I’ve waited too long to play this game. It is sold bundled with Ys I and yet, while I played that one months ago, Ys II sat on my digital shelf collecting virtual dust for a long time before I brought it out. I honestly can not give a good reason for this either aside from other titles got in the way. Still, the time has come and Ys II is now complete. So how was it? Did it improve anything over the original? Absolutely. Come have a read.
Story: Ys II starts literally at the moment Ys I ended. As a result, Adol finds himself regaining consciousness in an open field of a strange new land with nothing but the 6 books of Ys on him. However, as he wakes up, a young girl named Lilia discovers him laying there. She promptly brings him home where she and her mother take care of him until he is ready to move about on his own.
Of course for any adventurer, such strange happenings need an explanation. And bewildered that he has no idea where he is, the family reveals to Adol that he is now on the floating island of Ys, the mystical land he has heard so much about during is adventures on the main land in the first game. And yet, exploration of this magical place will have to wait a little bit, for the poor girl who just rescued him is not well, and Adol was asked to deliver a letter to the local doctor so he could help her out, and give him an excuse to explore the town he now finds himself in.
And with that opening, it’s go-time to begin exploring, though the game has all the subtleties you would expect from a game pioneering the adventure/RPG hybrid style of gaming back in the 1980s. While exploring the village, you will come across two key events, one with the town elder who seeing the 6 books of Ys decides he is the chosen hero predicted of old and that he should deliver these books to the shrines of the 6 priests who wrote them, and the other will be the doctor’s office where you will find out the doctor is missing and hasn’t been seen since he went to some nearby mines to get herbs for his medicines for the town.
The first of these starts the main story of the entire game where Adol will spend his time following the path fate left him when he wound up on Ys, and this is actually surprisingly well paced, ESPECIALLY for when the game came out. You will find yourself given your current goal and as you complete it, small hints to the larger one at hand. When you finish what you are doing, the game will reveal the next step so you can proceed and continue the main story. This story is very linear and impossible to stray from, but it will serve as a guide and with a little bit of background to keep you informed of the big picture as you play.
The latter story is a perfect example of the smaller arcs that make up the individual quests you will have to complete on your way. The mines you are being asked to rescue the doctor from happen to be the same place the shines of the priests are at, keeping pace with the main plot, and forcing you to explore and find other things you will need throughout your adventure. This is real reason every “side-quest” in this game happens, and really, it needs to be in quotations since none of these are optional. They are very entwined with the main story, making for a very well written plot, but an exceptionally linear one.
Graphics: If you read my review of Ys I, you already have a good idea of what to expect graphically from Ys II. All the options from before remain intact graphically, including your ability to choose if you want to use a lower resolution version that takes up the whole screen (as the PSP did), or a traditional version that shows more of the game at once, but does so using 2/3rds of the screen (resulting in what looks like a high-resolution PSX game), leaving the rest for your health and the like. Once again in either case the graphics are very colorful, clean-looking, with a slightly chibi-art style look to the sprites that was so popular in RPGs for PSX since, again, that remake is the basis on which this one was made.
In short, do not expect any miracle leaps forward between Ys I and Ys II graphically. They were clearly made to go together. But that does not take away anything from the look of this game.
Sound: Just like in the graphics department, Ys II is a lot like Ys I again. You will have some basic sound effects that do the job of letting you hear impacts and swings of your (or the monsters) sword. But they are nothing to write home about, and there is absolutely no voice acting, which is a shame considering this has been done in other versions of the game.
Instead what you will have to focus on is the music, which is actually very varied. Each area you visit will have it’s own tune, and some will even change based on what part of the story you are at when you get there! Action intense and urgent parts are drowning in metal rifts that just fill the game with an energy you can feel as you play, while more somber moments tone it down with classical violin work… and anticipation is often amplified by the fact that the music died off entirely. This game understands the timing very well. It’s just a shame to see nothing else going for it.
Gameplay: Ys II is a top-down action RPG, much like the original. You will spend most of the game either running around towns to find out what to do next/spend your cash to buy upgraded gear or running around dungeons slashing everything you see to pieces. However, unlike graphics or sound, Ys II has had some significant overhauls in gameplay compared to the first game, and most of the changes only make this a better game.
In town, you will once again talk to people by bumping into them. This can be very annoying at times if you want to get back into the fight since it’s easy to accidently do this. In addition there are a lot of places in town now where doors open to let you in, resulting in you running into them for a moment before getting in. This shouldn’t be much of an issue, but a slight angle on your analog stick could mean the difference of getting in, or basically playing this game’s version of “ding dong dash” on the poor townsfolk you actually meant to visit.
