Ys III is more likely than not everyone's first foray into the series, since it was the only American release to see the light of day on the SNES and the Sega Genesis. While Book 1 & 2 were released across multiple platforms, most of those platforms, let alone the ports never made it to America. It's a shame because fans cherish Book 1 & 2, but only regard YS III as a sequel solely due to its rocking soundtrack which definitely can make it into the conversation with games like Final Fantasy VI and Castlevania: Symphony of the night for one of the best ever composed.
Beyond that though, everyone considers Ys III a letdown. Taking things to a side scrolling perspective, getting rid of the massive dungeons, and having main badass Adol Christin talk was enough change to make fans call foul. Falcom knew it and after a somewhat decent third party port, they went in and redid everything in Oath in Felghana.
And we can all forget about the scars of time, because Felghana fixes. Every. Single. Mistake.
Done in the style of Ys VI: The ark of Napishtim, OiF returns you to the town of Redmont (or Sarina, depending on which version you originally played). A foreign count has taken up shop in a nearby castle and started barking out orders making life miserable for everyone. Adol and his best friend Dogi, who happens to be a native, arrive just in time to get mixed up in everything. Like the good Samaritan he is, Adol sides with the town of Redmont and from there uncovers a plot to revive a demon god, as well a lot of the area's dark history.
The story itself was fresh, if short in the original game. While "Resurrecting the evil one" may seem like redundancy today-there's a lot more going on within the story getting you there. Redmont's citizens all speak with distinct personalities (even if a voice actor is none too kind to a few of them), and the character development is well done for a game as short and as aged as Ys: III was. Chester, Ys III's flakey, strange, and whiny antagonist gets a major overhaul this time around; his voice doesn't suck and after key scenes, his actions will garner several "what the fuck?" statements this time around.
In an attempt to update the story more the game throws in religious overtones. While feeling shoved in at the last minute, certain citizens thinking of the demon Galbalan as 'The God' is an interesting, although overused concept. At least it offers another surprise. Even if you can recite the script of the original-expect to be surprised at least once.
The voice acting passes. While some characters like Chester and Dogi are voiced perfectly for their personalities and won't grate on your nerves, other characters like Elena leave something to be desired. There are worse games voiced in the PSP's library, but there are also better. If anything, the voice acting won't require drastic measures like being turned off, unless you're a complete purist and can't stand localization in English at all.
Combat is similar to Ys: VI, and with that said, similar to the original Ys III. Adol doesn't crash into enemies, but whacks away with a nifty sword combo. He is also equipped with a boost ability raising his speed and other stats that will basically be used only to get out of a jam, or against bosses to speed the battle up. The boost is easily abused and feels a bit overpowered (especially when it gets to level 2). Gone is the ring system and in are bracelets which serve as Adol's magic. There are four bracelets in all, and each one contains something that no doubt will help Adol traverse dungeons. The Bracelets are a welcome addition, however the game emphasizes sword play so much, you may find yourself using them only when the game forces it on you.
And that cue is typically from the level design. Taking a cue from Metroid, the game has certain cliffs, doors and cave-ins that will be inaccessible when you first cross them, but once you get the right bracelet, you can return and find what you need, be it ore to upgrade your weapons, jewels to further power your bracelets or a new piece of equipment altogether. Everything helps, because once you get to the first boss, the difficulty starts to ramp up quite a bit.
Speaking of bosses, these are some of the most old school, yet most involved bosses to find in awhile. The game is not easy, and it doesn't get its difficulty from the enemies infesting dungeons (though you may die on occasion with them). The difficulty rests solely on the bosses and figuring out their patterns. Once Adol gets his lv 2 boost ability, the strategy is simply find their pattern, boost up, then whack away until it's dead or Adol's boost runs out.
That is, until the final boss. Until that point, the bosses in OiF have been involved, but reveal their weaknesses with a bit of patience. Unfortunately, the final boss doesn't even throw you a bone. It won't be until dying repeatedly that you'll have to consult a FAQ to realize it requires just about EVERY ability to take down. A nice touch, sure, but it really does mess up the momentum making us use attacks that until now were somewhat useless. Maybe the old school in us embraces it, but the frustrated adult in us thinks that maybe a single hint could be necessary.
The stages themselves are inspired by their predecessors and nothing more. They're much longer and more intricate, but still familiar territory for veterans. While there is a lot more of the areas this time around, it's still quite linear. Yes, there's multiple paths that lead to a reward of some kind, but for the most part, getting from point A to point B is a simple affair. There's just simply more than one fork in the road this go around. The dungeons never get to the maze-like annoyances of Book 1 & 2, and that's a good thing. This serves as a good medium between the super linear YS III and the god awful tedium of the mazes in Book 1 & 2. With that said, the levels suffer from some repetitiveness. The design for Illburns Ruins is pretty much the same floor and surroundings throughout until you walk inside a building, then it's the same surroundings there until you walk back out into the first design of the area. It's nothing frustrating, and really nothing people would notice unless you're really paying attention to the areas.
The levels themselves, despite the redundancy, are a joy to play through. This is partly because Adol has some of the most fluid controls to offer. While his repertoire is nothing on the level of God of War, he definitely has a few tools to get out of tricky situations. Swinging your sword, casting magic, and getting out of enemy attacks is responsive and fun. The only gripe here is that some enemies have lousy collision detection. You easily can find yourself running towards a boss watching their attack fade away, only to find out the area of effect is still intact and take damage. It's annoying and off putting, but only happens when you really get the bosses down and have your own pattern made for finishing them off.
The soundtrack of Ys III was considered one of the greatest soundtracks ever, rivaling that of the old school Square RPGs. Thankfully, you won't find anything different here. While the amazing Turbo Grafx-16 tunes are missing in action due to legal issues, you will find the FM synth PC 88 and MSX tunes available to turn on at any time. That is, of course if you tire of the entirely redone soundtrack by Ryo Yonimitsu and company. If there ever was a way to make you forget about the amazing soundtrack of YS III, Falcom has figured a way with the remix here. Trumpets and Trombones screech their tunes for the Elderm mountains, an insane electric guitar tune reminiscent of a metalcore band wails away in the Tigray quarry, and double bass grinds with chaotic chimes for boss music. The music is once again worth a tireless search for the game, and also worth its weight in a separate CD.
Completion of the game merits little rewards. There's a boss rush mode and an option to play through the game a second time with added perks, but for the most part, what you see is what you get. It would have been nice to have Chester as an unlocked character, or to have the original game hidden as an unlockable content, however it is nowhere to be found. There are two optional boss battles easily unlocked, boss battles that give you nothing but bragging rights and may make you snap your PSP in half due to frustration, but that's pretty much it.
Beyond the small nitpicks, the only thing worth really knocking on Oath, besides its insane final boss, is that it is always going to have that "been there, done that" feel. Had this been a straight up side scrolling remake with the original gameplay minus combos and other bonuses, the nostalgia could kick in. Much like when Final Fantasy IV got its polygon leap a few years ago, OiF just has an unoriginal feel. Despite that feeling, the $19.99 price tag is more than worth it for this great game no matter how many times you've played it or how much you like/dislike the original. If you hated or enjoyed YS III, this is worth yet another trip to Redmont and putting a wrench into Chester's shindig. If you've never played a YS game before and need something that can easily be classified as Zelda meets Metroid, this is an absolute bargain. And for both camps, we can all walk away on one agreement that we were all satisfied this time around.