Long overdue review is overdue. I definitely haven’t forgotten about reviewing RPGs, although I’ve been taking a minor break due to school work.
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Year: 2005 (PC version), 2010 (PSP version)
After falling in love with Falcom’s Kiseki series, I’ve decided to try to delve into their even older franchise, Ys. In contrary to the slow-moving, story-heavy Legend of Heroes, the Ys series consists of fast-paced action RPGs. The Ys series has been around since 1987 for some outdated Japanese computer, and has 7 main installments up until now, with a variety of ports, remakes, reimagings, and all that other stuff you get with a long-running series. It’s also one of those things that despite being around for so long, nobody had heard of it or played it. XSEED’s partnership with Falcom has probably brought in many new fans (me, for example), but it’s still not very well-known outside of niche gaming sites or GameFAQs’ RPG boards in the West. You mention Ys somewhere filled with regular people, and nobody will have any idea what you’re talking about. Or at least that’s my experience anyways. I guess I shouldn’t give my interactions with normal people too much credit though.
Anyways, about the game itself. Ys: The Oath in Felghana is a remake of the 3rd Ys game, and according to testimonies from people all over the net, “remake” here means “completely new experience.” This is my first Ys game, and boy am I in love. All the Ys games star a red-headed young man named Adol Christin who has a thing for adventures and travelling new lands. Most of the time he travels with his beefy wall-crushing friend named Dogi, and they are constantly looking for adventure in new places (while having terrible luck with boats). In this game, they travel to Dogi’s home land of Felghana after hearing rumours about the terrible phenomena that have arisen there. In Felghana, they manage to get themselves wrapped up in the issue of Count McGuire’s corrupted ruling over the land and Dogi’s home town of Redmont, as well as an ancient legend.
The gameplay in Ys: The Oath of Felghana is loads and loads of fun. It’s fast-paced Zelda-style action (more action and less RPG, even compared to most ARPGs) with incredibly challenging bosses and platforming elements. You control only Adol, who is capable of using the sword, jumping, and magic (as story goes on). There is also a Boost Mode you can activate after the Boost Gauge, which does exactly what it says – it boosts Adol (ATK and DEF). Later in the story you’ll also be able to use Double Boost, which is activated when the Boost Guage fills up two rounds. Adol’s stats will boost higher, and his HP will slowly recover until the boost wears out. Double Boost is very useful, since it’s the only way that you can heal yourself in a boss battle. By the end of the game you’ll have three types of magic – fire (hit enemy from a distance, activate switches), wind (fly over cliffs, does AoE damage), and Earth (can negate head-on damage while thrusting Adol forward, also breaks down weak walls to reveal secret rooms). Magic uses MP, which recharges with time. The controls are customizable, you can re-map everything to your liking.
What makes this game truly fun are the challenging boss fights. You will need to have good memorization and quick reflexes in order to defeat the bosses, which usually have loads of HP and do quite a bit of damage to you. The key is to dodge and refrain from taking hits, while striking at the right moments. Button mashing will NOT work in Ys, at least for Normal or beyond. Grinding might help in reducing the damage you take a bit, but you won’t be able to grind 5 levels and expect to be able to stand in front of the boss and takes all the hits while button mashing. The EXP level scales so the game prevents you from overlevelling too much. I have crappy reflexes and don’t play ARPGs all that often so I had trouble with even Normal mode, but this is the kind of game where practice makes everything. I must have died a billion times against most of the bosses before finally getting the timing of their attacks right. The final boss, as if to counter my common complaints about final bosses being pushovers, is everything that a final boss should be – difficult, long, epic, fun, three different stages, and feels like 3D danmaku. Okay, maybe the last point doesn’t need to apply for everything, but it’s bonus points in the difficult and fun departments. Anyways, if you enjoy action and a good challenge, you’ll love Ys. It’s also a bonus if you enjoy platforming elements too (and if you don’t…certain parts may frustrate you but nothing too bad).
