The Ys franchise, developed by Nihon Falcom, is still a relatively obscure one despite its gradually increasing prominence with its latest entries. The series is beloved by fans for its incredible soundtracks, fast-paced action, and overarching narrative with the same protagonist in almost every entry, Adol Christin. Developer Nihon Falcom is also known for their work on other series, most notably The Legend of Heroes: Trails games which have been steadily rising in popularity.
I had the chance to talk to the Producer of Digital Emelas, a stellar Ys fansite that is arguably the most prevalent. Digital Emelas has a multitude of resources for both prospective fans yearning to give the series a shot and veterans who want to dig their teeth into learning about the franchises’ more intricate details. I interviewed Limfinite, the Producer of Digital Emelas, about the Ys franchise as a whole, the community’s efforts to spotlight the series, and more!
Orpheus Joshua: Please introduce yourself and what you do at Digital Emelas.
Limfinite: Hi Noisy Pixel. Thanks for having me. I’m commonly known as Limfinite within the Ys community and Producer of Digital Emelas.
Orpheus Joshua: Your comprehensive and rather charming website goes into detail about what makes Ys so endearing and unique, but speaking as an individual, what strengths of the series really stick out to you and your team the most?
Limfinite: The Ys games were designed as standalone games with an overarching canon, able to jump in at any game in the series, yet rewards longtime fans with prior knowledge of the world. I think, speaking with many on our team, the welcoming nature of the Ys games is quite rare in today’s gaming ecosystem and really stands out. Normally a numbered series can be entered at any game when the titles are completely unrelated (Breath of Fire, Wild Arms, Final Fantasy) or set within the same universe but separated by hundreds or even thousands of years (Phantasy Star, Star Ocean, Dragon Quest, most Zelda games). The fact that Adol Christin of the Ys series is one guy, not a re-incarnation or generation (father/son) trope, is very unique and creates a relationship with the player. Anyone who has played 2 or more Ys games will understand: Playing another Ys game is like hanging out with an old friend you haven’t seen in years.
Orpheus Joshua: For being such a niche series in the western market, Ys still manages to have an incredibly dedicated, strong community. What aspects of the series do you feel make people stick around despite its lack of presence in the overall gaming market?
Limfinite: The Ys series is fast and fun with an overarching canon that binds each game with its narrative undertones. Adol is a likable protagonist, in that we’re experiencing these adventures vicariously through books written by his hand around 1100 years ago. From its continued evolution of battle mechanics and gripping soundtracks, dedicated fans don’t just like Ys; they live it. The biggest hurdle is introducing the series to someone new. Once you’re invested in one of his stories, you’ll want to learn of another as more are released. That’s why players continue to return ~ they’re exhilarating travelogues.
Orpheus Joshua: Do you have a favorite title in the Ys franchise? If so, what standout memories of it do you have?
Limfinite: I personally love Ys Origin because it sets the tone and lore for the rest of the Ys series. It’s a tale of love and prophecy and a perfect companion piece to Ys I & II (either before or after). Having completed Ys I & II before playing Ys Origin myself, the true ending (unlockable 3rd campaign of Ys Origin) gave me goosebumps.
Orpheus Joshua: In what ways do you and your team try to promote new and existing western Ys games (such as the upcoming Ys IX: Monstrum Nox) in a way that can attract the attention of both knowledgeable fans and uninformed parties?
Limfinite: We do what we can each and every day, providing daily trivia on social media (@DigitalEmelas on Twitter and Facebook), hosting giveaways, and informing our followers of all Western Ys news. New and existing fans seem to enjoy them. Did you know? The spines of the 3 PSP titles published by XSEED Games line up form an image. That’s just an example of trivia that we post daily.
People see “Ys IX” being advertised and are intrigued that it’s such a long-running series but intimidated by such a high number. “Do I need to play all the games to understand this new one?” is a question we often get. That’s why Digital Emelas exist to introduce players to the series. As for post-release, we promote the games on our website with new Reflections and informative Galleries. Reflections are similar to Reviews, but rather than doing a standard review that anyone else can write, we come from the perspective of Ys fans that have played every other game in the series. We reflect upon lore, gameplay differences, nostalgia, marketing, etc. It’s an angle that fans really enjoy and don’t get anywhere else. Since we’re a website and not a video channel or podcast, we can provide a larger, more central hub of information that visitors can peruse at their own pace.
Orpheus Joshua: This may sound like an odd question, but does the name ‘Ys’ make it difficult to promote this series easily? For instance, there are common misconceptions about the pronunciation of the name.
