Sometimes, you just need to look back on the history of gaming to see what you may have missed as a kid playing only the games you knew about. This is one of those games I missed and you most likely did as well. But having found later entries in the series striking my interest, a relaunch of the original title struck me as a great place to begin playing with the series. So how was the start? Not perfect, but not bad. Come see for yourself.
Story: Adol was on his way… somewhere. Where exactly is not important. What is, is that he never made it. Whatever happened at sea left him stranded and shipwrecked on the shores of Esteria. Here he was found by the head of the local guard’s guild and brought to the town doctor. With no explanation beyond this, Adol heals up and, as any borne adventurer stuck in an unfamiliar land will do, wants to go adventuring! Time to explore the world, face off with the monsters plaguing the land, and stumble into a quest the results of which will decide the fate of the world!
And what is that quest? To find the 6 mythical books of Ys, who’s content can save the lands from the demons running amok as they pour out of Darm Tower. Can you do it? Can you gather the books and the secrets within to save the world from darkness?
While the game will throw you a few more details as you play, it is an RPG from the late 80s. Once you have this main quest, you will find everything leading you to it with no real twists or turns for the most part. Just a direction to go which will lead you to the next book, returning to a specific person (usually in town) and that person giving you the place you are to go next… rinse and repeat. And yet the detail with which these clues are given are exceptional, especially for the time. Yes, this makes the story very linear and single-tracked. But at the same time, these details make the track worth following and interesting. It will not wow you, but for the most part, the story has aged well enough to satisfy you. My only complaint is that the story does not appear to be finished at the end of the game, but at the same time, Ys I and II are sold together (and in fact have been since the Turbografx 16 CD edition of the game), I can not get as upset about this as I would when this happens in most cases.
Graphics: Ys I is an odd hybrid-port of two previous editions of the game… the 2001 PSX edition and the 2009 PSP edition. To this end you will have something that looks like a high-res version of a a PSX-era game graphically, complete with 2D sprites and worlds with the detail and style popular in the day, giving it a very retro feel. And between the fairly simplified sprites on the map and absolutely beautiful anime-esque artwork for NPCs and cutscenes, this bright and colorful look will make the game a joy to behold.
But this game takes a rather unique spin in how it chooses to display itself. In almost every aspect, the game will let you choose if you want the interface from the PSX or the PSP edition of the game… choosing a more detailed or a prettier set of pictures for the artwork the game uses around NPCs as well as if you want to use the classic standard TV-style like the PSX version had or the full screen display like the PSP.
Sadly, there is no perfect answer here, for the PSX style will show you more of the screen at higher resolution, but it will do so using about 2/3rds of screen leaving the rest for border-art and huge health bars (one for you, one for the current enemy you are fighting). The PSP style, on the other hand, will use your full screen and overlay the UI into the corners. However, this mode will also restrict the resolution it uses in game to the same one the PSP screen was limited to. As a result, everything is magnified, including the pixel size. And the screen will have to scroll to cover what fits when using the PSX interface.
You get your choice, but sadly there no selection that gives you everything the game has to offer and that is a real shame.
Sound: Sound behaves much like the graphics do in this game. While playing you will get to choose whether you want the music as it was heard on PSX or on PSP. Personally, I stuck with the PSP version. As a result I was treated to some fairly standard, but cd-quality hair metal playing through most of the background. And while this is not the normal music you would expect for an adventure game based in a fantasy world, it should be. The combination fits together perfectly, as anyone who is into bands like Man-O-War and Hammerfall would expect. Sadly, however the selection of music used seems fairly limited, so you can’t necessarily expect anything new when you get to a new dungeon. But enjoy. It simply sounds great.
Sound effects, on the other hand, are not going to stand out for any reason what-so-ever. Basically, you have a few sounds for hitting things and selecting items in your inventory and little else. This game is not voice acted at all, which is a shame since there have been versions that are since the 16-bit era. But the need for sound effects are exceptionally low. On the plus side, however, this does leave the music to take a much prominent place in the sound work.
Gameplay: Ys I at it’s heart is a dungeon crawling adventure game. You will run around the world from a birds-eye-view as you travel from town to town, all the while fighting monsters and talking to people you come across during your adventure… but you will not do so with a button press as one would expect. This game eschews that standard control for a “bump” system. In order to talk to an NPC or attack a monster, you simply run into them. And while this sounds stupid and in fact can be annoying in towns from time to time, it’s a surprisingly deep way to handle combat. The success of your attack and the odds of being hit yourself depends entirely on the angle you and your target hit each other at, making every battle feel like a dogfight to get the better position on your opponent. As counter-intuitive as it is, removing the attack button actually makes combat better for the most part.
Nor is this the only adjustment to the adventure formula. To make the game more like an RPG, there is a leveling mechanic available to you. Sadly, this functionality is not as well made as it could be, however. By design, you will have reached your max level at about the half-way point of the game. And while the leveling system was a good idea, it should have been extended to the full game, especially as it gets treated as such a core mechanic for that first half.
In addition to leveling, you also gain and equip various items, weapons, armor, and rings you will find and buy. While all of these items generally offer either an updated stat or bonus power, most of your weapons and armors are buyable in town. And those that are not generally will be required for specific parts in the game, and it will be up to you to find the clues to figure it out. Rings, on the other hand are generally found and with the exception of one, completely optional. However, these are also not usable on bosses, which makes for a fairly questionable design choice.
In fact, boss fights seem to be the place most of the questionable choices make themselves known. When you reach a boss fight, your equipped item and your ring mean nothing… which means of course the standard tactic of saving your health potion for bosses is useless, and pretty much renders the item useless, as you will find a ring that lets you heal when you stand still in dungeons fairly early on.
Bugs: Overall this game ran without an issue, but there is one serious bug that I can not ignore. There is actually a speed bug hidden in the game. When you play this game at different resolutions, everything’s movement scales as they should… except you. Your movement doesn’t change the amount of pixels you move across on the screen itself, resulting in you being forced to move slower then you should be. In essence, the higher the resolution you play at, the slower in comparison you will move. Thankfully, this is not a huge slowdown, so most of the time you are likely not to notice, but if you find yourself up against a boss that seems obnoxiously unfair, this could be part of your reason. Solving it is simple, if annoying, though. For the part giving you trouble, set the game to run in windowed mode at it’s lowest setting (640x480). I personally had to do this only with the last boss, and in fact only realized it was a bug when looking for help on it.
Overall: Ys I is regarded as a classic retro game by most who have been able to play it. And it earns this title with ease. However, due to the game’s most common versions being on systems that didn’t really make it in the US, it is also a lost classic… but a flawed one. There is a lot of good to be had here, but some baffling decisions hold it back from being one of the best classic games you have never had the chance to play.
out of 10