Classic Doesn’t Mean Perfect
Ys I begins with a cutscene that contains only imagery and a song, no subtitles or voiceovers to explain things for you. I rather liked the approach, and in viewing the video you’re able to ascertain that there is a small island village that has come under a cloud of darkness. Goddess figures are unable to prevent the impending doom and a literal ‘stormwall’ surrounds the land of Esteria. Monsters roam the lands now and the townspeople across the island are in dire straits. Somehow, our hero and playable character, Adol, manages to breach the stormwall and crash land his sailboat on the island, where he is found unconscious and rescued.
You take up the role of Adol as he awakens in a clinic and you’re set loose on exploring the relatively large world from here. There are lots of NPCs to talk to, most of which have several lines of dialogue. Some NPCs naturally have quests for you, but many do not. I found out early on that Ys does not include some of the handy features of a modern day RPG, such as a map of any kind or even a quest log. It makes reading dialogue all the more important, and while key topics are highlighted blue in conversation, quite often once that bit of dialogue appears it does not appear again. Because of that and for other reasons, I found it good practice to juggle multiple save games (which I often do anyway). Fortunately, you can save your progress at anytime from the Pause menu.
Knowing what to do and where to go in Ys was a regular challenge for me. The lack of a quest log and map really made the experience a lot more grinding than I was anticipating. The unique battle system of Ys was confusing and punishing at first too, but I eventually got the hang of it. Ys does not feature a turn based fighting system or even a fighting system with, you know, buttons. Instead, it’s all about literally running and bumping into your enemy. So when you decide to fight an enemy you see out in the game world, it’s all about your approach and timing. Once you are close to them, they will make it hard for you to hit them on their side or back, which is where you will deal damage. Trying to fight an enemy head on will almost certainly lead to your own death and that means going back to your last save game or starting over (no checkpoints).
While the battle system takes some getting used to, one thing I can’t fault it for is the sheer speed in which battles are completed. Plus, given that you can see your enemies out in the game world walking around as you explore, it’s easy to avoid them and continue exploring as you see fit until you are ready to fight. I like that design a lot as random, unavoidable battles in JRPGs get so boring. Additionally, I have never played an RPG with a battle system as fast paced. Most battle systems require a brief load screen, then each side gets their turn, and so forth. Not so with Ys; just line up your angle and bump into the enemy until they literally burst into pieces. Adol instantly nabs any loot they might have been carrying and you’re on your way.
While the battle system is quick, it certainly isn’t the most rewarding or enjoyable one. Ys II makes it a little bit easier with more ranged attacks and with less rigidly defined angles, but ultimately it is what it is. The fast past battle system does keep the game moving, but in my experience that positive was kept in check by being lost and/or confused at what the game wanted me to do next.
Other than the battle system and issues getting lost/confused, Ys I & II have a lot going for them. For the most part, they’re very textbook JRPGs with a lot of familiar gameplay elements that fans of the genre have come to love. NPC interaction, leveling up, side quests, and lots of monster battles are all here. Thanks to the updated graphics, the experience is actually quite colorful and vibrant. Expect a variety of interesting locales and a wide color palette with no technical issues. About the only nagging problem from a visual standpoint is just how some characters, including Adol, can be completely hidden behind a wall and players are unable to see them until they move back into visual range. This isn’t a bug of course, but just a by-product of design.
The graphics were updated, but so was the soundtrack and it really pops. From the soft, melancholy tones heard during town visits to the raucous ‘hair metal’ tunes that play while exploring monster-infested areas, the score has a pep to it that works. And hey, if you don’t like the updated score, you can cycle between the 2001 synthesized tracks and even the original tunes from 1987-88. For nostalgic fans, that’s a pretty sweet deal.
In addition to the complete Ys I and II adventures, a time trial mode was also included that adds some additional replay value to hardcore fans as they try to speed through the boss battles. There are also four difficulty settings that you can tinker with, although it may be worth noting that you cannot switch between the difficulty level once a game is started.
With that, lets get to the summary…