Falcom is known for their challenging but fair gameplay and games that hearken back to an era of adventure. They remind me of fantasy SNES or PS1 RPG when everything seemed to happen on this grand scale that affected the whole world. In Ys VI, While travelling with a group of pirates, Adol gets knocked overboard when their ship gets caught in the great vortex that surrounds the Canaan Islands. Adol washes up on its shores, awoken by a young girl with long ears and a tail—a unique sight in the world of Ys. Being gaming’s nosiest adventurer, Adol gets involved when the island is threatened with danger and selflessly steps in to help.
Xseed has released the games in reverse order, making Napishtim the oldest Ys game available, excluding Ys I & II Chronicles. If you’ve played Felghana or Origins, you’ll feel some of its age creaking in. The visuals aren’t as complex as those games and it doesn’t have some of the refinements you might have gotten used to in later games. The basics, however, are the same as other Ys titles. Adol explores the land, searching high and low and taking out any enemies that stand in his way. As you progress, you’ll pick up new swords, each with their own unique element and special attack. Defeating enemies earns you Emela, which can be used to upgrade your the strength of your swords. It’s interesting playing this in 2015 as you can see early signs of the rock, paper, scissors party battle system that would be adopted in Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta.
The most notable difference between Napishtim and later titles is how healing is handled. In later games, you pick up healing items dropped from enemies and they take effect immediately. In Napishtim, enemies still drop them, but they can be collected, bought from shops and used at the press of a button. I thought this would make the game easier, but this really isn’t the case and I do prefer the instant healing of the later titles. The instant healing provided a level playing field; you knew if you weren’t at the right level or weren’t equipped with the appropriate armour, because you’d get slaughtered otherwise. Now you can stock up on items and heal your way through a difficult section or boss fight, although I don’t recommend doing so. These items are expensive at the beginning of the game and you’re much better off investing in armour and shields which are much more useful in the long run.
Xseed has added a new mode for this PC release called Catastrophe Mode, which brings the game inline with the recent titles, converting the game to the instant healing style. However, I wouldn’t start your playthrough off this way if you’re new to the game. Napishtim is clearly designed with using these healing items in mind, as bosses and even some general field enemies can cause devastating damage to Adol, even if he’s appropriately leveled and equipped. Also available is the ability to warp between save points. This is an extremely handy time saver when exploring but can also be something of an unexpected hindrance. There’s optional bosses and accessories scattered around the Canaan Islands, which are very easy to miss when you’re first exploring an area. While backtracking through some areas, I’ve found some accessories which have been invaluable later in the game, but I would have found them sooner if I hadn’t warped back to town after a boss fight and instead travelled back on foot.
Falcom games are also known for having a talkative cast and Napishtim is no exception. Even after a small plot progressing conversation with the key cast, all of the NPCs (which are individually named) will have moved around and have plenty of new things to tell Adol. I’m the type of player (and I imagine many readers here are, too) who goes around talking to everyone in town to see what they have to say. It’s nice to see my compulsive behavior rewarded with all this fresh conversation, but in this game, it’s also necessary in Napishtim to an extent.
Adol is only explicitly told a few times where he must go or what he must do. For the most part, it’s up to the player to piece together snippets of information from key characters and townsfolk to find out where he must go next. It’s not as if the Canaan Islands provide a huge expansive map, but there will be a moments when you’re sure you’re in the right place but haven’t triggered the right conversation to continue the story. You’ll also gain some insight on side quests and optional bosses as well, so it is worth your time to make sure you talk to everyone in the game.
Napishtim has been the most difficult Ys game I’ve played. I can’t remember needing to grind so much or dying so many times. More recent games have had something of a normal natural progression but here, despite taking out every enemy along the way, I’ve had to grind an extra level or two to be ready for the boss or even the next area. One thing I’ve always liked about Ys games is that a single level can make a huge difference. You can go into an area and struggle, but if you persevere and earn enough experience to level up, you can quickly turn the tables on your foes. By searching the map and completing side quests, you can find accessories which can increase the amount of experience, Emela and gold you earn from enemies, speeding up the process. There’s also some dungeons where you’ll reach the midpoint and then be faced with a huge difficulty jump. You’ll be able to take out the previous enemies with one strike but then as you enter this new area, you’ll be one taken out with a single strike.
Adol also feels more slippery to control than he does in newer games, which isn’t an issue for the most part, but some dungeons require some precise platforming, which can make for an frustrating experience. One area I feel the game hasn’t shown its age is with it’s boss battles. There’s a wide variety of bosses, large and small, each with their own unique methods for taking them out. It’s always satisfying figuring out how to damage the boss and some are more complex than simply hack and slash until their HP bar is at 0.
While it may not be a standout title in the series, if you’ve enjoyed any of the other Ys games, I can’t see why you wouldn’t enjoy Napishtim. I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting point for the series, as I feel it is a little rough around the edges compared to the selection of Ys games available now, and while it may feel a bit ruthless at times, it’s worth sticking with.