Review by YusakuG

"A nostalgia trip worth taking"

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. It can make us remember something from long ago a lot more fondly than it actually was. It can be equally dangerous when a video game company tries to resurrect a long-dormant franchise, and update it for today's market. Make it too different from the original games, and you alienate the "hardcore" fans who will complain that it's just not the same. Make it too much like the earlier titles, and you'll alienate newcomers who will feel lost. You need a perfect balance to satisfy both groups in order to be successful.

Ys: The Ark of Napishtim is a game that understands this, and displays it better than many other "revival games" I can think of. It's been nearly 10 years since the last Ys game, an action RPG series that started life as a Japanese PC game, and later found fame as one of the very first CD games for a console system. Seeing how some other recent revivals have faired (the new Ninja Turtle games, Shinobi for the PS2), I was more than a little worried that developer Falcom would drop the ball somehow. Turns out I need not have worried at all, as Ark of Napishtim (the sixth game in the series) manages to balance old school charm with enough gameplay updates and enhancements to bring it into the 21st Century. And fortunately, Konami has done a fine job bringing this game to console systems and to the US. It's not quite perfect, but Ys VI is a trip down memory lane that you certainly won't regret taking.

The latest chapter continues the exploits of Adol Christin, the red-haired adventuring youth who travels the world, seeking adventure. As the game opens, Adol and his long-time friend, Dogi, board a friendly pirate ship in an attempt to escape from the corrupt Romun Army. The Romuns eventually catch up with Adol's ship, however, and a battle ensues, which sends our young hero overboard and into the mysterious Great Vortex - a swirling mass of water that supposedly sucks up anyone and everything that is unfortunate enough to be nearby. After being pulled into the Vortex, Adol finds himself washed ashore on an island inhabited by two different races - the Rehda (half-humans with elf-like ears and animal-like tails) and the Eresians (regular humans like Adol). It seems that tensions between the two races are mounting, especially since a bridge connecting the two main parts of the island has been destroyed due to mysterious circumstances, both sides blaming the other. Adol's search for a way home will eventually unravel the truth behind the rivalry tearing the island apart, and uncover the ancient secret behind this mysterious island - locked away for countless centuries.

The story is certainly nothing special, and is probably one of the weaker aspects of the game. It's not bad, mind you, it just does nothing we haven't seen before. Same old song and dance of humans abusing a great power, paying the consequences, and now an evil madman is attempting to rewrite history, and become a god...yadda, yadda, yadda. The translation at least is decent, with no grammatical or spelling errors (at least to my knowledge), and no cheesy jokes or pop culture references to drain the drama. Too bad its next to impossible to take the story seriously thanks to the actors Konami hired to dub the characters. Everyone either sounds a generic cartoon character, or a poor imitation of a famous voice. (The Village Chief of the Rehda village sounds like a third-rate James Earl Jones, while another character sounds like a knock off of Smithers from The Simpsons.) Some of the acting literally had me grinding my teeth as I listened to them. (The less said about the three evil fairies, the better.) Fortunately, you can mute the voices, skip past them once you've finished reading the dialogue box, or switch to the original Japanese voice overs with the help of a cheat code. A few of the voices are tolerable, but given Konami's recent history with dubbing, I really expected more.

Fortunately, Ark of Napishtim is an action-based RPG, so the story takes somewhat of a back seat to the gameplay, and here is where the fun begins. Playing Ys is just plain fun, and some of the most fun I've had playing an RPG in a long time. What makes the game so much fun is the amount of control you have over Adol. You can move in any direction, you can jump, and you can do a variety of special attacks with simple button combinations. You even have access to powerful spells tied into your three elemental swords (fire, wind, and lighting) that become even stronger as you power them up at the local sword smith shop. The areas you explore offer ample opportunity to put all of Adol's skills to the test, and you're going to need them. Unlike most action RPGs, you're not going to win with just simple hacking and slashing. There's a certain amount of strategy involved, as some enemies can only be harmed with a certain kind of attack, or in some instances, with a certain item in Adol's inventory equipped. Things can get pretty intense, since the game likes to throw multiple enemies (sometimes 5 or 6 at once), and let me tell you, the enemies in this game can be aggressive. If you're not prepared, they'll drain your Hit Points down to practically nothing in a matter of seconds.

