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Ys (NES) artwork

Ys (NES) review


"Whether you’re struggling against some seemingly overpowered boss or plowing through a horde of minor enemies like some sort of god, you’ll realize just how well the two elements go together. They actually make exploration fun, and how many games from the 80s actually factor in place of attack when determining damage?"



I’ve heard tales of how great Ys Book I & II is on the Turbo CD – how it’s one of the first games to incorporate voice acting and beautiful cinematic still shots, how its atmospheric presentation makes combat and exploration enjoyable as well as adding an emotional touch found little elsewhere.

Well, I haven’t had the fortune of playing that game on the TCD, and probably never will. So I chose to settle with the NES version instead.

Which is fine because while the original Ys (they combined the two books later) isn’t as good as its port, it still has its merits, and despite knowing I was playing an inferior title, I soon found myself rather enjoying the experience.

Inadvertently dropped off at some town with no explanation whatsoever, our protagonist, Adol, eventually stumbles his way into adventure. The townsfolk gladly tell him of a mysterious man in a strange mantle, of sealed mines and purloined silver. The fortuneteller has a task for him, but first requests he be properly armed. Which could mean purchasing any of three sets of weapons and armor available in the shop, but common sense should tell you which one. Or just good ol’ trial and error.

And so, with vague objectives in mind, our hero embarks on his epic journey whereupon he first engages in a long spurt of power leveling and money farming. Only then can his path be laid bare.

But you won’t mind that much, because the mystical land of Ys offers a rather addicting and unique way of battling. To kill an enemy – get this – you just run into him. That’s it.

But there’s a catch! Running into enemies head-on causes damage, more or less depending on your respective strengths. There’s a bit of strategy involved in this system, because in order to kill your foe without taking significant damage, you must attack from the side, from behind, or, if you insist on attacking from the front, slightly above or below your enemy’s position. Strikes from the side or behind do the most damage (naturally – as they’re unguarded), while simply grazing them does a bit less but is also safer since it’s harder for monsters to move out of (or into) your way.

Of course, Adol is just as susceptible to these vulnerabilities as his foes are. Damage received from the side or back results in near-death, or even instant death depending on your opponent’s strength. Even when completely maxed, Adol can take minor damage from the weakest monsters if struck in such a defenseless position.

So you’d best not drop your guard while storming through a dungeon. Nor should you ever feel secure in a demon-infested area while waiting patiently for your health to slowly regenerate. It doesn’t matter whether enemies are visible on-screen. They’ll come find you if you wait long enough. So the next time you decide to use the bathroom while Adol stands idly as his health gradually increases from 40 to 255, make sure the last place you saved wasn’t before the last boss you killed.

Ys is rather short, but rather than detract from the game’s overall value, its shortness allows for greater variation. Each new area is unique, from music to setting to monsters. The music changes to suit each environment, and one single track is never used twice (with the exception of boss fights, which are spread out enough to make this negligible), eliminating any desire to press the mute button while crawling through lengthy dungeons. Some of it’s actually quite catchy, and of the few tracks that are a bit annoying, you’re only required to stay there briefly (these are usually towns). The only complaint I can levy here is that some songs loop too soon.

Now, I’ve listened to and compared tracks from the TCD version of this game, and I’ll admit that the port’s vastly superior CD quality music using electric instruments sets the mood far better than the typical 8-bit Nintendo pieces used here. However, I still found myself jamming to such themes as the Bandit’s Hideout and Darm Tower.

With only about five places to explore (3 of them dungeons), settings are rarely recycled, and challenges are inserted to make your job just a little more difficult. Solomon Shrine sees you frustrated as you try to pass through a maze of statue teleporters, many of which force you to start from the beginning again. Throughout the entirety of the Sealed Mines, you’re given only a small radius of light, making avoiding enemies difficult. And Darm Tower provides a similar maze to Solomon Shrine, only this time involving mirrors and a 25-floor trek through swarms of demons.

