If there is one thing that XSEED Games loves as much as their fans and honey badgers, it is the Ys (ease) series. The company has enthusiastically brought Nihon Falcom‘s flagship series to the PSP, PC, and soon to the Vita. No entry into series has seen the most releases than the first two games, and Ys I & II Chronicles+ is no different. This can be looked at as good or bad news, depending on which camp you fall into.
This collection includes the Complete version from 2001 and the Chronicles version from 2009. Besides a shift in art style for the few cinematics and character portraits, the two versions of the games are identical right down to gameplay, translation, and difficulty. Having the option to choose between both versions is made redundant due to the fact that you can pick Chronicles and switch to the Complete art style and soundtrack, but having the option to mix and match does add a little customization to the experience. As a nice little feature you do have the option to play with the original PC-88 soundtrack if you want to go the extra, old-school mile. Besides these touches, you have the option to change graphic resolutions, save to the Steam cloud, unlock achievements, and submit scores to a leaderboard.
Aside for the additions mentioned above, Ys I & II Chronicles+ is still the old-school RPGs that fans have come to know and love. The tale of Adol and his quest to save the world may not captivate gamers today as it did back when the games original released back in the late 80′s, but they still hold their charm. Naturally, Ys I starts with Adol washing up ashore with a case of amnesia. After recovering from his wounds Adol goes to fulfill his destiny,which is to find the book of Ys and rid the land of evil. People will be met, bonds will be forged, and evil bosses will be vanquished. Ys II picks up exactly were the first game leaves off, so it is best to play the games in sequential order to fully enjoy the stories.
The overall story is something that we have experienced time and time again, and the character archetypes are full front and center. Hero with amnesia? Check. Mysterious blue-haired maiden? Check. Dark force that wants to destroy the land? Check. While the plot line will not catch you off guard, and you will be able to see the twists coming a mile away, there is just something really special about how Ys goes about with its story. Maybe it is because the games were among the first to use these tropes, or maybe it is the straight forward nature that eases you along. Either way, the tales are very enjoyable classics.
Most of the story will unfold by completing numerous fetch quests. Adol will visit a town, speak to somebody about clearing out a labyrinth to find an item, you then proceed to slay monsters while exploring the dungeons, and return to the quest giver with your loot. Don’t actually think that things are that simple though, because Ys I & II Chronicles+ is tough. Modern commodities such as a quest journal, a mini-map, and waypoints are nowhere to be found. Quest goals are pretty easy to decipher, seeing as how they are written in bold text during character dialogues. The real challenge comes from finding the goal, but sometimes things can get a little too cryptic. In fact, I had to bust out a game guide on a couple of occasions despite the fact that I have played the games before.
Don’t think these fetch quests make Ys I & II Chronicles+ a linear experience. There are some side quests to take and side plots to explore, that is if you are not exploring the land and towns. Many of the town folks have some funny bits of dialogue that add to the story, and the fact that Adol has to body slam people to talk to them makes it even more unintentionally funny. While the world of Ys is not the largest game to explore there is a nice amount to see, plus there is nice variety in the designs of the dungeons and towns.
However, the most frustrating aspect of the games for newcomers will be the lack of a map, well unless you take the time to draw one that is. While the plains are easy to navigate, and are littered with direction signs, the dungeons will make your head spin at times. Classics such as dead ends and never ending loops may overwhelm you at first, but the sense of satisfaction of finally being able to navigate a dungeon is enough to make you push on forward. Now, this is not a grid-based RPG so drawing a map may be a little difficult. Rounded curves, endless loops, multiple forks in the road, and multiple floors can make the completely optional cartography difficult. However, being able to fully discover all the secrets that are hidden might make the effort payoff.
