Years before Final Fantasy VII turned heads on the PlayStation; there was another disc-based role-playing game that was set to take the nation by storm. Ys Book I & II rode a wave of critical praise and hype, instantly becoming the killer-app for the TurboGrafx-CD. Unfortunately the Ys series never caught on in the States. Thankfully that didn't stop Falcom from continuing Adol's journey and ultimately releasing Ys Seven, one of the PSP's finer adventure games.
Things start off a bit slow, with Adol and his pal Dogi out sailing for adventure. Before long they find a large island town full of people to meet and monsters to slay. The townspeople are worried about a series of earthquakes and other disasters. And it turns out they have good reason to be concerned, because the mythical Five Dragons are about the awaken and cast evil over the land. It's up to Adol to make sure this doesn't happen.
But don't get too bogged down in the larger narrative, because much of the story takes a backseat to the action. Most of the time Adol is only focused on the job at hand, which generally involves him exploring a fortress and battling a large boss. The mission structure hasn't changed much since 1989, so expect a healthy dose of Legend of Zelda flashbacks. Each of these fortresses is full of puzzles, loot and special items that will open up the world to the player. We've seen this style of adventure game before, but I never tire of the formula.
Part of Ys Seven's charm is how many weapons and items there are to collect. Not only can you buy and find dozens of weapons, but players are even able to craft their own unique swords and spears. On top of that, Adol will collect items that help him breathe underwater, walk on spikes, freeze water and even fly through the air. And that's just the start of it. By the end of the game Adol will ransack nearly every inch of this large open world.
Thankfully Adol isn't alone in his journey. For much of the game the player will be part of a three-person team. Only one player can be controlled at a time, so you'll always have to put up with two computer-controlled characters (no multiplayer here). This dynamic could have gone horribly wrong, but the other characters manage to do what they're supposed to and not get in the way. Players can switch between these three characters by simply pushing the "O" button, which is handy when I wanted to heal a teammate or use a special attack.
The gameplay is fast-paced and deceptively simple. Each character has his or her own weapon and special move, plus there are super-powered extra moves that can help them take down an especially tough monster. Still, I found that most of the time I was just mashing the "X" button and hoping for the best. Perhaps it's because these characters level up so frequently or because I love mashing buttons, but I never found the combat to be repetitive.Maybe the reason I never got bored was because Ys Seven moves so quickly. Adol barely has time to catch his breath before he's off to tackle a new dungeon and battle another boss. Every time I sat down with the game I felt like I made progress, even if I only played it for a few minutes. That's not something I can say about Final Fantasy XIII. Best of all, the game is practically free of loading screens.
As I played through this lengthy adventure, I found myself more and more excited about the little things. Sure I've seen many of these beats before, but this sequel is handled so masterfully that I hardly noticed the overused adventure game trappings. I love that the moment I got sick of walking around the gigantic map the game gave me a way to warp from area to area. I love that I never have to guess which weapon is best. I love that I can save anywhere at any time. I love how there are dozens of completely optional side-quests to complete. Every time I played this game I loved it more, which proves yet again that Falcom know what they're doing.
Of course, there are little things that made me not love Ys Seven. For one thing, the dialog is painfully slow and often too wordy. Like so many Japanese adventure games, Ys Seven doesn't know when to shut up. I often found myself wishing these characters would just get on with it. And in a mean design decision, Falcom has made it impossible to skip these conversations. Worse yet, the game requires players to keep pushing the button to advance the written text. If I could put the PSP down and come back to it when everybody is done talking that would be one thing, but the fact that I have to button mash my way through lengthy cinemas is unacceptable. This choice alone nearly dropped the score by a full letter grade.
Another problem is that Ys Seven isn't always clear on what players are supposed to be doing at any given moment. This is common with a lot of Japanese role-playing games, but it can be especially jarring when one goes from fast-paced gameplay to a complete standstill. The game starts Adol out with no clear goals or missions, so I spent my first hour merely wandering around an unknown city looking for something to do. While the game does try to point players in the right direction, the flag indicator on the map doesn't offer much help to those confused by the puzzle.
When I wasn't wandering around lost and confused, I was constantly being impressed by the game's strong visuals and fantastic soundtrack. Although it's treading on familiar territory, Ys Seven does have a strong style that manages to stay interesting from beginning to end. The game is at its best when the 21 bosses show up. Although there are a few small dragons to take down, I was blown away with the size of some of the later battles. There are a couple of boss fights that remind me of something straight out of the God of War series.
Even in a year marked by strong PSP adventure games, Ys Seven is one of the very best. From the game's speedy pacing to the epic boss fights, there's a lot to love about this sequel. It doesn't matter if this is your first trip to Ys or your seventh, Falcom's newest game is a near masterpiece. It has clearly been designed by people who not only love the adventure genre, but are veterans to their construction. With the exception of only one or two things, I have nothing bad to say about Ys Seven.