This brings me to the one aspect that may turn off quite a few potential players - this game can be very hard at times. The areas you explore are massive, with multiple paths and secrets to uncover. And you'll have to uncover almost all of the game's secrets to get the best equipment if you want to stay alive. Ys VI is from the old school of gaming, as there is very little hand-holding (no in-game clues or help boxes), and a decent amount of challenge that practically forces you to level up numerous times each time you enter a new area. As I mentioned, the enemies are aggressive, and will home right in on you almost the instant you enter the screen, so your skills have to be quickly. Most of the bosses are no cakewalk either, not even the mini-bosses that you will randomly encounter during your exploration. The game plays fair, though, and never becomes overly taxing. As long as you keep Adol leveled up, as well as his swords, you should never fall too far behind. If you're used to the more recent Zelda titles however, be prepared for somewhat of a rude awakening.

Some may find the gameplay basic due to the fact that Adol's weapons are limited to just three swords, which he finds fairly early in the game. But, you know what, it's kind of refreshing in a way. Many modern RPGs overburden themselves with overly complex systems where you micro-manage every aspect of your party. While this can be fun in moderation, I've lately grown tired of developers putting countless party management systems into their games, simply for the purpose of making the quest longer than it needs to be. Ark of Napishtim is just a simple action RPG, nothing fancy. You have access to all of Adol's main abilities from the beginning, and mainly just have to worry about keeping your levels up. It's a nice change of pace from the modern norm. True, it does kind of cut into the game's length (it can easily be beaten around the 10 to 12 hour time frame), but I'd rather have a short, enjoyable quest than an enjoyable quest burdened by pointless micro-managing.

The graphics in the PS2 rendition have been widely criticized by many hardcore Ys fanboys. The original PC version released in Japan featured 2D character sprites, which Konami replaced with polygonal characters. I, for one, see no real reason to complain. The new sprites are detailed, well-animated, and seem to fit in well with the original backgrounds. Ys VI may not be the most graphically intense RPG on the PS2, but there are a lot of nice touches that I enjoyed. I liked how in the Rehdan village, the trees would sway back and forth in the breeze. There are also some nice special effects, such as magic, explosions, and fire. The game even includes brand new CG cinemas created exclusively for the console version, replacing the hand-drawn anime cinemas of the original. Okay, personally, I prefer the anime cinemas (which you can unlock via a cheat code just like the Japanese voice overs), but the new sequences still get the job done. They're not quite up to Square-Enix levels, but hey, few CG cinemas are.

If there's one aspect the Ys series has always been known for, especially since moving to the CD format in the late 80s, its the music. Anyone who played the original Ys Book 1 and 2 for the Turbografx CD add on lists that game's soundtrack as one of the all time great feats in the history of game music. The music in Ys VI is very good, excellent in comparison to most recent games, but falls short of past efforts. The tunes, while memorable, just don't stick long after you've turned the game off. Still, each track in the game is a winner, even the new music that was composed exclusively for the console version. Sound effects are equally impressive with realistic sword sounds and explosions that boom out of your speakers thanks to Dolby Pro Logic II sound. If you've got a good sound set up for your game system, you certainly won't be complaining. (Except when the characters are talking, of course.)

If I can find any major fault with this game it's that it becomes repetitive, which is kind of tied to the fact that the entire game takes place on a large island. Obviously, the locations you can visit are limited because of this. There's only two towns, and the number of dungeons you can explore can be counted on one hand. Yes, the areas you visit make up for the lack of quantity with quality design and massive size, but there's just a little bit much backtracking required in this game. If you want to find everything, you're going to have to visit every area numerous times. With no way to warp between areas the first time through the game (unless, once again, you use a cheat code) you're going to find yourself traversing back and forth between the same areas a bit more often than you'd probably like. With a much larger world, more places to explore, and less backtracking, this game could have easily scored a 9 or a 10 with me.

Ys: The Ark of Napishtim may be simplistic in design, but there's no denying the outright fun that the game holds. And doesn't that count for anything? This is one of the few games where I didn't mind spending hours leveling up my character, or gaining money, because the gameplay is so fast-paced and fun. It's challenging, it's addictive, and it's sure to become a cult classic amongst RPG fans. Gamers expecting the next Final Fantasy or Xenosaga will be disappointed, but anyone looking for an old school-style action RPG and thinks Zelda has gotten just a little too easy these days is sure to find something to like. I, for one, say welcome back Ys. Let's hope the next game is a bit quicker in getting out there, and let's hope Konami graces us with another US release. Just hire some real actors next time. Please?...

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/04/05

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