Ys (NES) review
"Whether youíre struggling against some seemingly overpowered boss or plowing through a horde of minor enemies like some sort of god, youíll 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?"
Iíve heard tales of how great Ys Book I & II is on the Turbo CD Ė how itís 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 havenít 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) isnít 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 olí 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 wonít mind that much, because the mystical land of Ys offers a rather addicting and unique way of battling. To kill an enemy Ė get this Ė you just run into him. Thatís it.
But thereís a catch! Running into enemies head-on causes damage, more or less depending on your respective strengths. Thereís 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 enemyís position. Strikes from the side or behind do the most damage (naturally Ė as theyíre unguarded), while simply grazing them does a bit less but is also safer since itís 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 opponentís strength. Even when completely maxed, Adol can take minor damage from the weakest monsters if struck in such a defenseless position.
So youíd 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 doesnít matter whether enemies are visible on-screen. Theyíll 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 wasnít before the last boss you killed.
Ys is rather short, but rather than detract from the gameís 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 itís actually quite catchy, and of the few tracks that are a bit annoying, youíre 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, Iíve listened to and compared tracks from the TCD version of this game, and Iíll admit that the portís 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 Banditís 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, youíre 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 doesnít 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 youíre close, itís 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 itís this combination of rapid tactical thinking along with hard-hitting action found in every battle that really adds significance to the game. Whether youíre struggling against some seemingly overpowered boss or plowing through a horde of minor enemies like some sort of god, youíll 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. Itís 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.
Community review by wolfqueen001 (December 09, 2008)
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