The Ys series is known for bucking most of the trends that gamers expect from Japanese RPGs. Rather than being a franchise based on its storytelling, Ys is built on hacking and slashing until you eliminate every monster on the screen as series lead Adol Christin, with a rockin' music track playing in the background. While developer Nihon Falcom has expanded the series with their latest title, Ys Seven, adding more of the "traditional" aspects found in more well-known Japanese RPGs, is this type of game a relic better left forgotten or is it a gem that gamers shouldn't overlook?
In Ys Seven, Adol and his buddy Dogi have set out on yet another quest, this time taking them to the far-away land of Altago, where they are looking for adventure and treasure. Ys fans should be used to this storyline by now as this is essentially how each of the game's storylines starts out. But things quickly take a turn for the worst as they begin to learn of a seemingly random sequence of events and illnesses afflicting the land. And as expected, the King of Altago asks Adol and Dogi to investigate the events, which lead the duo, along with a plethora of other playable characters, in an effort to save Altago from impending doom. While this sounds like all of the typical RPG tropes bundled into one, which save for a few plot twists it is, the game itself is so much fun that you'll overlook these issues.
In a change for the series, Ys Seven allows you to now control three characters, which can be switched out using the Circle button on the PSP. Attacks are mapped to the Cross button, dodging via rolling is mapped to the Square button, and a menu which contains healing, equip-able, and other miscellaneous items is mapped to the Triangle button. Attacks can be charged up by holding the attack button, and by delivering enough attacks a meter will fill up, giving you access to four different skills. These can be swapped in and out in the game's menu and range from small, cheap attacks to massive attacks which deal loads of damage at the cost of using up more of the meter. And once you've used up enough of those skills, there's another meter which unleashes a special "Ex" skill which is complimented with flashy graphics and a cut-in of the character who executed it.
For advanced players, the battle system has some other unique features. There are three different weapon types in Ys Seven: slashing, heavy weapons, and projectiles. This is where switching between characters becomes important, as some enemies are resistant to certain attacks and are weakened by others. As I played through the game there were numerous instances where I switched between characters to deal the most damage, and the ease with which the game allows the player to do this keeps things from getting bogged down - a trait many games which employ this method usually get wrong by making the system too cumbersome. Even after playing 20+ hours in the game, the combat never gets old because you can try out new techniques and approaches, so no one battle ever feels the same.Ys Seven, as explained above, allows those not used to the action RPG genre to gradually immerse themselves, while experienced players can make use of the game's advanced techniques, which become very important in the game's boss battles. In Ys Seven, each of the bosses feels extremely unique, with multiple attack patterns which test the player's reflexes and memory to evade damage and get behind the enemy for a sneak attack. This is where one of the game's more advanced techniques, the "flash guard", comes into play. This works by pressing the two shoulder buttons right as the attack hits the character. If successful, damage is negated and the next strike on the enemy will result in a critical attack. In the game's harder difficulties this technique becomes imperative, as each boss's patterns become that much more involved. None of the bosses ever feel the same, and with 15+ bosses in the game, this is quite an impressive feat, with some of the game's later bosses being quite breathtaking in their depth, including one boss where the player must run from the boss while being chased from behind, which gives an incredible sense of satisfaction after the boss is beaten.
As was noted before, the game's story takes a backseat to the impressive gameplay mechanics, although there are quite a few different locals, which do take note of the common elemental-themed tropes in RPGs, but each area's locales feels fleshed out thanks to XSEED Games' excellent localization, which never feels stale. While not required, several side quests are available throughout the game, which range from generic to important items which give impressive stat boosts. There are also a few difficult optional bosses who test the player's limits and are just as involved as the numerous storyline bosses in the game. Last, but not least, the game features a very impressive soundtrack, which is leagues above the effort put into most games on the platform. Numerous themes in the game, ranging from the boss battles to the towns and even to the themes that play on the fields never feel re-used or rushed and greatly help to immerse the player in the game. If anything else, Ys Seven proves that console-level music can have a home on the normally underwhelming musical stylings of the PSP.
Being the first new Ys game created specifically for portable systems, Ys Seven includes some portable-specific touches. The game's loading times are quite short, never lasting more than a few seconds. Outside of boss battles the game can be saved anywhere, even inside dungeons. Dialogue can also be skipped by holding down the Circle button. While many PSP RPGs have included some of these aspects, it's rare to see a RPG which includes all of them in one place.
However, while Ys Seven does get many things right, there are some minor issues. The other two characters you aren't controlling are controlled by the game's AI, which only attack when you land attacks. With some of the game's later bosses, which require you to constantly dodge attacks unless you can perfectly perform the previously mentioned "flash guard" technique, your party members essentially will do nothing. While it's perfectly understandable that the player wouldn't want them in harm's way, when they are in a position to attack the enemy and not get it, it's annoying that the AI is so simplistic in that regard. There is also a scene in the beginning of the game which requires an odd sequence of events to force the game to progress, which even managed to confuse me until I happened to unknowingly fulfill the requirements to proceed. While this only happens once in the game, it doesn't give a good initial impression to what is otherwise a game without many issues.
Ys Seven hearkens back to the glory days of RPGs, with simpler storylines and more focus on the core gameplay. While there are some minor issues with the game, the immaculate attention to detail in both the music and gameplay easily outweigh them. Sometimes simpler is better.