Impressions: Ys Seven

The Ys series, a venerable and long-running RPG franchise from developer Falcom, returns to Sony’s portable darling with Ys Seven, the latest numerical sequel in a long list of releases, most of which haven’t made it Stateside. This entry found its way to gamers in Japan last September, while North American experience point junkies had to wait about a year for a followup to the brilliant Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. Ys chronicles the adventures of one Adol the Red, or Adol Christin to those not acquainted with the swordsman, as well as the companions he meets along the way. Entries in this series have appeared everywhere from the MSX2 to cell phones, and it shows no signs of slowing. The latest addition was released in Japan last year and thanks to Xseed Games, lucky non-Japanese fans can now enjoy the latest addition to the stalwart RPG series keeps players comfortable and coming back for more.

In this addition to the Ys family, Adol, along with buddy Dogi, are landing at Altago to investigate some strange goings-on such as random earthquakes and vicious monsters with no regard for human life. Obviously these things make living here a total nightmare, so Adol and Dogi are set to get to the bottom of what’s causing this brouhaha. Throughout an admittedly slow beginning for story exposition and traditional RPG mainstays: investigate, talk to everyone, and learn the basics, you’ll progress from sluggish conversational sequences to the real meat of the game: battling – and lots of it.

Though it might be surprising to hear, action isn’t turn-based. RPG die-hards may find that hard to swallow when looking toward a long-running series like this for traditionalism, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Ys Seven continues the franchise’s long history and plays much more like an action title than a run-of-the-mill JRPG. Full parties are comprised of three members, but rather than prancing forth for a slap-hand fight with your enemy and running back to a safe distance, you control one character at a time in real time.

Each character has a quick-hit combo for use with the face buttons for dealing basic damage as well as charge attacks that deplete SP points in your SP gauge. These special attacks range from a furious flurry of fists to more ranged attacks, but all pack a considerable wallop when dealing with the game’s more beastly foes. Each character’s skill sets can be leveled up through subsequent battles, but there’s a twist. Rather than simply gaining these skills, they’re acquired via equipping new and different weapons. It’s a system I haven’t enjoyed as much since the days of the Final Fantasy IX gem system and one that I particularly loved — it gave me an excuse to continue trying out all the new weapons at my disposal rather than sticking with the one that gave me the best stats. With each character dabbling in a certain weapon type (Aisha with bows or piercing weapons, for example) this is a blessing in disguise, since otherwise you might not be pushed into trying all of the available selection out. I know I’m picky with such things.

The AI handles your other two companions (very competently, I might add) while you pummel enemies into oblivion. You can damage ‘friendlies’ with area-specific attacks, so be careful, but for the most part AI partners know when to keep out of the way and let you take center stage. Combat is fluid and fast-paced, in such stark contrast to most RPGs, channeling modern romps like Kingdom Hearts and the like where even after-combat space is rewarding in that you must pick up all the “phat loot drops.”

Ys Seven is a self-contained adventure, so if you’re new to the series, there’s no need to worry about being lost or having to keep up with the story so far. And this outing is packed with a lot of heart. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly overflowing with new and exciting backdrops, and you’ll be fighting through the same dungeons (five, to be exact) twice, and I can’t find any real discernible reason why this should be acceptable.  At least your second trip is peppered with different dungeon layouts and slightly different arrangements, but even this can’t mask the fact that you’re still backtracking to the exact same locations you’ve already visited.  Nostalgia is one thing, but I think we’ve all grown past this ‘game-extending’ cheat by now, and it’s time the Ys series had, too.

This wouldn’t be the true Y’s experience without a throbbing, synth-heavy soundtrack to go along with it, and that’s exactly what you’ll get with Ys Seven’s surprisingly rocking set by frequent series contributor and ‘gods of metal’ JDK Band.  While not approaching the exquisite metallic cheese of the earliest games, they certainly give it their best shot by providing some of the best tracks in some time, often going well beyond simply replicating the distinctive Ys style and providing actual music that not only fits the game like a glove, but sounds great blasting out of your speakers (or headphones, if that’s your thing).

I have few qualms with Ys Seven’s frenetic action and enjoyable plot line. In fact, it may act as an acceptable gateway drug into the expansive game world that several RPG fanatics are already well entrenched in. It’s a fun, light adventure that feels genuinely rewarding for pressing on, even tossing in some new friends along the way. While not my favorite entry in the Ys series, it definitely sets the bar high and provides an exciting and invigorating experience just waiting for new fans to hop in and see what’s out there.

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