Limfinite: Very much so. For example, the name Tatsunoko vs. Capcom didn’t do CAPCOM any favours and didn’t do as well as other fighting games at the time. Being CAPCOM and a cross-over title, you’d think it would have sold more, especially with the Wii being one of the best-selling gaming consoles that generation.
Let’s put this to rest.
It’s not “Why’s,” nor is it “Yease” (the Y should be silent). It’s pronounced “Eese.” Think of the word “Geese” but without the G. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the official intro cut-scene from Ys Books I & II on TurboGrafx-CD, the first voiced game in the Ys series (time stamp 1:25):
Orpheus Joshua: The Ys games, the older titles especially, have a reputation for being arduous with their gameplay difficulty. Do you think that reputation acts as a barrier for prospective fans getting into the series?
Limfinite: Yes, and no. It depends on the player. Like many earlier games from the 80s and 90s, it was a time of untapped experimentation in game design. Nowadays, developers try to either revise old systems or make novel gameplay just to be different from the past. You need to be smart when playing the original Ys games. They won’t hold your hand. That being said, every Ys game has a difficulty option before starting, and playing on Easy doesn’t affect the story and ending at all. We highly recommend going into Ys I & II on Easy if it’s your first time. No one in the community will shame you for it, especially knowing how ridiculously hard some of the bosses are. The important thing is to get the most out of the fantastic story that ties into the other Ys titles, especially Ys Origin.
Orpheus Joshua: Adol is the series’ main protagonist, yet he is always depicted as silent save for key scenes. As a fan, do you feel this acts as a detriment or strength for the series’ storytelling and why?
Limfinite: Actually… there’s a reason why he’s a silent protagonist. As previously mentioned, these games are journals written by Adol. When writing a journal, you’d describe people you meet, the places you’ve visited, and things you’ve experienced. Chances are you won’t describe your own voice in your personal journal. That would be just silly. So not knowing his voice adds to the immersion. It’s quite 4th wall breaking if you think about it (you don’t even need Dogi’s help for that one).
That being said, I personally find it disappointing that Nihon Falcom decided to give Adol a voice in the newer titles. This breaks character. I believe Ys Seven has an option to turn off Adol’s voice when teammates are swapped. This was an amazing feature that I wish was in all newer titles.
Orpheus Joshua: Continuing with Adol, what makes him such a unique protagonist compared to other action/adventure series?
Limfinite: His sense of adventure. He’s addicted to it and was officially given the title of “Adventurer” in Ys: Memories of Celceta. As a fan of the genre, it’s commonplace for protagonists to be on a mission to save someone, or save the world, or fulfill a higher purpose like “destiny.” Adol’s reason is simpler in that his thirst for adventure is unrivaled. His drive is his sense of discovery, and I think players resonate with that.
Orpheus Joshua: How does your team feel Ys IX: Monstrum Nox fits in with the series, and is it a suitable title for prospective fans who have no history with it?
Limfinite: As previously mentioned, most Ys games are built with a self-contained story that has an overarching narrative. Players can definitely jump into Ys IX without any previous knowledge. However, some games are more interconnected than others, and according to members of our Team who have already completed the Japanese version, Ys IX is a love-letter to long-time fans, reaching as far back as Ys 1.
Orpheus Joshua: Does your team have an end goal for Ys promotion in the west, or do you all intend to keep going regardless of how successful these efforts are?
Limfinite: Spreading awareness of the Ys series is but one of our many goals. We also love to introduce new players to the series, offering original content and maintaining its culture with our galleries and social media. As for awareness itself, there will always be people who are unfamiliar with the series. Chances are, if you ask a random person on a park bench, “Have you heard of Mario or Sonic?” they’d nod. Mind you, Adol is obviously never going to gain that caliber of mascot popularity without an official marketing budget. We can only do what we can as a fan site.
Orpheus Joshua: How have efforts with cooperating with professional publishers of the Ys series gone? More specifically, have there been any unexpected challenges you have faced when working alongside them?
Limfinite: Things have been great. Since the Ys series is split amongst multiple publishers, you’ll rarely see a company promote Ys games that are not within their portfolio. It’s political yet understandable. In a way, we fill that role as an unofficial source for the Ys series in the West, and I think publishers recognize this. We have literally tens of thousands of annual unique visitors visiting our website (according to Google Analytics), which is pretty darn good for a fan site of such a niche series. On social media, we reach millions of people.
