Ys: The Ark of Napishtim - Staff Retroview  

Ysy Transition
by Mike Moehnke

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Combat is fast, fluid, and fun
+ Slightly deeper systems, same old Ys feel
- Difficulty spikes can be jarring
- Backtracking will be necessary - lots of it
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   Ys had been on a lengthy hiatus when Falcom decided to create a sixth entry in the series for 2003. Konami subsequently decided Ys VI was a good bet to port from the PC to the PlayStation 2, and even brought the result across the Pacific, making it the first English release of an Ys game since the 16-bit days. Ys: The Ark of Napishtim manages to evolve the series while keeping what made it distinct intact, and thereby becomes a rather enjoyable action RPG. It comes nowhere close to having universal appeal, but action RPG and Ys series veterans ought to have a good time.

   Three years after the events of Ys V, Adol Christin finds himself once again thrust into action after the ship he is aboard takes a cannon shell across the bow, plunging him into the water. Adol is not to be killed by anything so measly as a sudden drop into the ocean followed by a trip through an ominously-named part of it called the Great Vortex, and he winds up on the Canaan Islands, rescued from the beach by an elf-like people called the Rehda. These people distrust tailless humans, but are quickly won over by Adol's ability to take down any obstacle in the name of rescuing damsels, and his skills are then put to the test of what turns into an extended fetch quest, interrupted by several sprites busily unlocking ancient evils around the islands. Ys VI does not have a plot that would hold up against the pinnacles of RPGs, but it is entertaining enough and holds interest throughout the game.

   Ys V removed the simple bump mechanic from the series, and Ys VI keeps it gone, but killing things retains the entertaining pull of most earlier games. However, Ys VI trumps its predecessor by consistently being fun to play and not a generic bore. Adol breaks out with an automatic three-hit combo attack when attacking, and the attack chain is a little different depending upon which of the three swords in the game he currently has equipped. The three swords also have a distinct magic spell, each of which is useful in different situations. Switching between the swords is done with a tap of the shoulder button, enabling experimentation whenever necessary. The ability to jump has also been retained from Ys V, and many enemies can only be damaged by the two variants of jump attack that this game possesses.

Adol continues to confound every young female he comes across with his ability to conquer all challenges. Adol continues to confound every young female he comes across with his ability to conquer all challenges.

   Armor is acquired from chests and shops, just like earlier Ys games. The three swords, however, are powered up via Emel, green stones dropped by enemies. The improvements to the swords are a welcome change of pace from the earlier games' constant rendering of old weapons as useless baggage, but needing to travel back to a certain location in order to strengthen the blades is not much fun. It is a visible symptom of the need to run all over the game's world repeatedly, since a quick means of transport does not exist, and Adol will have to traipse back and forth quite a lot. The Canaan Islands are small enough that it will not take prohibitive amounts of time to wander between the necessary locales, but being forced to do so more than once is bothersome, particularly when the plot also demands it.

   Ys games usually place a premium on level grinding, and this one continues that tradition, but not quite to the degree of some earlier installments. Skill is still second to being at an appropriate level, especially when Adol cannot even damage many enemies without enough strength, but getting the timing right on enemy attack patterns is a key skill to master. On the whole this game is easier than most of its predecessors, though death will still come quickly and often when powerful enemies that can eviscerate Adol in a second appear alongside weaker foes, and some (though not all) of the bosses will require multiple attempts before dying. Making this much easier is a new option to the series, which allows the player to restart the current screen, as many times as necessary, without needing to return to the last save point.

Pity the local fauna, as Adol will tear all of it into vulture food. Pity the local fauna, as Adol will tear all of it into vulture food.

   Ys VI looks fine without straining the PS2 hardware in any way. This is perhaps attributable to its being a port of a PC game, but it does not overpower the eyes with its looks. The different environments look distinct, and there is a pleasant variety of well-animated enemies and an equally pleasant lack of visual clutter, but at times the immovable camera is fixed at such a distance that everything is very small to behold.

   A slight disappointment is the audio. Ys games are renowned for their rocking soundtracks, and this one isn't quite up to par with the first four games in the series. Much of the music is very good, but some is simply unremarkable. Ys VI also features voice acting of every line in the game, though the line readings display an enormous disparity of talent. Some of the actors are good, some are weirdly amusing, some are lousy, and a lot adopt accents from all over the world for no apparent reason. At the very least, the voice acting is interesting to hear, if not always good in a technical sense.

   When porting the game to the PS2, Konami added a section called the Trials of Alma, which is the only optional content in the game, but is welcome. Even with this portion, the game can easily be completed in less than twenty hours, though harder difficulties are available to eke additional time out for the player.

   Ys: The Ark of Napishtim evolves the series in a good way, adding elements to enhance it while keeping the fast-paced feel that always distinguished these games. That does not mean the game will necessarily appeal to those who do not like action RPGs in general, or that it is exceptionally well done in every aspect, but as an entertaining burst of fun, it works. Falcom lovers are not the only people who will have a good time.

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