To be honest, when I first turned on Legacy of Ys: Books I & II I expected it to be disgustingly ugly. Call me pessimistic, call me a hater of the DS's 3D capabilites — it's the truth. So I was shocked when the remade 3D world of Ys looked decent. Falcom avoided the 3D blockiness of other DS games by wisely leaving every character and monster as a 2D sprite. It makes me wonder why Square Enix didn't do this with its visually maligned Final Fantasy remakes.
"Ys makes for an excellent portable experience in that the action is fast, the game can be saved anytime, and the interface is responsive and smooth."
Immediate thoughts on the graphics aside, some background information is in order. The Ys series, though wildly popular in Japan, has never made an impact in the western hemisphere. Originally released ten months apart on the Japan-only NEC PC-8801, the first two games in the series tell one tale that was packaged together and enhanced in the TurboGrafx-CD version that hit the Americas in 1990. This new DS version adds even more enhancements that go beyond mere era-2009 visuals.
One quirky aspect of Ys I & II is its action battle system. Monsters are damaged when Adol, the protagonist, collides with them. There is no attack button, and ramming into enemies has a trick to it: headbutt them from the side, back, or slightly off center to deal damage; attack them head on and expect them to score some pain on you. In Legacy of Ys, movement is managed via the stylus, and this is the first RPG I've played where running with the stylus feels natural. For those who never grow accustomed to the unique system, the controls can be switched to a more standard configuration using the d-pad and an attack button, although the d-pad setup nerfs the difficulty somewhat, requires less strategy, and takes away a large part of what separates Ys from other series.
Sprinting around, slamming into baddies is pretty fun. You can haphazardly careen across areas with weaker monsters without worrying about taking much damage, but must be careful about how you approach new areas with foes who can crush Adol in two or three hits. Since the combat more or less requires you to take damage, the world has multiple safe spots throughout where you can slowly regain health. Also, leveling up provides significant benefits. When facing enemies which deal forty damage per hit while only losing three health when Adol smacks into them, grinding for a few levels will swap those numbers so Adol can go back to destroying his foes. Grinding for a level rarely takes longer than a couple minutes, so the combat keeps moving at a quick pace.
As for the other aspects of the gameplay, this does feel like a remade, old game. First, Ys I is extremely short. After a few hours with it, I have nearly completed the first game of the two. Also, play time is stretched out because advancing the plot and finding necessary items require a lot of backtracking. Expect to get stuck many times, as obtuse thinking on top of the constant retracing of your steps is needed to progress in the game. I would be lying if I said I haven't already referred to an online FAQ. Gameplay in the first title is very simple, although the manual claims that Adol gets magic spells in Ys II, so that should flesh things out some. Right now it's all ram into monsters, stop somewhere safe to regain HP, repeat until you reach your goal, then try to figure out the next goal.
I was an Ys I & II virgin before Legacy of Ys: Books I & II arrived in the mail, so I cannot weigh in on how this remake ruins or enhances the experience for those who feel nostalgic about the original. I've heard for years about how groundbreaking and amazing the music in these games is, but it sounds tinny and average coming from the DS's speakers. Atlus' new localization should leave everybody happy. NPCs still talk in short bursts to maintain an old-school feel, but the text is clear and logical, thereby pleasing gamers who want the characters and story to make sense. So far I can say that Ys makes for an excellent portable experience in that the action is fast, the game can be saved anytime, and the interface is responsive and smooth. My understanding is that Ys I is about six hours long and Ys II is about nine hours long; together they make for a decent length on a handheld.