With no extensive history with the Ys game to be proud of, I’m a relative newcomer to the series. I’ve played the beginning of Ark of Napishtim, but never got around to completing it due to my schedule at the time.
Ys Seven takes place not long after the sixth game (the above-mentioned Napishtim). In fact, Adol reaches the land of Altago with the help of Ladoc from the previous game. He (and Dogi, who’s always with him) has apparently always wanted to come to Altago, but due to a long-standing war with another nation, the Romuns, that was impossible until the time of this game.
Once there, you’re introduced to the Altago kingdom and a basic introduction of the culture of the place. Altago comes with its own brand of magic — Dragon Energy — which permeates through the land and is essentially the life force of everything. The term comes from an old myth (of course we all know such things are never “just” myths) of the ancient Five Dragon Gods who represent the elements of the land and created everything from scratch. Luckily, there’s a run-down shrine to one of the Dragons nearby, so Adol, being the adventurer he is, drops by.
But of course, Adol, also being the troublemaker he is, can’t go anywhere without getting embroiled in one conflict or another. Adol is suddenly granted powers by the Seal at the shrine.
To figure out what in the world is going on, Adol and Dogi, his longtime friend and constant companion, are suggested by the king to travel to the other villages to see if they know anything more, which is what they do for the good first half of the game.
Put down in text, the story doesn’t seem all too remarkable, and I’ll admit, it isn’t particularly original either. However, it was entertaining enough to keep me going and it didn’t frustrate me. In fact, I was honestly moved by certain events in the game. Even if the scenario wasn’t stellar (average, but not outstanding), I really felt for the characters.
Apart from the localization from XSeed, which didn’t detract from the experience in any way, part of this empathy was probably due to character design. No one grated my nerves, and no one had an incredibly clichéd personality that set me on edge, for which I was glad. However, what I was truly amazed by wasn’t Falcom’s work on the playable characters. I was more impressed with the care they put into the NPCs.
Perhaps it’d been too long a time since I’d taken the time in any RPG I’ve played to just go around the town and talk to everyone, but in Ys Seven, I really felt that the NPCs were a vital side of the culture in Altago. After each event, major or not, each character reacted to it, either adding to the gossip or inputting some background information. Their reactions also varied based on where they were located; the people in the practically religious Kylos Village were much different from those in the urban Altago City. They always seemed to have something different to say every time I spoke to them, and this has made me explore all the villages several times over the course of the game.
I don’t know about you, but with regard to games, I usually tend explore a place once, and then I’m done with it. This brings me to the point with which I liked most about Ys Seven. In a few words, the world of Altago is rich. Not only is there an underlying mythos to the nation, effort was put into making the Altagan world revolve around this instead of making it feel like something slapped into a game to make it feel interesting.
As I admitted earlier, the story wasn’t the most original I’ve ever experienced, but what mattered most wasn’t the singularity of the plot, but the way the game takes it seriously and focuses all of its effort into making it believable for us, the sojourners of their world.
A great part of this was thanks to the amount of detail given in the dialogue, in the design of the architecture in the towns, and in the dungeon designs.
Just as an example, the Kylos Village, home of the Wind Dragon shrine, lived off of energy supplied by windmills, which they used to wind water up the gorge from the river. General supplies, of which they had little, living on a mountain and all, were delivered by a cart pulled by Longma (or rather, dragon horses) that arrived occasionally. The drivers seemed to be much loved by the people because several people noticed something different about the recent carts (and not just that they had fewer supplies to give) and the people that usually come with the supplies. The dungeon that you explore in the area is a labyrinth high in the clouds rife with windmills and vents (and is slightly reminiscent of Twilight Princess) built to contain the shrine of the Wind Dragon.
Some simple design choices also helped bring the world to life for me, such as the vividness of color. The music was wonderful as well — one of the best I’ve heard since I played Fragile Dreams. Both made Altago very alive and vibrant.
All right, so I’ve talked plenty about the story, but what about the gameplay, which is what Ys is famous for?
Movement speed in the game is very fast. Adol’s running speed is the usual pace at which most RPGs have their characters move, but his rolling dodge sends him flying across the screen. It kind of reminds me of Link’s roll, except much more exaggerated. Not only does the roll make dodging incredibly easy, it also made traveling across towns and fairly large fields a breeze.
In fact, dodging is what you’ll spend most of your time doing in battle. Most of the enemies can do massive damage, whereas you can only carry up to 5 of any healing item. The game places a heavy emphasis on reaction time and watching the enemies’ movements to know exactly when and how to dodge. This is especially crucial during boss fights, when they can do massive damage to you and you can do only a small fraction of their health.
