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Ys: The Vanished Omens (Sega Master System) artwork

ADVENTURE!

The dauntless "Aron Christian" wants nothing but to explore various lands, unravel hidden secrets, and use his swordsmanship against anyone or thing that gets in the way. His latest journey brings him to Esteria, formerly the Kingdom of Ys, after being washed up on shore after a shipwreck. Once healed by the kind people in a nearby village, the young redheaded traveler sets off, this time in the direction of an ominous tower in the distance. The villagers call it The Tower of the Doomed, explaining that the land's recent sufferings have originated from such an edifice. He is advised to stop by the town of Minea for information, and this is where you take control of the daring explorer in Ys: The Vanished Omens.

You enter Minea weaponless, defenseless, and with only 1000 gold to spend carefully. The manual suggests seeking a fortune teller within the town, as she has foreseen a meeting with a red-haired swordsman. But once you greet her, she immediately dismisses you; she will only take you seriously when properly armed! So you take your measly 1000 gold, go over to the shops, buy the shortest sword for 500 gold and armor for 400, leaving you with only 100 gold. You might think this is enough... but the fortune teller demands all three equipped. You must wander outside, killing unruly soldiers and creatures to save up 700 gold for that shield.



Just start hacking and slashing? Well, Ys' real-time combat system has a very distinct, "interesting" feature that made it a standout of its time. When you attack an enemy... you do so by bumping into them. This can go one of three ways based on your own strength in conjunction to your opponent's strength: you'll die instantly, you'll have a "health-off" to see who loses all their health first, or you'll destroy them in one or two bumps. Concerning the health-off encounters, there are actual tactics other than bumping into them point blank, which only gives you a 50% chance of hitting them. If you time it correctly, a 100% hit rate will occur if you bump into them from their sides or back. Graciously, depending on the area, your health gauge will auto-heal if you stand still.

Admittedly, the bump system feels awkward from the start, but it's something that you kinda get used to if you manage to go all in on The Vanished Omens. That's an important if, since actual progress becomes stalled on several occasions because of one thing... grinding. Understandably, this was a very common trait for games with stat-building of this era. So, the important thing here is to ask: just how bad is the grinding? When you begin the quest for more gold to complete your offense-defense trinity, enemies will drop either six or ten pieces of gold per kill; very repetitive, but doable in a "short" time. You eventually gain the shield, and the fortune teller finally reveals that you must collect the six hidden books of Ys and decipher its clues to bring peace back to Esteria.

Doesn't sound too bad at first, but the downward spiral starts here.

This newfound book club hobby brings you to the Palace, where you must traverse several floors filled with pathways, treasures, and lots of new enemies. With a decked-out Aron, and a recent increase in power and health from leveling up, you are supposedly prepared. You face the first boss on the starting floor, in a room infested with flames blowing from the sides, and when you bump into the cloaked figure... nothing happens. Back to grinding for more power and stronger equipment. You then finally defeat the same boss, and with a false sense of security backing you up, you strut into the following floors. Within seconds, you're on the brink of death and retreat to the first floor, because the ensuing floors forbid auto-healing. Back to monotonous grinding.



You once again obtain enough strength, but not even a floor or two later, you are outmatched. More grinding. The problem isn't so much the act of grinding, but the fact that the majority of the game's progress is aggressively tied to it. To give an idea how long leveling up takes, general enemies will give one to three experience points per kill. Once you're leveled up at 200, the next level is 400, and after that is 800, then 1600. See the pattern? You can risk fighting stronger enemies with higher experience point gains in the Palace, but at the risk of dying in two hits and losing all that progress. You can even attempt to sneak past them as you make it to other floors for treasure, but you still need to be strong enough to face the Palace's remaining boss.

You can try making an argument that this is what The Vanished Omens is all about, and that the whole thing will fall apart if this aspect gets removed.

But then the final portion of the game begins, and that argument flies completely out the window.

Eventually, you must venture into The Tower of the Doomed to obtain the three remaining Ys books. While the Palace and the barely-visible mines provided a few floors, the Tower is different. Coming in at over 20 floors, the Tower is a location you cannot retreat from once entered. Having said that, the most interesting thing about the Tower is the fact that, by the time you reach this portion of the game, you've maxed out the leveling system... not like you had a choice in the matter. With grinding no longer a constant menace, how does the dev team handle this place without the main crutch?

They actually made a decent dungeon-style area. Before you were trapped inside an obvious artificial difficulty bubble, but the Tower at least makes it feel like you're putting in actual effort. Within this sky-high monstrosity, you'll encounter soldiers and creatures, find important items, backtrack, go through mazes, and solve puzzles. Even when you have special items found from the Palace and mines, such as the auto-heal ring or one that slows enemies, the Tower still manages to engage. The reason for this is that most of the game structure is now no longer associated with power scaling, meaning the devs actually had to find other ways to "stimulate" players. Though, the one major flaw has to be trying to decipher certain puzzles; some are so cryptic, that you will need to look at a guide.



Another knock, retrospectively-speaking, is that if you've considered diving into the Ys games, then the Sega Master System version is not the ideal place to start. It is historically the first English console release for the series, yes, but the first two games are essentially a two-parter; considering Sega only brought over the first one to their system, you're left with an incomplete story. Ys II eventually shows up on a Sega console... 10 years later on the Japanese Saturn, hilariously. You're better off checking out the enhanced Ys Book I & II release for the TurboGrafx CD, or some of its subsequent remakes on later platforms.

But as a standalone title, Ys: The Vanished Omens is unfortunately an uneven adventure for Adol Christin, whose name was weirdly modified to Aron Christian in the English version of this Sega-constructed port. The fact that this could have been a reasonable dungeon crawling experience, for the entirety of this journey, is a frustrating thing to ponder. If you're going to do one thing, then at least go all in on the grinding or all in on the exploration; don't change your mind at the end and make a different, more-refined version of the same game within the game.



dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (May 21, 2024)

Alternative header: Cruel Summer

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