Ys: The Oath in Felghana
Review by 94067
"Fiendishly difficult action in an RPG's costume"
If you've played Ys Seven as one of your first Ys games (like myself), you probably looked to expand your horizons with Oath of Felghana. While Oath is a good game, it's not entirely like Seven, or more accurately, Ys Seven is actually the outlier from the rest of the (modern) series. While Seven had multiple characters, Felghana has just one; While Seven was about 25-30 hours long and structured more like a traditional RPG, Felghana is a little over 10 hours long and is structured more like a Ys game. These changes don't make the game bad, but they do make it just different enough to make it lose its appeal to those looking for a more traditional experience. Boiled down to the simplest level, Oath in Felghana is more of an action game with RPG influences, while Ys Seven was an action-heavy RPG.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of Oath in Felghana is its brutal difficulty--you could say this game isn't very Ys-y. The game offers 5 difficulty modes from the start (ranging from very Ys-y to very hard), and one unlockable one after the game is cleared. Even on normal, I felt that the bosses were absolutely cleaning the floor with me, an experience I shared with Ys Seven, but for different reasons. While Seven's combat was built around dodging and pattern recognition, Felghana takes the dodging away but adds jumping, a not entirely useful substitute. I feel it necessary to mention that, while Felghana came out after Seven on the PSP, it had been made on the PC far before that, so it's not as much a stepback if you're actually playing through the series in order of original release. I will also admit that I'm not very good at fast-paced action games, so separating my own error from the game's shortcomings is a little difficult, but I also feel that, since I did comparatively well in Seven, the game is at least partially at fault. In Seven, I never felt as though I needed to grind up to the nth level to beat a boss (excepting the final boss, which I took 5 hours to make the ultimate gear for). Instead, it always seemed to me that I was playing too recklessly or had dodged into rather than away from an attack. In Felghana, it seemed much more like I needed superior equipment or grinding to win. Again, I feel obliged to mention the ability to lower the difficulty level for any given boss after you've failed enough times. Doing this doesn't affect the bonuses you unlock at the end of the file, but I also feel that on normal mode, I shouldn't be hung up on a boss for hours. The strangest thing about the difficulty is that there is no one single factor that makes it so challenging, but the combination of several smaller factors. Unlike Seven, Adol is depicted by a relatively small model, and because of his smaller size and dull colors, he can frequently get lost in the large bosses' attacks with huge sparkly effects. This is worsened when you use the Boost feature, a gauge that gradually builds up during battle and, when activated, halves the damage you take, increases your stats, and heals you by about 50 HP, the only method of healing during a boss battle. While I normally try not to use items during a boss battle in games, I ound myself wishing for the ability to here. This, combined with the small amounts of damage you do, makes battles a drawn-out war of attrition. Also unlike Seven, I found no way to effectively guard against an attack, which felt necessary at many times because of the lack of a dodge function. While using Earth magic will guard you for a second or two, the default button set-up is not configured in such a way that makes it easy to use. The suggested modification is to remap the magic button to L and keep it held down for the majority of the battle once it charges. Instead of having the charge time/animation, it seems a wiser choice to have the abilities activate instantly and not have to reconfigure the buttons. Then again, people have beaten this on Inferno, a full 3 difficulties harder than my measly normal mode, so I suppose the take-away from this is that your experience with the difficulty will depend on your skill.
Aside from the difficulty, I didn't find the battle system nearly as engaging as Seven's, though in fairness, Seven had an extremely fun balance. Felghana's battle system is much simpler, only one character with a single weapon that either damages or doesn't damage enemies. Those that it doesn't damage can be handled by one of the game's three types of magic--earth, wind, or fire. As mentioned, these take about a half second or so to activate and use, which doesn't have a tremendous effect, but it does seem like an unnecessary handicap. Your magic meter regenerates quickly (within a few seconds), so you're free to use it as you see fit, instead of having to ration it. Being able to jump adds in a few techniques, such as a downward stab that can potentially stun enemies, but it mostly resorts to having to attack flying enemies, something which is not easily done. Since you obviously can't stay in the air for long, your best bet is to usually position yourself directly under your airborne foe and do an upwards slash, but this is far from ideal. It's never necessary (I think) to clear out all the enemies from a room, so you could always just skip the things-on-wings, but it doesn't seem like a game should inconvenience the player in trying to, either. Felghana is also much more limited in its equipment choices than most RPGs, which is to say it handles this aspect like almost every other Ys game. You have a half dozen sets of equipment (sword/shield/armor) to equip, though you can also upgrade them using ore you find in chests in dungeons. None of these have any other effects than increasing your stats (for example, affording immunity to a status ailment, increasing your MP regeneration, etc), but then Felghana is staying faithful to its series in this regard. If you enjoyed Seven's battle system, you might enjoy this one as well, since it's nothing radically different. You can still mash X and watch numbers pop up above your enemies at alarming rates, but you might miss the flexibility of Seven's.
One of the most memorable aspects of Seven for me was the awesome landscapes. They might not have been ground-breakingly original (earth, fire, water, wind), but they were constructed in such a way that made them believable. Felghana, by contrast, feels much more constructed. Ys Seven's overworld was vast, but fun to explore. Felghana's overworld is a straight path to your destination, which feels just a step above a menu. Felghana makes up for this by having huge, sprawling dungeons typical to the series, something Seven didn't do. These maze-like dungeons have multiple paths in them, but perhaps because they are so large, they feel more and more contrived. I suspect adding the jump ability makes it feel more artificial as well, such as the ice mountain that might as well have platforms floating in midair. Seven's soundtrack also had a great deal in shaping the feel of a place; holy places felt holy because of their slower musical themes, while being on the overworld and searching for the next area felt nothing short of an adventure. Felghana's soundtrack is much more frenetic and much less melodic. In all the game, I can only remember the overworld and (absolutely amazing) final boss theme. It's not an integral part of the game, but it helps you feel more attached to the area. Seven felt like it had towns; Felghana feels like it has levels.
There are a few other quirks about Felghana that make it less polished than Seven. There's a few sidequests in the game, but no sort of quest log for you to keep track of them, and because crawling through the labyrinthine dungeons and taking on the rather difficult bosses can take up to an hour, you could easily forget what you needed to do. Felghana is also much more on story progression than Seven, especially in the beginning of the game when it took me quite some time to figure out who to talk to in order to progress the story. However, the dialogue in story-related cutscenes is all fully voiced, and done quite well, save for the laughably overacting innkeeper who lets every saccharine word ooze from her mouth in a way that had me giggling all two times she showed up. Most dire of all, but still relatively minor, is how small the standard monsters are. Whether or not its their actual size or the camera position, it can be difficult to tell when they're about to attack, or even what they are, taking away more atmosphere from the levels.
Because my biggest problem with Felghana was its difficulty and relative simplicity, both of which are commonplace in the series, I give this game the benefit of the doubt. I'm not fantastic at action games but I was ultimately able to get through this without ever lowering the difficulty. The battle system is simpler and the game can feel unfair at time, but it's a matter of preference. If your first Ys game was Seven and you thought it difficult, you might want to watch some gameplay videos of this. If you liked Seven's traditional accommodations, such as the towns, extra characters, and a more fleshed out battle system, you might be turned off by this game's basic approach. If, however, you played Seven and though it was too easy, this will be much more attuned to your tastes.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/03/10
Game Release: Ys: The Oath in Felghana (US, 11/02/10)
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