How to Get Into Ys and the History of This Beloved Adventure Series

With Ys IX: Monstrum Nox releasing in February, the Ys franchise will be getting its next mainline entry localized. That being said, though, this series deserves far more attention than it is currently receiving. This franchise is truly stupendous, and while far from perfect, its strengths make it one of the best action series to dive into.

This is a franchise that, for the most part, is far more gameplay than narrative centric. Usually, the characters and writing in a game attract me the most, but the Ys series is rare because the gameplay is usually more compelling than its stories. That is not to say the narratives are not enjoyable, far from it in fact, but the gameplay is what most fans are going to be sinking their teeth into with this series.

The combat tends to be lightning-fast and reaction intensive with thrilling music accompanying it, so fans of action games will certainly find their home in the Ys franchise. However, the sheer niche nature of the series, along with the number of titles, can make it rather intimidating to get into. It’s not really as simple as just starting with the first one. So, while there already are many resources for getting prospective fans into trying out the series, I intend to provide my own two cents since I consider myself a veteran of sorts.

You don’t have to play the games chronologically at all. Each title follows its own individual narratives with references to past games and characters but nothing you absolutely have to know. Additionally, I highly recommend not playing on Nightmare or higher for any of your first playthroughs for any of the games. Difficulties above Hard are best played after you know the game well.

Most of the Ys games are currently released on PC, which is great for accessibility. There are several older titles that I will not mention throughout this piece since they have either gotten modernized remakes and/or are Japanese exclusive. We will be sticking to the officially localized entries here. The currently released Ys games that we will be looking at are…

Ys 1, Ys II, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, Ys: Memories of Celceta, Ys Origin, Ys Seven Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. So a total of eight games as of right now.

That list can certainly look somewhat intimidating and daunting but let’s divide these games up into categories.

The Party Category

I call this the ‘Party Category’, which consists of Ys Seven, Ys: Memories of Celceta, and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. These three games have a battle system dubbed the party system. The upcoming Ys IX: Monstrum Nox utilizes this battle system too. You essentially have multiple playable characters that each have their own attack properties and unique ways of fighting. These party members also have their own skills, which really diversifies the combat. While certainly enjoyable, several hardcore fans criticize these games for being too easy, even on their greater difficulties.

Ys Seven

Ys Seven

Ys Seven has the first implementation of the party system. It’s rather rough around the edges, but it’s a pretty fun game at its core. I  do not consider it one of the better games to play first if you intend on getting into the series, though, because while it is a rather welcoming title combat wise, this title features an older Adol and is canonically the game right before Ys IX: Monstrum Nox. So while not required, leaving this title for later in your Ys marathon would be for the best. The narrative is also one of the more intricate ones in the series, and while certainly not mind-blowing, I found it incredibly compelling with predictable but impactful plot twists. This is also an extremely personal bias of mine, but the soundtrack in this title is amongst the franchise’s peak.

All of the Ys games have phenomenal soundtracks, but Seven really takes it to another level with the sheer intensity present in its battle themes. The field themes are quite enchanting too. However, as I said before if you consider yourself decent at action games, Seven is a joke at various points. The final boss can prove to be a challenge, but aside from that, Seven is exceedingly easy on Normal difficulty. The one real critique I have with this title is how tanky some boss fights can be, especially on greater difficulties. I do not consider them hard perse, but a few fights can take way too long. Ys Seven has also not aged well at all graphically. That does not detract from the quality of the experience but is it worth keeping in mind when you dive into it. The rough, polygonal, graphical presentation present here is very much a one-time thing in the series.

Ys Seven is released for the PSP and PC. The PC version is preferred since it has some nice enhancements that can really amplify the experience, as well as achievements if you’re into that sort of thing.                                               

Ys: Memories of Celceta

Ys Memories of Celceta

Ys: Memories of Celceta is a somewhat mixed bag. It’s a remake of sorts of Ys IV using the party system that Seven initiated. While the gameplay is certainly improved from Seven, mostly everything else regarding it is not particularly well-received by fans. The narrative, in particular, comes off as extremely rushed with odd pacing and very bizarre resolutions. There is a more unified quest system, which was somewhat sloppy in Seven, so that is a nice improvement. As usual with Falcom titles, the soundtrack is incredible, sporting a great diversity of chilling tunes and hype inducing battle themes.

The exploration in Celceta is very satisfying, though, and is one of its main appeals. You map out an area called the Great Forest, and it becomes pretty fun to track your progress and go back to previous areas to obtain items you couldn’t get prior. Even though detection with map percentages can be very iffy and strict, the overall mapping experience is fulfilling.

