Review by PoprocksCk
"One of the most positive experiences I've had with an RPG in a long time."
If you haven't played a game in the Ys series, it's about time you tried one. The games are typically categorized under the "Action RPG" genre, and I feel that that is an appropriate label (though I do generally dislike labels). Personally, I know that when I think of a traditional RPG, I think of a game with turn-based battles. The Final Fantasy series, with which I'm sure most of you should be familiar by now, is an example of this. On the other hand, games like the Seiken Densetsu (Secret of Mana) series, and the Zelda series would also fit in the Action RPG category, along with the Ys games.
However, Ys IV does not align itself with Zelda nor SoM, or is it a step forward or backward from either; rather, it is a fairly big step to the side. Well, on to the categories!
For any RPG, the story is almost always at least an important factor. If the game has a weak story, then it will likely fail to engage the player, and in turn they may become disinterested. Ys IV has a story that starts off relatively simple and builds up over time -- I won't give anything away, but by the end, all of the plot twists combined with the development that has been taking place throughout, combine to create a relatively deep story. But, most importantly, its story grabs you from the beginning, and makes you want to know more!
Ys IV's story begins with our hero, Adol (who is also the hero of all of the other Ys games, as far as I know) stumbles upon a mysterious message in a bottle, about trouble in Selceta. Being the adventurer that he is, he embarks on a journey to investigate. Now, this may seem overly simple, but as a reviewer of another Ys game pointed out, it's more how the story is told than the story itself, that makes Ys's stories great. And Ys IV is no exception in that department. The dialogue between the characters is fun to read, and everything is given in manageable chunks. As I said before, by the end, the story goes so far beyond the simple message-in-a-bottle premise that sparks it. I am not one to spoil games though, so you'll just have to play it for yourself to see what happens!
One thing that I really, really enjoyed about the story was how they managed to keep continuity from the previous games. With all the remakes and such, it can be difficult to decipher what needs to be considered in the continuity of the plot and what does not, but if you've played Ys I and II, the games that come right before Ys IV chronologically, then you will be in for a treat when the characters from the towns you "saved" in those games thank you for what you did. And not only that, they managed to keep the layout of the towns relatively consistent. Lance Village, for instance, looks just the way you left it in Ys II. Nice attention to detail there!
The graphics in Ys IV range from just "good" to outstanding. Unfortunately there is some inconsistency in their quality, which is why it suffered a bit in its rating. For a mid-second-generation SNES game (~1993), the graphics are very good. The character designs are, for the most part, better than Final Fantasy IV, for instance. The backgrounds, while well done, look very "tiled" and the designers didn't do a great job creating the seamless effect that is present in games like Secret of Mana. Moreover, while many of the tilesets look great, some look muddy and dull.
Ys IV contains a couple of anime-like sequences, both at the beginning and the end. They are spectacularly drawn and rendered on the SNES. If it weren't for these, I probably would have given the graphics a 7.
Music and Sound Effects: 8/10
One thing that the Ys series has always been known for, even amidst its many unforeseen formula-changes and ports and remakes, is outstanding music. I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment in general. Almost every musical piece in Ys IV is practically a symphony of its own, and it's obvious that the composers spent a great deal of time putting it together. It has a certain depth that many other scores of the time for SNES don't have, like switching to half-time for instance, which occurs in one of my favourite pieces of the game.
However, the music suffers from a slight quality problem. I have a feeling that when Ys IV was ported to the SNES from a more capable platform audio-wise, some of the quality was lost in its reproduction, and as a result, some of the instrumentation sounds rigid and unfitting.
The audio department lost one additional mark from me because of the slashing sounds that Adol's sword makes in combat. It's really loud and harsh and to be honest, it's a little annoying. Also, the "ping" that the game makes when Adol gets wounded is uninspired.
The score I've given Ys IV for gameplay may look a little harsh compared to the generally positive things I've said about the game, but basically what I've done is started off with a 10, and have slashed off points for each flaw that the game has. So, basically, Ys's gameplay has some flaws, which in my opinion could have been avoided with some careful planning and work at the development stages.
