Review by Cloudslash
An overlooked masterpiece finally gets it's chance to shine on the Wii's Virtual Console.
If you're a serious RPG fan, you've probably at least heard of the Ys series (and there's probably a good chance this applies if you're even reading this review). Heck, you may have even played Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, the most recent entry in the series to make it across the Pacific in English. However, not many got to play the first two games when they came out.
Ys I and II were released separately across several systems, such as the Famicom, Sega Mark II, and PC in Japan back in the 80's. Ys I managed to get a little known English release for the Master System. But then someone had the brilliant idea to combine Ys I and II into one gigantic adventure for the Turbo CD. This would be the first time most gamers got the chance to share the adventures of Adol Christin as he journeys across the land of Esteria, fighting against the forces of darkness.
And now this classic, which used to be incredibly difficult to find and went for triple digit price figures on ebay, is now available for download on the Wii's Virtual Console.
Graphics - 8/10
They obviously aren't great by the standards of the year 2008, but they were amazing back in 1989 when this game was first released. Most of the in game graphics are standard and passable for the time, though a good step up from the average RPG on the NES or Genesis at the time.
What sets the graphics in this game apart from anything else at the time are the cutscenes. There aren't a ton of them, but they're very flashy, and help convey the story at key plot points. Animated cutscenes like this were almost unheard of back when the game was released.
Sound - 10/10
This game has an utterly amazing and fully instrumental soundtrack that impresses even by modern standards. All the game's tunes fit nicely, and might even get your blood pumping at certain points. The boss theme in particular is really cool for the time.
What really pushes the sound category in this game over the edge though... is the voice acting. Yes that's right, a game from 1989 that had freaking voice acting. And the real shocker... the voice acting is GOOD. The game isn't fully voiced, but what's there is actually better than the voice quality of the average game made today. Sadly, this high quality of voice work wouldn't be match again for nearly a decade until the advent of the Playstation.
Also, when you see the closing credits after beating the game, you might even recognize some of the actors (I know I did).
Story - 9/10
By today's standards, the game isn't terribly plot heavy, though there's just enough of it that you can't quite call it minimalist either.
By 1989's standards, a game with this in-depth of a plot was mind-blowing. Back then, we hadn't seen the likes of Final Fantasy or Xenosaga, and no one was used to seeing any real amount of plot content within a game. Yet this game not only had one, it presented it incredibly well, with voice acting and animated cutscenes, and even a bit of characterization and development.
The story is, you are Adol Christin, a young, red-headed adventurer and swordsman who arrives in the land of Esteria, only to find that it's being plagued by demons and monsters. Adol, being the kind natured guy that he is, decides to investigate, and it turns into one heck of a journey. I'll let you find out the rest.
The combat in this game is rather primitive... there's not even an attack button. You simply have Adol bump into enemies to attack them, and later on, you can start attacking bad guys with fireballs. Yet, primitive does not mean bad. Bumping into enemies is an insanely fun gameplay mechanic that makes combat feel addictive, and far more unique than action-RPGs released these days.
Beyond fighting enemies, there's also a great deal of emphasis on exploration. You need to carefully and thoroughly explore every dungeon (and even every town) you come across in order to find items that you will need not only to stay competitive with the bad guys, but also to progress through the game.
But here's the cool thing. Enemies frequently respawn, can be killed quickly, and generally yield plenty of experience and gold. And believe me, you WILL need every bit of it. So basically, while you're exploring every nook and cranny of the game, you'll constantly be rewarded for your efforts.
And once you've done enough searching, you will find what you need to progress. Although the game is fairly large and doesn't exactly hold your hand, as long as you pay attention and use your noggin a little bit, you'll never be in need of a strategy guide. Unlike most other RPGs where you can get lost for days or even weeks trying to figure out what to do next, the game is designed well enough that you won't ever get stuck for too long. A lesson countless games today could learn from.
Another interesting feature is the speed setting. Apparently, fans of the original versions of Ys I and II complained that the games were initially too slow (though I think it's sufficient myself), so Falcom added a speed setting for those who wish to play the game at a faster pace. Adol himself, plus monsters, NPCs, and virtually everything in the game will move much faster. Plus, this ups the challenge, as monsters can move fast enough to counter-attack Adol on the Fast setting. Or if you just want the game to be fast to help with exploration, you can set it to Fast, then back to Slow when enemies start swarming you again. It can even be changed right in the middle of gameplay. Awesome.
Oh, but here's the best thing... you can do a permanent save anywhere. And there's five save slots on the native game, plus the Virtual Console's temp-save feature. Whoo yeah ^_^
Replay value: N/A or uh... 7/10 I guess
There's not really any compelling gameplay reasons or rewards to play through the game again once you've beaten it. No New Game +, no post game content, etc. But the gameplay itself is fun and unique enough that you may just wanna play through the game again for it's own sake. Not to mention, the game is "challenge" friendly. You could try playing through the whole game at the Fast speed setting. You could try playing without using magic fireballs (the only time you're actually forced to use fireballs is on a couple of bosses). You could try a low-level and/or equipment impairing challenge. It all depends on how much YOU enjoy playing it. Personally, I'd take it over most action-RPGs made today :P
Final score: 10/10
This is just a brilliantly designed game. It may look a bit primitive by today's standards, but the gameplay and presentation hold up amazingly well for an almost 20 year old game. I had several other great RPGs in my backlog that I could've been playing instead of this, like The World Ends With You, Mana Khemia, Persona 3 FES, and numerous others. Yet, I chose this game because it's just that much fun to play. Which isn't to say those games are bad in any way either, or even that they're objectively better or worse games, as I like them a ton as well. I'm just saying it's a true testament to good game design that I'd chose to play this 19 year old (as of this review) game over any of it's contemporaries.
So what are you waiting for? This excellent game is only 800 Wii points, that's a measly $8. If you have a Wii and you can get online with it, you owe it to yourself to download this classic masterpiece.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Ys Book I & II (US, 08/25/08)
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