In 2020, we teamed up with various publishers, including XSEED Games, NIS America, Dotemu, Limited Run Games, Strictly Limited Games, and even Mastiff, to promote their Nihon Falcom games. I won’t go into specific details, but several members of our team have worked on Ys games over the past year, including myself. 2020 was a challenging year with almost everyone working remotely. That being said, our relationships are strong, and we look forward to working with them more in the future.
On a personal note, over the past year, during this COVID-19 pandemic, the folks at XSEED Games and Dotemu reached out to me to check up on my family. They didn’t ask for anything else. They simply care. What company does that, really? I have such deep respect for them, so if the teams at XSEED and Dotemu are reading this… thank you.
Orpheus Joshua: Merchandise plays a key role in increasing a series’ brand and recognition. How does merchandise for the Ys series fare in the western market now, and could its quantity and quality be improved?
Limfinite: For decades, the only Western merchandise we got was from Special Editions and/or promotional items at tradeshows or press gift, and maybe an art book or strategy guide here and there. 2020 was a big year in that the drought ended with officially licensed merchandise from non-video game publishers in the West.
Pinbox operates out of Europe and is working hard on bringing a catalog of Nihon Falcom enamel pins starting with Ys VIII characters, The Legend of Heroes, and soon Ys Origin. They sent us a set of Ys VIII pins, and I can’t praise them enough for their superlative quality. They’re incredibly articulate, well beyond anything we’ve seen in our Nihon Falcom (or any other) collection. That’s saying something.
Streaming Arrow Records is a fairly new label that operates out of California and released soundtracks for Ys I & II (two different releases), remastered from the original PC-88 game. They’re absolutely beautiful and sound brilliant with my headphones. Members of our team became instant fans and look forward to their future Ys vinyl and CDs.
Orpheus Joshua: Have there been any missteps in the series growth that you think could have prevented it from being as prominent as it could be?
Limfinite: The absence of localized games between Ys 3 and Ys 6 (The Ark of Napishtim) for over a decade didn’t help. To popularize a series, companies need to steadily advertise their games, like watering a flower. Look at Final Fantasy, which grew into the premier Role-Playing brand in the West, which saw a significant boost with Sony’s marketing budget on FF7. Imagine how popular Ys would be if Adol was introduced in Smash Bros. or if a console maker provided a budget for exclusivity.
Orpheus Joshua: What is the story behind the naming of Digital Emelas?
Limfinite: In the world of Ys, emelas is a special metal with magical properties that can create life. Emelas is created from a mineral called emel, which is one of the strongest metals in existence. You’ll learn about it in Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, which connects the lore from 6 of the main entry games. After consulting with the Localization Producer at XSEED Games during the development of Digital Emelas, we agreed on the name. It’s also pretty catchy and memorable.
Orpheus Joshua: What has your core team contributed to the Ys series? Moreover, what can you share about the members of your team and the passions they have for the series?
Limfinite: For starters, Tom was the resident Ys fanatic with XSEED Games and is one of our lead advisors. He worked on every Nihon Falcom game from that publisher and is a fountain of Ys trivia.
Jeff is one of our lead editors and is the official translator of Ys 1, 2, Origin, The Oath in Felghana, and several other Nihon Falcom titles. He’s got quite the portfolio. Needless to say, he’s shaped much of the English lore that we know today, seeing as he’s the guy who created the standard for names, items, pronunciation, etc, which is found even in the English translation of Ys IX. Without Jeff and XSEED Games, I fear the Ys games would have continued to suffer from sub-par translations found in Atlus’ Legacy of Ys (Nintendo DS) and Konami’s Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (PSP/PS2), which had a very low standard at the time.
A Backdated Future (ABF) is an incredibly respected name on GameFAQS.com and is the author of the highest-ranking Ys game guides on the web. He contributes his wealth of knowledge to our articles, community development, and core strategy portion of Digital Emelas.
I’ve also worked on Ys as well, but I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say I’m… behind the scenes. We have several other people on our core team who have not worked directly on the Ys brand. To learn more about them, visit our About Us page.
Orpheus Joshua: Do you have any closing comments for our readers?
Limfinite: If you haven’t played Ys before, or even if you’re a long-time fan, we humbly ask you to lend us 3 minutes of your time. We produced a 3-minute audio drama on the front page of our website, written by Jeff (professional translator who worked on the majority of Ys games) and voiced by the ever-talented Anthony Sardinha (Stick it to the Man, Apotheon, The Journey Down). It’ll give you a sense of what the series is about. Keep an eye on @Digital Emelas (Twitter and Facebook) for all the news, trivia, and sales alerts. Ys deserves our attention. We hope you enjoy our website.
And thanks for the Q&A. It was fun!
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