This Week in Gaming: Ys Seven

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Chris, Gaming Director:

Hey guys! Your gaming director here for a gaming review (surprise surprise, right?). Originally I wanted to stream my first run of Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim and write a review for it but unfortunately real life got in the way. I also tried to finish/read World End Economica Part 1 for a review since it is apparently pretty short, but again my plans crumbled before my eyes as time slipped away. ;-;

So I’ve decided to review a game I played a year or two ago, because why not? The game in question is Ys Seven.

For those unfamiliar with Ys folklore, Ys (pronounced “ees”) is a series of action RPG games developed by Nihon Falcom Corporation (Falcom) starting all the way back in 1987 on the NEC PC-8801. Since then there have been 7 numbered titles in the series and a whole crapload of remakes. If you thought Square Enix went over the top with all their FF remakes, Falcom has remade the first two Ys games a total of SEVEN times. To be fair though, unlike Squeenix, they have actually done some nice updates and added cool features – such as 3 soundtrack options in the latest remake, as well as graphical options.

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Although primarily developed for PSP/PS Vita these days, since the PSP died in the West a long way back (and with the Vita not doing fantastically either) the amazing folks at Xseed Games who translate/localise the games for us English-speaking folk decided to make an updated PC version of a few of the games for Steam, since some of them such as Ys: The Oath in Felghana received a PC release in Japan a decade ago. Interesting fact: the script used for their translations of Ys I&II Chronicles, Ys Origin and Ys: The Oath in Felghana were all actually purchased fan translations from the original fan translator himself! What’s even cooler is the fact said fan translator was then hired for a bigger translation project when Xseed localised The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky.

Anyway back to the game at hand. So Ys Seven is a PSP-exclusive title released in 2009 in Japan and 2010 in the West.  While it’s not outside the realm of possibility that we may see it on Steam one day, it’s highly unlikely since the only existing PC port of the game was done by a Chinese company renowned for being not amazing coders/porters of games – so don’t hold your breath! Ys Seven follows the famed red-haired silent protagonist Adol Christin and his long-time buddy Dogi in the continuation of their seemingly neverending journies, this time arriving by boat in the continent of Altago. As always in Adol’s adventures, some crazy thing is bubbling below the seemingly fine surface of this land/its people and stuff starts to gradually go amiss following his arrival. Long story short, he meets many other brave people from different factions of the continent works together with them to prevent the seemingly inevitable destruction of the continent.

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Story sounds a bit cliché huh? Well fortunately the story isn’t really the focus of this game. The main feature of the Ys Series which makes so great is the gameplay and battle mechanics. Being an action RPG there is a fair bit of repetitive button mashing at times, but the action is very fast paced and intense – none of this battle-system nonsense seen in many JRPGs, but rather just roaming around and hacking enemies to pieces in a continuous flowing game. The boss battles also tend to be extremely challenging (less so in this installment since you can heal yourself mid battle) which means you can’t just mindlessly spam buttons on harder difficulties.

Ys Seven also sees the introduction of the party system, which allows the player to quickly switch between the sword-wielding Adol, the barefisted fighter Dogi and many other companions, allowing for different physical attack/spell combinations rather than just one character just running the show. Minor spoiler, but the last boss battle also requires every single party member to beat, so you can’t just buff up one character’s level because otherwise your other characters will be utterly useless and not able to help you.

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Of course there are also some major flaws with this game. Firstly, the optional quests, particular the ones involving supposedly reasonably tough creatures in the wild, are a bit of a joke for an optional quest. Usually something optional like that you would expect to be reasonably challenging, but towards the end of the game these fights are an absolute joke. On top of this, midway through the game you have to “revisit” every location in the game again without a quick-travel device due to some thing in the plot I won’t spoil. While it’s not too bad since you go to a different dungeon in the same location each time, I think it makes it look like the scenario writers just ran out of ideas and were like “fuck it, send the player back to the dungeons again since there’s no other space on the map we have”. A minor gripe, but I feel there could have been a better alternative.

So good gameplay and a decent art style, what else is it that makes this game cool?

Now to my favourite part of the game: the music! For those unaware, Falcom have their very own in-house band that both composes songs for each of their games AND plays them live at various events around Japan. They cover every genre from sick rock band arrangements to moody piano pieces and orchestral arrangements. On top of this, the band releases millions of arrangement albums of songs from Falcom games. Here’s the full list of music releases for those interested.

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When the game intro sequence opens up with the ripping opening track Innocent Primeval Breaker, you know that shit just got real. There are so many good tracks in this soundtrack it is absolutely ridiculous. The folks at the Falcom Sound Team know exactly how to set the mood for particular plot points/environments in the game. You have the breezy/mysterious type tracks like this, to the happy go lucky type tracks such as this, and this. One of the highlights however is this jaw dropping track which serves as the prelude to the final boss sequence – gives me goosebumps everytime I hear it. I could spend all day just spamming links to good songs in this game, but this review is already long enough.

In conclusion, Ys Seven is not for everyone. While the gameplay, art and music are fantastic – the simple fact of being an action rpg will make the game boring for most people. Repetitive travelling sequences also dampen the experience, but if you love adrenaline-filled combat and reasonably challenging bosses – this is the game for you! If I had to give this game a score it would be around a 7.5-8/10.

If you don’t have a PSP or want to check out other Ys titles on PC – Ys I&II Chronicles, Ys Origin and Ys: The Oath in Felghana are all available on Steam and Good Old Games. You can play them in any order as long as you play Ys 1 before Ys 2, since they are direct sequels. If you despise the games and just like the music, you can check out al the Falcom Sound Team jdk on youtube just by typing it into the search bar. Or if you’re lazy, there’s a few unofficial fan-run channels like this with a fair bit of their music on there. There’s also many videos of their live performances online too.

Lastly, I’d like to give a massive shoutout to Tom Lipschultz and the team at Xseed Games who continue to translate/localise these Falcom titles for us English speaking people. They don’t have many employees and work their arses off with some titles. Special mention also goes to their programmer Sara who is basically the sole person responsible for porting a lot of these games to Steam. I encourage you all to support them by buying their translated games if you like them. If you’re looking for a more typical JRPG to play, you could also try The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky which is available on Steam (and also one of my favourite games!) and also published by Xseed in the West.

Well that’s it from me! Congratulations to the few brave souls who actually read this long arse review. Feel free to come up to me at any AnimeUNSW event to talk about Ys-related stuff if you’re a massive fan, or alternatively any game series in general! Hopefully next time I write a review it will be for Ys: Ark of Napishtim like I originally intended.

Remember, weekly gaming sessions start Week 5, so I hope to see you all then!