Legacy of Ys: Books I & II

Review

posted 5/14/2009 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: DS
When Ys Book I & II was first released on the TurboGrafx-CD it was considered the first must-own game for NEC's fledgling console. Although it was largely ignored by the U.S. consumer, game critics of the time hailed it as one of the greatest role-playing games ever made. The game's revolutionary cinemas, amazing music and real voice acting (albeit ridiculously awful voice acting) set this game apart from the rest of the crowd, and may have been the reason why a very young Electronic Gaming Monthly handed out their first perfect 10 score to this adventure game.

Unfortunately time has not been kind to the Ys book franchise. Looking back at the TurboGrafx-CD game now, it's hard not to notice the game's weird combat system, the horrendous acting and the fairly generic plotline. Still, if you squint you can see the faint reasons why this game was so revered. Knowing this game's history (and understanding its flaws), I was excited to see if this Nintendo DS remake could remind everybody why Ys Book I & II was considered such a classic. Could they pull it off and make this 20 year old game relevant again, or would this game prove to me once and for all that Ys was a relic of another time?

You play Adol Christin, a young, naive swordsman who ends up being talked into questing for six books written about the ancients. These books not only include useful prose about how to live your life thousands of years later, but also where the vanished land of Ys is. If Adol can find these books and gain that knowledge, then he will be an unstoppable force that can destroy the evil forces that are permeating in the land of Esteria. And then the book ends.

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Ys Book II (which was released in Japan as a stand-alone game before being ported to the TurboGrafx-CD as a compilation) picks up immediately after the events of Book I. In this book you (still playing as Adol) must go to Ys and unravel the mysteries of the evil forces. Along the way he'll meet some memorable characters and take part in a few epic battles. And if he can survive, then his job will be done and he can go back home. Well, until Ys Book III: Wanderers from Ys.

Contrary to other role-playing games at the time, these Ys adventures are not turn-based affairs. This is not one of those Japanese RPGs where you get into a random battle, control a bunch of useless characters and then do it all over again five steps later. Instead Adol feels more like a football player, a man with a sword that has no problem literally running the enemies over. That's right; the way you fight in battle is to run head-first at your foes with your sword and shield, all while jamming the attack button. It's an unorthodox way of resolving conflicts, but it seems to work just fine. Your weapon isn't long, so your best bet is to simply run into the enemy while slashing. Think of Legacy of Ys as a traditional Zelda game ... on crack. Unlike Zelda, every enemy you defeat nets you a few experience points. These lead to leveling up your character, and so on so forth.

The problem with the first two Ys books is that they feel very small. The box advertises that it's two games in one, but that's only because both of these games are insanely short. It won't take you more than a few hours to collect half of the six books, and from there it's just a short journey to the second half. It all happens so quickly, as if we're rushing through the story for some reason. This frenetic style of storytelling ultimately undermines the game's emotional core. At one point a character you've talked to several times is brutally murdered, however instead of the game slowing down to take in this awful situation, you just go on with your business and only two lines are mentioned about this character's untimely death. A lot of role-playing games are criticized for being too wordy, in this case Legacy of Ys isn't wordy enough.

The graphics in these two Ys books are a bit better than their 16-bit TurboGrafx-CD counterparts, but certainly not at the same level as recent remakes by Square Enix (Final Fantasy IV, Dragon Quest V, etc.). Instead we get detailed (albeit simplistic) sprite-based characters, generic looking environments and a lot of repeated enemies. The game does do a number of new tricks, including improved graphical flourishes for boss attacks and other pivotal moments in the game. But those expecting a game with 21st century graphics will be sorely disappointed. At its best, Legacy of Ys looks like the kind of game that could have been done on the Super NES or Sega Saturn.
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