Every boss you fight is unique, from design to attack pattern. The Fire Mage periodically encircles you with fireballs; stepping outside that boundary results in damage. The Vampire dissolves into a swarm of harmful bats that flutter in all directions before reforming, finally opening himself up to injury. The Dragon Worm is very fast, tracks you incessantly, and has only one weak spot: the tail.

While all of these bosses have a sensible (and exploitable) attack pattern, that doesn’t make them easy. By far, the toughest boss I faced was the Great Mantis, which chucked three boomerangs at me while sidling left and right at the top edge of the screen.

This made hitting him difficult, because in order to do so, you have to dodge his blades while steadily advancing. Once you’re close, it’s really easy for those scythes to slash you to ribbons. To beat him, you must wait until his blades have returned, then strike. That leaves you about a second.

It was a fight that required a great deal of strategy, careful maneuvering and patience.

And it’s this combination of rapid tactical thinking along with hard-hitting action found in every battle that really adds significance to the game. Whether you’re struggling against some seemingly overpowered boss or plowing through a horde of minor enemies like some sort of god, you’ll realize just how well the two elements go together. They actually make exploration fun, and how many games from the 80s actually factor in place of attack when determining damage?

Ys may not be the technical marvel its counterpart became, but it certainly laid the groundwork for that development. It’s still an enjoyable game enough within itself to warrant a play-through, and it provides a little surprise near the end not seen in the much-popularized Turbo version.

Rating: 8/10

wolfqueen001's avatar
Community review by wolfqueen001 (December 09, 2008)

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Lewis posted December 10, 2008:

How come user reviews are going in the feature box now? Don't get me wrong, WQ, I love your writing - it's easily good enough to sit nicely with the site's staff content - but it seems a little odd to be mixing it all into one pie...
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Masters posted December 10, 2008:

Oh, you didn't hear? Wolfqueen is our newest staff member.

I caught a typo:

"...how it’s atmospheric presentation makes combat and exploration enjoyable as well as adding an emotional touch found little elsewhere..."

Should be "its."

Good review. I wonder, have you had the chance to play the Master System version? Judging from the screenshots here, that game is a LOT better looking.
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Felix_Arabia posted December 10, 2008:

Sometimes we focus user reviews because some of our regular users, like Wolfqueen, put just as much if not more work into this site than some of our staff members and freelancers. What a rude thing for you to say, Lewis.
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Lewis posted December 10, 2008:

I'm simply awful.

WQ clearly should be a staffer anyway, though, so it all works.
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wolfqueen001 posted December 10, 2008:

Lewis: I didn't ask my review be put there. It was a staff's decision, and I feel honored that my review was deemed worthy enough for it. If some other staff member decides it's uncouth to put user reviews in the focus window, regardless of quality, then they have the power to take it down. Anyway, I would've appreciated more on the writing of and/or the game itself rather than little (potentially offensive) quabbles over silly things as "why the bloody fuck is your user review in the staff window?".

Thanks, Masters. I'll fix that typo. I'm glad you liked it, especially since you always seem so hard to please, haha. ^^; Anyway, I haven't played the SMS version... though I suppose I could give it a look if I could find an emulator. There's a few other SMS games I'd wanted to look at, too.

And actually, I have been considering joining staff for a while, but still hold off on the decision because I'd only really be useful at school, and I can't review staff games at school.
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Masters posted December 10, 2008:

"...more work into this site than some of our staff members..."

NICE. I wonder who he's talking about??

WQ: I'm hard to please am I? Why don't you say what you REALLY mean. "That's nice Masters, considering you're such an asshole..."

^_^
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wolfqueen001 posted December 10, 2008:

Haha. Nah. I'm too nice. Besides, I like to think of it as just "holding a really strict standard". =D
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EmP posted December 10, 2008:

Masters is so hard to please he doesn;t even read EmP reviews anymore.