While Ys III marked a departure from the traditional style of gameplay of Ys I and II, by switching to a side-scrolling engine (in a like manner to Zelda II's form departure), Ys IV is seen as a return to form in that respect. So, the game returns to the top-down perspective not unlike most other RPGs, and of course, it brings back Ys's famous battle system.
Basically, the battle system works as follows. There is no attack button, and instead, you ram into enemies in a strategic manner. When your level is low relative to the enemy's level, ramming head-on will not only result in minimal (if any) damage to the enemy, but Adol will lose life too. Thus, you must ram in to them slightly off-centre which will allow them to lose a lot more life, and kill them very quickly. This is always the quickest way to kill enemies in the game. When your level gets higher, ramming head-on will damage them and not you, but severely less so than ramming off-centre. If you're standing still at any moment, you will be extremely vulnerable, and demons will kill you very quickly. This gives the game an extremely fast-paced feel, and forces you to keep attention.
Basically, "ya love it or ya hate it" when it comes to this system. Personally I love it. It makes battles much less of a chore than in some other RPGs, and involves a slight element of strategy, rather than wandering around for random battles, and then hitting "A" repeatedly. Along with leveling up, Adol can purchase and find new swords, armour and shields to boost up his offense and defense. Lastly--and this is a real life-saver--Adol's HP slowly refills when standing still, as long as you are not inside a dungeon. This makes leveling-up a much less annoying process.
Unfortunately, the magic system in Ys IV is very weak. The premise is simple enough: Adol can cast spells by equipping the sword that corresponds with a certain spell. For instance, if you equip the fire sword, your available spell will be a fire spell. Forging gems to these swords by the blacksmith will allow these spells to become more powerful.
While I thought this idea had great potential, this system ultimately fails. For one, most of the spells are completely useless. They are weak, have awful range, and 99% of the time, I found I ended up damaging Adol more than the enemies, due to them barely being damaged by my spells and ramming into me standing still. Even after upgrading the spells by forging their gems, they are still not worth it. The only spell I ended up using was one that heals Adol, which you don't get until close to the end of the game. I would like to have seen more gems to be collected, more general power from the spells, and a little more interesting interaction between the spells and the enemies. It would have been cool if icy enemies were weak against fire, for example.
Play Control: 8/10
Adol controls as he is expected to, and his speed is perfect. Not too slow, not too fast. I hate slow-moving characters in RPGs! The menus, however, are a little clumsier and slow. This made switching swords a pain in the rear end because of the slow cursor speed making things more cumbersome than they needed to be. I think they could have made use of the L and R buttons, for instance, to cycle through the swords. This would have been a great improvement.
Challenge and Fun Factor: 10/10
Amidst all of Ys IV's flaws in its gameplay, it has one major saving grace: it's fun. A lot of fun. I had a lot more fun playing Ys IV than any Final Fantasy game. While Final Fantasy games tend to keep me chugging along for various reasons, its fun factor is not one of them. While Final Fantasy games (with the exception of FFV, which is one of my favourite games of all time) almost uniformly feel like a chore to me while playing, Ys IV was a breath of fresh air in that respect. Its gameplay is fun and fast-paced, its story evocative, and above all, the game is downright addictive.
As far as the challenge goes, I do not believe "challenge" and "difficulty" to be directly proportional; it's easy to make any game impossible. The trick is finding a good balance. Ys IV is not too difficult to play through, if you keep your levels high, save often, and don't let your guard down. Even so, some of the final bosses are tough and will definitely give you a run for your money!
Final score (not an average): 8/10
All in all, I highly recommend this game. While it has its flaws, most of which are in the gameplay department, it has a quality which is intangible and much-lauded: it is fun to play. This is a very difficult feat to achieve for RPGs, which are generally very serious and heavy fare. But Ys IV doesn't take itself too seriously, and in the end, that proves to be its biggest strength.
To put it all into perspective, consider this: every year on my winter holiday (which I am in the midst of right now) I go on a bit of an RPG binge, sampling many and generally finishing one or two. After doing so, I ultimately picked Ys IV over Crystalis, which is another game I've been wanting to play for a while. If that means anything to you, great! If not, just remember...
...Ys IV is a great choice for RPG masters and beginners alike. For dungeon-crawlers and those craving an interesting story, it will be sure to please (though I'm not making any promises!).
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/18/06
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