In terms of difficulty, Memories of Celceta is even easier than Seven. The improvements mainly come from its weapon and armor customization, but those additions can make the game even easier. The flash guarding mechanic from Seven is also present in Celceta, along with flash moves now. If you master these, the challenge level decreases significantly. Memories of Celceta is a pleasing journey and definitely worth experiencing, at the very least. It does lack the quality of life improvements of Ys VIII, so gameplay-wise especially, it is best to experience this title before VIII.

Ys: Memories of Celceta is currently released for PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, and PC. The PlayStation 4 and PC versions are the preferred ways to experience the title as they sport graphical upgrades and stability improvements.

YS VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

YS VIII Lacrimosa of Dana

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is one of the most recent titles in the series. Despite the controversy surrounding its localization, it is still a stellar game that I consider the best of the ‘Party Category’. VIII had several issues when it initially got localized, however. These issues included a feeble translation that was so poor; it got re-localized. Yes, you read that right. Even though NISA has received and still receives flack for this localization, I find it admirable that they expended so much effort to rectify the errors they made with this title.  It is not perfect now, but the current translation is better than it was for sure. Additionally, however, the Switch release has some performance issues, and the PC version still has its fair share of oddities despite the constant patches.

Leaving all of that aside for now, though, Ys VIII is a great game that builds upon the ‘Party System’ that was present in Seven and Celceta. It’s a vast improvement graphically than the past games and is also one of the most plot-heavy titles in the series. The soundtrack is powerful, and the gameplay is more satisfying at its core than Celceta and Seven. This is due to the exploratory aspect of it being nurtured to an enviable extent and the map just being fun as hell to travel around. The PS4, Switch, and PC versions of this game also have an entire, exclusive dungeon with Dana’s character that adds new mechanics to the combat.

The quest system is at its best in this game, with them being easier to invest in. The characters aren’t given too much depth but are still entertaining and engaging. VIII is a  fantastic experience; overall, the exploration and discovery cycle makes it a wildly addicting and fulfilling experience. I consider VIII one of the best games for especially hesitant players to start with due to its well-executed synergy of exploration, storytelling, and combat.

This game is currently released on the PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, PC, and Nintendo Switch. The PS4 version is the best way to experience this game due to the lack of performance issues. The PC version has been fixed quite heavily, but players do still experience an odd graphical issue and such now and then. The Vita version lacks the Dana dungeon content in the other versions since it was the first release. The Nintendo Switch version plays pretty well but is also plagued by many performance issues at several points.

In essence, the ‘Party Category’ of the Ys games is ideal for people who are not too experienced in action games due to their low difficulties. They are still fun for people who have many experiences in this genre, but they might have to play on Hard to get more of a challenge. Out of these three games, I actually recommend starting with Seven the most. I did say that I recommend VIII more, but that’s only because VIII is a far stronger game quality-wise. Seven lacks the polish of the future games in this category, and playing through it first can make you appreciate Celceta and VIII more. So with that being the case, I personally recommend this order if you intend on starting with the ‘Party Category’…

Ys Seven first, then either Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana or Ys: Memories of Celceta. Preferably Celceta second since it is mechanically inferior to VIII in several respects.

The Standard Single Player Category

Secondly is the Standard Single Player Category or the SSPC for short. The games in this category consist of Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, and Ys Origin. In these three games, the gameplay is fairly standard and fairly simple to grasp. You only play as one character during a playthrough in these games’ narratives. The difficulty for the games in this category is quite a bit higher than those of the ‘Party Category’. These games are ideal to start with if you have more experience with this genre and don’t mind occasional doses of frustration. They are also quite a bit shorter than the length of the party categories, so they are more easily digestible in that regard.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Ys The Oath in Felghana

Ys: The Oath in Felghana is one of the more beloved games in the franchise, and many start with it. It is a remake of Ys 3 and just a generally solid entry in its entirety. You only play as Adol Christin in this title, and while the game isn’t as expansive as those of the ‘Party Category,’ exploration is still encouraged for some nice rewards. The gameplay does require some patience, especially on more serious difficulties. Learning boss patterns and dodging is essential, and you have to be able to adapt to some moves that can easily spell your demise. Sidequests are around, but they require quite a bit of probing and exploration. The soundtrack is quite solid and easily in many players’ top lists for the series’ original soundtracks.

The narrative is not stupendous but is still rather well done, with empathetic characters and a set of decent payoffs. Oath in Felghana is the one I recommend playing first if you intend on starting the series with the SSPC category. It is quite a difficult game at several points, but it is gratifying if you take the time to learn the boss’ telegraphs and patterns. This is also what I consider to be the best title in the series to train you and make you aware of how the other games in the series can be difficulty-wise. If you can beat Felghana on Normal mode, you can undoubtedly handle all the other games on Normal mode.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana is currently released on the PSP and PC. Both versions perform well, and both also have voice acting. The PC version was patched with the English dub recently, and it is rather cheesy and over the top at points but is still charming. The voice acting definitely serves as an enhancement to the narrative.

Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim

Ys VI The Ark of Napishtim

Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim is honestly a pretty mixed bag. My opinions on this title will have some negative bias, so it’s best to look at this title with a more open mind than mine.

Like Felghana, you only play as Adol, and combat wise, the game is fundamentally similar to Felghana since they both use the same engine. VI does have some of its own interesting mechanics, though. First, the Dash Jump, which, to be blatantly honest, is a horrendous addition due to its subpar execution. It’s a unique jump that allows you to reach areas you could not normally reach. However, it is arbitrarily annoying to pull off, and while not required for the story, it is required for some optional items and objectives. It takes many players, me included, way too long to get into the rhythm of how it works for a mechanic that really should not have been a hassle. The lack of its necessity in the main story is nice, but its inclusion, in general, is pretty questionable.  I know ranting about one specific mechanic to this extent may seem like overkill. Still, its execution is truly the most mystifying and questionable aspect of this title, in my personal opinion.

You do also have elemental swords in VI, which add some nice diversity to the combat. While not implemented as well as possible, the elemental swords give encounters some more degrees of depth, even if it is primarily surface level at points.

This is the first game to feature the fittingly called Napishtim Engine, which would then be polished in Ys: The Oath in Felghana and Ys Origin. As a first go, this title does an adequate job of utilizing the engine’s strengths, but mechanically, it falls drastically short compared to the two later entries that would use this engine. The boss design is another flaw with Ys VI to the degree where some battles feel like unfairly designed puzzles rather than fairly challenging thrills.

Like Felghana, the gameplay requires learning of boss patterns and quite a bit of dodging, even though that is sometimes easier said than done. The difficulty spikes in VI are quite random, however. Some areas are far more difficult than others, and the design in several areas is rather questionable, to say the least, such as enemy placements being annoyingly constricting. Narrative-wise it is certainly unique. It feels like a culmination of sorts in the series. The story is honestly delightful, and if you can look past the gameplay’s faults, you will be enthralled by the narrative present here. The soundtrack is decent, but there are only a few noteworthy tracks that really stood out to me, with the rest being moderately decent background noise and ambiance. Overall, I consider VI the weakest of the SSPC category and worth playing as the second or third game of this set.

Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim is currently released on the PSP, PlayStation 2, and PC, but the PC version is the best platform to play it on. The PlayStation 2 version is…better not talked about due to its questionable CG and voice acting.  The PSP version had some oddly terrible lag at points in my experience, but it is certainly playable. The PC version, like the other Ys games on PC, has graphical upgrades and other nice additions, so that is the preferred platform to play this title on.

Ys Origin

Ys Origin

Ys Origin acts as a prequel to the franchise in its entirety. Unlike Felghana and VI, you play as three separate characters in their own individual stories. These characters being Yunica Tovah, Hugo Fact, and ‘The Claw.’ The game takes place in a huge tower that has different layers of design to keep things fresh. All three characters play differently, and ‘The Claw’s’ story is especially unique compared to Yunica’s and Hugo’s story, with it also being the canonical one.

Gameplay in Origin is similar to Felghana and VI due to it using the same engine. The combat is pretty satisfying and fresh since the three characters play fundamentally differently. Origin’s biggest weakness is that you traverse the same tower as all three characters, but I never found it much of a detriment due to how differently they all play. I consider Origin to be the hardest of this category in terms of difficulty, but easily the best designed regarding boss mechanics. The team perfected their usage of this engine here. That isn’t to say the combat is faultless since there are a few fights that can come off as a bit questionable, but the package here is solid overall. Frustration is only temporary and does not come close to tainting the whole experience.

The soundtrack is considered to be one of the best in the series, although it does lack a fair bit of variety. Part of that does come down to the three campaigns playing in the same settings, but at least, personally speaking, the soundtrack got old and provided the same level of excitement for each area across all three campaigns.

The narrative is different among the three stories, and they all set out what they do reasonably well. Hugo’s and ‘The Claw’s’ stories are pretty stellar in particular. While I do hold a large degree of admiration for this title, I only recommend playing it after playing through some of the other games in the series. More specifically, I recommend having at least played Ys 1, Ys 2, and Felghana since you get more out of this game story-wise if you’ve seen the events of Ys 1 and 2. Also, with it being the only current game that doesn’t have Adol as a playable character in the story and is the most polished of the Napishtim engine, you can appreciate it more after playing Felghana.

