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Karifean's Blog of Visual Novels

A Modern Guide to Ys - Ys Seven

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Heading into the final era of Ys games and in the series' timeline the chronologically last of the localized games so far we have Ys Seven. Released for the PSP in late 2009 and ported to the PC years later, this game marks a heavy departure from earlier titles in the series in terms of graphics, gameplay and storytelling alike. The shift was met with mixed reception, but given all that came out of it, I couldn't be happier. And this game is absolutely one of the reasons why.

So what is this great shift I'm speaking of? Well the game may reinstate Adol as the main character after Origin prequel'd him out, but it no longer has you play as Adol alone; instead it introduces a party system, allowing you to fight with up to three characters on the field at once and letting you freely switch between who you control directly and who is instead controlled by the AI. Your first alternate party member being Adol's longstanding partner Dogi, who is playable in this game for the first and sadly last time (so far). Along with that, the control scheme is change, removing the jump button but adding a quick dodge roll (finally!) and replacing magic from the previous titles with a skill system which I'll elaborate on more in a bit. Each party member also has their own attack type - Slash, Strike or Pierce - which is each effective or ineffective against different types of enemies, encouraging and at times forcing you to cycle through your party on occasion.

Ys Seven takes Adol and Dogi to the land of Altago, arriving by boat in Altago City, a bustling capital full of merchants ruled by the king Kiemarl. The game wastes no time setting up its themes as your exploration of the city inevitably takes you to Old Altago, the drab slums right next to the bright and colorful city. Two minutes later you bear witness to one of the commanders of the city guard and son of the prime minister harassing a local flower girl named Tia, and because you step in like the protagonist you are, you get promptly put in prison with a bulltrout excuse. Thankfully another far more reasonable commander comes in and frees you quickly enough, in the process of which you learn that he's from the slums himself and worked damn hard and fought heroically in order to be granted his current title... and yet even so he's still looked down on by the merchant class and prime minister's son for being a "piece of trash from the slums". Lovely.

Either way, since Adol's got himself quite a bit of reputation by now you're brought before the king who explains to you that ominous happenings have been plaguing Altago of late, including the rise of a strange incurable disease dubbed "Iskan Fever", and requests that you check out a nearby old shrine that was recently re-uncovered. There Adol is imbued with the dragon power by one of the Great Dragons of Altago, setting you on a path to travel all over Altago and get in contact with the different tribes to be granted blessings of each of the dragons to hopefully gain a clearer view of what's going on, and hopefully, put a stop to the rather worrying recent developments. As you do so you get to know and recruit members and elders of the different tribes and even run into Geis from Ys VI again who also happens to be on Altago at the moment and at first seems pretty exasperated to see Adol being a big damn hero again, but still joins you eventually anyways.

The plot has some twists and turns to it but remains overall a pretty traditional "visit the elemental shrines and gain powers" setup. But it all works really damn well in unison with the gameplay loop. See Ys Seven adds a crafting system to the Ys formula whereby you gather flora and fauna materials from all over Altago and can use these materials along with some common gold to craft weapons. This also means that long with the natural powerups you'll get from the shrine each new area also holds new materials to discover, and excitedly seeing what weapon you can craft next from all the new materials you find is not a feeling I'd expected to ever feel again.

A definitely notable part of what makes weapons in Ys Seven feel so exciting is because of the game's skill system. Ys Seven takes a page from Final Fantasy IX and has every new weapon you find allow you to learn a new skill and if you use it enough times you learn it and keep it even after switching to another weapon. Now the skill system introduced in Ys Seven sets the standard for the series going forward. Basically you can assign each character four skills, which you can activate by holding a shoulder button and any of the four face buttons (X, O, Square, Triangle). Using a skill is generally more powerful than spamming regular attacks, but requires skill points in order to do so. And if this all sounds bogstandard and unremarkable, it really becomes a fundament of the game's - and its successors' - combat in the simple fact that you replenish skill points crazy fast and will quickly find yourself maxed out, especially since charging your regular attack unleashes a strike that recovers a big chunk of your skill meter right away. So for efficiency you're encouraged to use your skills constantly and use charged regular attacks where you can.

It's the details where this really starts to come together though. See when you land a hit it doesn't recover your skill meter instantly, but rather there is a very deliberate and slight delay to it which encourages the rather specific maneuver of doing a charged attack and then immediately unleashing a skill to have the recovery from the charged attack max out your skill gauge again (or get close to it) right away. In addition to this of course you have four different skills on your character at once which you can remap at will and different skills are useful in different scenarios which all plays together to create a surprisingly deep and fun system from just a few variables. Worth noting that the following games basically copy this skill system precisely only changing up the way skills are acquired and expanding your dodging and guarding options. Even so there's a certain magic to how well it works in Ys Seven, and that may in no small part be due to its challenge.

I would not call Ys Seven a hard game, certainly not near the level of Felghana, but it is still a challenging game. It demands that you pay attention to it. The bosses in this game are seriously powerful and even regular enemies can become quite overwhelming if you play your cards wrong. The primary cause of this being that like with earlier games, avoiding attacks is still essentially all up to you. You have a dodge roll now but unless you place yourself in positions to actually avoid the enemy's moves you're still getting hit. The game does also give you a guarding option which is very powerful when mastered, but it can be quite rough to get used to, especially since if you mistime it you actually take forced critical damage. Also another major reason for this is that the game actually caps your healing items; while the rest of your inventory is unlimited you can only carry a pretty limited number of potions and revivals with you. So as you run through a dungeon or fight a boss it becomes a game of really figuring out how to avoid taking unnecessary damage lest you like watching your supply of healing items dwindle and deplete like crazy. And this gives the game's combat a serious edge that I enjoyed a lot.

By the way this should be no surprise by now, but the game's OST is phenomenal. Certainly one of the more memorable scores in the series. First stepping out of the bustling city and hearing Mother Earth Altago begin to play inspires a sense of going on a fun adventure that's hard to even describe. And then you get to the first boss and hear a damn hype boss theme on a fight that's both unexpected and harder than you'd imagine it being, to show right away that this game knows how to play you. There's a lot more memorable tracks but some of them have rather spoilery titles and for a change there's certainly aspects of this game I'd rather not spoil for you.

In conclusion, Ys Seven is easily one of my favorite games in the series. It introduces a whole new style of combat and exploration for the series and does it with remarkable skill while sticking to an overall traditional fantasy adventure plot but with Falcom's expected level of finesse and attention to detail, creating just an overall amazing game. The characters, boss fights and areas are all really memorable, giving a feeling similar to Felghana of being a game with very little padding, and that's in spite of the fact that you more or less travel the world twice. It's a wonderful entry in the Ys series and one I can wholeheartedly recommend to newcomers and veterans alike.

Next we move on to another remake and the semifinal game on our list. Stay tuned!