These days, it isn’t very hard find ports or remakes of well-loved series that stay true to the spirit of the game, and don’t offend fans in the process of being “modernized.” The most recent addition to the Ys series repertoire, Ys I & II Chronicles for the PSP, is one such game…in a sense. Despite being based on an older game, it’s very playable and fun, and there’s really nothing quite like it, system-wise.
The problem lies in the pacing of the game, which threw me for a loop. While Ys I & II Chronicles was both thrilling and fun, some parts just don’t seem to age particularly well. Rest assured, this is not for lack of trying, though.
Falcom succeeds in bringing the world of Ys to life (yet again) with its bright, detailed environments and excellent character art. For the more nostalgic fans who have played Ys I & II Complete from 2001 on the PC (which is unfortunately Japanese-only), Chronicles allows you to choose between its new, updated artwork and the old Complete artwork. This can only be done at the start-up screen, but it doesn’t impact anything in the game itself.
In addition, you can also swap between three sets of soundtracks — the original synthesized PC88 version, the Complete version (for the PC), and the newly revamped version created specifically for Chronicles (done by the same person who redid the Ys III: The Oath of Felghana soundtrack). All three are great to listen to; they hold up to Ys’s reputation of consistently having some of the best video game soundtracks around.
“That’s great,” you say, “but what about the action, since Ys is, after all, an action game?” In that regard, Ys I & II Chronicles definitely holds up its end of the bargain in being an extremely fun, fast-paced game. The battle “system” is very streamlined — so streamlined, in fact, that there isn’t really a battle system at all. Adol (the protagonist) proves that having an attack button is superfluous. Just run him into an enemy, and, voila, skewered monster!
OK, so it’s not that simple. The two games differ slightly in terms of battles. In Ys I, running straight into an enemy will cause you to rebound, injuring yourself in the process and bouncing you back a couple feet. There’s some strategy involved when it comes to avoiding damage — which is especially important given Adol’s weak defenses and the fact that he has a grand total initial HP count of 20.
The trick is to run into monsters such that you’re not completely aligned with them. Bee-lining for an enemy is probably the easiest way to get yourself killed, but with a bit of practice, you’re zipping through the fields, decimating any wolf, troll, or gnome creature in your way.
Ys II changes things around a bit. You’re still ramming into every ugly thing you can find, but this time, they don’t hurt you back upon contact. Instead, they flash white before attacking you, and in return for the warning, they do more damage than before.
In addition, you’re given the ability to use magic, which adds some variety to Adol’s repertoire, as well as a bit of strategy. There’s the standard long-distance spell, like Fire, and then there’s some funky spells, such as the infamous transformation magic, which turns you into an oddly cute demon. This prevents monsters from attacking you since they perceive you to be an ally. It even allows you to talk to them, providing you with hints for puzzles.
Bosses in both games are more a test of patience and timing than anything else. The key is mainly to run away until you spot an opening, during which you run into them before running away again. Some are easy, such as a centipede boss who turns round and round in circles; all you have to do is run/jab at its body instead of its head. Some others aren’t quite as simple. There’s one who explodes into hundreds of bats and chases you around through the confines of the small room you’re both in. Occasionally, he’ll reform his body for a second before turning back into invincible bats.
Overall, the bosses are fun to fight against. True, sometimes it was frustrating and difficult, but that’s almost to be expected from an Ys game.
As you can probably tell, there’s quite a bit of running involved; in fact, that seems to be all of what the game is. You run through a field at lightning speed, making detours to skewer a few baddies if you feel like earning some EXP or making some money (forget about unavoidable battles; Adol can outspeed almost anything), and before you know it, you’re in the next area. Everything is extremely fast-paced, and frankly it made my head spin a little. The maps are also somewhat hard to keep track of unless you’re drawing your own copy by hand (or using a FAQ), and getting lost is a matter of course. Both parts of the game also boast enormous labyrinths — the final dungeon in Ys I is 25 floors!
Despite this, you don’t really feel the enormousness of your environment. You’re zipping through the screens so quickly, it doesn’t even register just how huge everything is. It doesn’t help that the game is extremely short; in fact, that’s partially why Ys I & II are bundled together. Ys I can’t really be called an independent game, either lengthwise or story-wise; it only took me four hours to beat it.
