|Release: February 22, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p|
by Becky Cunningham
Nihon Falcom, a Japanese developer, isn't well-known in North America, but localization and publishing company XSEED Games hopes to change that. XSEED is currently publishing games from two major Falcom series, the epic RPG series Legend of Heroes and the action RPG series Ys (pronounced "Yees.") Ys I & II Chronicles takes gamers to the beginning of the Ys series, introducing us to the courageous wandering flame-haired swordsman, Adol Christin. The two games basically tell a single story, with Ys II beginning immediately after the end of Ys I.
Ys I begins with Adol shipwrecked on a small island kingdom that has been isolated from the rest of the world by a mysterious "stormwall." There's the matter of a rampaging demon army to take care of, and Adol sets off to defeat the demons on a journey that will lead him to the mysterious Land of Ys in Ys II. The story is told in snippets, with just enough (and sometimes not enough) information to drive the player forward to the next goal. Fortunately, XSEED has done its usual solid localization job, allowing the personalities of the various colorful characters populating the world to shine through without going over the top with wackiness or Western cultural references. Although the player never spends much time with the secondary characters in the world of Ys, many of them are interesting and memorable, not to mention carefully cataloged in the game's "notes" menu.
Ys I and II Chronicles looks rather nice for a remake of two games that came out about twenty years ago. Still character portraits and backgrounds feature lovely, anime-style artwork. The towns, character sprites, and monsters are very crisp considering their small size, and some of the boss designs are appropriately grotesque. The wilderness and dungeon tilesets aren't anything special, but they set the mood for the areas they're depicting. Unfortunately, they're also quite repetitive within areas, which doesn't help when a player gets lost in the sprawling dungeons.
The sound design of the games is a standout, particularly for fans of 1980's metal music. There are three soundtracks to choose from, but the version created especially for this port by Falcom's in-house rock band is the highest quality and the most fun to listen to. It's worth wearing headphones while playing the game, particularly for the metal tracks that play in the game's combat-oriented areas. They contrast nicely with the haunting pieces that play during slower parts of the game, and add a sense of dynamism to the adventure. The sound effects in battle do what they should, providing satisfying collision sounds when Adol slams into an enemy. There is no voice acting in Ys I and II Chronicles, but considering the large cast of characters with only small amounts of dialogue amongst them, voice acting doesn't feel necessary.
As it's an action RPG, the heart of Ys I & II Chronicles is the battle system, which is refreshingly different from the norm. In order to damage enemies with his sword, Adol simply needs to slam into them, no button presses involved. If he hits them head-on, he takes damage, but if he hits them from the back, sides, or at an angle, he does damage. The enemies do their best to attack Adol head-on, so it can be challenging not to take damage. It's important to learn to kill enemies without taking damage, because the player's health will not regenerate in dungeons without an HP-regen item equipped, and HP recovery items are in short supply. Fortunately, with practice the player will become adept at the combat system, and there is a simple joy to be found in plowing sideways into hordes of demons. There are also several difficulty levels to choose from, assisting both reflex-impaired gamers and those seeking a hard-core challenge.
The boss battles in Ys are several orders of magnitude more difficult than ordinary fights, relying on learning patterns and finding openings in order to damage the boss without getting hurt. With the limited supply of health-regenerating items, many players will find themselves having to try a boss several times before successfully beating it. It's usually a good challenge though, feeling winnable as long as the player is leveled up enough and has the correct tools needed for the fight. Luckily, the game allows one to save anywhere, and the presence of a boss in the next room is telegraphed by unique doors, so it's easy to save right before engaging a boss.