Ys Seven is an outstanding RPG. The gameplay is excellent, the music fantastic, and the story and characters are engaging. It has high replayability as well, with four modes to choose from: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Nightmare. The game also works great as a standalone in the Ys series. I've never played a Ys game, and I chose this one as my first because it was the one made for the PSP. After my experience with Ys Seven, I now have the rest of the series on my wish list.

After a slow start, Ys Seven's gameplay really shines. The best part is the real-time battle system, where your characters battle it out with monsters right there on the world screen, using normal attacks or skills. There's also the always-devastating Extra Skill, which typically bowls over powerful enemies in one go. Of course, bosses take several swipes.

Speaking of bosses, the challenge posed by Ys Seven's main bosses is heart-poundingly fun. None of them are pushovers—you really have to strategize and have good hand-eye coordination to execute your moves to defeat them. I was unprepared for the difficulty of the first boss and got my head handed back to me. Fortunately, the game gives you the option to retry, rather than have you go through any lengthy expositions that took place right before the boss fight. Ys Seven also makes things interesting for players in that there are a limited number of healing items available, so potions and cure-alls need to be rationed carefully during these fights.

Synthesizing items is also a great feature of the game. Collecting the raw materials from fields and caves and the game's other locales is fun, and also acts as a memory challenge—where can the most spring water be collected?; which monsters drop the monster scale?; what do I do with all these Kamika flowers?; and so on. Thanks to synthesis, the intrepid materials collector—or players who tend to get lost in dungeons and backtrack a lot—get to save all the gold that the monsters drop, in case purchasing a weapon, equipment, or an accessory becomes necessary. I had a million bucks by the time I finished my first game.

The plot moves at a brisk pace, with plenty of sidequests to divert from the main storyline. Thanks to your party's ability to teleport, trekking to previous locations becomes less of a chore. I finished the game in Normal mode in about 25 hours, and only used walkthroughs for the tougher bosses. The story contains fairly standard fantasy themes—balance, corruption, an unexpected champion, friendship, et cetera—that all receive charmingly earnest treatment. The characters' lines are delivered with the same sincerity, although Adol's lack of dialog seemed out of place, especially with all the chatty people around him (Dogi talks a lot). For comparison, Chrono Trigger did the silent hero thing much better.

On the subject of homage to classic RPGs, it was pretty funny to have a non-playable character utter something that made it clear that Ys Seven's developers acknowledge their inspirations. I rolled my eyes at the beginning of the game, when Adol and Dogi first meet Tia the flower girl who lives in the slums. Then a man in Altago City asks, “What's the name of that flower girl again? Aerith? Erith?,” a tongue-in-cheek line that redeemed the seeming duplication of the popular FFVII character. And of course, Tia turns out to be more than what she seems…

The only tiny quibble I have with this game has to do with a couple of the playable characters. Ys Seven does really well with the rotation of specific attack types—Mustafa to Cruxie for blunt, and Aisha to Sigroon for pierce—which keeps your party fresh, interesting, and always balanced for battles. In addition, having Adol be able to switch to all attack types was handy. However, I didn't find Elk and Geis as useful as the others. I never used Elk after the first trip to the Flame Shrine, and only used Geis whenever Adol loses all his HP. If characters didn't level up even when not in use, it would have taken me much longer to finish off the last boss.

By contrast, the main non-playable characters are well developed. The buildup of Scias and Tia were particularly impressive for me, especially since I had to escort Tia around a couple of times and make sure she didn't get injured, only to have her be the penultimate boss. That's a nice twist. On another level, there's Maya and Raud, and it's a jaded player who doesn't tear up at the ending.

Finally, Ys Seven's graphics and music are great. All the main character portraits are beautiful. It's also always fun to see the playable character sprites change appearance according to their equipment. Cruxie in particular stands out because her giant war hammers are typically twice her height, and probably triple her weight, too. Other characters' weapons changes are hardly noticeable—Sigroon's or Aisha's bows always looked the same to me, and so did Mishera's staffs—and some are subtle but still significant, like Adol's swords and Dogi's gloves. The flashes of light and extra motion that accompany the skills and Extra Skills are fun to watch. Meanwhile, the OST has some terrific tracks, like the adventuresome “Mother Earth Altago,” the lamenting “Lost Harmony Among People,” and of course, the touching “Tia.”

All in all, Ys Seven is gorgeous to watch, wonderful to listen to, and a pleasure to play. Highly, highly, highly recommended for all RPG fans.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/06/11

Game Release: Ys Seven (US, 08/17/10)

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