Ys I & II Chronicles+ review
Despite not being as well known as other RPG franchises such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior, the Ys series has seen a steady stream of releases as of late. Most recently is Ys I & II Chronicles+ for the PC via Steam, which itself is a two year old port of a PSP port of a compilation of the first two games dating back as far as 1989. Now that the first entries in the series are on a more accessible platform, are they worth checking out or have the title grown too old to hide their wrinkles?
Both Ys I & II star Adol Christin and follow his quest to save the world; in the first game in the world of Esteria by collecting the books of Ys and in the second game in the land of Ys itself from the threat of demons. The story is directly connected in the two games, but is your typical RPG faire. You are the only one who can help the denizens of this world, and you will travel from town to town to gain more information and in the process, become stronger. In all fairness, this wasn’t the same story we’ve heard time and again back when these games were originally released but nonetheless they are now.
The plot basis may be generic but how it is told can keep it interesting. However, the quality of both game’s story, despite being directly connected, is quite contrasting. In the first game, the story is almost like an afterthought, with hardly any of the characters in the game (including yourself) getting any development, making them feel more like plot devices rather than characters. The second game however gives you numerous developed characters, with even minor characters given some kind of personality. You care when one character is kidnapped or another is killed despite your best efforts to save them. Some are better developed than others and they may not be complex characters but they are there and the plot in the second game is better for it.
However, despite saving the world being the narrative push of the games, Ys never manages to feel as big and epic as it means to. This is due to there being only three towns in each game. This means that you’ll be going back and forth between many of these towns and visit dungeons numerous times, making the epicness of your quest diminished as a result. Even though the end of Ys II is presented to you as a culmination of all you’ve done in the two games, it doesn’t feel as such.
Though not normally the highlight of RPGs, I’m hard pressed to say that combat is the strongest aspect of the two games, despite knowing that it will turn off a lot of players. Both Ys I & II are 2D top down action RPGs with combat being done in real time and you earning experience and gold in the process. However, there is no attack button. Adol will automatically attack when you walk into your enemies. Normal enemies attack this way as well so in order to avoid getting damaged yourself, players need to attack from an angle or from behind instead of head-on. Magic (only in the second game) is equipped like a piece of armor and activated by pressing a button.
No other game that I can think of plays this way and needless to say, it is quite hard to get used to. However, as the game goes on, you’ll get used to it and not only does it become second nature, you’ll begin to enjoy this method of attack. It makes grinding to level up – which there is a lot of – faster and fun. I’ll admit that there’s not much to the combat so if you don’t like simple mechanics in your RPGs, this isn’t the game for you. Still, there’s a place for something like this and I can imagine this appealing to gamers unfamiliar with RPGs.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the boss fights, again the two games are quite different in quality. In the first game, there’s no strategy to any of the boss fights. Just be stronger than they are. In theory, you could level up to the max level of 10 early and go through the game without that much issue. In the second game, you need actual tactics to beat the bosses in the game. Leveling is important as well but it isn’t as crucial as in the first game. I actually completed the game without leveling up to the max level of 55 because I had a strategy going into the final boss fight. To be fair, he was disappointingly easy but that was because of me having a game plan.
Outside of combat, you’ll go through the typical fair of talking to people walking around in each town, and spending gold in shops for items and stronger armor and weapons. However, there are no side quests in either Ys I or II. You only work towards the main plot and because of this, both games are not a long affair. I neglected to keep track of each game’s playthrough but it took me a day to finish Ys I and about five days to beat Ys II. There is a time attack mode and leaderboards to keep you playing – and that is the extend of the reason why the game has a plus sign at the end of the title – but that’s about it.
I probably would have finished them sooner but these are not easy games. I encourage everyone who has not played a Ys game before to set the difficulty at Easy. Both Ys I & II are very punishing on the medium difficult and there are also Hard and Very Hard difficulties for those looking for a real challenge. However, neophytes will be happy to know that Easy mode still presents a challenge without being overwhelming or demoralizing.
Aesthetically, both games have the same anime graphical style and there is even an option in the menu to change between two different art styles for some of the graphical cutscenes. Both look great but it appears that they weren’t upscaled to look better in higher resolutions, as there’s noticeable grain. Similar to the art styles, there are three different soundtracks to choose from, including the original release’s soundtrack. The soundtrack comprises of songs that make use of choirs and string instruments, as well as metal tracks. The choir songs are nice to hear while I tended to turn down the volume during the metal tracks. This will ultimately be a matter of preference, but the choir songs are better implemented than the metal tracks.
I sort of wish these two games were available separately. Because while I can’t really recommend Ys I to anyone, I can recommend Ys II to fans of old school RPGs. For what it’s worth, despite being not a strong entry in the franchise due to the disparaging difference in quality between the two, it is the perfect place for the uninitiated to begin. However, as is, this is only for fans of the series and others can just pass on this game. I personally am curious about this series now and I suppose that says something for this compilation but I know I’ll not be coming back to Ys I & II Chronicles+ probably ever.