Ys Series Review Part 5: The Ark of Napishtim
Welcome to part 5 of the Ys Series Retrospective. In the last part we took a look at the fifth game in the Ys series that had more than a few problems. This part will focus on the sixth game, The Ark of Napishtim.
After the rocky reception the fifth Ys game received, the Ys series went on a long hiatus that ended eight years later when Ark of Napishtim was released. The game was developed by Falcom for PC and was released in Japan on September 27, 2003. The PC version did not see a release worldwide until almost twelve years later on April 28, 2015, but the game was ported to the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable by Konami, both of which released in Japan, North America, and Europe. The PS2 port was released in all regions in 2005, ending a thirteen-year hiatus for the Ys series in the United States with the last release being the SNES port of the Ys III. The PSP version was released in all regions in 2006. Keep these ports in mind, especially the PS2 version. They will be important for later.
The U.S. release of the PS2 dropped the VI from the title, probably so fans who waited thirteen years for a sequel weren’t made aware that there were two sequels that they never saw. However, longtime fans of the series were likely already aware of the missing games. Not that removing the number helps since there are many references to Ys V including a character. There will be more on that in the story section.
Ys VI is the first Ys game that is in 3D. Well, sort of. While the backgrounds are 3D, the characters are 2D sprites that are well designed and actually go together quite well. The gameplay is similar to that of the fifth game with the overhead view and the jumping, only it is far more refined and the game moves at a swift pace one would expect to see from an Ys game. There is a bit of a difference though from the previous games. In older Ys games, you buy most of the swords and armor at various shops and while you still buy armor and items in the shops in this game, swords are a different story. There are three that you get throughout the game at different points according to the plot, but they are not replacements for each other. Rather, each one grants you a different moveset and elemental attack. Those elements are wind, fire, and lightning, and one type can be more effective against some enemies than others. As a result you must choose the best sword to use in a particular area and even against certain enemies in the same area. While the gameplay of Ark of Napishtim is well refined, there is one move that very few people who have played this game like since it only seems to work when it feels like it.
That move is known as the Dash Jump, which requires a specific button combination. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that well at feels like it is either broken or poorly implemented. Luckily it is only required to get through a few parts of the game and to get some items that are not required to beat the game. If it was required more than it was, the game would probably not have the best reception.
While the plot of the game itself is not particularly noteworthy, what is noteworthy is the importance this game has on the Ys lore as it goes into great detail about the rise and fall of the Eldeen. The events of the game take place about three years after Adol’s adventures in Xandria. He, along with Dogi, are onboard a ship run by a pirate named Ladoc along with a character anyone who played Ys V would be familiar with.
That character is Terra, the annoying brat who was a part of the Ibur Gang. It seems that at some point between the two games Terra decided to travel the seas with her father, who is revealed to be Ladoc, with the hope of running into Adol. Anyway, after the ship is attacked by a Romun fleet near the Canaan Islands Adol is thrown overboard and washes up on an island inhabited by a tailed race known as the Redans.
He is rescued by a woman named Olha, a priestess as well as the niece of the village chief. The chief does not trust Adol at first, but that changes when he saves Olha’s sister, Isha, from a powerful monster. He is given a sword to help fight against some of the strong monsters on the Canaan Islands. He is told about a village where other humans who washed up on the islands currently live at. The humans and the Redan chief are not exactly on good terms though, mostly since the merchant from the land of Altago who runs the village destroyed a bunch of ancient ruins so the people could build the village in the first place.
Adol makes his way there where he meets a familiar face in the form of Raba, also known as the old man we met in Darm Tower in the original Ys. He ended up on the Canaan Islands in the six years between Ys I and Ys VI and is stuck there thanks to the vortex that surrounds the islands. He is currently studying some of the ruins of the island along with training a Redan named Ur, the son of the chief. After becoming acquainted with the villagers, Adol goes to investigate all of the ruins on the island and comes across three fairies along the way who are trying to break the seal on an ancient weather control machine created by the Eldeen, the titular Ark of Napishtim.
He gets the three swords that are actually the keys to the ark and has a few encounters with a black-haired mercenary named Geis who seems to be going after someone. While traveling around the Canaan Islands, Adol finds several tablets that detail the history of the Eldeen along with a tribe of humans they gave their knowledge to. This group, unfortunately, wanted more and tried to create things like the Eldeen, resulting in the creation of many monsters we have seen throughout the series. The most notable of these creatures are the Galbalans, including the one from Ys III and the various living weapons from Memories of Celceta. This tribe tried to gain control of the Ark and it ended up wiping out almost all of the Eldeen.
After Adol reunites with Dogi, Ladoc, Terra, and the others from their ship the Romuns show up and take over at the command of Admiral Agares and his commander, a black-haired man named Ernst, and they capture most of the Redans with the intent of selling them into slavery when they return to Romn. Adol and Terra break into their ships and free all of the Redans with the exception of Isha, who Ernst takes with him.
