Purity of Bumping
This review applies to both first
installments of the Ys
series. These two games are very close to each other and are often compiled into one, like in this version.Ys
is a phenomenon in the world of role-playing games. Falcom
created more than just an action RPG when it released the first game back in 1987 for Japanese computers. Ys
defined most of the conventions of the genre and helped propel the Japanese industry above their Western rivals. If Western templates of turn-based RPGs were diligently studied by Japanese developers before they could come up with something of their own, Falcom's action RPGs were way ahead of anything released in the West for years to come. Dragon Slayer
and its follow-ups were still too rudimentary and unfocused; it was Ys
that first provided robust mechanics and gameplay flow that worked on all levels. Ys
is the longest-running action RPG series in history. Its installments enjoy immense popularity in its homeland as well as in other Asian countries; Ys
is big in Korea, Taiwan, and mainland China. And yet in the West the series is only known to a fraction of gaming community, surviving mostly on fan translations and occasional odd releases.
It's hard to say why exactly it turned out this way. I first assumed that Western players were used to more sophisticated games, but then remembered the craze following the release of the mind-numbing Diablo
and its clones. To me, Ys
is what Diablo
could have been if it had personality and charm. Instead of depressing journeys through randomized environments and mindless number-crunching you have elegant simplicity in a vivid, appealing medieval anime-esque world.Ys
is extremely simple. In fact, it makes simplicity a rule: it canonized "bumping" combat, where enemies are defeated simply by moving against them. Ys
is RPG mechanics reduced to an absolutely minimum; it is like a template for RPGs, with a system so basic that it becomes almost automatized. Why is this a good thing? Because the simplicity of Ys
instantly sped up a lot of routines that were nigh unbearable back then. It streamlined RPG gameplay in such a way that its most tedious elements were eliminated.
Tired of drawn-out turn-based battles? No desire to go through the same menu commands over and over again? Think the whole thing moves way too slowly? Ys
is the ultimate solution. It is mind-bogglingly fast. The speed is almost arcade-like, and the limited interaction makes it feel like a radically simplified real-time strategy game. You move your character around and try not to get him killed while watching the experience bar grow. A few minutes are gone, and you are several levels up. Ys
invented the kind of casual, mindless approach to role-playing that is extremely popular today. The big difference is that for its time these mechanics were new and progressive, while now they stand in the way of RPG development.
Don't think, however, that there is only primitive bumping in this game and nothing else. Weapon and armor management, all sorts of cool items (such as attribute-increasing rings), and magic in the second game add a reasonable degree of complexity. Above all, the gameplay of Ys
is superbly balanced. There is a constant feeling of growth, and you keep getting rewarded for your hard work. There are RPGs that capture this essential mechanic, and there are others that don't. Ys
is a prime example of a RPG that does all those basic things right. It is an enjoyment unobstructed by bad pacing or useless gizmos.
There is a lot of charm in the game's simplicity; its visuals and story complement it. Ys
combines European-inspired medieval fantasy with anime aesthetics in such a way that both styles pervade it without contradicting each other. Having a heart-to-heart talk with a blue-haired villager or hacking your way through foreboding temple corridors is almost equally refreshing. Ys
did away with boring high fantasy scenarios most Japanese games before it were set in. Together with Phantasy Star
, it opened a new age of truly Japanese RPGs. Its story manages to captivate despite its utmost simplicity. The player's imagination fills in the blanks without needing complex psychological twists or pseudo-metaphysical nonsense. Ys
is known for its many versions and remakes. The first game was reincarnated with realistic graphics
, while the second one got an obscure Korean
update. For many years, this TurboGrafx CD version remained the definitive one, thanks to its redbook audio, voices, and English translation combined together. With Ys Complete
, however, these classic games reached new heights. It is hard to decide which version is better; but if you want to experience the game the way it was initially conceived, with enhancements that leave the core completely intact, this release is the best of all.
is so simple that it might not appeal at all to certain types of players. I hope I emphasized enough in this review that the distinction between Ys
and today's casual games lie in the historical significance of the first. Ys
introduced something that was fresh and unique in its day. Today's casual RPGs deliberately simplify mechanics that were deepened and perfected over the time. However, it cannot be denied that even for late eighties Ys
was a very simple game that demanded next to no effort from the player. It had little to do with real role-playing and boiled down to basic grinding that unfortunately continues to live on in today's online RPGs.
The bumping combat of Ys
is a coin with two sides. Its addictive plug-and-play simplicity makes it hard to put the game down, but it diminishes the action factor. There is almost no skill involved here. If you are sufficiently leveled then walking into an enemy will guarantee a victory. Since there is no separate button for attacking, the battles are nearly automatized, and you rely on grinding more than on your proficiency in action combat.
Both games are primarily dungeon crawlers, and particularly the first one takes this designation a bit too seriously. There are a few inhabited areas, but the bulk of the game takes place in twisted mazes that require a lot of patience to traverse. The first Ys
ends with a monstrous dungeon that occupies about a half of the entire playing time. Otherwise the first game is over a bit too quickly; when playing both in succession, you'll be closer to a regularly epic RPG experience.
The Bottom LineYs
is an important historical milestone and one of the true classics of the action RPG genre. It also clearly demonstrates how simplicity can be a good thing. This is distilled action role-playing, free of excessive menu management, gimmicks, event-triggering and unskippable cutscenes. Just spend your hard-earned cash on better gear, go into a dungeon to hack some monsters, and let no doubts stand in your way.