Ys bucked the trend gameplay wise when the games first came out, and even to this day there is no game that has replicated the battle system that the first two utilized. Battles taking place in real time and eliminating random encounters placed the series generations a head of the competitors, but the Bump battle system still remains in its own class. Instead of tactical battles or button mashing, Adol rushes and body slams his enemies into oblivion. Well, he is technically swinging his sword, but the limited motion of the sprites make it look otherwise. Don’t think that Adol can rush head-on though, you have to utilize battle angles.
Attacking head-on will cause Adol to receive damage and is a very quick way to die, but attacking off-centered, from the side, or from behind will net you clean damage. It may take a little bit to get accustomed to this, due to almost every game warning you not to make physical contact with enemies, but it is an almost comedic blast. Ys II plays identical to the first game, except that magic is thrown in for good measure. This adds a nice way to attack enemies from a distance, but the Bump system is still the star of the show. Adol can also turn into a monster and communicate with non-human characters to get some information in Ys II.
Thanks to the Bump system, battles are finished at a break-neck pace and level grinding is very painless. With that being said, it is far too easy to reach the level-cap in the two games, and since the enemies do not scale to your level, death is still a very real possibility. Also, there is no user input when leveling up, all of Adol’s stats increase automatically.
The Bump system may be a lot of fun, but it is not perfect. Often times it is far too easy to run right past an enemy when you think you have them lined up for an off-centered attack. Also the tactic of attacking from behind or flanking the sides? Easier said than done because your enemies always seem to turn to face you at the last possible second. Besides these little quirks, the erratic routes that the enemies move on will cause some frustrations. There are times when enemies will just walk in place facing a wall. Keeping in mind that these games are nearly 30 years old, and it is very easy to forgive the few faults with enemy A.I.
Another “futuristic” feature is that Adol has regenerating health when he is on the plains. After fighting, just stand still and the rays of the sun will cause your health to regenerate. You do have to be more careful while exploring the dungeons though, unless you have found and equipped the Heal Ring. This adds a nice bit of tension while exploring the dank dungeons, because one wrong move and it will become your tomb.
Graphically, Ys has aged very gracefully. The sprite work for the characters look great and move smoothly, the atmosphere that the environments give off will suck you in, and the way the enemies explode into pieces is just plan cool and funny. There are a few cutscenes, and while the movement is limited, they look really nice. The biggest difference between the Complete and Chronicles version of the games is the art styles for the character portraits and cutscenes. Complete uses a more realistic look for the characters, and Chronicles is more anime inspired. Both styles look really good, and they do not affect how the in-game sprites appear.
Nihon Falcom is known to produce some of the greatest soundtrack in gaming, and Ys I & IIChronicles+ is no different. Whether it is the original PC-88 track, the arranged Complete track, or the re-done metal track for Chronicles, you will be listening to one of the best soundtracks for an RPG. Yes, the soundtrack is Nihon Falcom’s forte, but the sound effects are great too, even though they will be overlooked. Sword slashes, your enemies exploding into bits and pieces, and other various effects are greatly done. Being an old school game, there is no voice acting at all, so you will be reading the whole tale. This works out fine, and it hooks you the way a good book does.
Finally, the menus are easy to navigate. You can bring up the inventory screen at a push of a button and equip what you need without any hassle. Equipping swords, armor, and rings is done in a different menu, but it is not very hard to navigate around. The controls can be configured for a standard keyboard or a gamepad. No matter what option you choose the controls are really simple and intuitive, so no worries about hand cramps when playing on a keyboard.
Overall Ys I & II Chronicles+ is a great bundle for anyone looking to experience the beginning of the famed series. I am amazed how well these two games hold up to modern standards. While there are some A.I. quirks, and some of the quests can be cryptic, Ys I & II Chronicles+ contains two ageless games if there were any. Whether you want to buy the collection depends on if you have played the games before. There is no real drastic changes, and unless you want to unlock acheivements, people that already own Chronicles may not want to re-purchase a game they already own. For anyone else though, Chronicles+ is a must buy for any RPG fan.
This review was based on a final version of the game provided by XSEED Games
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