Lewis: I put a lot of work into making WQ a passable reviewer -- you leave her alone!
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wolfqueen001 posted December 10, 2008:

Only passable, huh? =P
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sashanan posted December 10, 2008:

You write reviews?
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Felix_Arabia posted December 10, 2008:

Lewis, your comment basically insinuates that you don't believe any user reviews should deserve the focus window. Even if that's not what you mean by it, that's still not right. The users on this site get very little coverage once their reviews pass of the front page. I hope we will see more focused user reviews in the future because sometimes the games they cover are inherently more interesting than the games we cover. If you or anyone else doesn't like it, tough.
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EmP posted December 10, 2008:

I write reviews about ponys. I'm unsurpassed in my field.
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Felix_Arabia posted December 10, 2008:

I thoroughly enjoyed this review, btw. Wolfqueen and I were originally going to cover NES Ys at the same time, but I offered her the opportunity to post it last night. It's a swell read.
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Masters posted December 10, 2008:

Emp, don't be sad. You know the only reason I haven't read and gushed about one of your reviews lately is precisely due to your area of expertise: pony games. :T

And I've got to say, I don't think I've seen Felix this grumpy since his famous run-ins with Mike Suskie.
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Lewis posted December 10, 2008:

Argh, Christ, blown completely out of proportion. WQ is a brilliant writer, as are many of the users here, but the focus window is in what I'd consider the staff section of the front page. That's all I was commenting on. Stop getting your nickers in a twist, whoever is doing.
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Masters posted December 10, 2008:

Haha. Good times.
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wolfqueen001 posted December 10, 2008:

My knickers are so knotted, it causes hemhorraging! =D

XD Just kidding. That's really gross, too. Thanks for the compliments, anyway. I'm glad you think so highly of me. Though I still would've preferred you take the focus window queries to a separate topic or something.

Ah, well, I'm glad you read the review anyway.

I also just made some edits to it... so hopefully it's a bit less awkward in some places now.

EDIT: Thanks, OD. I read your review, actually. I'll HG mail you about the super secret surprise.... maybe it is in the TCD version and none of the stuff I read / saw talked about it.
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overdrive posted December 10, 2008:

It's been a while since we've had knickers in a twist, so I'm happy!

This was a very nice review. I remember playing and reviewing this game a ways back and reading this brought back memories. Not all the memories, though, as I have to admit to being clueless as to the surprise towards the end of the NES version that's not on the TG-CD one.

Maybe someday, I'll get around to playing and reviewing the NES' Ys II.
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Lewis posted December 10, 2008:

I've just realised I haven't actually commented on the review, which is probably what annoyed people. Oops. I meant to, I really did.

It's good. Not one of your best, I don't think, but it's good. The word "addicting" stood out a bit though - addictive perhaps? Other than that, pretty alright, perfectly competent, but it doesn't have that "Ah yes - that's a WQ review" thing about it that most of your work does.
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Masters posted December 10, 2008:

Ha, WQ quit yer whinin' about the focus window ISSUE. At least you got POSITIVE FEEDBACK! =D And lots of it!

Listen to you: "Ahem, well I would have preferred it had you made your rather boorish focus window comments elsewhere. This topic is about praising me and my considerable skills." =T
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wolfqueen001 posted December 10, 2008:

XD I <3 you Masters. I really do sound like that, don't I?

I don't care anymore, to be honest. What really bothered me in the first place was that he didn't talk about the review or game or some little interesting note within the review - which is what feedback topics are supposed to be for - along with that, but he just commented on it, so now I'm happy.

Thanks everyone! ^_^
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Felix_Arabia posted December 10, 2008:

I said that last comment to ensure that we're all on the same page. We are. So we're good.
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Masters posted December 10, 2008:

I was really a shit disturber in this topic. Totally wasn't intended. =D
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Ben posted July 16, 2010:

Despite some people gushing over the Ys series in the past, I actually knew nothing about it. I felt I learnt a lot from your review, and it was a solid read.

Even when completely maxed, Adol can take minor damage from the weakest monsters if struck in such a defenseless position.

"major"? Not sure if the correction is right, but the sentence makes a lot more sense with it.
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wolfqueen001 posted July 17, 2010:

Thanks. I really liked this review.

No, I meant minor. In some RPGs, if you're a higher level, you'll take no damage at all from weaker enemies, but here, you'll still take some, so you still need to be relatively careful.

I do admit that it's a bit of a strange idea to write about, but I think that's my need to be as accurate as possible talking there.

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