Ys: The Oath in Felghana is difficult, but not unforgiving. After dying against a boss you can choose to retry the fight immediately (this needs to be an option in every RPG), and if you die enough you can choose to reduce difficulty for that boss fight only. Dying in the dungeon will let you restart from when you entered that screen. Later on you gain the ability to warp out of any dungeon to any previously-visited save point, and believe me you will be doing that a lot since the dungeon enemies get tough fast. Ys is great because it’s both forgiving and challenging. A playthrough isn’t too long (around 15-20 hours), but there’s loads of replayability since there’s 6 difficulty modes from Very Easy to Inferno to play from, and you unlock pictures in the gallery each time you beat the game on a different difficulty mode. There’s also Time Attack mode where you can fight just the bosses. Overall, Ys has amazing gameplay that is suitable for both noobs and masochists.
The story is fairly light, especially if you put it next to the monster script of the Legend of Heroes: ____ no Kiseki games. You won’t find anything ground-breaking in the plot, but it’s decent enough for a short action RPG that leans heavily on the action side. The story flows well, has good pacing, and never drags out. The story isn’t memorable enough to play the game JUST for it, but it compliments the gameplay nicely and does its job properly.
I actually found the characters to be quite memorable, possibly because there aren’t that many key characters. This game has one town, so you’ll get acquainted with the important people easily. Like the story, they’re not very unique or ground-breaking, but they do add to the game.
Adol – The main character of the Ys series, characterized by his fiery red hair and love for adventure. He’s a silent protagonist whose actions are described by narration.
Dogi – Adol’s beefy friend and travel companion whom he met on one of his previous adventures. Dogi is known for being good at crushing walls, and is quite an out-going guy.
Elena – A kind girl with a strong sense of justice who lives in Redmont, and is also Dogi’s childhood friend. She’s prone to getting into danger because she likes to wander out of town despite monsters being rampant throughout Felghana.
Chester – Elena’s older brother, who has been missing for a while. It turns out that he has been working for the Count McGuire that everybody in Redmont including Chester himself hated. It seems that he has his reasons and acts pretty bitchy towards Adol, but Elena insists that he is a good person.
Count McGuire – the corrupt noble in control of Felghana. He’s been ruining the lives of the people in Redmont for the past years, like prohibiting miners from mining despite that being the town’s primary industry, and using all the money to build himself a nice, fancy castle.
The graphics are on pretty much the same level as Sora no Kiseki/Trails in the Sky since they use the same engine. Environments aren’t very impressive, but they look decent and don’t hurt your eyes. Ys with its giant bosses and projectiles thrown across the entire screen would’ve looked fabulous on the big screen though. That kind of stuff would be much easier on the eyes if it was on a console.
Artwork has a classic look, although not TOO outdated. Character design is kinda plain for anyone other than Adol, especially compared to later Falcom games.
Falcom brings us some fabulous tracks for this game. As a whole, I like the soundtrack of Felghana better than the Sora no Kiseki OST. The BGM is very pleasing to the ears, especially the boss battle tracks. It’s fast-paced as a whole, just like the rest of the game.
I definitely recommend this game for anyone in the mood for the A in ARPGs. It’s got 6 difficulty modes (5 available from the start) so Oath is suitable regardless of your skill and experience (although the difficulty is what makes it fun). A single playthrough is rather short for an RPG, so you don’t have to be afraid of losing yourself in a long-winded plot. Dungeons are well-designed and exciting, you’ll never simply wander down a corridor. The challenging bosses are definitely the main highlight, but the game is very forgiving and you can lower the difficulty multiple times if you get frustrated. Definitely play if you want fair, challenging action. If you don’t play a lot of action RPGs (or have crappy reflexes like me) you’ll likely get wiped out easily during boss fights, but beating the game (or even individual bosses) will bring you a great sense of satisfaction.