Ys I & II Chronicles+ is a compilation and remake of the first two Ys games from the late 1980s: Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished: Omen and Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished: The Final Chapter. Back in their day, these games were among the first Japanese Action RPGs on the market, and were very innovative in their time. While some of the conventions that this game uses have not stood the test of time, they are still a blast to play, and are preserved and enhanced in this compilation, warts and all.
After recently being introduced to the Ys series through the excellent Memories of Celceta, I quickly discovered that this series was also on Steam. And, with the recent Winter sale, I snapped them up as soon as I could. This series has struck a chord with me, like few others have. I may have trouble restraining myself from playing each game, one after another.
These games have a nostalgic feel, with graphics harkening back to earlier days, with pixel based sprites and backgrounds. They are all very colorful, with bright, high contrast colors used throughout. There is also a whole lot of detail, despite the relatively low resolution. Pixels are visible on the screen, with filtering options available if you prefer blur over pixels. The game is played from a 2D overhead view, similar to classic games like Zelda or Secret of Mana. The music is another topic; while the option for nostalgia is there with two different choices for either the original PC-88 music or the later synth tracks, in my opinion, it's the latest remake of the music, from the Chronicles release, that really takes the cake, but more on that later.
What is truly unique (and classic) about this game is the gameplay. Like most games of that era, and even today, if an enemy hits you, you take damage. But why not turn that around? Why can't you hurt an enemy by touching them, too? Well, that's what forms the basis of Ys I & II combat: the bump system. If you hit an enemy directly head on, you both take damage. If you hit an enemy off center, it counts as a hit on them, and you don't get a hit in return. Hitting an enemy from an angle, or from behind, can also work well, as long as they don't turn towards you for the next hit.
While the bump system may seem strange, and in a sense it is, it lends itself to some really fast-paced gameplay. And our hero, Adol Christin, known for his bright red hair, runs really, really, fast. As you run from enemy to enemy, you end up building a really satisfying rhythm as you decimate one monster after another. Grinding becomes fun, and leveling can be very rewarding, too, as gaining just a few (or even one!) can make a huge difference in those fabulous boss battles.
Now the boss battles; those feel decidedly oldschool. First of all, these can be really tough, especially if you don't like to move around much. Each one of them has a pattern and weak points that you have to discover, memorize, and defeat. And you have to dance around the screen to defeat these guys – and it can be very satisfying when you do finally defeat them.
While I often find oldschool game mechanics a boon that adds to their charm, and this game is no exception, these games also aren't really modernized in other ways, too. For example, puzzles are sometimes only solvable if you remember a hint given 30+ minutes earlier by a NPC. The last boss in Ys I is similar. In one part in Ys I, you use a hammer in a certain spot to continue... and no real clues are given as to where that place is. So, given the 'dark side' of oldschool gaming is also present here along with the good, consider keeping a walkthrough handy. I found Ys II much less walkthrough dependent, though there were still a few spots where I could see many gamers getting stuck without one.
Ys I is the shorter and less deep of the two games. The first half of the game has you exploring a bit, helping people out, and fighting monsters. Once you have saved everyone and are fully prepared, you get to go into Darm tower, which, after entering, you cannot exit. You then ascend 26 levels of this tower, until finally defeating the last boss. The adventure in Ys II takes place right where Ys I leaves off.
The bosses in Ys I are not so simple, however. They are generally much, much harder than those in Ys II, though sometimes those deaths can feel cheap rather than deserved. I found the first boss very annoying, though thankfully, you can level up some and make him much easier. Two later bosses, the third and the last, are quite difficult. The third is very hard, but once you figure out the pattern, with enough skill, you can feel like you earned the win. The last boss, well, he is just cheap. I retried, probably at least twenty times, until I got lucky and finally beat him.
Ys II still has the bump system, but it is also augmented with magic that you find throughout your adventure. This, along with a much larger and more fleshed out tale, leads to a much more fulfilling adventure. The bosses are not cheap, but still require skill to beat, and the bump system has been adjusted so that diagonal approaches will almost always succeed. Since you gain the fire magic spell fairly early in your adventure, some boss battles feel more like classic shooter gameplay as you dodge your opponent and his shots, then place well timed shots into his weak points for the win.
The leveling system has also been improved. In Ys I, there are only 10 levels – each level is a huge jump in power, defense, and HP. You are typically max level about half way through the game. The rest of the game is all skill, not leveling, to succeed. In Ys II, the max level is 55, and as a result, it much more rewarding. The last boss does not require you to be max level either, so if you are, it only makes it easier, like most games.
The story in Ys is actually very interesting, and does a great job building between the two games. These games must be played in order, and thankfully, are sold as a pair these days. I beat Ys I in around ten hours, and Ys II in around fifteen. I played on normal difficulty. Many say that these games deserve a run through on nightmare; I can see their point. Playing through, it is clear that these games are meant for those who really want a challenge, and they can provide it. After beating the game on any difficulty level, there is a time attack mode unlocked, which puts you up against each boss in a row through to the last. The tricky part is that the game predetermines your level and equipment; you don't get the luxury of overleveling here. I was quickly reminded of how challenging some of these bosses are.
