I recently finished playing Ys I Ancient Vanished Omen and Ys II Ancient Ys Vanished The Final Chapter on Steam. Here is my review of what I thought of the game. The question is, are they worth playing? Stick around to find out.
After playing through both Ys I and II, I can say I am becoming a big fan of Falcom and their games. Before this, my experience with Falcom consisted of Dragon Slayer 4 on MSX, Xanadu Next on Steam (although I never played the latter through all the way to end – might need to rectify that at some point) and some light dabbling in Ys VIII.
I won’t go into crazy details here but the short hand version is this. Ys I and II originally came out in 1989 for the TurboGrafx-CD. Since then it has been remade a slew of times, including:
A remake called YS Eternal released on PC in 1997 in Japan
A remake called Ys 1+2 Complete released on PC in Japan in 2001
A remake called Ys 1 + 2 Eternal Story released on the PS2 in 2003 in Japan
A version titled Legacy of Ys: books 1 + 2 released on Nintendo DS 2009 in the US (with 3D graphics, sound + Multiplayer with up to 4 people)
A version called Ys Chronicles released on Sony PSP in 2009, that was subsequently localised and published by XSEED in 2011
An updated version called Ys Chronicles+ released in 2013 for Steam. In this one you can choose between the 2001 or 2009 versions. I played the latter, so the 2001Complete version, and that is where all the images and footage you see is taken from.
Adol and a friend are stuck in a fiery place (Ys II)
You play as Adol Cristin, a red-haired(and I emphasise this because the topic comes up a LOT over the course of the two games) adventurer and swordsman who washes up on the shores of a distant land called Esteria, which has come under attack by a horde of demons. Being the person he is (always looking for his next adventure) he decides to find out what happened to Esteria and by extension the ancient land of Ys. Along the way he meets all sorts of interesting characters and fights all manner of monsters and bosses. A lot of the story is cantered around Adol piecing together the details of how the land fell to the demon hordes and their masters. But to say more would be to spoil the mystery, so I will let you explore it for yourselves. Needless to say that Ys I and II make up a complete story.
Adol leaves the clinic (Ys I)
I am not sure about other versions (Ys I and II has been released and re-released multiple times over the years on many, many platforms). The opening cutscene is absolutely outstanding; I love the anime style, the music, everything. It hooks you into wanting to find out more about the characters, the story, just what the heck is going on. The music (particularly in some areas) boasts some rocking tunes that fit in well with the action on screen. From what I read, the soundtracks are a real highlight of the Ys series in general, so there’s more to look forward to. I would say that the sound effects are serviceable and nothing more. And in fact, in Ys II, the sound effects seem to drop in and out. I’m not sure if that’s an issue with the game or the sound configuration options.
HUD and options menus are simple but effective. With the former you get your HP bar (and in Ys II an MP bar), your enemy’s health bar and how much gold you’re carrying. With the latter you get a Load, Save, Equip and Items menu. So pretty much bog standard. There is also a Note menu, which contains information on the people you meet on your travels but I must confess I never made much use of it. What’s neat is being able to bring up info on your stats and current equipment with the press of the left bumper. Doing this also tells you what area you’re in currently. This becomes especially useful for some of the more labyrinthine areas in the game.
Adol arrives on a particular floating island (Ys II)
The graphics are colourful and pretty to look at; the sprites are all deformed with big heads and small bodies. I’m not normally a big fan of this style, but I found I didn’t mind it too much in this game. There are some nice touches (Adol’s hair blowing when he runs, the shadows of clouds rolling across the green plains, creeping mist tendrils in some areas). The developer really put a lot of neat, little touches in this regard. For a game released in 2001 they still hold up well. Not much to complain about here.
Adol before a boss door in the mines (Ys II)
Now we get to the meat and bones of the review. The action is presented in an overhead view, similar to old school 16 bit RPGs. The usual tropes are here. You level up by defeating enemies; you use gold to buy gear, weapons and items; you talk to the various characters around the world to get clues on where to go next; you have to sometimes backtrack to previous areas; you have to explore your surroundings in order to find the way ahead.
What’s unique about this game is the bump system (at least I don’t recall any other game that uses this system). Basically you bump into enemies and Adol automatically hits them with his sword. Sounds simple and it is, but there is a certain strategy behind it. Hitting enemies from the front causes Adol to take some damage too. The trick is to hit enemies from the side or from the back. You cannot upgrade weapons or armour but you can buy bigger and better ones, depending on how good your gold acquiring skills are. Some are also found out in the world as you explore. And you do get to explore. Some areas are trickier than others, some puzzles are more obtuse than others, but you do get hints and clues by speaking to NPCs. But even then it never feels like the game is holding your hand.
In Ys II as well, Adol acquires the ability to use magic, and throughout the adventure he picks up several wands that he can use in combat or exploring, depending on which one is equipped. Using magic of course drains your MP. Also, little tip: some bosses cannot be defeated without magic.
Speaking of bosses, Ys I and II have their fair share. Most of them won’t be too tough depending on your XP level when you encounter them. In fact the only one who gave me real problems was the final boss of Ys I. But it was definitely satisfying when he finally fell. On the whole, I enjoyed the bosses in both games, but particularly the ones in Ys II.
Explanation of the bump system (from Ys I)
All in all it will probably take a few hours to get through Ys I and Ys II respectively, although the latter is definitely the longer game. I had a blast with them from start to finish, and although I was happy to get to the end to see what ending awaited everyone, part of me also didn’t want to finish them. This in my opinion is the hallmark of any great game. Sure some aspects might be dated, but the sense of exploration, the satisfying and unique combat system, the various creatures and characters you meet (all of whom have their own personality), the boss fights… all add up to a wonderful experience. I’m glad I got to spend some time in Esteria and Ys. I’m sure you will too.
Gelaldy from Ys II meets his end