"The major characters get plenty of chances to show their spunk, elation, despair, and grit, but the story isn't Falcom's focus. Let other companies create adventures with schizophrenic main characters! Let other companies fill their games with fifteen-minute-long mindrape cinematics! Falcom specializes in the action part of the action-RPG label, and this is where Ys VI shines."
Ys 5 wasn't just bad — it was insulting. It was so underwhelming that defeated developer Falcom slinked back into obscurity and spent the next several years re-releasing twenty versions of Sorcerian. The best action-RPG company that ever existed was dead, and Ys 5 killed it!
Six years later, Falcom surprised their fourteen remaining fans by actually releasing a new game called Zwei!! (The two exclamation points in the title represent how surprising it was.) Then, in 2003, the re-animated Falcom shocked Japanese consumers and TurboGrafx fans by releasing Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim to Japanese Windows, selling well over 500,000 copies. Even more shocking is that Falcom bravely acknowledged Ys 5's accursed existence by directly continuing that failure's storyline and bringing back recurring characters! This news was so exciting that I immediately put on my "I Want a Japanese Girlfriend" T-shirt and raced to the computer to place an online international order for the limited edition (lovingly packed with an awesome music video DVD and PC-playable versions of Ys 1 through... 5).
Ys VI begins well — Adol Christin, the red-headed hero who's starred in every Ys game (and probably inspired Emerald Dragon's red-headed hero Atol), is sailing the seas with his buddy Dogi and friend-who-happens-to-be-a-girl Terra aboard a pirate ship. That's right, when Ys VI starts, Adol is a PIRATE! Unfortunately, their ship gets caught in a giant whirlpool called "The Vortex of Canaan" (let's get Biblical, yo) and Adol is swept away after he valiantly saves tomboy Terra from certain watery death. The tough-as-nails piratess breaks down and cries as she watches Adol vanish forever in a touching and beautifully illustrated scene from the awesome J-metal introduction.
But then, like every RPG hero before him, Adol wakes up in a bed! Fortunately, he wakes up in a hot ivory-skinned elf's bed instead of in a smelly hospital or some old geezer's woodland cabin, because Adol has that silent hero's charisma that makes all the ladies swoon. Apparently Adol washed ashore and was discovered by two pointy-eared, elvish sisters named Olha (upper teens, has major crush on Adol) and Isha (nine or ten, has major crush on Adol). Olha's haunting flute melody brings back nostalgic memories of Lair's harmonica, but this tribal priestess has a spunk all her own — Lair and Lilia never fired magical arrows at vicious dragons!
Depicted in full-body portraits, the major characters get plenty of chances to show their spunk, elation, despair, and grit, but the story isn't Falcom's focus. Let other companies create adventures with schizophrenic main characters! Let other companies fill their games with fifteen-minute-long mindrape cinematics! Falcom specializes in the action part of the action-RPG label, and this is where Ys VI shines. Once the initial plot setup is out of the way, Adol steps into the jungle paradise and Ys VI starts to ROCK!
ROCKING ITEM NUMBER ONE! Once Adol leaves town, the PC's speakers explode with aural magnificence. The action scene music has a nostalgic early 90's quality to it, most similar to the fast-paced style of Popful Mail or Legend of Xanadu, but with instrumentation and arrangement that rivals (surpasses?) top-tier competitors like Konami and Capcom. To Falcom, music isn't just icing to be sloppily smeared on a finished product; the soundtrack is an integral foundation that sets the game's mood. The uplifting adventuring theme Ultramarine Deep and hard-rocking battle theme Mighty Obstacle are so good that I memorized their names like a nerd, but more importantly, they stand up to Sound Team JDK's best... and it's all original, not remixes!
ROCKING ITEM NUMBER TWO! The fully 3D backgrounds are shockingly lush — in the forest, sunlight glistens on stone tribal altars. Beyond the western sea, the Ark towers above the horizon. In the deepest bowels of dark caverns, enormous panoramic waterfalls cascade into foamy reservoirs. These are places I'd love to visit in the real world; despite the carnivorous wildlife, there's an inherent serenity unmatched by any other 3D adventure that I've played.
Moreover, each beautiful dungeon is laid out in an intricate style with pits to dive into, rivers of lava to navigate, well-protected secret treasure chests, waters to swim through, imposing mountains to negotiate, and scads of imaginative, gorgeously-animated pests. And unlike worse games (I'm looking at you, Nanobreaker) the platforming and exploring involved is fun and well-designed instead of being annoying as hell. The trickiest sequences are never mandatory; they either lead to completely optional areas, or there's an easier (but less obvious) path to get to the same goal.
And there is no block pushing. None. Ys VI proves that action-RPG's don't have to recycle the same puzzles to be good — it's fresh and exciting.
ROCKING ITEM NUMBER THREE! Ys VI doesn't limit itself by its heritage; as processors have become more powerful and play control slicker, Falcom dropped the once-necessary "bump attack" system. Now, through button presses (shocking!), Adol can perform three-hit combinations, dash attacks, and downwards thrusts... or he can send chain lightning arcing from foe to foe! That's just one kind of magic — there are five others, spread across three elemental swords. Instead of buying new weapons, Adol upgrades the three he has and unlocks new abilities. When you kill a snarling or squeaking pre-rendered beast with one of these magical weapons, they EXPLODE! There's nothing quite like chopping a cute squirrel into furry chunks.
Squirrels are not the game's coolest enemy. Carrier pigeons will drop spiny boars at your feet (and flee from Adol's blade with visible beads of sweat pouring from their feathered heads), green slimes will poison you, and the bosses will DESTROY YOU. One beast springs up into the air and crashes down to the ground, causing the floor to break away, limiting the size of the playfield (unless you enjoy swimming in lava). The evil giant moth boss launches twenty or so eggs onto the suspended platform that have to be knocked off the edge before they hatch (unless you're a fan of maggots).
But enough with the lists! Breaking this game's goodness down into chunks would miss the point — Ys VI works because everything works. There's some backtracking to be done throughout the game (especially during the first half), but the most tedious fetch quests are relegated to "optional" status. Sure, you can visit EVERY SINGLE DUNGEON to retrieve Emilio's prized gerbils (or whatever those things are), but you don't have to do that.
Even beyond the sidequests, Ys VI can be played in a variety of ways. At the forest's northwest corner, you'll notice that spears and ropes block off an area teeming with tough monsters. Don't be a wuss — jump the fence! It's a linear game, but like in the original Ys, you can still enter harder areas to grab items you shouldn't even have (as long as you avoid the super-powerful poison-spewing Venus flytraps). As though Falcom predicted some players might do this, the items easily obtained by going out of order are useful but not game-imbalancing.
Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim brings back a lot of fond memories, but it creates even more of its own. You'll laugh when Dogi (aka Colin aka "man who breaks down walls for fun") busts through yet another wall to rescue Adol, just like he did in the original Ys. You'll perk up and pay attention when you find a friend's broken body lying in the middle of town. You'll curse when you miss that tricky leap to find the secret Elder Orb, and you'll pound your fists when its monstrous guardian eats Adol alive... but then you'll dance like a little kid when you hear that familiar "new item acquired" music. Most importantly, you'll have a hell of a lot of fun playing one damn fine action-RPG.
It's too bad that Adol is only a pirate for about five seconds, but at least Falcom had enough decency to make the rest of the game FRIGGIN' AWESOME.
Staff review by Zigfried (February 23, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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