Ys Origin is currently out for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. All versions perform do perform well, though the PS4 version does have a crashing issue that has still not been fully remedied amidst its various patches. It’s not constant enough to be an issue, but it mainly occurs when dying a lot of times in a row. The Vita version is actually pretty stable, and I haven’t experienced any crashing on it. The PC version was the original version and the least polished, but it works well. It has the least quality of life aspects, such as UI fixes and skippable scenes. The Nintendo Switch port felt faultless during my time with it in both docked and handheld mode. As for the Xbox One port, I have minimal experience with this version, but it felt perfectly normal during my time with it, and I have not heard any particularly negative reception for it either.

DotEmu, not Falcom, did the ports to the consoles, and their main contributions are the more visually appealing HUD and the ability to skip scenes like the opening portions. Any version of Ys Origin is fine to play, basically.

The SSPC category is meant for those who are somewhat experienced in this genre or those that know how to be patient and not easily discouraged and frustrated. If you start with this category, I recommend playing Felghana first as it’s the ideal beginner game in the series, in my opinion. VI is best to play after Felghana, and Origin is best to play after having played Ys 1 and II and one of the games in this category. So, the order is…

Ys: Oath in Felghana, Ys VI: Ark of Napishtim, Ys Origin (Playing Ys I and II prior is highly recommended as well.)

The Bump Category

Ys I and II Chronicles

Ys I and II Chronicles

The final category consists of the last two games I haven’t discussed yet. These two being Ys I and Ys II. These are the first two games in the series and play fundamentally different than the rest of the games. Combat is played out via the Bump system, which requires you to damage enemies by running into them at certain angles. Adol automatically attacks the enemies this way. It’s certainly a bizarre battle system and can easily turn off prospective players. This is why I don’t always recommend the first two games as beginner titles since they’re so radically different from the other entries in the series and can be incredibly frustrating. I’ll be talking about these two games as one unit since they’re similar in almost every respect. Aside from the odd combat, everything else is fairly standard of Ys.

The music is exceptional, and the narrative is rather light, but it gets the job done. There are sidequests, but like those in the Ys: The Oath in Felghana, you have to go out and find them yourself. These two titles really don’t hold your hand in the navigation or anything else. You’re left to your own devices to discover a fair amount of what these games have to offer. Even NPC dialogue isn’t quite enough to find out where you have to go at points. That’s both a benefit and a detriment since while it encourages exploration, the lack of hand-holding and guidance can easily frustrate players. This is remedied because neither of these games are that long, especially the first one, so they don’t overstay their welcome. The bump system, on top of the lack of guidance, makes combat quite a challenge too. You feel a sincere lack of direct control over what you do in boss fights; for example, making several battles in these games feels like severe trials of patience.

Overall, Ys I and II have not aged well, and I only really recommend playing them to see the beginning of Adol’s journey and get more out of Ys Origin‘s events. These two titles do certainly have their adamant fans, but I am unfortunately not one of them. They are enjoyable in their own unique ways, but I would be lying if I said they were peak Ys experiences. If you intend on playing these two games, playing I then II first is the way to go.

Ys I and II Chronicles is currently released for PC and PSP. Both versions are wonderful to play. You can’t go wrong with either version.

Conclusion

Hopefully, those three categories help you form your own opinions on where you want to start the series.

Below are my recommended play orders for the series, though feel free to deviate to your heart’s content if you feel a particular title calling for you more than others. Some of my orders here may seem a bit odd, chronologically speaking. Still, I tried to order them solely based on idealized gameplay growth and enjoyment when compared to the chosen beginning category.

If you intend on starting via the Party Category, my recommended play order for the series is…

Ys Seven, Ys: Memories of Celceta, Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana, Ys I, Ys II, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Ys VI: Ark of Napishtim and then Ys Origin

If you intend on starting via the Standard Single Player Category (SSPC), my recommended play order for the series is…

Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Ys: VI Ark of Napishtim, Ys I, Ys II, Ys Origin, Ys Seven, Ys: Memories of Celceta and then Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

If you intend on starting via the Bump Category, my recommended play order for the series is…

Ys I, Ys II, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Ys Origin, Ys VI: Ark of Napishtim, Ys Seven, Ys: Memories of Celceta, and then Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Finally, if you want to go through the games chronologically, the play order would be…

Ys Origin, Ys I, Ys II, Ys: Memories of Celceta, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, Ys VI: Ark of Napishtim, Ys Seven

You might have noticed that there is no version of Ys V on this list, and the reason for that is because that remains the only classic title in the franchise lacking a modernized remake. However, no need to fret as that title is honestly unnecessary for enjoying the rest of the games, including their narratives. At most, a few nods and references will pass you by, but nothing you absolutely must know.

With all that said, this was quite wordy, but I hope this list helped with learning how to get into Ys in your own way. The franchise has gotten more popular in the West, but that said, I still find it to be criminally underrated, and here’s hoping it grows enough in the future to be on the average action gamer’s radar.


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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual. Fan of JRPGs, Action, Platformers, Rhythm, and Adventure titles.