You will have a handful of these towns to explore as you play and will never be stopped from going back to them until the very end of the game, which is useful since the first one seems to be the only place where you can buy herbs (a descent healing item and possibly the best in the game because you can carry 3 of them instead of 1), which you will want when you face off with bosses. This is a big change from the original Ys where at about the half-way point, town was locked away from you as you marched into the Tower of Darm, and one that much improves the overall experience to be had here.
In combat, you will once again use a bump system in which you do not actually hit “attack” to attack, but run into your enemies. The angle at which you do so vs the angle at which the monsters face you determines if you hit or even if the monster hits you, but this system has changed this time around, both for better and worse. To get it out of the way, the bump system has been dumbed down. In Ys I, there was a feel of dogfighting against the monster to get the better angle and return from battle triumphant. However this time around the angle of the monster only seems to matter if you mess up. As long as you are coming at them from a diagonal direction, nothing you are attacking can really hit back.
To counter this you now have monsters that can both swing a weapon and hit you BEFORE you reach them as well as shoot at you, making your ability to maneuver and time your attacks a bit more important. As you fight, you must be ready to retreat or outflank your target while keeping in mind they may well not be the only one on the battlefield gunning for you.
And finally, early on in the game you will find yourself with a shooting weapon as well: the ability to cast a fire spell. This is only 1 of 6 spells you will have before the game is over, but it’s also the only one that acts as a weapon. And while this is not necessary, or even really recommended for speed purposes against most monsters, you will find it a required way to fight against bosses as well as a good introduction to the most direct change to how Adol himself plays vs the previous game.
Your magic meter takes the form of a blue bar below your health, and it has two layers: a bright blue and a dark blue one under it. For most spells, they will move at the same pace, but the difference is used to control how fast you can use the fire spell. When you shoot, the bright blue bar will reduce quickly and when it’s out, you have to stop. But it will after a second begin quickly building up to the length of the dark blue bar bringing your ability to shoot back to normal. The only catch to this is that enough fireballs will slowly erode your total spell power, too.
Getting this back is exceptionally easy, as there is an item you can get for free if you need it (the roda fruit) that in one specific town grows back. Use it in battle and you have full magic again. Or you can rest in a town, get patched up by the nurse, talk to a priest’s statue, or visit the goddesses of Ys (later in the game). The game is very easy about letting you get back your spell power, and if you manage to run out, I honestly cant comprehend how without trying to.
Another and welcome change this time around is the leveling system. In the original Ys, you could only get to level 10 at which point, you were at max. This would not be a huge issue if the game was designed so that you would max out at most a boss or two before the end of the game, but instead Ys I maxed your level at about the half-way point. It was like the game developers at Falcom had decided to try making an action RPG and halfway through the game had changed their mind and went for a straight up Zelda clone. Ys II, thankfully, does away with that nonsense, making the maximum level well about 50, and with a game design that keeps the player leveling up as they play right up through the end. I believe I finished the game at level 52, which I got from XP for beating the final boss. This is a major flaw in game design that has been rectified by a game’s sequel.
Another is the complete uselessness of healing items. While you still can not change what you have equipped once you enter a boss fight, you can use ANYTHING you have currently equipped while in this fight. If you equipped herbs, you can hammer that as you need to win. If you have your healing cloak on and can manage to stand still long enough for it to work (good luck) it will work! And while you cant change your gear mid-fight, you are very able to change your mind and leave the fight to change what you have equipped and try again. Overall, this game goes out of it’s way to let you bring in items for strategy, but not screw you if you were an idiot and picked the wrong one.
Bugs: While overall, this game ran about as smooth as I could expect, there are two bugs I ran into that I must discuss. One has no real effect besides to possibly annoy you (or make you laugh, humor and moment dependent) for a second, but the other is a lot more serious. Lets get the serious one out of the way:
- Analog Stick doesn’t work: I'm pretty sure jaws just dropped as they read that, but it’s true. When you first install Ys II, plug in a 360 controller to your PC and start it up, you will get zero response from the analog stick you would expect to use to move around. This is a very obvious problem and one I should not have to explain the seriousness of, or how many people noticed. However, there is also an exceptionally easy fix while the developers work on the problem:
- In your Library right click on Ys II and select properties.
- Select the BETAS tab and select to opt into “oldinputcode”
- Let the game download the patch. This will download the previous version for input they had patched the game from, which will restore full 360 controller support.
- I think there’s a cat stuck in the door! This is more an odd bug that is kinda funny and kinda annoying, but sometimes when entering or leaving a house with a cat in it, the meow sound effect would “stick” to the door, resulting in at worst an extra tone when shutting a door, but at funniest when it worked itself out, causing the door to meow after it shut.
Overall: Ys II is basically the game I wish Ys I was. The original was a classic title and made it obvious to see why, but it also made mistakes that could never be overlooked and prevented the game from being possibly one of the best of it’s time. Ys II seems to have been made to fix that, and is overall a much better game because of it.