Ys Series Review Part 1: Ancient Ys Vanished and the Final Chapter
The Ys series by Nihon Falcom is one of the oldest RPG franchises in existence and has endured for thirty years, surviving longer than many other series. However, unlike other RPG series that are as old or slightly older, there have only been eight main entries. Eleven if you count remakes and alternate takes, and twelve if you count a prequel game. This is in stark contrast with the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series, both of which are around the same age and have more spinoffs than main entries. With the thirtieth anniversary of the Ys series quickly approaching, I decided to take the opportunity to look at the nine main entries that have been made so far. I will be covering the first eight in the weeks leading up to the thirtieth anniversary and I will be covering the ninth and most recent entry in the fall following its U.S. release. Potential story spoilers lie ahead, so proceed at your own risk.
Ys is the oldest RPG series I know of that focuses on a single character, and the oldest Action RPG series for certain to have that honor. The aforementioned central character is an adventurer named Adol Christian, sometimes called Adol the Red due to his flaming red hair, as he travels throughout the world and gets in all sorts of trouble. His first adventure, Ancient Ys Vanished, was released for the PC-8801 on June 21, 1987 and was ported to the MSX2, Sharp X1, FM-77, and PC-9801 later in the same year with many ports for the Famicom, DOS, Sharp X68000 and Master System among others arriving in the years that followed.
1. Ancient Ys Vanished
From a gameplay perspective, the original Ys is one that might seem strange to modern gamers since in that game, you defeat enemies by running into them. If that style of gameplay sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same style that was used in T&E Soft’s 1984 game Hydlide, along with its infamous NES port. It seems that Hydlide served as a strong influence on the original Ys since Falcom took the idea of running into enemies to kill them and turned it into something fun and even giving it a strategy of sorts where you have to run into enemies from the side to minimize damage to yourself. That’s not the only idea Ys borrowed from Hydlide, though. The game also uses regenerating health which has been in every game since and has shown up in tons of modern games. Though to be fair, regenerating health did not originate in Hydlide and was used in Falcom’s 1984 game, Dragon Slayer. All of this leads to a fun game with some good ideas for the time and actually makes level grinding fun, which is a good thing since leveling is very important and going up even a single level can bear great results. If there is one thing that Ys excels in above all else, it’s the music. The soundtracks in Nihon Falcom’s games has always been some of the best the games industry has ever composed, and that was just as true then as it is now and really got the best out of the sound chips of early consoles and PCs. They are truly tracks that should be acknowledged for the masterpieces they are.
Ys I Plot
The plot of the game is simple. Sixteen-year-old Adol Christian arrives in the town of Minea in the land of Esteria where he meets a fortune teller named Sara who has been looking for a swordsman to find the six Books of Ys, which contain the history of an ancient land called Ys that disappeared seven hundred years ago. They were kept by the descendants of the six priests who wrote, but and some of them were recently stolen by a cloaked being who has also stolen all of the silver in the land. He goes around to a temple and mine to collect some of the books, meeting a few mysterious girls named Feena and Reah, the former serving as Adol’s love interest for the game. A recurring element that would pop up in many future games. He gets one book at the house of the fortune teller after she is murdered by the game’s primary antagonist, Dark Fact. A rogue descendant of one of the priests who stole the books along with all the silver since it’s his only weakness. Following this, Adol goes to the ancient Darm Tower to gather the remaining Books of Ys, getting the last one after killing Dark Fact. A boss with a movement pattern that resembles an old screensaver.
The result is a boss fight that’s difficult even at the maximum level, which is practically required to beat the game. Anyway, after getting the last Book of Ys Adol is enveloped in a pillar of light and this ends the game on a cliffhanger. Would the cliffhanger ever be resolved? Would we ever know where that pillar of light leads? Would we ever see the end of the story?
2. Ancient Ys Vanished: The Final Chapter
Yes, we would! The game’s sequel, Ancient Ys Vanished: The Final Chapter was released on the PC-8801 on June 24, 1988 and was ported to many of the same systems such as the MSX2, PC-9801, DOS, Sharp X1, FM-77, and Famicom. Unlike the first game, which did get a few U.S. releases on the Master System and DOS, this one did not get a release stateside at least not by itself. More on that later.
