Ys 35th Anniversary Retrospective; Adventure Adrenaline
Honestly, it feels pretty surreal that Ys has reached such a significant milestone of 35 years. It’s one of my favorite franchises, to the point where I’m commonly associated with it by friends online. Further, it’s the series that made me aware of Nihon Falcom, which has grown to be one of my favorite video game developers of all time.
I discovered Ys a little over a decade ago, when I was 11, during a random mall outing with my family. During these trips, my father occasionally took me to GameStop, and I distinctly remember picking up some pretty terrible games like Zack and Cody, and Drake and Josh for the DS. Thankfully, amidst my poor choices, one title I picked up was Ys Seven for the PSP. I was vaguely aware of Ys, but only by offhanded mentions.
You see, at around that timeframe, I found this song on YouTube called “Silver Will,” an iconic track from Trails in the Sky, another series I was not yet intricately aware of. And when reading some of the comments on that video upload, I saw some people briefly mention Ys as another franchise created by the company behind Trails. In fact, humorously, Ys was described as the hardcore franchise while Trails was seen as the beginner-friendly one. Nowadays, that latter part is far from the truth, and Ys has grown considerably less hardcore.
Still, despite not being particularly skilled at action games (for reference, I couldn’t beat Kingdom Hearts II until my early teens), I decided to pick up Ys Seven. In hindsight, this decision might’ve been driven by the desire to hear this game’s soundtrack since “Silver Will” left such a powerful impression on me. Knowing the same company created Ys assuredly instilled a sound-based yearning.
I then played through Ys Seven and quickly fell in love with it. The endearing vast cast, intense combat, and trope-filled but thrilling storyline were immensely compelling. Perhaps most impactful, though, was the soundtrack. During the first boss battle, a track called “Vacant Interference” plays, and it quite literally stunned me into silence, jaw agape. I had never heard a song embedded with such exceptional fervor before that moment, and to this day, it remains borderline unrivaled in terms of the sheer hype it provides.
Following Ys Seven, I took to Steam to dive into the rest of the franchise, beginning with Ys: The Oath in Felghana, one of the more cult-classic entries. This title utilized the Napishtim Engine, essentially a gameplay system with one playable character instead of a party. And, well, the Napishtim Engine games are innately more challenging than the party-based ones. Felghana taught me how to read enemy telegraphs and react accordingly, birthing my appreciation for action skill-based experiences like Furi and the Kingdom Hearts Data Battles.
Felghana was a comfy experience with a brief but compact narrative, entirely different in tone and appeal than Ys Seven. Dogi’s backstory was a draw of the story here, which I greatly appreciated since I grew more curious about his origins after Ys Seven, where he was a semi-permanent fixture of the party. In addition, I gradually began to learn just how almost jarringly different each Ys game’s tone was, aiding in capturing what the franchise always tries to do; consistently novel adventuring.
The next game, or rather games, on the docket were Ys I & II Chronicles, a collectively modernized form of the first two entries of the series. I’ll be blunt here; I did not and still don’t enjoy these titles due to their gameplay, the Bump System. Contrasting with the Napishtim Engine and party-based games, I & II used a straightforward combat system where one simply “bumps” into enemies to damage them. Sure, there were also RPG mechanics, such as leveling up and gathering equipment, but the core of the experience was too mind-numbingly simple for my tastes. Boss battles were usually far too swift and memorable, with a few exceptions (looking at you, Dark Fact).
Despite my issues, though, the end of Ys II proved the battle design could favorably work with qualitative bosses, and a few games afterward used the Bump System, such as the questionably non-canon Ys IV iterations. Speaking of, I don’t have too many fond memories of those older titles since I rushed through them. Their combat design was not my cup of tea. Regardless, I’ve grown to appreciate their strengths over time.
After experiencing the origins of Adol’s adventures came Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, the birth of the Napishtim Engine. Unfortunately, the gameplay design here is quite mixed since enemy balancing was all over the place. Further, a new mechanic called Dash Jump made select portions of bonus content needlessly inconvenient to access. Thankfully, VI boasts a fantastic setting that embraces the supernatural elements of the world, and the narrative has held up quite well compared to some of the earlier games. I especially appreciated the introduction of Geis, a rival-like character for Adol.
