As of late the Ys series has produced an interesting perspective on time travel. Three months ago we were given Ys Seven, the latest sequel in the series and a game that delightfully exceeded my expectations. Ys: The Oath in Felghana, next in line to arrive on PSP thanks to XSEED's smooth deal with Falcom, is actually a remake of the third Ys game, sort of. Oath of Felghana is indeed a reprise of Super Nintendo side scrolling classic Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (which in itself was an NEC PC-8801 port), but it's actually based on a complete PC remake from 2005. A reimagining in every sense, Oath in Felghana ditched the 2D presentation in favor of a fully 3D world. The themes and general art stayed the same, but the gameplay was fundamentally expanded.
One would assume a game forced through so many upgrades, translations, and reinterpretations would have its lifeblood slowly sucked away with each passing iteration. One could also assume it would be stupid to release the third game in the series less than three months after releasing the newest game in the series. As anyone whose spent time with Oath in Felghana could surely tell you, one could assume such pessimism could only be the result of complete ignorance.
Oath in Felghana's rapid fire pace and fundamental lack of filler are prevalent throughout its content, and the plot is no exception. While it does occasionally over-invest itself in a narrative that's merely serviceable, it all comes together in a sly, lighthearted manner. Silent protagonist extraordinaire Adol Christin and his hetero life-mate Dogi arrive at the latter’s hometown of Redmont and quickly succumb to the inevitable call to adventure. While the backbone of the story is tied to Dogi's past and, more or less erasing corruption from Redmont, it's effortlessly relatable and, in the end, harmless. I could have done without some of the voice work but the localization certainly has more bite than the relatively flat Ys Seven. This is perfectly in line with the series, which has never seemed overly concerned with the pretention and convolution that plague its peers.
Hooks are set with Ys' brand of fast paced, action oriented combat. Adol's move set is simple and effective; bash away with a single button and rely on jump combinations for move variation. Either magic attacks or special moves are bound to another button and work well in conjunction with attacks. Rather than saddle the player with a heaping move list, Ys often relies on enemy position and/or attributes to provide a challenge. Moving Adol around enemies and trying to lock down perfect magic attack timing is an acquired skill, for sure, but it works wonderfully in the context of the game.
Oath in Felghana flat out moves. On normal difficulty I found my blade especially effective at clearing through endless ranks of dungeon foes. Adol cuts through monsters like a hot knife through butter, which makes for a rather fun sense of total domination (which can be scaled back, I'm sure, with the harder difficulty settings). In addition to normal experience based level progression, Adol can also acquire raval ore's, which can be used back in town to boost weapons.
While the enemies are essentially blade fodder, the bosses served as constant reminder of Adol's latent mortality. While bosses never approach an unfair level, their challenge is in stark contrast to the rest of the game. Unlike the somewhat mindless enemies, boss attack patterns are careful and calculated, and definitely not something you can just blaze right through. I actually found this particularly enjoyable, given my insatiable need for a good challenge amidst the normal hack through Oath in Felghana's dungeon mazes. If you're getting smoked every single time the game is quite generous with restart points, and it even offers to lighten the difficulty if you so desire.
Combat is, for all intents and purposes, standard but it does manage a few flourishes. Effective monster bashing builds your experience multiplier and also yields a cavalcade of items. These items can temporarily boost your speed or refresh your magic meter, but a few will even restore your health. This item-less approach clever way around the health and inventory management system, and keeps the combat focused on, well, combat.
Dungeon navigation is the other half of the challenge. The maze layout with multiple paths is customary fodder, but in classic Ys fashion there's plenty of branching paths that can only be explored after an item is discovered later. Platforming bits, mostly scaled in combination with the wind power, seem clunky at first but are easily dispensed with a little practice. It’s not going to set the world on fire (with exception granted to the sections where the world actually is on fire), but it’s pretty fun anyway.
The presentation end doesn't have its sights set as high as more modern software, but it easily manages a wealth of charm. The sprites-on-polygons look (think Grandia or Xenogears) meshes with the old school feel, creating a faux-nostalgia feeling perfectly in line with Oath in Felghana's intentions. It's also ripe with detail, a relic from an age when high resolution assets didn't take years to construct. The music, on the other hands, excels in both quality and quantity. The updated tracks are fully produced and exceptionally executed, and Oath in Felghana even boasts the option of defaulting back to two previous versions of the score.