"The back of the box says "this ultimate translation delivers the most substantial version of the famous story to date". It also refers to "new enemies and equipment". For North America, this is true. However, in terms of content, Legacy of Ys is nothing more than a re-release of Ys Complete I&II with new graphics, new music, and a new control system."
There's a lot to be said about the legacy of Ys. The series' influence on modern Japanese RPGs cannot be understated. Falcom paved the way for action roleplaying with their enormously successful Xanadu, and the Ys series brought the concept to an even wider audience. The Ys games popularized RPG soundtracks; the arranged CDs remain the best-selling albums of their kind. And the legendary TurboGrafx-CD demonstrated the power of stylish cinematics. On a more personal level, the series' many, many iterations featured numerous moments of beautiful, breathtaking wonder.
When I first played Ys Complete and heard Lair/Reah playing a familiar melody on her silver harmonica, when I saw her red robes and flowing violet hair in silky-smooth full-screen glory, my heart melted. It was a magical moment.
When I first played Legacy of Ys and heard that same melody distorted by compression loss, when I saw the visuals reduced to a three-inch screen, ravaged by unsightly artifacting... well, I wouldn't consider that a particularly magical moment.
So, although there's much to say about the legacy of Ys, I've much less to say about Legacy of Ys.
Published in Japan as two separate cards, the first two chapters have been combined for the domestic DS release. This was a necessary move by Atlus, as 1990's Turbo CD raised North American fans' expectations, and the first episode in particular -- even with a few embellishments carried over from the Eternal remake -- is still too short to stand on its own. Together, the two chapters provide plenty of length.
The back of the box says "this ultimate translation delivers the most substantial version of the famous story to date". It also refers to "new enemies and equipment". It's true that there's quite a bit more than North American fans have seen before. However, in terms of content, Legacy of Ys is barely more than a re-release of Ys Complete I&II with new graphics, new music, and a new control system. Japanese fans -- or those who import PC and PS2 games -- have already experienced the "new" enemies, equipment, and story scenes... and they've already experienced those things in a superior presentation.
The character artwork and sprites are crisp, clear, and vibrant. Unfortunately, the overhead world has been rendered in budget 3D. The grasslands are outlined in sharp, linear edges, unlike the ragged (and more realistic) coastal terrain of the Windows, PS2, or -- dare I say it -- TurboGrafx-CD. Water and dungeon floor textures are simplistic and almost appear to be "tiled", which is a throwback to the bad aspects of ancient 2D art design. The game doesn't look terrible, but it does look like an effortless remake built on a shoestring budget. Falcom's own 3D Ys games (this was developed by Interchannel) have already put this to shame, and Ys fans who patiently waited for a translated version of Ys Complete will be disappointed that they don't get to experience the gorgeous 2D tapestries that made the remake famous.
The DS game's music was even more disappointing than the visuals. Yuzo Koshiro's original compositions are brilliant, and people who have never heard an Ys soundtrack are likely to be impressed by how catchy everything is -- even shop and town music! However, the performance is too precise. The song for Noble District of Toal dares to actually exercise a bit of syncope, but other tracks follow the rhythm with mechanical precision. The beats aren't powerful, and the arrangement lacks depth.
The PS2 version boasts an awesome and unique arrangement that breaks into electric guitar solos and strong dance beats. The Saturn port had rich instrumentation, including some nice acoustic guitar. Ys is supposed to be a soundtrack with soul, and Interchannel has simply played it by the numbers. If I had the opportunity to perform an Ys soundtrack, even if forced to rely on synth, I'd be jamming out. Whenever I listen to Falcom's JDK band I imagine a bunch of long-haired, over-the-hill Japanese hipsters head-banging to raging keyboard and electric guitar. That's not even close to the mental image exuded by Interchannel's Legacy of Ys. Hell, I don't really get a mental image at all. The music is just kind of "there".
The most interesting and potentially volatile update was the control system. Since Legacy of Ys is a DS game, the stylus is used to control red-headed hero Adol Christin as he pursues the villainous creatures that have invaded Esteria and explores the lost continent of Ys. Surprisingly, this actually works pretty well. Similar to playing with a mouse, simply slide the stylus across the screen and Adol dashes at a perfectly normal pace, automatically attacking anything in his path. For those who haven't played either of the original Ys games, there never was an "attack button". This allowed the game to maintain a fast pace, especially in boss fights, which differentiated it from its peers (such as Zelda). These controls only become an issue in the second chapter, when Adol has to start shooting off fireballs in precise directions. Sometimes I thought I was facing horizontally, but I was actually facing diagonally. Oops.
In addition to the stylus, Legacy of Ys provides another interesting control option. Players can turn off the stylus and use the D-pad to move... but this also forces them to press a button to swing the sword. As far as I know, this is the first version of Ys I or II to include a "swing your sword" button. Some will consider this a welcome addition, and some will consider it heresy. I think it throws the game's balance off. Some bosses are ridiculously hard with the non-stylus controls, because the game was designed around running into them without worrying about pressing buttons. On the other hand, some normal enemies are much easier because now Adol can stand still, swinging his sword as they approach, which "bounces" them back with each hit.
End result of D-pad control: against normal enemies, Adol is nearly invincible. Against bosses, he's dead. If you're looking for the most genuine and balanced Ys experience, I recommend going with the stylus.
So, essentially, Legacy of Ys is a budget 3D remake of Ys Complete with an interesting control scheme. That's far from the "ultimate translation" and "most substantial version" with "beautifully recreated 3-D graphics" that the back of the box promises. I can't blame Atlus for hyping their product -- and honestly, it's a decent game -- but they make it sound as though this is the best that Ys has to offer. That's an insult to the series' legacy.
Here's hoping Ys I&II Chronicles on the PSP sets things right.
Staff review by Zigfried (March 23, 2009)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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