I often find myself overwhelmed by the amount of well known JRPG series I still need to check out. Given that I haven’t even beaten every mainline Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, the idea of jumping into another long running series is a daunting one. But hey, I’m finally reviewing a Falcom game, so that’s something noteworthy right? Although if I’m being honest, Ys I & II Chronicles felt rather one note. I think there is fun to be had with them, but their age shows.
Ys is a long running series of action RPGs by Nihon Falcom. The series started with Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished in 1987 on the NEC PC88 and the Sharp X1 in June of 1987, and later for the NEC PC98, FM-7, MSX, Famicom, Master System, Apple II, and Sharp X68000. The second game, Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter, was released a year later on the NEC PC88 and PC98, and was ported to the FM-7, Sharp X1, MSX, and Famicom. The two games were later bundled together and release on the Turbografx CD as Ys Book I & II in 1989, on the PC in 2002 as Ys Complete, on the PS2 in 2003 as Ys I & II: Eternal Story, on the DS in 2008 as Legacy of Ys: Books I & II (the two games were initially released separately in Japan, much like the original games, but later released as a bundle), and on the PSP and PC (yes, again) in 2009 as Ys I & II Chronicles.
In other words, Todd Howard ain’t got shit on Falcom.
I bring all these releases up because these re-releases are hardly identical, and one review may not apply to all of them. I initially intended to go through some of the other ports, but I just don’t have the motivation to do so. I also don’t find it necessary because this version is the easiest for new players to access, given its availability on Steam. I will say that I have played the DS version of Ys I, and I remember that it replaced the bump system with something more like Ys V, but I also remember it being just as simplistic. I also know that the Turbografx version has them connected as a single game, and that is the other version I’m most curious about. However, I’m unlikely to try it for quite some time.
The story is noteworthy in that it is more involved than most RPGs of the time frame. While the characters weren’t especially deep and there wasn’t much emotional attachment, it is still a step up from the usual “evil wizard rules the world go kill him” excuse plot. I’d describe it as something that’s cool in the moment, but a lot of us won’t remember what it is a month after we played it. Although I admit it’s been longer than that since I have played this, so my memory could just be fuzzy.
The greatest strength is easily the presentation. The art direction and level backdrops are beautiful, and do a good job at visually this game for newer audiences. I’d be remiss to not mention the amazing music that this series is known for. The soundtrack is amazing at being either intense, atmospheric, or soothing whenever it needs to be, and many of these tracks will stick with you by the time the game is finished. What is even better about this version of the game is that it allows you to choose between the PC88 original soundtrack, the Ys Eternal soundtrack, or a new set of arrangements specifically for this release. Having listened to each of these, it’s amazing how consistently brilliant these soundtracks have been. That being said, I kinda wish they could have included the Turbografx CD soundtrack as well, but I guess that’s what mods are for.
But as I already alluded to, the gameplay doesn’t hold up especially well. Don’t get me wrong, I did have fun with these games, but most of the fun was with the exploration and finding hidden treasures and such. The level design is pretty solid, with exception of a few moments where you will definitely need a guide or a map. It’s specifically the combat that feels lacking.
While the bump system was interesting for its day, it’s really not enough to carry the entire game. Pretty much all strategy in Ys 1 comes down to “pin your enemy into a corner and relentless ram them.” This approach works even with high level enemies that take a lot of hits to kill. Enemies don’t really do anything else other than move around, so there isn’t a lot of strategy in defeating them. Ys II has slightly more variety in that you now use fire magic, but by the time you reach the late game, you won’t even need it except for the few enemies that can fire projectiles.
You also need to spend a lot of time standing still waiting for auto healing to take effect. While I think this was an interesting idea, it doesn’t add much strategy and just sorta wastes time. Some may use the game’s age as a defense, but even games like Zelda 1, Deadly Towers, and The Mysterious Murasame Castle had significantly deeper combat than this. One could, in turn, say that Ys is an action RPG, and that the emphasis is supposed to be on levels and equipment, but that wouldn’t explain why the boss battles are designed more like action games. In contrast to the simplistic enemy patterns, most boss battles can’t be pushed into a corner, and you need to memorize their patterns like in a typical action game. I did find these fights rather fun, but they were few and far between.
So the question is, would I recommend Ys I & II Chronicles? I would recommend it if you are already a fan of the series, but I have been told that every future installment is superior to the originals (as long as we are talking about the remakes). It feels weird that we have games like Oath in Felghana and Memories of Celceta that completely re-imagined the original installments, yet only cosmetic changes for the most likely entry for newcomers to check out. Again, I enjoyed Ys I & II Chronicles, but wouldn’t it be awesome to see it get the same treatment as Ys III and IV? Well, I suppose they need to remake Ys V first.
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