Old-school RPG aficionados are sure to remember Nihon Falcom’s original Ys Books, but unless you were an avid fan of the genre these classics may be entirely foreign to you. Fan-favorite publisher Atlus has finally released what they are dubbing the definitive collection of the series for the Nintendo DS complete with soundtrack. Granted you can find the games on the Wii’s virtual console this is the first time the complete translation has been available for Western audiences. Complete with some DS-specific controls and a few other additives this collection is great for fans of the original, but if you are seeking out the next breakthrough RPG you will likely come away from this title unfulfilled.
The Ys story takes place in a conventional setting complete with wizards and knights. The name Ys is derived from the name of the civilization found in the game that existed some 700 years ago and was known for their advanced science and magic. You begin the game as Adol Christin, a swordsman who is determined to reach the island of Esteria. Along the way he runs into a bit of trouble and his ship crashes onto the cursed land and he is nursed back to health by the natives. Once back on his feet he vows to rid the land of the curse and restore peace. This is nothing short of your typical RPG lore, but it is written well enough to hold your interest throughout the duration of the game.
As I mentioned there are some new additions to the DS version including some newly drawn character sprites. The game is designed from a top-down perspective much like the original Zelda titles. There are even some new 3D backgrounds to keep the title feeling more modern as opposed to entirely retro, but you can still absorb the sense of classic look and feel. Everything in the game is littered with text to help progress the story and accompanied by brand new illustrations that help bring these classic characters to life. The music has also been redone (hence the included soundtrack) and includes some upbeat tempos that really set the mood for most of the game. Overall the upgraded look and feel work surprisingly well for such an older title.
In addition to a graphical upgrade the DS rendition of Ys Book I and II also includes some touch screen-specific controls that add a new dimension to the game. Instead of navigating Adol around the screen in the traditional sense, you simply point to where you want him to go with the stylus. This also switches the screens so it will take some time to adjust to the new perspective. You can attack enemies in this mode by simply leading your protagonist into them as he slashes automatically, but there are benefits to planning your attack as opposed to simply trying to tap your way to victory. Running directly into an enemy head on will also damage your character so it is sometimes wise to take a more subtle approach to encountering enemies.
Much like any other classic RPG though there are ways to exploit the system. Leveling up your character is as easy as finding an easily extinguishable enemy and simply remaining in the vicinity until you re-activate the tile where he spawns. Enemies always spawn in the same place so finding a virtual experience pot is not a challenging endeavor. However, since these games were initially intended to be released together they do combine their efforts for one seamless experience.
Finishing the first Ys Book will take you roughly 2-3 hours depending on how much time you spend leveling up, and for the most part isn’t the most challenging RPG you will ever play. Once you enter the second chapter though things increase significantly as almost everything is double. Your level cap is raised, enemies become tougher and puzzles offer more of a challenge. It almost feels like Ys Book I was meant to be the tutorial to the second book.
Not everything in these classic RPGs will tickle your fancy though, and some of the conventional methods of game play will make you appreciate how far the genre has come. For example fetch quests rear their ugly head early on in the second book and become a trend to seemingly extend the experience. Bosses also have peculiar patterns that require your character to be at a specific level, so there are often times you will find yourself trekking back out into the world to power level your character before being able to advance. Items are probably the biggest culprit of terror though as gauging their abilities and strengths is impossible making you guess which sword is more powerful than the next. This collection of trial and error will begin to wear on your nerves, but if you came in expecting the classic style you can likely look past it for the experience.
The most important thing to remember about all of this though is that this collection was intended for the fans. Much like Atlus’ other efforts delivering this title the way it was intended in the beginning is likely an event for fans of the original games. Bringing them stateside was a major accomplishment and the added bonuses are simply icing on the cake. If you consider yourself an RPG aficionado and have longed for the definitive collection of the Ys Books look no further. With an included soundtrack and some revamped features this is easily the best iteration of the collection to date, and certainly worth checking out for fans.