It’s been a great year for fans of the Ys franchise. With Ys Seven providing a robust and entertaining new adventure for series protagonist Adol Christin and an expansive world to explore on the PSP, it’s clear that the PSP is slowly becoming the handheld of choice for this venerable RPG series. Since the series debut in 1987, there have been several releases over the years as well as re-releases, the latest being Ys: The Oath in Felghana, a remake of Ys III: Wanders of Ys that ditches the original’s side-scrolling gameplay and transposes the more ‘correct’ top-down perspective that fans have decided is the only way to play. As these glossy new updates are being subsequently released, my respect and admiration for the cult classics grows and grows. You have to respect games that can open up a brand new world for gamers who have never experienced them before, such as myself. I’m a relative newcomer to Ys, having dabbled previously in DS and PSP iterations, so it was a treat to see this game without the rose-colored glasses of youth.
Ys: The Oath in Felghana is off to a rousing start, quickly introducing players to staples Adol and Dogi, making their way to town after getting off of a boat, on the way to a sleepy little town known as Redmont. Dogi reminisces about the carefree days of his childhood, but is soon interrupted by a savage bark ringing through the air. Adol and Dogi rush to find the source, only to be met with a doe-eyed blonde named Elena, under attack by wolves. After scattering the wolves, Adol and Dogi continue to make their way into Redmont, where they discover that malevolent forces are threatening the townspeople, par for the course in most JRPGs, and it’s up to them to stop it. Thus, The Oath in Felghana begins.
One of this fun little adventure’s shining points is its engrossing and fast-paced combat system; the real meat of the narrative. Melee attacks are at your disposal with the press of a button, as are elemental spells obtained via special bracelets: earth, wind, and fire to quickly dispose of the baddies in real-time. Combat is frenetic and simple to understand. Chaining melee attacks together is rewarded with combo multipliers, changing the rate and frequency at which monsters tend to drop items and special pick-ups that improve defense, attack, and speed stats. Monsters will also drop healing herbs and several other items, which soon prove as a godsend, since other than healing herbs a trip to town would be necessary in order to get back up to speed. Aside from melee attacks and spells, a jump button is also available, rounding out the simple and accessible control scheme. This action-oriented battle system is quick and painless and keeps the game from being mired in the same scenes too long, as it’s always fun to hop into battle, button-mash some baddies into oblivion, and reap the spoils.
Adol’s journey to get to the bottom of the evil threatening Redmont is a strict, traditional one, offering plenty of town exploration, dungeon conquests, and puzzles to solve on the way. You might be expecting other mechanics to follow suit, since this is a very classic, old-school adventure that you might be used to if you’re a seasoned RPG player, but that’s actually not the case. Upon a smashing defeat doled out by a particularly nasty boss, you are given the option to try again, saving precious time and preserving your sanity just a tad longer. Similarly, the option to transport to past save points previously visited throughout the game via use of a magical pendant is a boon, especially when navigating dungeons, the bane of plenty of gamers’ existence – getting killed in one is almost a sure thing sometimes when you’re caught without the right equipment (or in this case, healing herbs.)
You can also collect an element known as raval ore in order to upgrade your precious weapons, upping your defense quotient or how much damage you do, but you’ll need to get your explorer’s gloves on and dig deep in order to find a sufficient amount to keep upgrading over and over.
While the game can easily be conquered in 8 to 10 hours depending on how much ground you want to cover and how much backtracking for treasure/raval ore you want to do, it’s a straightforward, no-frills adventure that the genre is somewhat lacking in as of late, and that’s part of what makes it such a satisfying play. Its graphics have lovingly re-imagined the original’s (1989’s Ys III: Wanderers from Ys) side-scrolling perspective and retain a very classical anime-inspired feel, combining 2D sprites and tremendously detailed 3D environments with full-body anime portraits of the characters. It lends a very “warm” feel to what used to seem like a very “cookie-cutter” 2D side-scrolling adventure. It livens up the classic game so much and with so much of an anime-inspired look, one could almost take one look at it and dismiss it as simply another “terrible” JRPG on the horizon. And I would implore one to reconsider, as it may not be flashy, but it’s got a lot of heart.
Speaking of heart, the game has one of the best soundtracks this side of 2010, at least erring on the side of RPGs. Not that true Ys fans will be surprised, as it’s got a timeless feel to it, combining thunderous rock, thumping dance beats, and other subtle nuances, making each and every new area feel like a brand new game as far as its theme music goes. It’s really something to behold, especially if you’re a fan of work such as Nobuo Uematsu’s masterful Final Fantasy scores, and a soundtrack you might consider purchasing after having spent several hours in-game humming along to familiar motifs over and over.
As far as remakes go, Ys: The Oath in Felghana is a fantastic way to experience the third entry into the fabled Ys saga, especially if you’ve never done so before. It’s quick, traditional, but not yet full of boring fetch quests and filler to artificially lengthen the narrative. Really, more RPGs should follow its example and let the story run its natural course, rather than drag on where the narrative should’ve ended hours ago. Adol’s stories are wrapped up neatly (for the most part) and it’s one aspect I wish other franchises would take note of. In all, this is a great introduction for newbies and a heartfelt update for those who eagerly tore this out of the wrapping the year I was born. I can see myself playing through the original to make some of those dire comparisons, as I enjoyed my time within the world that much I want to know what all was changed. In the end I did rather savor getting to the bottom of an ancient evil, and I surmise you will, too.