Ys I Chronicles+
by Polly

And, just like the broadcast version of the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, my journey through the Ys series continues undeterred and in an almost completely ass-backwards fashion. I'm not entirely sure why I chose to play the games in such a random order, but it's remained interesting and fun so far, so why not soldier on in a completely nonsensical manner if it's working, right?


With the release of Ys I&II Chronicles+ on Steam, I finally got to sink my teeth into the series' roots with the first game a week or so ago, and it is about as light and simple as I expected, but it proved to be an interesting journey as well. These remakes tried to capture the essence of the original games with as few bells and whistles as possible (prettier graphics and re-composed soundtracks), so seeing how hardware limitations restricted what was possible, while simultaneously inspiring the developers' creativity, was probably the best part of experiencing Ys I.  It's a lot like those stories you hear about how the MSX limited what Kojima could do with an action game, so he made Metal Gear a stealth game instead. 


Ys I feels more like a prologue to a much larger work. It's roughly 2.5 to 3 hours in length, only features three dungeons and three towns, and does a lot of establishing the world and main characters that would go on to become staples of the Ys series as a whole. Adol gets shipwrecked (because he's Adol) and stumbles into a journey to discover the world's secrets and save it in the process, the Goddesses are established, and Dogi smashes some fuckin' walls because he's fuckin' Dogi. The story doesn't go much of anywhere until the very end and then leaves you hanging with lots of unanswered questions. It wasn't unsatisfying because I knew this game was setting up the much more ambitious Ys II and the localization was really well done and entertaining to read. Just don't expect some kind of Shakespeare or a high-fantasy masterpiece and you'll enjoy your time with the game's story and characters just fine.

Key to enjoying your Ys I experience is being able to appreciate its simplicity and tolerate some old-school mentality when it comes to game progression and difficulty. 


Combat is handled via the "bump" system (which is probably best name for a system ever), which has you...well...bumping into enemies to destroy them. I had my reservations on how entertaining such a system could be, but I found it oddly satisfying being able to just run at enemies and steamroll them. The trick in surviving the bump system is to attack enemies off-center, as attacking them head-on deals damage to both you and the enemy, and with as much damage as most enemies in the game can churn out (even at max level and in the best equipment), you can find yourself in some oddly engaging fights trying to line up just the right angle. 

The bump system's only real downfall seems to be how bosses are handled. Vagullion, the most extreme example of how the team may not have fully figured out their system, can be a real game-breaker. Nearly all bosses in the game's final half seem have an unreasonable amount of projectiles on screen at all times, which makes whittling them down feel far too much like luck than skill. The final boss also proved quite frustrating, as he endlessly showers the battlefield with sprays of impossibly fast bullet hell-like projectiles, has a way to one-hit kill you, AND also destroys areas of the arena, which can completely block all range of movement. The bosses simply feel a bit overkill compared to your ability to only bump into things, and it really makes me wonder why none of these encounters saw some fixes for what was to be considered the "definitive" versions of these games. 

Progression through Ys I can also be a bit rough from that old-school way of sometimes never really giving you the information you need to move things along, or making it really obtuse. 


For instance, the game's opening finds Adol completely unequipped, and obviously you're going to need a sword and some armor to get the adventure started proper. The cheapest sword costs 2000 gold, and you only start with 1000. Enemies outside of the starting village, along with being able to easily one or two-shot you and taking forever to kill, drop 3-6 gold per kill. It's unreasonable to think that the developers wanted the player to save scum their way through hundreds of enemies just to properly equip themselves. It's also very unreasonable that you can get a sword for free if you talk to every villager in town TWICE, then talk to another specific NPC. You're given no information that really indicates this and, again, it just seems like something that should have been fixed. 

Another instance later in the game involves finding a fruit and eating it, then talking to two trees on the world map to acquire a sword that is NECESSARY to complete the game. Something seems really wrong with the text triggers however, because you only get information on how to complete this quest AFTER you've completed it. I don't know whether this is a translation issue or a mistake on the part of the developers, but it's kind of a problem when you don't give the players the information they need when they need it and it's essential to finishing the game. 


I can appreciate Ys I for its creativity and simplicity, but it's not a game I'm sure I'll ever feel the need to go back to in a few years. The weird balance issues and dry narrative just wouldn't hold up. In the end, all it did was what I feel it was trying to do and has me very interested in firing up Ys II soon to experience a longer, more engrossing, and hopefully better-balanced experience. 

Oh, and stick with the PC-88 version of the soundtrack while playing. The re-composed guitar-wailing tunes really felt at odds with what I was looking at and I could never get used to them, even if they're pretty kick ass. 

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