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Ys (NES) artwork

Ys (NES) review

"Growing up, I never played Ys on my Nintendo Entertainment System. "

Growing up, I never played Ys on my Nintendo Entertainment System.

I did play Hydlide, which obviously lifted a few of that gameís elements. Of course, Hydlide proved more than capable of botching up every single thing that Ys did correctly, which made it a less-than-memorable experience. Ah, Iím being too kind, it was scarcely a playable experience.

Then, the SNES came out and I played Lagoon. It had a number of similarities to Ys, as well, but it wasnít the same thing. More importantly, it wasnít as fun, as itís awful hard to enjoy fighting chimeras and their kin while flailing about with a pocketknife.

Finally, the SNES delivered a Ys game to America with the third in the series. But, it wasnít a true Ys game. This was a side-scrolling action RPG that seemed to attempt combining some aspects of its forefathers with elements of games like Battle of Olympus or the Adventure of Link.

So, I went years without truly experiencing what the Ys franchise was truly about. But donít pity me anymore, for (thanks to the Japanese Famicom version) I have finally gotten to experience the wonders of Ys....sort of.

Iíve heard and read enough about the superb Turbo-CD adaptation of the first two Ys games to know this version is not at that level. You wonít have moments of heartstopping drama punctuated by beautifully drawn cinema in this offering. However, you will have Adol, Dogi, Dark Fact and the rest of the merry old gang AND you will have a pretty fun little adventure to occupy a few hours of your life.

So, what is Ys? Take the Legend of Zelda, strip down the game engine to give it a more arcade-like feel and then add the element of level-building. Instead of each screen being one room (ala Zelda), the overworld and dungeons play out more like Crystalis, with you being able to roam freely throughout all the land with ease.

By ďstrip down the game engineĒ, Iím talking about the combat system. Does Adol (your hero) have a sword? You betcha, but you never control it. All you have to do is run into enemies and watch their life evaporate into nothingness. Itís not quite that easy, though. First off, you canít run head-on into enemies or youíll take damage, too. You have to be a bit above or below them, so Adolís body merely grazes them. This way, he winds up unscathed, while they die quickly. Second, you better make sure NO enemy ever hits you from the back or side, as that sort of blow will utterly decimate your life meter. Itís simple, but extremely addictive and fun.

Kill enough monsters and youíll start gaining levels ó which increases your hit points, attack and defense. Quite a necessary thing to do, I might add, as if youíre too underpowered for a region, youíll find Adol too weak to even scratch foes. Gain a couple levels and those formerly invulnerable baddies will now be trampled underfoot as you show off that new-found might.

Considering that the story (or at least the presentation) of the Famicom game seems to be far inferior to the Turbo-CD version, itís definitely a good thing the action is so addictive, as few other aspects of Ys will strike one as being noteworthy.

My first issue was with the length of the game. You essentially have three dungeons, with a slew of fetch quests occupying your time as you go from one objective to the next. Sure, Darm Tower is an enormous place to explore with no fewer than five boss fights ó a fitting climax to the game. Then, it can be brutally difficult to find your way around the underground Sealed Mines as you have a VERY small range of sight. As for the Solomon Shrine....well, your first dungeon is a pretty easy one, as long as you remembered to harvest outdoor enemies to give Adol some added power.

With the dungeons being the best part of the game (easily beating out ďleveling upĒ and ďfinding stuff for peopleĒ to earn that honor), it would have been great to have one or two more places to go. It would have been even better if certain boss fights were tinkered with a bit to make them equally fun.

I respect what Victor Interactive Software was trying to do here in order to make these battles an arcade version of those in the Legend of Zelda and Crystalis, but I think they may have taken things a bit too far. Whenever in a boss fight, there are two somewhat necessary things you canít do: pause or access your status screen.

Considering that you NEED to have a particular weapon and set of armor to defeat the final boss, it would have made a lot of sense to give players the ability to change equipment in mid-battle. When fighting the evil Dark Fact, the simple truth is that if you forgot to put the right stuff on, youíre dead. Period. And, maybe Iím wrong, but it seems that if you arenít wearing all the silver stuff when fighting the vampire in the Sealed Mines, itís invulnerable to your attacks, as well. It makes sense, as that equipment plays a role in the Darm Tower and the vampire is essentially the last bastion of resistance before you enter that place ó but itís still cheap.

As for not being able to pause, thatís more of a pet peeve. I like to get a handle on an enemyís patterns and methodically assault their weaknesses ó but I canít do that in Ys. When you enter a boss room, you immediately are forced into battle and thereís no way to stop things until someoneís dead. Itís fast-paced and the stakes are high (which I respect), but itís just not my cup of tea.

Another flaw that youíll definitely notice in boss fights is that Adol gets no recovery time after taking damage. Three bosses in particular (the Sealed Mines vampire and Darm Towerís mantis and mask) constantly are bombarded you with quick, randomly-moving projectiles that can kill you in no time at all ó even if you HAD full life beforehand. When one mantis blade is all it takes to kill Adol because it potentialy can hit him six times per second, I start to voice my objections.

But, despite the fact my description of this gameís flaws is quite lengthy, I still have a lot of love for Ys. Simply put, the gameplay is so addicting that it makes up for a lot of my problems with some of the mechanics. Itís quite refreshing to simply dive into a pile of monsters, skillfully slicing through one after another, instead of having to worry about which sub-weapon I should have equipped. Itís one of those games you plan to only play for a little while....then have to kill just a few more monsters....and a few more....and before you know it, hours have passed. And, monster-bashing isnít the only cool thing in this world.

While unable to hold a torch to the more sophisticated Turbo-CD version, Ys looks pretty good for an old Nintendo game (with a few nicely detailed bosses providing the main highlights) and has some excellent music. The tune playing in the town that serves as your base of operations is one that you wonít easily get out of your head, while the dungeon music is also quite memorable.

Ys isnít a perfect game and, to be honest, itís perfectly understandable if its flaws prove to be a turn-off to many gamers. But for those who can overlook some frustrating bosses and a lack of dungeons, Ys provides one of the best-executed combat systems out there. If you can get into this game, you may never want to leave. Fortunately, there were a number of similar-playing sequels released ó but those books will have to be read another day.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (January 20, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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