Ys Series Review Part 4: Lost Kefin Kingdom of Sand
Welcome to part 4 of the Ys Series Retrospective. Last time, we looked at the insanity that was Ys IV with the different versions released over the years. Today, we will be looking at the fifth game in the series, Lost Kefin Kingdom of Sand. Unlike the previous Ys games I’ve covered where there can be a great deal of confusion thanks to all the different versions available (I’m looking at you, Ys IV!!), there is only one main version of this game and it came straight from Falcom, who returned after letting other developers handle Ys IV. The only other version of Ys V is one of Taito’s forgettable PlayStation 2 remakes. Instead of having a multitude of ports and different versions, every subsequent game in the series has had only one main version and maybe one or two ports for different platforms.
Ys V: Lost Kefin City of Sand was released on the Super Famicom on December 29, 1995, making it the first Falcom developed Ys game for a console, and the PS2 remake was released on March 30, 2006. Both of these were only released in the Japan, making Ys V the only game in the series that hasn't received an official release outside of Japan. There are probably a couple of reasons why Ys V was never released outside of Japan when it first came out, such as the lack of popularity of Falcom games in the west, which was mainly because the games were not usually released on main consoles, and the fact that the PlayStation and Saturn were already out at the time did not create a good incentive to release the game.
The gameplay of Ys V is a little different from the other Ys games that have been made up to this point. A top down view is in use like all of the Ys games at the time except for Wanderers from Ys, but gone are the days of ramming into enemies to kill them. Now you have a more traditional combat system you would find in most Action RPGs where you use an attack button to swing your sword. There is also a jump button which works surprisingly well for this type of game despite a few weird jumps here and there, and even a button that lets you use your shield, but the chances of actually using that in combat is low since the shield is pretty useless. The traditional gameplay sounds beneficial at first, but it makes the game run at a slower pace than what one would be used to if they have played the other Ys games made before or since.
The matter isn’t helped by a strange system where you collect gems from monsters and take them to one of the many towns to exchange for currency to buy weapons, items, and armor in various shops and you often see the same weapon or armor in multiple shops. The gems serve no other purpose besides being exchanged, so why not just give you the money directly and skip the pointless gems?
I should also mention the magic system used in the game where you collect various elemental stones and fuse them together to create spells you can use with your sword. This sounds great at first, especially since alchemy is significant to the plot, but ask just about anyone one who has played Ys V and they will tell you that the magic system is USELESS!!! In fact, I didn’t even bother using it at all in my most recent playthrough other than messing around, and I got through just fine. The uselessness of magic boils down to a few things, mainly the clunkiness of the magic controls (and the controls overall) and the fact that you cannot use magic in most of the boss fights for plot-related reasons. This, combined with the fact that magic uses a different leveling system than sword attacks, results in a system where there is little real incentive to use it.
It also doesn’t help that this game’s difficulty is a complete JOKE!! Outside of a few sections that result from subpar design, there is almost no challenge at all even with the bosses, which is surprising for a series known to have some pretty challenging games. Some of this difficulty, or lack thereof, is due to the fact that multiple healing items of one type can be gathered and used in a boss battle, a marked difference from the boss battles of the past where you can usually carry only one healing item, usually an herb, at a time and there is only one resurrection item per game that is best saved for the end boss.
All of this results in an Ys game that doesn’t at all feel like one. Say what you will about Ys III, but it at least feels like an Ys game. This game does not, making it the true black sheep of the series in my opinion. You know what this game feels like? It feels like Adol got lost on one of his other adventures and wandered into some random, generic SNES RPG. The menu design and the music doesn’t help with that especially since the music is orchestrated like most RPGs, drastically different from the rock n roll style music the Ys games are generally known for. While the tracks are good, they don't seem to have that Falcom flair. Furthering this is that some of the plot elements and characters from the older Ys games such as Dogi, the Eldeen, and even the Romuns are not in the game or even mentioned, though there seem to be some Romun soldier wannabes in the game. Though it’s a good thing the SNES had many great RPGs like Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI, so Adol chose a good system to get lost on.
While this may be the weakest of the Ys games in my opinion, it is not without its good elements. One of the best aspects in the story and another interesting addition is the ability to change the color of your armor and eventually your hair at some point. While interesting, it did not really add to anything except for a bit of comic relief.
If you've looked at some of the previous Ys retrospectives you will know that Falcom has proven a few times in that they listen to criticism and amidst the complaints Ys V got, the main one was the game’s lack of difficulty. In direct response to this, Falcom released an updated version of the game for the Super Famicom called Ys V Expert just a few months after the release of the original game on March 22, 1996 which increases the difficulty of the game. Interestingly enough, that's almost exactly a decade before the Taito remake was release.
Ys V’s plot, which is probably the best part of the game, is set a couple of years after Adol’s adventures in Felghana where Adol arrives in the city of Xandria in the continent of Afroca. He runs into trouble with some local soldiers as soon as he gets off the boat who interrogate him until the guard captain, a woman named Rizzie, gets them to leave Adol alone.
He is then invited to the home of a wealthy man named Dorman who is searching for information about the lost city of Kefin that disappeared over five centuries ago. If you’ve played enough RPGs, you’ll probably figure out quickly that Dorman and Rizzie are two of the villains of the story. Adol must go around collecting a series of crystals that are connected to the lost city. One of the characters, Massea, practices the art of alchemy and teaches it to Adol with the intention of helping him on his quest. Unfortunately, the game design has other plans.
As Adol travels around Xandria he has several run-ins with the Ibur Family, a group of thieves consisting of a woman, Alga, her two sons, Nortis and Dios, and her daughter, Terra. They start out as annoyances at first, but they become Adol’s allies towards the end especially when they, along with Massea, find and enter Kefin, a city that, to make a long story short, is trapped in time.
They join up with a resistance group that tries to free the city and raid the castle, where they discover that Rizzie is Kefin royalty and that some of the townsfolk are being sacrificed to fuel the city. Adol disrupts the sactificial ceremony and confronts the alchemist Jabur, the true mastermind of the events of the game behind Rizzie and Dorman. The fight with Jabur is laughably easy, by the way. Especially by Ys end boss standards.
Adol then leaves Xandria and when he leaves, Terra, who has taken a liking to him over the course of the adventure, vows that she will see him again in five years. They’ll actually encounter each other again in three years, but that story will be saved for next time.
Ys V is a decent game with some good intentions but ultimately comes up a little short, especially given the great RPGs that were on the SNES. My final verdict for this game is:
6/10 (above average)
While Ys V took a notable drop in quality compared to the earlier Ys games and is probably the true black sheep of the series, it still has some good ideas such as adding jumping to a top down game along a pretty good story that could do with Falcom revisiting it at some point, possibly adding more Ys elements such as an Eldeen presence or including a member of the Darkling tribe. Will this game ever see a release outside of Japan? It does seem likely given the success the Ys series has had in recent years that it will at some point. No Falcom developed remake of Ys V has been announced yet, but given the pattern they’ve had since the sixth game of releasing a new game and then a remake, it is likely that with the release of Ys VIII an announcement of a remake of the fifth game will be made in the next couple of years. If you do anything at all to it Falcom, please improve the magic system! You created an interesting system here, but it just needs a purpose for being there other than because of the plot.
Whether Nihon Falcom was detoured by the reception this game received or any number of other factors, they would not release that many new games for a long time and would instead focus on rereleasing and remaking some of their older games to the point that the Ys series entered and long hiatus and ended up skipping an entire console generation. The sixth Ys game, while taking the good elements from Ys V and improving upon them, would not emerge until eight years later. We will be talking about Ys VI next time, so stay tuned.