By David Fernandes / February 27th, 2013
|Title: Ys I & II Chronicles+
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Release Date: February 14, 2013
Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
Back in 1987, a time when the RPG craze was rapidly starting to rise in Japan, a small and largely unknown company known as Nihon Falcom released Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished on the NEC PC-8801. They soon followed up with a sequel, Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter nearly a year later, which was also released on the NEC PC-8801. Along with the Legend of Heroes series, Ys would help cement Nihon Falcom’s place in the hearts of quite a number Japanese gamers who appreciated the game’s high quality writing, visuals, narrative, amazing soundtrack and fast-paced action RPG goodness.
With Falcom wanting to re-introduce both games, along with many of their other titles, they have remade, re-released and ported these two games numerous times in their long history. Quite literally, it would probably take a dozen or so paragraphs to talk about that history alone, and the differences with each re-release that came with it.
Which brings us the newest release of Ys 1 & 2 on Steam: Ys I & II Chronicles+. So with the other games in the franchise available on Steam, are these two games worth checking out to see the humble beginnings of Ys?
The first Ys game starts off with the main character Adol Christin, our handsome red-headed silent protagonist, getting shipwrecked and then being helped by the locals of Minea, a port town in the land of Esteria. He soon learns that the strange phenomena, The Storm Wall, was the most likely culprit of his not-so-pleasurable experience. Even worse, he is told the past six months have seen a lot of strange things happening. Demons are now roaming the lands, terrorizing towns. They have already burned one to the ground.
Before he can act, he gets an urgent call from a neighboring town’s fortuneteller who asks him not only to stop whoever is behind all these unfortunate events, but to seek out all 6 Books of Ys; a collective of books detailing the ancient, titular lands of the series. With sword and shield in hand, Adol goes off on an adventure to bring peace to the land of suffering while also discovering the truth of the mystery behind the ancient lands of Ys. Without going into spoilers, the second Ys game starts off more or less the same way, and picks up immediately after the first game’s ending. One of the Falcom’s driving points seen in every iteration of the franchise is the emphasis on storytelling, and Ys 1 & 2 were the starting point.
Adol meets with a lot of distinguishable, iconic, and overly likable characters such as Dogi, the two goddesses of Ys Feena & Reah as well as Lilia. They were introduced in both games using a script which was impressive for its time, even if the plot itself is nothing too special. My only issue is the main antagonist in the first Ys game doesn’t have much presence until the last hour of the game, unlike the sequel which introduces him right off the bat. The sequel is an improvement for sure, having a more fleshed-out story and greater world building, with both main characters and the town folk having more to say. Even better, thanks to a certain spell, we get to see how the opponent’s side is faring by getting to look at their perspective on situations throughout the game; a level of depth you don’t get to see in many video games even today. To call it impressive is an understatement.
Sadly, when it comes to gameplay, the game’s age really starts to show. While most people are familiar with more of the newer games’ nuances, the original games had something a bit different when it came to the action; in fact, different is putting it lightly. As you start the game you will notice something within the brief tutorial on how the combat works: there’s no attack button. Instead, you attack enemies by quite literally bumping right into them; the games call it the “bump system”. It’s a bit off-putting, but it’s easy to get used to and once you get your starting equipment you will be steam rolling monsters into little bits of bloody pieces. Keep in mind, you’re not by any means invincible; going at monsters head first will make you take damage and get yourself killed fast. Instead, you attack the enemies’ backs or side which will connect and land you clean hits without you taking any damage at all.
Yes it sounds silly, and it is unique, no doubt about that, but the novelty wears off real quick. Put simply, regular battles boil down to running circles around the incredibly dumb AI and just bum rushing them into the nearest wall or object. The second title has monsters behave differently so they have a fighting chance, with on-cue attacks that can pound you, given the chance.
Once they’re stuck in your attack animation, they’re pretty much finished. That said, the second game introducing the magic system remedies this to an extent with enemies that can attack at long range. It doesn’t completely fix the repetitive nature, but it does spice things up enough to make up for the aged combat system.
If you’re out in the field, town, and in certain spots within dungeons or levels, you can stand still to heal so you don’t have to constantly go back to the hospital. It might seem like it makes the game easier and in some cases it does, but it’s one of those details that Falcom pushes into their games so the action never grinds to a halt and keeps it at a steady pace. So, where’s that infamous challenge?
The levels and dungeons in both games are quite elaborate, as some are pitch black or have many floors and interconnected rooms which are easy to get lost in. With no map whatsoever, it takes some memorization and a bit of patience to get through them. Some of the magic, accessories and items provided must be used to get past certain obstacles, as well as some problem solving. On the odd occasion, however, I experienced difficulty with some of the more obtuse manners when it came to progressing the plot as you’re never given a clear explanation and only get clues if you speak to certain NPCs. Sometimes I wandered about aimlessly to get the plot moving, only to realize I had to go back and talk to the same NPC, as I needed to leave the town to activate the next sequence of events. Not just that, but there are some pretty ridiculous item-based obstacles. One which springs to mind is the wind tunnel in the Darm Tower. It requires you to break specific columns in a not-so-related room that came some time before it, using a particular hammer hidden way within the tower, without a single hint beforehand indicating that you needed it.