Not much has changed in the gameplay department here. It is more or less the same as the first game, only it has been greatly improved. Ys I is a short game that can be completed in only a few hours, maybe seven hours if you take your time with it, whereas Ys II is a bigger adventure that will probably take about ten or so hours to complete. While not long by modern RPG standards, it is still longer than many other games were at the time. There is also a wider range of terrain. The first game mostly takes place in plains, mountains, and dungeons whereas the second game adds icy and even fire areas to that, creating a greater variety with different enemy types and creating a richer world. Like the first game, you kill enemies by bumping into them and use the same strategy where it’s recommended to hit them from the side. While the combat is mostly the same, there is one new inclusion in the form of magic. You learn a few spells over the course of the game that can help in combat, light up areas, freeze time, create a shield, and even turn Adol into a small yellow demon-like creature known as a Roo to converse with demons. These spells lead to a greater amount of strategy in boss battles where some of the spells help to make short work of them and minimizes the damage taken from running into them.
Ys II Plot
The plot picks up right where the first game leaves off with Adol disappearing into a pillar of light. The pillar of light takes Adol to the floating land of Ys where he is found by a girl named Lilia and is taken to her village. Here he learns that the land, like Esteria below, has suffered from many recent monster attacks as Dark Fact had broken the seal on an ancient evil, awakening the demons along with it. Adol’s first order of business is to take the Books of Ys to a nearby temple and leave them with the statues of the six priests who wrote them. While doing this, he must save a local doctor who is trapped in a nearby mine and after gathering some ingredients, he cures a fatal illness that Lilia suffers from.
Following this, Adol goes to an icy mountain which leads to an underground fire area, where he meets a few descendants of the priests. One of them was turned into a demon shortly before the events of the game and helps Adol out a few times. On the other side of the fire area is a town in front of the demons’ stronghold where they have been capturing and executing village inhabitants in an attempt to kill the remaining descendants of the priests.
Adol then raids the stronghold and faces off against Zava, one of the heads of the demons before going to the final stronghold where he destroys Dalles, the second in command of the demons and the head of the stronghold who Adol encounters a few times in the game. With Dalles out of the way, he confronts the main villain, Darm. Before he does, he meets descendants of the priests he met in both games and reunites with Reah and Feena, revealing themselves as the twin goddesses of Ys before Adol defeats Darm.
Following his defeat, Ys returns to the surface after centuries of separation and the twin goddesses seal themselves away forever with the black pearl that powered Darm and the demons. Adol leaves Esteria with a man he met in Darm tower named Dogi, and they go off in search of new adventures.
Since Ys II concludes the story of the first game, it has become common practice to bundle the two games together to the point where it is much easier to find them together than on their own and Ys II has never received a standalone release stateside outside of an iOS and Android port years later. The first and most well-known instance of the games being bundled was on the TurboGrafx-CD in 1989, followed by a U.S. release in 1990 and has stuck with most releases since. The TurboGrafx version actually combined both games into a single adventure, meaning you'll have to make your way through Ys I before you can play Ys II.
That version also includes a few extras such as animated cutscenes along with voice acting, including voiceovers from well-known voice actors like Jim Cummings and Alan Oppenheimer, among others. Most releases since have both games bundled, though they do give you the option to play Ys II without playing Ys I.
This includes 2001’s Ys I & II Complete which in turn was based 1997’s Ys Eternal for PC, a release that gave both games a fresh coat of paint and some FMV sequences. That's not all, though. several areas were expanded upon and some side quests were added along with some new extras, like the heroic act of setting random NPCs on fire. A new area was added as well to Ys I and brought in a new character named Slaff who actually made his debut in the anime adaptation of the game and was popular enough to end up in the remakes. Ys Complete is an example of how a remake should be done as it updated the original game while adding small things to make the game feel fresh.
Ys I & II Complete has served as a basis for every release of the first two games since and added elements such as character artwork in cutscenes. These changes were furthered in 2009’s Ys Chronicles, which updated the character artwork and is a marked improvement most of the time.
An interesting artwork change was for Dalles, who’s drawing was changed completely to match his appearance in the prequel game Ys Origin, which was made between the release of Complete and Chronicles. If you wish to play these games today, there are many options available that are much easier than tracking down a TurboGrafx or an old Japanese PC. The TurboGrafx-CD version of Ys I & II is available on the Wii virtual console and the most accessible version is Ys Chronicles, which is on the PSP and PlayStation Store for on both PSP and Vita. It was later ported to the PC where it is now available on Steam and GOG. That is the version I personally recommend since you can switch between the artwork for both the Complete and Chronicles versions. It’s the same with the music with the added bonus of using the soundtrack from the original PC-8801 version. If you want to play them on a mobile device, both were released on iOS and Android individually. If you have difficulty getting into the game due to its combat style but are still interested in the story, I recommend taking a look at the anime adaptations of both games since they're pretty good and reasonably faithful to the games. Well, that is all I have to say about the first two Ys games. My final verdicts for both games are:
Ys I: 7/10 (Good) Ys II: 8/10 (Great)
Next time, we will be looking at the third game in the series.