But really, in my mind Ys games are about two things: gameplay, and the music. I think I already went into sufficient detail about how and why the games are so much fun: challenging gameplay, interesting and fast paced combat system, and exciting bosses. But I only hinted at the incredible music that these games bring along.
I have always found that game music is an interesting thing; it can make an average game amazing and a great game downright annoying. It can set the mood for increased emotional impact, or it can make a seemingly serious scene into a joke. I find that if I don't like a game's music, I rarely enjoy the game – it's that simple.
Ys games, like many Falcom games, are composed and performed by their in-house rock band, called Falcom Sound Team jdk. This game, like I mentioned before, has three different versions of the in game music. The original PC-88 sound from the late 1980s, the Complete version from 2001, which is enhanced MIDI, and the Chronicles version from 2009 performed by their band. All I have to say is that I left it at Chronicles – and was absolutely blown away. While some of the themes are very well done orchestrations with violins, harps, flutes, pianos, and other orchestral and symphonic instruments, many of the battle and action tracks are full blown electric guitar, drums, and the works. I heard it described as 'power rock' and I think that fits perfectly. These are serious jams that I have been listening to outside of the game via the .ogg files included in the game install directory. They also have much of their music on iTunes and on Amazon for MP3 download (and CDs, though those can be pricey, sadly). If I could give this game a 15/10 in Sound/Music I would.
One thing that really stuck out (outside of the music) while playing Ys I, but especially Ys II, is the care and attention to detail given to the NPCs. For example, in Ys II, in your quest you gain an item that transforms you into a Roo, which is a cute little magical creature. These creatures can talk to monsters/demons, and can understand their speech. What is remarkable is that every single enemy in the entire game – and there are a whole lot of them – each has their own line that they can say when spoken to while in Roo form. And if that wasn't enough, what they have to say can change based on what has happened. One of the really neat and fun parts of the last area is how you have to talk to these enemies to gain clues on what to do next, gain passwords to get to restricted areas, and more. It was really fun discovering a whole other side to these creatures – and then switching back to human form and slicing them to bits. There is no remorse shown by your character when you do this, as demons are considered evil despite having a personality. Interestingly, there is a side character that explains why this is so. It's a neat story element the way it's handled.
Other than the aforementioned slaying of lots of demons in quick succession, there are other things to be aware of. By default, the game will show blood and 'gibs' of enemies when they are defeated. You can turn off the blood stains, but not the gibs. In Ys I, there are several NPCs in pubs who desire to share with you their chosen alcoholic beverage. One comments on how you are underage to do so. There are also clearly drunk characters. One guy is at the pub when his boss is expecting him to be working.
When it comes to sexual content, there are a few things to be aware of. When it comes to nudity itself, there is one cut scene depicting two nude goddesses with no features (no nipples, etc.). The menu screen for Ys I shows a nude woman (belly button up) holding a large black globe, which covers up the important parts. There is also a female blacksmith who wears bikini armor on the job, apparently. She, and several other females, speak in subtle (and sometimes less subtle) innuendo. A few girls clearly have a crush (or more) on Adol. From what I understand, later games make jokes about the fact that he has girls falling all over him, but his only lady is adventure. Others sometimes make comments (and jokes) about some of those possible relationships. Several bits of dialogue made me laugh, but not all of them are appropriate for younger minds.
Other humorous (but not always appropriate) dialog includes a few easter eggs you can unlock. One of them is simply that you can cast the fire spell on NPCs, to hilarious results. Some comments include 'Am I to be a sacrifice to the fire in your heart?', 'Yeow! Some like it hot, but I do NOT!', 'Ooh, it burns so goood!', and 'Help! Help! My a*s is aflame!'. If I were to list out all of the witty dialog, I probably could go on for half a page.
Another oddly funny (but totally inappropriate) easter egg, that honestly would be almost impossible to find if not for FAQs, is this: during each game, you have a temporary escort mission, where you have to take someone back to safety. If you back this NPC into a certain corner, you can get their 'measurements'. While it may not be obvious what is meant, it becomes more clear as their height, waist, hip, and bust size are displayed for you next to their character name. The victims also make some comment about you crowding them out, acting creepy, or some such thing. And to top it all off, you get a Steam achievement for it. I am sure it's meant to be funny, and it is, but it's also more than a little bit 'pervy'. From an adult point of view it may be something to laugh off, but I would definitely not want to have to explain what is happening to children. While some of the irreverence in these games are part of their charm, it's also not all appropriate for everyone.
As already hinted at, there are some curse words spoken, though not particularly often. A*s, b*stard, d*mn, jacka*s, and h*ll are spoken in dialog. There are also goddesses in this game that everyone looks up to, though honestly, they seem more like angels, as while they do have great powers, they do not seem omniscient or all powerful. They do have limits. Interestingly, demons (the monster enemies around you) and magic are linked, and that link is explored in the story.
Ys I & II: Chronicles+ is a different kind of game then is often produced today, and honestly, it is kind of refreshing. It was a blast to play through these two episodes, and while the playtime is not as extraordinary as some RPG epics can be, it does invite additional playthroughs at higher difficulty levels, and there are online leaderboards for time attack on both Ys I and II. While the graphics may seem safe for younger players, it's really not. But if the content contained within is something you can look past, here is a pair of games that are an absolute blast to play, despite some shortcomings.