My previous point also demonstrates how dated both games have become. Yes, it was common practice back then, but that excuse doesn’t really help it here. If a game is pushing me to use a guide, it’s doing something wrong. Thankfully, Ys II is a lot more straightforward, avoiding my two issues above. Funnily enough, that same example above is in the game as well in the form of poison gas, but thankfully in a much clearer way.
Enemies are constantly re-spawning which can be irritating at first, but as you will soon find out, this a gift from the developers as most players will be grinding for more levels or cash to upgrade equipment for what lies at the end of each dungeon. As the series is quite famous for, the bosses is where the game’s challenges lie. Even on normal, some bosses can drive your patience into the ground with their massive health bars and high attack power. While grinding helps you survive, be prepared for some battles that will last ten or more minutes, or just get used to seeing that Game Over constantly. The second game revs the difficulty up by making it so that bosses can only be damaged with magic, meaning you have both health and MP to worry about. Thankfully the game allows you to save anywhere and at any time, though not during boss battles.
Ys games are generally not the lengthiest RPGs around the block, and these two games are no exception to this. Both games will take you somewhere between 12 to 15 hours to complete. Also like other Ys games, this game has quite a bit of replay value, helped by the added Steam achievements, four difficulty options and the befittingly named Nightmare mode. Nightmare mode is a series staple that tests any player who wishes to prove they are indeed a Ys fan, or who just wants a real challenge. Beating each game on any difficulty also unlocks a Time Attack mode, which is essentially a boss rush mode with your character at a set level.
2D sprites never cease to amaze me. Even though the game is a port of a 2001 remake, the animations still hold up extremely well. Character and monster sprites, as well as battle animations, are slick. The game is filled with vast colorful environments in which the little details are covered; birds flapping by, rushing water in streams, molten lava constantly flowing in the background. The attention to detail showcases Falcom’s talent when it comes to hand-drawn work; an art style I hope won’t be fazed out. The opening videos and very brief animated cutscenes for both games look stunning. I can quite honestly say I wish more games adopted this style.
As I’ve said before, Ys II has a neat spell; a transformation spell to be exact, that lets Adol turn into a Roo. A Roo is a cute little critter that makes the enemies and characters believe you to be a monster. The reason I bring this up is because the amount of work Falcom put into this simple mechanic. A whole plethora of dialogue is open to you, which is insane since the game already had quite a huge amount of text for your reading pleasure. They go even further by making sure the NPCs don’t just spout a bunch gibberish, but that the things they say are actually relevant to the plot and the happenings about the town. What’s more, the dialogue of the NPCs changes after major events; it’s world building at its finest.
When it comes to Ys, you can never go wrong with any of the games’ soundtracks. Nihon Falcom’s previous and current composers are masters of their craft. Ys I & II is filled to the brim with score after score of memorable tracks that certainly make it MP3 worthy; Yuzo Koshiro’s and Mieko Ishikawa’s early works are inspirational. It helps that both the rearrangements and remix of Chronicles, Complete, and the original version’s music are bundled with the Steam game and can be selected and switched around at your leisure. The same can be done with the artwork. Don’t want to use the Chronicles artwork? Switch to the older Complete version. Again, this can be done at any time. In the end, both are aesthetically pleasing to look at, with some artwork for both versions having some nice animations.
Ys I & II Chronicles+ also offers the option to change the HUD display at the start of a new game. Chronicles has it full-screen and zoomed in, while Complete mode gives it a nice border. Being on the PC makes for better viewing than the small PSP screen; it’s at a higher resolution while maintaining the smooth consistent framerate, leaderboards, and Steam cloud save. There’s not much to say about the game’s localization; it looks to be the exact same as the PSP ports that XSEED released back in 2011, which was great back then and looks great now. I did notice a typo or two, but nothing too major. Kudos to Sara Leen for the immense task of putting three versions of the two games in one; doesn’t sound too easy from what I’ve heard. Besides one bug, I didn’t see any other bugs or glitches from start to finish for both games.
At the end of the day, Ys I & II Chronicles+ is basically a port of a port of a port with a new coat of paint. If you already own the PSP version, I’d only recommend this if you really liked both Ys games. I would, however, recommend it to those who have jumped into the franchise with more recent titles like Ys Seven, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, and Ys Origin but missed out on the PSP version for whatever reason. It will be a bit hard to jump into this when you’ve already experience the evolved combat system of the newer games, but it’s worth it for those following the story of the series.
For newcomers to the franchise, I’d recommend this as your first potential Ys game. Ys I is a decent game, but Ys II is definitely the clear winner; a much more refined combat system, improved inventory system, a robust magic system, better bosses, better level designs. Ys II is longer and has more distinguishable areas, is more straightforward when it came to pacing, and problem solving was improved exponentially; overall, a much more polished experience. So if you can chug your way through the first title, you will find a much more riveting time with the second.
For $15 you can get what most would say is the definitive version of Ys I & II, and see where the franchise began.
Review copy was provided by the publisher. This review is based on the PC version of the game.
XSEED GamesYsYs I & II Chronicles