by Polly

Did you ever say to yourself, "You know what, self? I sure would like to play a better looking, better playing, better sounding Secret of Mana, but I also want its story, world and characters to be just as dry and uninspired as Secret of Mana's!Well, chin up, bucko, because ol' Polly's got yer ticket right here! 


Part...well...I guess TWO of my, "I'm gonna play Ys games till I'm buttfuckingly sick of them," campaign took place this past week when I woke my PSP from the dead (by means of a sacrificial ritual in my basement) to spend about 24'ish hours trail blazing my way through Ys SEVEN, experiencing pretty much everything it has to offer. 


The thing that really jumped out at me fresh off the starting line is just how content and confident the game is about telling its wondrously mundane and cliche'd to death story. I knew I was going to be in for a grating narrative experience when thirty minutes into the adventure, its equally lackluster cast of characters had already delivered the phrases, "Chosen One," "Dragon Warrior," and "Dragon Energy" with the straightest of faces and deadly seriousness. I've eaten dry steak that had more creativity, and I'm baffled at how someone churned out a script as long as this game's is (the longest in the series' history!) with it being so chock-full of what I'd call the most laughable tropes of the genre. Seriously, the only thing missing is that Adol isn't an amnesiac in the beginning. 

There's nothing wrong with predictable and simple stories. The LUNAR series is a shining example of taking simple ideas of a "Chosen One" and a love story and fleshing them out with great characters and suspenseful moments. Ys SEVEN's story is content in being merely a vehicle to move you along to the next dungeon, but the problem is boring characters drone on and on in those moments and their text almost seems copy and pasted from one scene to the next. I can't count the number of times I was warned by the next new character to enter the stage that "The next area is full of nasty monsters! Nastier than you've faced before! You'd better be careful." It's interesting that a series so rooted in its simplicity tried to take a deeper, more narrative-focused route with its story. Evolution of ideas is always good, but Ys SEVEN's snore-fest of a story is proof that evolution doesn't always come quite as easily as one may hope. 


Thankfully, with the narrative being so dry, Ys SEVEN takes after its more recent predecessors and holds up where it counts:  The part where you play it. Combat is fluid and dynamic in a manic hack and slashy way that you want, and it's always satisfying to see enemies explode into oodles and oodles of goodies to pick up. Though dungeons take on every trope ever covered in a JRPG (water dungeon, fire dungeon, earth dungeon...blah blah blah...), they're laid out well enough and have decent enough gimmicks to keep one entertained between all the X-button mashing. 

This time around, Adol is joined in combat by up to two AI-controlled buddies of your choosing, and in the heat of combat you'll have to be swapping between all three combatants on the fly to stay on top of enemy weaknesses. The game employs a simple system of three basic types of attack (slashing, piercing, and striking) to make sure you're not always just parked on slashing away at things as the only red haired swordsman in the world. The "Flash Guard" mechanic adds a bit of  depth for more defense-minded players, allowing those with tight reflexes to completely negate an enemy's attack if timed properly, or eat double damage if you flub it up, providing excellent risk vs reward moments for those that wanna REALLY learn the game.

AI patterns are fairly simple, but they're effective enough to definitely revive should one of them fall, and their damage taken and dealt is truncated fairly to keep the game balanced. The only issue is that, unlike Secret of Mana, there's no real meat to manage how your AI-controlled partners react other than a few very simple commands, such as, "Attack weakest" and "Attack same" and this option can only be adjusted by going into the options menu. 


Every character in the game earns a wealth of special and ultimate attacks throughout the game, all super flashy and very capable of racking up damage in the ten thousands at a time. You can assign up to four skills on each character at once, with their Extra skills being dictated by storyline progression or completion of sidequests. The system has a bit of a Tales vibe to it, with the only drawbacks being that you can't really combo or chain skills together and that each skill has to be leveled up individually through repeated use, but given that 75% of the game is combat you'll likely have your favorites leveled decently enough in no time. 


The Ys series has a bit of a reputation with being fairly difficult.  Ark of Napishtim and The Oath in Felghana were satisfying and at times frustrating experiences because of how limited your resources were and how fragile you could be.  In this regard, Ys SEVEN is the most accessible title in the series due to the absurd amount of healing items it throws at you and the fact that all three characters must die to trigger a Game Over. That's not to say that some of the bosses won't seriously ruin your day (because lordy me, they will), but the excitement just isn't the same as it was in previous entries because I never felt like I was in too much danger. A higher difficulty selection or self-imposed item limit may have helped, but I didn't really feel the need as I was still having fun with it at the very least. 

In fact, the only time I really felt at odds with the game's difficulty, and damn near dropped it, was the final boss. When playing an RPG it's only natural that you'd gravitate toward a certain few characters you enjoy using, and a lot of these types of games love to surprise you at points by forcing characters you don't like or haven't used into the party. My first run-in with the final boss' first form was 90 minutes of sheer frustration because I'd only been using one of the characters on the team, and the only way I was able to successfully pass this point was to burn a lot of items and find cheap ways to keep my Extra gauge filled to spam an attack that hit for around 30,000 damage anytime I could. So seriously, if you DO play this game, try and at least have a few decent skills and the best buyable equips on your "B-Team" members before the final boss. It'll save you a load of heartache. 

Par for the course in any JRPG are the item synthesis and side quests. Weapon, armor, accessory, and healing item synthesis are all fairly straightforward, and for the most part balanced in a way that a run through any dungeon should net you enough dropped and collected materials to synth your new wares, but buying your gear is always an option as well, though it's not always quite as good. It's only during the final dungeon of the game that item synthesis becomes absurd in its requirements, and decking your characters out in the finest synthesized gear may only be required for Hard or Nightmare mode players. The sidequests are almost MMO-like in how fetch-questy they are, and truthfully, you could skip them entirely as I never found any of the rewards worth the time spent grinding them out or hoofing it back and forth between areas. 


For the most part, I enjoyed Ys SEVEN. It's got the makings of a fun and satisfying moment-to-moment combat system that could seriously evolve into something super fun should Falcom continue using it, it's easy on the eyes, and the soundtrack is goddamn exceptional all the way through. Just don't feel bad if you feel like holding the circle button to fast-forward through all the text and crummy story bits. 

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