Back in 1989 Nihon Falcom released Ys III: Wanderers from Ys. While it carried the same basic spirit as the first two titles in the series, it featured a radically different gameplay style, switching to a side-scrolling format instead of the previous top-down camera view. It became somewhat of a black sheep in the series, as no other game in the series since has used that style. In 2005 the company released Ys: The Oath in Felghana, a PC remake of Wanderers featuring a more Ys-like battle system using a modified version of Ys: The Ark of Napishtim's gameplay mechanics. While the PC version never got released outside of Japan, a PSP port of the PC version has thanks to XSEED Games. For long-time fans and recent fans, thanks to the release of Ys SEVEN earlier this year, does Ys: The Oath in Felghana deliver or does its original "black" roots keep it from being all it could be?
Similar to Natsume's Lufia: The Curse of the Sinistrals, Ys: The Oath in Felghana keeps many of the story elements, characters and locales from Wanderers with some minor changes here and there, but the presentation, complete with all-new artwork, music and voiceovers, gives the game a fresh new look and feel. The graphics give off a quasi-3D look while keeping with the game's traditional 2D-ish roots. The voiceovers, save for a few people, are great. There are a few standout roles you're bound to notice if you've played enough Japanese-based RPGs in the past. The in-dialogue artwork is very polished, each with a variety of designs depending on the mood of the character. It's clear that Nihon Falcom took a lot of effort into making this feel like a proper entry in the Ys series. And of course, the music is classic Falcom, which for those not in the know, is an amazing mix of rock-based music which is leagues above most other game soundtracks out there. For those who thoroughly enjoyed Ys SEVEN's soundtrack, Oath won't disappoint you in the slightest.
The gameplay is pretty typical for an Action RPG, with the expected sword attacks and a variety of magical attacks which are unlocked progressively later in the game, with both the magic as well as the weapons and armor being upgradeable throughout the game. While this doesn't sound like much, what is included is very, very solid. The hero of each of the entries in the Ys series, Adol Christin, can utilize a bevy of standing and jumping attacks, and unlike Ys SEVEN he can now jump around, albeit with the loss of the ability to dodge roll. This allows for some neat combos, such as Adol driving his sword into the ground from the air to deliver a stun attack to enemies on the ground or knock down enemies in the air to hit them more easily. The jumping ability becomes more useful later in the game when magic is acquired, as abilities such as the Wind spells can carry Adol across wide chasms with relative ease. A Boost gauge is also available, which increases as you defeat the various enemies you encounter. Utilizing it gives you a few seconds of augmented strength and heightened defense, which is paramount in some of the more trickier sections and bosses in the higher difficulty levels.As for the enemies, there is a decent amount as each has their own unique AI and weaknesses. However, after beating the first few levels it becomes clear that some of the enemies are pure copies of the originals with different pallets and improved stats. While this isn't the case for the majority of the enemies, it is a disappointment considering how many of them are unique. The bosses, on the other hand, are quite impressive, as each of them is unique. Unlike Ys SEVEN, where you had the ability to stock up on recovery items, in Oath there is no way to recover health outside of leveling up or reaching a save point. And with each boss having at least double or triple the health of Adol, players are required to learn the boss' patterns, dodge them skilfully and figure out how to effectively damage them. With this type of game it's to be expected to die once or twice before you fully learn their attack pattern, but a few of the bosses seem too hard for the game's normal difficulty, which ranges from a "very easy" difficulty to an "inferno" difficulty for the most hardcore of the hardcore Ys fans out there. While the game does allow you to temporarily lower the difficulty after losing enough times, effectively lowering the damage taken and received by a few hit points, it's slightly annoying knowing that the majority of the bosses are near-perfectly balanced.
While the combat is incredibly engaging and enjoyable, the dungeons are a different story. Since there's only a few dungeons in the game, you'll see a lot of repetitive, sameish-looking backgrounds. There's also a lack of a mini-map, which isn't as much of a problem for the earlier stages, but some of the game's later stages are quite expansive and it becomes hard to tell where exactly you've been. The platforming sections, namely those which require the use of the Wind magic to fly over huge chasms, are often hard to tell exactly where Adol will land, and there was one area in particular in a mine level later in the game where it took a while to understand how the developers intended that Wind ability to be used. Considering the game does an outstanding job of explaining almost everything else, this omission seemed somewhat odd. Thankfully the game does include a optional feature that allows you to return to the start of the room when falling instead of dropping to the bottom of a dungeon, which exceedingly comes in handy later in the game. As for optional and hidden secrets in the dungeons, there are a few, but there isn't that much that is worthwhile outside of HP increasing items and a few key items that unlock some useful accessories.
One nice part about Oath is that it doesn't overstay its welcome unlike many other RPGs on the market today. The game can be completed in 10-15 hours with around six dungeons (one being done twice going down into the deeper reaches), depending on your gameplay abilities. After beating the game, players can carry over their stats, decrease the amount of time needed to recover MP, increase the Boost gauge, etc., using points, which are doled about according to the difficulty level, so there's a bonus for hardcore players who want to start out on the harder difficulties from the start, while inexperienced players can gradually work their way up. It's a win-win situation for both sides and it's a welcome addition after its omission from Ys SEVEN.
Even with its relatively short length, Ys: The Oath in Felghana is well worth your time. It does have some issues with its dungeons and some of the bosses are unfairly tough for the game's normal difficulty, but the fun combat and the game's downright charming presentation make up for it. This game is proof that you don't need a game to be complex to be great. If the fundamentals are strong then it can make up for a few blemishes here and there.