Ys II, on the other hand, is much more expansive. While Ys I only takes you to a shrine, a mine, and a tower in terms of dungeons, Ys II hosts volcanoes and ice walls in addition to the standard fare. It brings you into its world more, and I found myself enjoying the exploring (and getting lost in the mazes) more than I did in the first game. The second portion is easily twice as long as the first, balancing Chronicles out a bit.
I’ll admit, though, I had the most trouble immersing myself into this game out of all the other Ys games I’ve played. Part of it is probably because of its insane speed — which hardly allows for any time to stop and smell the roses — but part of it is also the extremely obscure storytelling and guidance. I’m not even talking about how most of the characters don’t have any personality (it’s hard to develop any within a four-hour period, so I’ll let them go). At times, there is simply no clear indication of what to do next.
All right, to be fair, there is a little. It’s probably normal to talk to every single inhabitant of a town while you’re exploring. I just didn’t know I had to, in order to advance the game past the first five minutes. It’s not like the elder says, “You should go talk to everyone to introduce yourself to them,” or something. And then, there was that wonderful time I decided to challenge a boss without what is apparently an extremely important item, except no one ever mentions it explicitly. Sure, there’s an empty slot in your weapon inventory, and you already have the other pieces of the equipment set, so you know you’re missing something, but nothing explicitly mentions that you need it…until you run up to the boss and you realize you’re barely doing a sliver of damage to the boss’ HP with each hit (meanwhile, he’s hacking 50 HP away at a time from you).
Acquiring this weapon is a fairly detailed process, too, and it doesn’t come with a set of instructions either. Remember, long ago, when you were talking around the village and there was this girl who had lost her harmonica? Yeah, you found it in the mines, so you should go out of the four-level dungeon right before you face the boss, find her, and give it to her. Then, you have to realize that there is a usable item that you’d just received in the mines, so you may as well use it as well. After all this, you get the weapon from a certain location by talking to a certain “character,” following which you have to go back down four floors to find the boss (again). All of these must be done in this exact order. Maybe I’m too used to the hand-holding that occurs in modern RPGs.
Other than these frustrations, though, Ys I & II Chronicles isn’t particularly difficult. The battles are manageable so long as you’re at a high enough level, and all the bosses can be handled with a bit of practice. While you have severely limited items, you can just stand still for a second before your HP magically starts to rise again. Money is gained automatically, and enemies re-spawn the moment you move out of the screen, so grinding for experience and money is very easy.
The game does come with four different difficulty levels, though, so I suppose it’s as hard as you want to make it. I played on Normal; I was not ready to torture myself with Hard despite the lack of challenge because I know Ys’ reputation as a difficult game very well.
All in all, I very much enjoyed Ys I & II Chronicles. I think it’s an excellent port, with wonderful art and music. It’s just fun in general. No words quite express the satisfaction I feel in just weaving willy-nilly through a field, decimating all who stand before me without a single pause. On the other hand, though, it’s also akin to a whirlwind — everything moves by so quickly. You’re in an area, you’re out. You enter a dungeon, and ten minutes later you’re out. You finish the first game in under five
hours. Admittedly, Ys II is better with this, but overall, everything is a whirl of action and speed before it all ends so quickly.
Food For Thought:
1.) Ys trivia! You first meet Dogi, faithful companion to Adol in the Ys series, in a very brief “Hello, bye bye” moment in this game, and that’s all you’ll see of him. Despite this, I actually felt that last one piece of the game fall into place after his brief cameo.
2.) It’s possible to toggle the view such that Adol appears through the walls. Since the game is semi-3D, it’s very easy for you to lose track of that mop of red hair as you find your view obscured by cave walls and ruin walls. Very handy.
3.) It’s also possible to toggle the appearance of blood. Did I mention that, with the blood on, the defeated enemies explode into little piles of goo and splatter everywhere? I shouldn’t have been so amused to discover this when it first happened. That poor little goblin!! Adol is seriously like a juggernaut at higher levels when you just run through everything and they all go boom.