I didn’t know what to expect from Ys Seven. My Japanese RPG resume is considerably large, but completely absent of any representatives from Falcom’s venerable Ys series. It wasn’t that I was purposely ignoring Ys, rather, somewhat like excuse conjured by The 40 Year Old Virgin, “it just never happened.” Expectations were framed and, from the few screens I saw, Ys Seven looked along the lines of yet another generic JRPG. Having previously reviewed the likes of Valhalla Knights and Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light, I was quite familiar with watching mediocrity spatter and sputter across Sony’s handheld.
Ys Seven, thankfully, is better than pedestrian. To top it off, we actually get to play it. Thanks to a rather incredible agreement between XSEED and Falcom, a whole slew of Ys games are on the way for PlayStation Portable. Ys Seven, first out the gate, is also the first in the series built specifically for the PSP.
Mostly-silent protagonist extraordinaire Adol and his questionably sharp buddy Dogi dock their ship in Altago and, gradually, are thrust once more into the arms of adventure. What follows doesn’t quite approach groan-inducing levels of cliché that JRPG’s frequent critics typically bemoan with ignorant authority, but it does tend radiate faded tones. The localization seems a bit dull and scenarios constantly steer characters down well worn paths. Dragons from which you must seek power, seals that must be lifted, giant creatures rising from the depths of the earth that must be dealt with, backtracking, potential antagonists purposely yielding essential information regarding their motivation, and countless errands with seemingly no other purpose than to setup other arbitrary errands all, for better or worse, make an appearance in Ys Seven.
While the narrative is undoubtedly its weakest link, it never seems to get in the way. Character dialogue, should you desire, can be skipped through quite quickly. Fast forwarding also applies to most of the game’s cinematics, be it dialogue exchange or action sequences, which is a godsend when you’ve been thrashed by a screen-filling boss for the tenth time. In fact, Falcom repeatedly demonstrates that they actually understand developing for a portable platform. You can save just about anywhere, and if you’re too impatient for that, a fairly lenient retry option usually plops you in the last town. JRPG’s, console representatives included, have been begging for this stuff most of the last decade, and it’s good to see a game like Ys Seven attempt to modernize certain aspects of the genre.
Action RPG’s are a dime a dozen, but few execute on their potential as well as Ys Seven. Again, Falcom gets what’s fun and what isn’t, and doesn’t waste any time going through the motions or introducing needless complication. Combat moves in real time with a near unprecedented sense of immediacy; the battles in Ys Seven are alarmingly fast and enemies can typically be vanquished in a manner of seconds. A single action button either mashed infinitely or charged to perfection represent the bulk of your attacks, but a rather basic interface doesn’t make for a lack of gratification. Enemies always explode into a pile of loot, and collecting the scattered goodies on the field is usually half the fun.
An endless hack’nslash could have gotten monotonous, but Falcom was sure to add a few wrinkles into the battle system. First, your three party members default to three specific weapon types that cater to different classes of enemies. This rock, paper, scissors approach is seamlessly integrated into player control. If you’re getting attacked by a three enemy mob, slash a few that are weak to Adol’s sword, then press a button, switch to Aisha, and shoot the rest out of the air with your bow. Attacking the wrong class does minimal damage at worst, so constantly switching around is to your benefit. AI guides the other party members when not under your control, but they’re managed in a relatively unobtrusive manner. They don’t deal a whole lot of damage, but they also do well to stay out of trouble.
Mindlessly bashing enemies could have sufficed for a decent combat engine, but Ys Seven goes a few steps further. Character equipment arrives with a unique ability, and, if used enough, that ability is permanently added to your special move repertoire. Special moves consume points, which are visible in your HUD and accumulated via normally attacking enemies. Screen filling super moves are also an option, albeit one that is far less frequent. A robust item crafting/synthesizing system makes use of the incredible amount of loot you acquire, not to mentioning incentivizing picking up every last piece shiny object on the field.
Focusing on exploiting the strengths and weaknesses of your party, pushing through standard enemies on the field usually doesn’t require much strategy. Bosses, however, are an entirely different matter. Those guys push back, and require a surprisingly different approach to combat. A lock-on option would have been nice to target specific areas that needed to be hit, but on the whole you’ll be doing a lot of dashing out of the way, flash guarding, and well timed special moves to knock off those foes. Though sometimes frustrating, they’re great for Ys Seven’s pacing and do well to provide a fitting sense of accomplishment after it’s over.
Function over Form
Presentation ranges from par for the course to occasionally distinguished. Ys Seven is visually competent and offers a handful of notable vistas, but its tech is pretty far off top tier. It sells the illusion of adventure, but character movement and functioning mechanics take precedent over visual prowess. The music, on the other hand, stands in stark contrast. With electronic performances that evoke Virtual On (of all things) and violin arrangements with snappy hooks, the soundtrack might be the strongest card in Ys Seven’s audio/visual hand. When backtracking or occasional grinding sessions start to grate, the music is quick to save the day. Load times were also quite good, though I was playing via download rather than UMD.
Game length, a topic I usually shy away from discussing, is mandatory when assessing a role playing game. To its credit, Ys Seven doesn’t waste a whole lot of time pushing the player through its content. Depending on the difficulty selected, one can expected to clock out between 25 and 30 hours (though expect that to be closer to the 30 mark if you’re as terrible at flash guarding as I was). Handheld RPGs specialize in moving the player along through the basic narrative, but also typically offer a wealth of mindless side quests tailored more toward the portable platform. Though it has a bunch of foe-felling and errand running side quests, Ys Seven widely avoids this approach. It’s concessions to mobile gaming lie with its fast paced nature, not padded content that repeats a gradually annoying series of tasks. It may be short by JRPG standards, but in the end I thought it emerged better for it.