When it comes to Action RPGs few have a more interesting history than the Ys series. The first game originally called Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished (good name right? Might as well say the main title twice!) was ported with slight changes numerous times as well as being revamped and released through the years. Just a few of the first ports were Ys: The Vanished Omens on the Sega Master System and The Ancient Land of Ys for classic PCs; even though it was originally for some of those Japanese only gaming PCs like the PC-8801. Ys II aka Ancient Ys Vanished: The Final Chapter got the same treatment being ported to the NEC-PC and the Famicom for example, not as bad as Ys I but still a few with small changes in each one.
But everything really took off when both games got put together as one whole experience, as was essentially originally intended, for the Turbo CD/PC-Engine CD-Rom released as Ys I & II. Better than just being put together, and being one of the first console games on the CD format, both were fully enhanced remakes including enhanced graphics, red book audio and animated cut scenes. Everything being so well put together that many fans of the series still claim that this version is still the definitive.
Despite that both games got remade again and again making appearances on Sega Saturn, DS, PSP and again remade for the PC. If you have any interest in checking out this series you have a slew of options. I seriously suggest Ys I & II Chronicles+ on Steam as it has the retro flair with the modern touches needed to keep it looking sharp. But I am getting way ahead of myself, I probably should tell you a little bit about how the games actually play!
Ys is a very classic style Action-RPG, you explore the landscape (no over worlds or maps) and see every enemy you can fight; there are no random battles here. You see them all coming and fight every small, medium and large enemy in real time, even the bosses. But unlike what became the popular format for later Action/Adventure RPGs with lots of platforming and actually swinging your sword, the first two Ys games stayed in an isometric view and had you bumping into enemies to damage them. You might instantly be reminded of something like Hydlide but never fear this system works very well here, especially with how fast the main character moves. The only thing you don’t want to do is attack enemies straight on, you need to attack slightly off center or from the side, this increases the chance of a solid hit and decreases the chance of them getting a hit in.
Of course like any RPG your level is everything but Ys actually seems to manage your levels right, even if the first game has a very low level cap. While I had to grind for experience a few times, I never really felt like the game was built around it and it was never really a chore. As a bonus any time I really felt like I just couldn’t get past a certain boss or part in the game, stepping back and leveling up once usually took care of the problem. This helps the game feel less like a chore and keeps the action going which is always a good thing.
You’ll of course also have magic and items at your disposal and need to upgrade your sword, armor and shield. You can buy a lot of these items but gamers with a good feel for exploration will find most of everything they need hidden in chests throughout the land. Magic though didn’t show up until the second game and is handled as you might expect, with certain abilities being gained as you find the right magic item and then having a bar of magic points. You can oddly enough only use so much magic at once and then it must recharge, but your total magic points depletes slower and can only be recharged with healing items. Health on the other had can always recharge, except for in dungeons ( and even then if you have a certain item), as long as you remain still. A very unique feature at the time and again helps the game stay at top speed since you are never needing to stop and find health items or travel back and forth to towns to save and heal.
When you’re not traveling through the land and fighting some of the best bosses in gaming you’ll be experiencing a great story. It may not be a completely unique one, especially not now even if it was then, but it is still a great story. You play as Adol Christian a swordsman who suddenly appears on a beach in Esteria after a storm. You’ll soon find yourself in a troubled town, a troubled land and then a troubled world, needing to be its savior. You are the one the Goddesses need and likely summoned to save all of the inhabitant of the land of Ys and must fight the evil that has suddenly returned.
I’d like to tell you all about how great the graphical presentation is as well but there are so many versions, you may get a different result from what ever one you pick up. I will say that if you get the Chronicles or Chronicles+ version you will be treated to some classic pixel based art, some stunning hand drawn cut scenes and wonderful character portraits. The PC version of Chronicles almost feels like the best of both modern and retro presenting everything with those classic pixels with a full HD scaling and shine.
If you’re a fan of video game music, you need to check out the Ys series. The music is fantastic, the PC Engine/Turbo CD or PC versions easily being the best; the songs are in your face and so driving that you feel like you are on an adventure just for sitting in your chair. Heavy rock influences with wailing guitar/guitar sounds and a driving percussion behind that; they are sounds that are almost timeless. I say almost because they feel very 80′s sometimes but that isn’t a bad thing in this sense, they have a classic feel while still remaining very relevant. Even if you don’t want to check out the game as a whole I highly suggest listening to a few tracks if you are a music fan.
There is a lot more to talk about with the Ys series, with 7 entries and many of those having different versions and ports. But start here with Ys I & II and enjoy some of the best classic Action-RPGs around!