In addition to the standard hack and move, there were also skills to help you on your journey. From what I know of the previous Ys games, the skill system was something newly introduced in Seven. By using different weapons, you unlock different skills each character can use. Use that skill enough times, and you’ll be able to use the spell even without the appropriate weapon equipped. Each skill can be assigned to one of four slots, which can be easily accessed during battle by pressing the R button and one of the four main buttons at the same time. Skills use up SP, but this can easily be replenished by attacking the enemies. After a certain point in time, another gauge fills, at which point you can press the L button to unleash a super-powerful Extra skill.
Overall, the system was extremely fun to play and was practically intuitive. The only real gripe I had was that it was impossible to check which skills you had equipped during boss battles because the menu option was disabled (it’s not during normal encounters).
Item synthesis is something that has been used and overused in games time and time again. Ys Seven doesn’t do anything special with it, which is why I don’t particularly feel one way or another about it. Collecting the materials can be a small frustration, but it’s extremely minor since you’ll find yourself slashing through hundreds of enemies and coming across hundreds of gathering spots anyways as you go through the dungeon or field.
Another addition to this game is the appearance of attributes. Each person’s weapon has an attribute: Slash, Strike, or Pierce. These are each effective against some kinds of enemies and bad against others. This doesn’t usually come into play until you realize that this isn’t like Pokémon, where you do half the original damage with an ineffective attack. No, you do only 4 points of damage with a Strike weapon when you could be doing several hundred with a Pierce weapon against flying enemies. And let’s not mention the fact that you can’t even damage a hard-shelled enemy with a Pierce weapon. Making sure you have a balanced party is always important so that you always have someone to fall back to that can at least damage the opponent.
Yes, that’s right. There is a party. Adol now travels around in a group of three, and with a press of a button, you can switch controls to any of the other characters in your current party. The change is done without any hassle, and you immediately assume control with the new character’s weapons and a new set of skills (that you hopefully equipped beforehand). The characters have different characteristics depending on which attribute they had — the Strike weapons usually moved slower, whereas the Pierce weapons moved quickly — but even then they also seem to differ character-wise. Mishera, one of the Pierce weapon specialists, attacked slower than Aisha did. She just didn’t fire as many shots in a set amount of time. Every single character seemed to have his or her own particularities.
And then there’s the fact that the AI is a very bad slacker when it comes to attacking. This is offset by the fact that when you’re not actually in control of them, they don’t seem to receive any damage from the enemies either. In short, having three characters in your party is kind of like having two automatic 1-Ups.
Luckily, in the high-paced action of the battles, the controls are incredibly simple. One button to attack, another to dodge, and another to open the item menu. Then there’s one last one to change between characters. There’s only that, plus the buttons for skills. There wasn’t any menu-exploring to choose attacks or any such thing. The fights are fast and furious, and there are no bumps in the pacing.
Another thoughtful thing I thought the game did was take away all control of the camera … and responsibly handle the view so that you can always see where you’re going and what you’re striking. Most of the time, the camera is fixed in a semi-overhead manner and doesn’t require rotating at all, and during battles, where you’re rolling all over the place to dodge attacks, the camera is zoomed-out just enough so that you can see the enemy properly, yet it isn’t too distant. Plus, in some boss battles where you circle the enemy, the camera always stays behind you and pointed towards the opponent.
After having played a game recently that gave you full control of the camera, this felt like a long-needed breather. I could continue to fight without having to worry about something other than dodging and attacking.
Ys Seven was a game I hadn’t expected to enjoy. I had never been into the series, and I certainly was no good with action and reaction-dependent games. However, (at least on Normal difficulty) the game was fast, yet playable. Hard, yet doable. Sometimes I felt frustrated with the amount of time a boss would take, but that was certainly much better than being annoyed with dying over and over again at a single point with no hope of winning in sight. In fact, I felt that the amount of focus I needed to defeat the boss was exhilarating, like a giant hurdle to cross, and the sheer size of most of the bosses just enhances the feeling. When I beat each one, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.
If there was one main complaint I had about this game, it was that there wasn’t enough material for fans included in the game. Most games nowadays have bonus material after you clear the game, such as a gallery, jukebox, or some other such bonuses. Ys had none of these, which was a shame because, as I’ve said, the music was absolutely wonderful, as was the art. Of course, these are extras, so they don’t detract from the overall experience of the game. In fact, an artbook and soundtrack are available as part of a limited edition. I just wish that some of the material could have been included in the game itself.
Overall I love Ys Seven. In fact, I’m thinking of playing it a second time around in Hard mode to try and challenge myself. I’ll have to start over since there’s no Clear data, but the challenge is most welcome.