If anything, I appreciate Napishtim setting the stage for Felghana and Origin to truly thrive in the gameplay department. The elemental swords can also be seen as the precursor to the party-based system used in later titles.
Ys Origin is next and is hands-down my favorite of the franchise. This prequel to the series is the only entry where Adol isn’t a story character, instead having 3 other playable protagonists with their own routes. Moreover, this was the last game to use the Napishtim Engine and is undeniably the best, with consistently stellar boss and area design.
I’ve perfected it several times on Steam, PS Vita, and PlayStation 4 and have never grown bored of it. Aside from one specific segment in the Silent Sands as Yunica and Hugo, every element of the game feels meticulously crafted and lovingly designed. While Felghana introduced me to the concept of reading enemy telegraphs, perfecting Ys Origin is what truly instilled that lesson. To this day, Ys Origin remains the most cathartically challenging gaming experience I’ve ever had.
Next is Ys: Memories of Celceta, a remake of the entry that can never catch a break, Ys IV. Celceta utilizes an evolved iteration of the party combat from Ys Seven, and while that facet’s engaging, the rest of the game is…not quite on the same level. The narrative’s conclusion is left purposefully open-ended to an extent that feels half-baked, leaving a sour taste in many people’s impressions.
The addition of equipment customization was pretty cool, though, as was the forest mapping, even if the latter had poorly implemented hit detection. Also, Celceta has my favorite Adol design, and that counts for something.
However, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana would vastly improve Celceta’s mapping system with its castaway abandoned island context. This title needs no introduction as it is the most popular entry in the series, dramatically amplifying its presence in the West. The soundtrack, modernized combat, and ambitious narrative were heavily praised and deservingly so.
It’s no surprise that this is receiving a native PlayStation 5 port this Fall. I have grown moderately more lukewarm and critical of VIII over the years, yet I can’t deny that it has a certain magic to it that no other title in the franchise has.
Finally, is Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, the most recent entry in the franchise. Ys IX felt poetic for me since it’s the first game to take place after Ys Seven chronologically, the first entry I played. In a sense, it felt as if everything had come full circle. Ys IX isn’t as highly praised as VIII, partially due to its art direction and soundtrack, but it has become my second favorite title in the series.
The story and party members hooked me in ways no previous entry ever did, resulting in a finale more bittersweet than I was expecting. The cast was more directly connected, and, at least to me, was far more memorable than the parties in VIII, Celceta, and Seven. Further, it’s arguably the least standalone Ys game due to its utilization of prior games’ plots; an aspect I appreciated since it helped make Adol’s adventures feel more collectively impactful.
I could discuss each of the aforementioned titles more intricately, but I’d be here all day. So, maybe someday I’ll do a dedicated article for each entry. Regardless, it was fun to look back on such a defining video game franchise for me, and I’m eagerly awaiting news on the next installment, which is receiving information later this week. After so many games using the party system, I’m yearning for something fresh and exciting and considering Falcom’s track record, I’m certain they can pull that off.
- View our beginner’s guide to getting into the Ys series.
- Our interview with Ys fansite, Digital Emelas
- My Top 5 Ys Games
- Top 10 Ys Waifus
- Check out our review for Ys IX: Monstrum Nox.
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is releasing for PlayStation 5 natively this year.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana kickstarted the series’ popularity in the West during its initial Vita and PS4 release. It contains a memorable narrative, addictive combat, a stellar soundtrack, multiple difficulty levels, a plethora of side content, and much more. It’s a definite must-play, and if you have a PS5, you should be on the lookout for it when it launches later this year.
The title’s Limited Edition is currently available for pre-order, viewable below:
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Deluxe Edition for the PS5
- Art Collection” Softcover Art Book
- The Journal of Adol Christin” Hardcover Book
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana “Seiren Songs”
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Acrylic Bookends
- Adol and Dana Cloth Poster ( 24″ x 17″)
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Steelbook
- Collector’s Box
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is releasing for PlayStation 5 in Fall 2022.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.