Ernst is the main villain of the story who created the three fairies Adol encounters to act as the three keys to the Ark as he wishes to open it. This is why he took Isha with him as he needs someone of a priestess’s bloodline to awaken it. He is also Geis’s older brother and the person he is after. Geis tries to keep him from freeing the Ark by placing sealing spells on alters in some ruins that keep the fairies from completing their task, but the merchant running the human village goes to the ruins and removes the seals despite protests from Raba.
The Ark is then awoken by Ernst along with a monster that destroys the Romun fleet, marking the end of Agares which isn’t a huge loss. Adol then goes to confront Ernst along with Geis, who reveals that they are descendants of the tribe that destroyed the Eldeen.
When Adol meets Ernst he seems to be more than familiar with Adol’s adventures and his encounters with the Eldeen, mentioning the events of all of the previous games. Ernst is defeated and realizes his foolishness, but not before awakening the Ark which Adol then destroys before he and Dogi go off in search of their next adventure.
While Ys VI, especially its plot, may not seem like much today, it is still a fun game that successfully revived the Ys series after the blow the fifth game gave it. It had a huge impact from a plot perspective as both Ys remakes made since made refences to lore revealed in Ark of Napishtim and even a few characters in an effort to maintain continuity. For instance, in the Memories of Celceta section of my Ys IV article I mentioned Danan Village. The people of that village are the descendants of the people who destroyed the Eldeen who Eldeel decided to save and bring to Celceta. Say, Ernst and Geis are descendants from that same group aren’t they? Surely that’s just a coincidence, right? The answer is no. Memories of Celceta does everything except flat out mention them by name, but it reveals that they were originally from Danan village and Ernst was one of the people who left with Gruda. Geis left a short while later to hunt him down.
Falcom must have really liked the Napishtim engine since they used it in two other Ys games. One was Oath in Felghana and the other was a game we will be looking at in part 6, not to mention Falcom also used the engine for a few non-Ys games like the Trails in the Sky trilogy which is a part of their other main series, The Legend of Heroes. Each of the Ys games using the engine greatly improved upon it and fixed some of the problems Ys VI had such as the dash jump, replacing it with a much better wind jump along with a double jump. Not to mention that some gameplay differences exist such as no longer being able to carry a supply of healing items. Instead, you automatically use any healing item you come across. This modification was brought back into Ark of Napishtim when XSeed brought the PC version to the west in the form of the added catastrophe modes.
The PS2 Port
I don’t usually focus on an individual port for these games, but this is an exception. When Konami ported the game to the PS2 in 2005 they made several alterations to, in their eyes, make it appeal to a western audience. Let’s take a look at some of the main changes from the eyes of Konami.
“This game looks good but man, look at those 2D sprites! Nobody wants those in games anymore, so replace them with 3D models of all of the characters that don’t go with the style of the background when compared with the original. Since we’re so generous we will use real time render, so whenever you change armor the model will reflect that.”
“What about the anime cutscenes that this game uses? Americans don’t want to see those, right? So let’s replace them with awful CGI cutscenes that makes Adol look terrifying. At least we added an introduction to explain what’s going on. Let’s add some terrible voice acting and cast Bulma from Dragon Ball Z as that Terra woman while we’re at it. We’d better include the option to switch to the original cutscenes along with the Japanese voice track in the cheat menu so those westerners know what we saved them from. They’ll thank us later.”
“While we’re at it, why don’t we add a strange series of trials called the Almas Trials to get items you can already find in the main game and create a character who will never be considered canon? They should like that.”
“We’ll just throw in a talking publicly about replacing Nihon Falcom’s highly praised soundtrack and we’re set. Oh, what’s that? There’s a huge fan backlash to the idea of changing the music. Uh…never mind, then. We were just joking. Still, with the other improvements we made Falcom is sure to hire us again, right?”
That’s how I imagine the changes made to the PS2 version came to be. Oh, and I wasn’t kidding about the CG cutscenes by the way. The animation is pretty bad and tries (and fails spectacularly at) being realistic, which doesn’t really fit with the Ys series. Konami must have seen the error of their ways when they made the PSP version since they removed the 3D and voice acting, or they figured the PSP couldn’t handle it since it runs poorly on the system as is.
Fortunately, XSeed saw fit in releasing the game as is when they localized the original PC version, only adding improvements such as the catastrophe mode and creating a better gaming experience.
In conclusion, Ark of Napishtim is an important game for the Ys series. Not only did it revive the series, it also added important elements to the lore that have stuck around and have been mentioned in most of the Ys games made since, especially remakes and reimaginings like Oath in Felghana and Memories of Celceta. The game doesn’t seem like much today, but I still highly recommend tracking a copy down. Just don’t get the PS2 or PSP versions. Get the PC version on Steam or GOG instead. It is more accessible and is ultimately a better experience. My final verdict is:
The gameplay has some issues that keep it from getting a higher score, but it is still a good game that is worth playing. Well, I hope you enjoyed this look at Ys VI. Join me next time and we will look at the next game, Ys Origin. The final Ys game that uses the Napishtim engine.