Ys has been one of those series a lot of gamers sort of knew about, but never had the chance to play, myself included. Last year XSEED announced they’d be localizing three titles in the series and releasing them in the states. Occasionally one or two of the games would make it over here, but no company took as big a risk as XSEED did by announcing three titles of the obscure series, as well as another Falcom RPG, The Legend Of The Heroes: Trails In The Sky, all at once. It truly was a bold endeavor.
The release schedule for the titles has been a bit wonky. First in August we had the latest title in the Ys series, Ys Seven, followed by Ys: the Oath in Felghana, a remake of the third Ys game, in November. Finally to complete XSEED’s borderline insane, yet awesome, trilogy they’ve returned to the beginning of the series with Ys I & II Chronicles. Why did they decide to release the games in reverse order? Hit the jump to find out this and what I thought of the game.
Since XSEED started releasing the games here, I’ve thought about why they’d do it in such an order. Playing Ys I & II Chronicles has answered my question. They did it because you need at least two titles in the series to prepare you for how RIDICULOUS this game can be. Playing Ys Seven and OiF to get ready for I & II Chronicles is like being given a hammer and some nails, a picture of the Nidaros Cathedral in Norway, and being dropped in the desert with a note that says “build.” Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Ys I & II Chronicles is ridiculously obtuse.
Many people compare the Ys series to the Legend of Zelda games, and the comparison is apt but let me paint you a picture. In most Zelda titles you’ll find an object in a dungeon, whether it be a boomerang, a shield, or whathaveyou, and the object will help you solve a puzzle within that same dungeon. The item practically has a Post-It on it that says, “USE THIS IN THE NEXT ROOM!” While in Ys I, I made it halfway through a dungeon before meeting a boss that seemed practically impossible. Nothing I did even hurt this guy. Turns out I need the silver sword to defeat him. How do I get the silver sword? First I have to fight my way back through the dungeon, return to one of the first towns from the game, find a girl I had never met before that lost a harmonica I’d found in the dungeon, give it to her so she can play a song that awakens an ancient tree (I’m not told the song does this), then I have to eat a fruit I found in another part of the world before approaching this ancient tree who then speaks to me and gives me the silver sword. Mind you NONE of this was communicated to me through the narrative. This happens all throughout the game.
It’s totally understandable if you think I’m complaining, but believe it or not I actually sort of enjoy the obtuseness of the game in a masochistic, retro-loving way. There was a time in gaming where this is just how games were, especially if you’re a fan of old PC adventure games. Before the internet, DRM and strategy guides, game developers needed ways to make sure gamers were playing legit copies of their games. They’d often do this through some form of copy protection like making an obstacle in a game impossible to pass unless one referenced the manual or sometimes the actual box the game came in. This may or may not be why Ys I is this way, but XSEED understands how frustrating old RPGs can be and help you in a wonderfully retro fanservice way. Located in the back of the game’s manual is a FULL walkthrough for Ys I including a map of the first dungeon and a nice little letter letting us know they have our backs. Remember how I said XSEED was brave? They’re also very, very nice.
That’s just part of the fantastic package that comes with Ys I & II Chronicles. If you buy the special edition you also get a soundtrack with some amazing Falcom hard rockin’ goodness. This is the latest in a line of wonderful premium editions from XSEED as OiF came with a calendar and a soundtrack, and Ys Seven had its own soundtrack, artbook, and a beautiful cloth map. They really wanted to give Ys fans the whole package. From the start of the game you’re given the choice of playing the new remade version of Ys I or II, or the Ys I & II Complete versions from the 2001 PC remake, available only in Japan. You can also change the in-game music at any time from the Chronicles, Complete, or PC-88 original versions. Falcom is known for their fantastic soundtracks and this function coupled with the included soundtrack truly does them justice.
Besides the obtuseness, Ys I & II have become sort of famous for their unique combat mechanic. The buttonless combat system is based around ramming into your enemies at the right angle with the right equipment. In Ys I it’s very slippery and I often found myself hitting enemies incorrectly, and your health will drain QUICK. The combat is refined a bit in Ys II and feels more solid. The enemies actually attack you rather than only dealing damage when you touch them, but if you get them in a corner before they attack the player can wear down even the most powerful foes. It’s a unique fight style and sets Ys I & II apart from most JRPGs. It also makes grinding a breeze. I was plowing through enemies over and over again as they’d respawn and it never got boring. The level cap in Ys I is 10. I was level 9 before the third dungeon.
Also separating Ys games from most JRPGs, especially of that time, is its focus on combat rather than the narrative. The story in the Ys series has always been kind of like Keanu Reeves’ acting. Yes, it’s really boring, bland and kinda bad, but no one seems to care because there’s way too much cool crap going on. All the dialogue serves the plot and is quickly clicked through, but XSEED sprinkles it with little jokes and references to things like The Simpsons and Sesame Street. Thank God the dialogue is kept to a minimum unlike Oath in Felghana which had long, drawn out, completely forgettable cutscenes. At least it had nice voice acting, which YsI&IIC does not. It does, however, have kick-ass anime cutscenes, which are always fun.
Ys I & II Chronicles’ story may be lacking but that in no way makes the game any less cinematic. The aforementioned rockin’ soundtrack gets your blood pumping during boss battles and even makes grinding and traversing maze-like dungeons exciting. When your ears aren’t being rocked by the soundtrack, the land of Ys is quiet with soothing ambient noises making the 700 year old world feel all the more real. Even with the top down view found in most JRPGs, the visuals filling the PSP’s widescreen manage to be breathtaking at moments. Climbing a mountain to see across a vast fantasy world or crossing a bridge suspended over a bottomless mine always looks fantastic in a classic spritey way.
Ys I & II Chronicles certainly is a fantastic game and I whole heartedly recommend it. The only problem is who to recommend it to. Fans of the Ys series are a no-brainer as they’ve probably played any of the hundreds of remakes of the first two games, but none that I’ve seen have been as nice as XSEED’s. Many wouldn’t have the patience to put up with the confusing nature of a classic RPG, but if you think you have the guts then jump in. Though you should check out Ys Seven and Oath in Felghana first. And then there are the people like me who are just big fat history nerds. The kind of people who still have a SEGA Master System hooked up next to their NES because you still play them regularly. Maybe you’ve never heard of Ys, but it’s still an important series and if you’re at all concerned with the history of the medium check it out.