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Karifean's Blog of Visual Novels

A Modern Guide to Ys - Ys I Chronicles

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Ys I is a game that has seen numerous releases and rereleases across many different platforms. But the most accessible modern day version is the "Ys I & II Chronicles" release for the PC. It's up on Steam, it's up on GOG, and it's pretty cheap nowadays.

The original Ys dates back to 1987, and the Chronicles version is less a full remake as much as it is a faithful recreation of the game with updated graphics and mechanics to make it feel less archaic. Still, the fact that it is a very old game is strongly felt. For instance, one of the earliest portions of the game has you visit a fortune teller who tells you that you're a hero of legend and to gather your equipment and get back to her. So you go out and grind some EXP and gold so you can buy stuff from the store. Riveting. Oh, also, if you try to go out into the wild at the start of the game without having any weapons or defensive gear, you'll immediately find yourself completely helpless against even the simplest of enemies. That kind of thing is commonplace in this game.

One of the most controversial things about the original Ys is its combat system, which divides fans to this day. The "bump system", as Falcom calls it, has you doing combat simply by using the movement buttons or stick, with no actual attack button involved. The trick to it is that in order to tackle enemies safely, you need to bump into them at an angle instead of head-on. That way you will damage the enemy without taking damage in return, while if you and an enemy collide face to face, you will both be taking damage.

The leveling system in this game is lopsided to say the least. A single levelup will make the difference between being the hunter or the hunted. In fact, the maximum level Adol can have in this game is Level 10 and you're expected to reach that level before the third boss which is about the halfway point of the game. After that the game actually gets a lot more balanced as you can no longer outlevel enemies or be underleveled for them, making the final dungeon a proper challenge all the way through.

One thing the game has aged exceedingly well on, however, is its soundtrack. The first Ys game set a standard for video game music back in the day and was, as far as I'm aware, the first ever video game to have its OST released on album, and is widely considered one of the most influential works in the medium. And it shows. Even 30 years later, the soundtrack still holds up incredibly well. The Chronicles version allows you to choose between different arrangements for the OST and you really can't go wrong with any of them.

The actual story has you going around the island of Esteria gathering the Books of Ys. At the same time you're doing this, some asshole is going around stealing things made of Silver. You also end up rescuing a pretty girl from a dungeon who was apparently locked up by that guy but she is amnesiac and doesn't remember anything that could point to why that happened to her. As you learn more about the area you find that Ys is an ancient kingdom that existed 700 years ago, and some of the people that help you on your journey as well as the bad guy are descendants of the six priests that once governed the kingdom underneath the twin goddesses, back in the age when it prospered. A lot of the game plays like an adventure game, as you find items and figure out where they can be used with a lot of trial and error and random ideas.

Ultimately Adol's journey leads him into the ominous Darm Tower, a demon-infested tower reaching up into the sky, to find the final books of Ys and face off against the evil priest Dark Fact. In the end the game ends on a cliffhanger as obtaining the final book of Ys transports Adol further up into the sky onto a floating island that actually *is* the ancient kingdom of Ys, which didn't just disappear but rather was lifted off the earth by the goddesses to keep it safe from a demon invasion all those years prior. The rest is left for Ys II, which is a direct continuation and conclusion of the story. Fortunately for us, Ys Chronicles includes the second game as well.

Overall Ys I is a fine game. Its plot points and mechanics absolutely betray its age, but in spite of that it remains a fun game to play with some truly memorable moments. Scaling Darm Tower as the sun slowly sets in the background with Tower of the Shadow of Death playing as you go through floor after floor is just great. The game knows well not to take itself too seriously when it shouldn't as well, like when Luta Gemma somehow sleepwalks his way through the magic barrier of the tower to end up imprisoned in there, or when five seconds later the wall of the prison cell gets destroyed by a dude who just really loves punching through walls. And in spite of you not ever even seeing the big bad before the final showdown, the fight with him both does something really clever the entire game has been setting up, and beyond that is also notoriously challenging and insanely satisfying to finally beat, with the beautiful track Rest in Peace playing as you take in your earned victory.

If everything I just described to you makes you feel nostalgic or excited, then I say go for it and play the game. But if it turns you off, hold off. Ys I may be the first game in the series, and Ys II a direct continuation of it, but all the other games are essentially standalone titles that can be played in any order. Perhaps some of the newer games will do more to whet your appetite.

For now, let's move on to Ys II, the second half of the original duology which nicely enough is also included in the Chronicles release.

Updated 12-29-2019 at 12:14 PM by Karifean