't enter the buildings in GTA3, and that reason isnít programmer laziness; Rockstar doesnít want players wasting time walking through empty buildings when they should be car-jacking. Falcomís combat system emphasizes battle performance, not battle strategy. In Ys, you donít hide and wait for Dark Fact to doze off from boredom so that you can tap a button and stab his sleeping body. No, in Ys, you dodge bursting fireballs and heroically pursue Dark Fact as he soars through the air, frantically trying to catch and spear the evil fiend through his wicked heart even while the glassy floor shatters beneath your feet.

Just try to do that with The Legend of Zeldaís control scheme. To stop moving is to die.

The fast-paced combat also allows Ys to incorporate sprawling dungeons full of staircases and dead ends, dungeons that would each be about as entertaining as the seventh layer of Hell if they had the frequent random encounters of a traditional RPG. Since Adol can barrel through enemies (assuming heís strong enough), itís simple and enjoyable to explore every inch of the underground mines or the Goddessesí temple.

Explore thoroughly enough and Adol acquires a magical rod, completing his transformation from sword-swinging historian to master of the arcane! With this rod (and a little help from the Goddesses), Adol gains the ability to hurl fireballs of his own at oncoming foes. Equip him with the magic-enhancing Idol of Hawk and Adol becomes the scourge of all goons to come, sending gouts of flame barreling through entire rows of arctic gorillas.

Thereís more to Ys than gaining personal power; sometimes, when bitten by the bug of altruism, Adol actually helps other people. Early in the game, our red-headed rogue meets an attractive poet (female, of course) named Lair. It seems that Lair has lost her silver harmonica and wants it back . . . otherwise she wonít give Adol the book that he seeks! In concrete terms, this means itís time for that most dreaded of RPG staples: the fetch quest. The brilliance of Ys is that Lairís harmonica is located in an area you needed to visit anyway and, more importantly, the harmonica itself turns out to be a crucial story element. As the old playwrightís adage goes, If you show a silver harmonica in the First Act, someone had better play it in the Third Act. Adol never has to find the woodcutterís axe to repair a broken bridge or collect a hundred rubies to pay an old witch for her incoherent advice; even the smallest quests serve a grander purpose in the end.

As easygoing as the game plays and feels, Ys has plenty of grandiose moments, scenes that bring back the cinematic introductionís cold shivers of delight. Before the battle against Dark Fact, before screaming guitars thunder through the room as all hell breaks loose, the elegant demonís coffin-shaped chamber exudes an ominous tranquility. While Adol crosses the checkered floor, Dark Fact silently stands upon his platform . . . and waits. The Last Moment of the Dark, a beautiful song performed by mandolin and electronic violin, a song used nowhere else in the game except during this brief moment of calm before the storm of battle, echoes through the cavernous chamber.

And then Dark Fact speaks.

As with most major characters in Ys, a colorful portrait of Dark Factís face fills the screen during this monologue. With his handsome yet almost ghostly countenance, Dark Factís image alone inspires awe. His words inspire adoration.

In an uncharacteristic moment of insight, NEC realized the inherent value of this game and hired professional talent to perform the voices. Itís not the greatest acting ever, but even today it could easily hold its own due to its lyrical writing and naive charm. Dark Factís sinister, backhanded praise to the hero is truly gripping and the delivery makes his lines believable, whereas such an over-the-top spiel would have come across as laughable in the incapable mouths of whoever voiced Richter Belmont and Count Dracula in Symphony of the Night.

Through all the silliness (making Adol transform into a cute monster that sends villagers screaming in fear), goofiness (unlocking a prison cell only to have its beastly occupant escape and attack you) and hilarity (that stinking louse GOBAN), Ys knows when to take itself seriously. How else could Dark Fact, a villain that only appears in one single scene of the game, inspire such fan devotion?

If Dark Fact represents noble malevolence, the diabolical wizard Dalles represents base depravity. Dalles tells you exactly what atrocity heís about to commit, and then he does it. And not just once. The worst of it is that Ys forces you to personally witness the destruction that Dalles has wrought. If Dark Fact is Darmís right-hand man pursuing his interests in Esteria, Dalles is the cruel godís sinister left. This robed sorcerer haunts Adol throughout the entirety of Book II, and when you finally get a glimpse, just a glimpse, of what lies beneath those robes . . .

Another cold shiver.

Donít forget to set aside some time for love! Whether itís amnesiac villager Feena or Lilia, darling Lilia, Adol always has a lovely girl or two in tow.

Donít get too comfortable. Dalles knows about Feena and Lilia, too.

With such memorable villains, simple gameplay, precious music and unpretentious but powerful atmosphere, Ys Book I & II can never be replaced. For years, the soundtrack and the charactersí faces have stayed at the front of my mind; even such a simple line as ďIím Lair, the poet,Ē lingers longer than youíd expect. The gameís solitary disappointment is that, right before the final battle, when all looks hopeless, Falcom oh-so-briefly lifts the veil of despair . . . but I donít care. I donít care because Ys is still the most magical game Iíve ever played. I donít care because the entire finale still surpasses everything thatís come before. Every pristine moment is a joy to experience; there truly is no other game quite like Ys.

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Featured community review by lilica (January 08, 2005)

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