"I examine Ys Book I & II, a game you'll often find in top 50 lists but you don't often see a lot of people gushing about it the way you find Final Fantasy fanboys do. Is it because it just never caught on or is the game not as great as everyone says? read on for more. "
What is it about floating islands and lost civilizations that sparks human imagination? From the original story of Laputa in Gulliverís travels to the lost kingdom of Zeal in Chrono Trigger and most recently the huge sky city of Columbia in Bioshock Infinite the floating island containing a lost civilization and advanced technology is a common trope, one of these stories is the story of Ys or if you are Japanese ďAncient Ys Vanished OmenĒ. Yeah I donít get it either. Iíll be focusing on Book I & II for the Turbografx 16-CD here.
Ys is a series of Action-RPGís first released for a slew of Japanese computers like the MSX and PC-88 in the late 80ís. Itís one of those series that often shows up in top ten lists in magazines as being one of the great RPG series out there but you rarely seem to find any of them or you likely have never heard of them in the first place. Thatís because only a few of them have ever actually been released outside of Japan where they have a smallish but devoted following.
You see RPGs were a niche genre at the time with Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Phantasy starís first primitive outings sticking out, the cost and time consuming nature of translating RPGs into English or god forbid any other languages meant that very few actually made it out of Japan because it often wasnít considered cost effective to put in the work for little profit even if the critics rave, Earthbound is a prime example.
Ys Book I & II was an enhanced compilation of the original two Ys games translated and put onto CD as a launch title for the ill fated TurboGrafx 16-CD, Graphics were improved, anime-esque cutscenes were added and most noticeably the score was remade into a redbook CD format and certain parts of the game were gifted with some pretty decent voice acting provided by actual professional voice actors including Michael Bell, Alan ďSkeletorĒ Oppenheimer, Jim Cummings and Debi Derryberry.
In Ys you are Adol Christin, a plucky silent red haired adventurer who has probably had some problems with people accidentally putting a typo on his name. Adol is shown entering the land of Eresia by boat where he is immediately approached by the local town psycho-sorry PSYCHIC who warns Adol of a generic impending doom that RPG worlds love sending plucky young swordsmen with wild red hair, you are given some money to buy provisions and then are sent out into the world. On your way you will learn about (and in book II explore) the land of Ys, a magical kingdom ruled by two goddesses and 6 priests who to lock away the big generic evil© raised the land and hid it away, for more information just watch Laputa or play Chrono Trigger.
Ysí gameplay is somewhat unique among RPGs, unlike most where you have an overworld where you quest and a separate battle screen where you attack enemies with your party instead you play the game more as a dungeon crawler like Gauntlet using a unique and from what I can tell divisive ďbumpĒ attack system. Essentially you run around the land in a top down perspective and run into enemies to attack them, no separate battle screen nor an actual attack button, you would think that would make the game super easy and while I admit it is a LOT easier than other contemporary RPGs *COUGH*Phantasy star 2*COUGH* it doesnít make the game easy, to attack an enemy safely and successfully you have to attack them slightly off center to their sprite or else you run the risk of taking damageÖa lot of damage. Itís something you have to experience for yourself but trust me when I say that if you attack a line of enemies and you decide to attack them head on, you will die in a matter of seconds and since there is no party only Adol, nobody is going to give you a Phoenix Down. In normal battle this means that you are reloading your last save but mercifully in boss battles you respawn outside the boss door. Additionally health pickups have to be bought and you can only hold one of them at a time, this is alleviated by the fact that in the overworld you regain health when you stand still, in dungeons though until you pick up the magic maguffins that allow health regeneration you are on your own. In book II there is a magic system implemented and the only attack magic is a fireball that admittedly is enough on its own, itís the only ranged attack you will need and quickly becomes amazingly powerful.
One big advantage to this kind of battle system is that you donít get bogged down by random battles slowing down your progress, grinding is a simple endeavour, helped by the fact that enemies respawn infinitely. Grinding usually entails finding an area where a lot of enemies respawn and running them through over and over again, however every time you level up each enemy class gives you less and less experience until after a few levels you only get 1 EXP per kill and know itís time to move on.
Ys book I is a good game on its own however it does have one major issue, its length, the game itself can be beaten within 6 hours, I in my first go beat it without any walkthroughs in an evening and that is including the amount of times I got lost in the labyrinthine dungeons and was beaten down by the dungeon bosses (who are amazingly difficult even if you know what youíre doing). The game features 1 town, 1 village a very small overworld and only a couple of dungeons, the last of which is a huge 20+ levelled tower that will easily take up at least a third if not half of your play through, another criticism I have is the lack of variety in the environments, the overworld and towns look the same: a grassy field, the other dungeons are underground caverns that I canít entirely tell the difference between and the tower is quite monotonous. This however is remedied by the second game.
Ys Book II is a direct continuation of Book I as in the ending of Book I is the opening to Book II bridged by an awesome cutscene. In fact it isnít possible to choose Book II from a menu, you must play Book I to play Book II and the stats and level that you gained in I carries over to II. This game fixes the lack of variety found in the first half by having you travel through snowy mountains and lava filled caves in addition to the grassy fields at the beginning of the game, in fact you will basically be taking a direct and linear route from the beginning to the end which may irk some people but I find that it leaves a tight and focused path through the game, also thereís no overworld, either you are in a town or you are between towns since you take a direct path from one town to the next rather than getting there via an overworld. The final dungeon is also much more involved and complex than the tower of the first half being a huge open temple with many small openings and doors leading further into Ys that again will probably take you as long to beat as the entire rest of the game. I find it somewhat funny that the final dungeon of Ys II is actually less linear than the game leading up to it. The game is also much longer than Ys I with my first playthrough lasting about 9 hours, this however was mostly due to me getting lost multiple times while going through the final dungeon.
Graphics are pretty good for a 16 bit RPG of the time, the game has a fairly simple look that does show itís 8-bit home computer roots however and doesnít exactly have the visual impact of say, FF6. The game features some decent anime cutscenes but while they are impressive they are fairly sparse and donít have a lot of animation though the graphics overall are very detailed.
Sound however is another thing entirely, the soundtrack was initially composed (but re-arranged by another composer) by famed musician Yuzo Koshiro, famous for his compositions for the Streets of Rage games, Actraiser and for being involved with Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Shenmue. I cannot be more laudatory for this soundtrack and itís often hailed as one of the best in video game history, the overworld theme for Book I is an upbeat and pulse pounding track that feeds optimism, the CD media really shines, some tracks however do seem to be done by the TGís own sound chip and they sound really tinny compared to the richer Redbook compositions, in Book II for example you start in a village with a tinny TG synth tune before entering an area of ruins and suddenly you are accosted by a pulse pounding guitar and 80ís synth tune, this however isnít a common thing, usually itís only the towns that have this problem. Otherwise the soundtrack is absolutely awesome, in fact I highly recommend simply looking up the opening cinematic to this game, itís not hard to find online in the obvious places and itís simply amazing.
Overall I would highly recommend this game to anyone, RPG fan or not, itís enough like an RPG to satisfy any fanatic but itís also just not RPG enough to make me think that a more action oriented gamer would enjoy it, also unlike most RPGs of the time a strategy guide or a bookmark for gamefaqs isnít required or advised for the game, things are explained well enough that you should have no problem finding everything you need though a map or a good sense of direction is highly recommended the only thing I can see annoying some people (apart from bump attacking) is the fact that the games are very linear with very few sidequests that donít end up actually being a huge part of the story but you canít have everything, this game is a classic through and through and I would be an idiot to give it anything less than a 10.
Community review by maboroshi (September 26, 2013)
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