Ys Book I & II - Reader Review

A classic that has kept its shine after 10 years

By Deuce

Review Breakdown
   Battle System7.0
   Replay Value8.0
   Time to Complete50-60 hours 

   Most "old-school" RPGamers have heard of Ys. It was an historic series, a landmark in many ways.  Originally a computer game, it made its way in some way, shape or form to almost every popular home console system ever made.  The first time US gamers saw it was in the form of "Ys: The Vanished Omens" for the Sega Master System, an overhead perspective action/RPG.  While primitive and not entirely well-distributed, it nevertheless managed to gain a following for its unique and engaging story, not to mention its well-composed music. Here's a bit of trivia for you... Ys was the very first videogame ever to have its soundtrack released on CD.

   It was not until the end of the 1980s, however, that the game received the accolades in the US which it deserved.  This windfall came in the form of NEC releasing a compilation of the first two games in one package for their semi-successful CD system.  In fact, it was this title which began to convince gamers that the CD was a viable medium for publishing games.

   The story, in a nutshell, revolves around a young adventurer, Adol Christin (not Christian, for those wondering), who travels to a land of mystery known as Esteria. Once there, thanks to the pleas of a fortuneteller named Sara, he finds himself searching for the six Books of Ys, which are the key to the ancient and prosperous land that simply vanished from the face of the planet in the middle of its golden age. In time, his quest would lead him to Darm Tower, a 25-story place of evil power, where the secrets of the vanished Ys would be revealed. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill "save the princess" story.

   In Ys II, Adol finds himself actually *in* Ys, and once there, he discovers the true reason for the disappearance of the ancient country, and the dark secrets it holds. To say anymore would spoil the excellent plot.

   Combat in the game will take some getting used to, make no mistake about it.  Rather than swinging a sword, a la Zelda, or switching to a turn-based combat screen, a la Final Fantasy and so many other RPGs, this one works off of direct contact. You must essentially ram your enemies in order to do damage. If one touches you from the side or behind, you take damage.

   Sound simplistic?  It is.  Sound easy?  It's not.  But after a short while, you'll be running enemies down with the greatest of ease.  Not to mention, there's a certain joy to be had in literally charging through an enemy.  Control is responsive, but a bit klunky.  You can only move on the vertical and horizontal axes.  Diagonal movement was not implemented until Ys IV.  Fortunately, this isn't really a problem, as the enemies are restricted in the same way. With its old-fashioned gameplay, it probably won't be for everyone, but it feels remarkably natural.

   Also, you have the ability to save five slots, at any time you wish (except during boss fights), which is always a nice feature.

   Later on (in Ys II), you obtain some simple forms of magic which manage to add significantly more depth to the game, and the plot unwinds in a well-paced fashion.  The final sequences are appropriately dramatic, and the ending is well-worth the effort, even the credits.

   Graphically, the game is quite dated, with very small, but well-animated sprites. However, there's a considerable amount of color, and the world somehow feels alive in a way that few games manage to capture.  This is due in no small part to the excellent voice acting the game contains.  NEC hired professional cartoon voice actors of the day, and some of them will no doubt sound familiar to viewers of G.I. Joe and Transformers. This combined with the beautiful cinemas make for a visual experience far ahead of its time.

   This game was the first I ever completed in a marathon session. I started at 11 am on Friday morning, and completed it at 3 am on Monday morning. No sleep, and I had food brought to me. It was that good. And though it's older and my tastes have evolved... it's still one of the finest action RPG games ever made, and I can easily recommend this to any fan of the genre. Just don't make any plans. And whatever you do, don't save in the noise room.

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