Ys I & II Chronicles Review

By Shawn Collier on March 8, 2011

Ys I & II, being the first two games in the long-running Ys series, have had quite a number of releases over the years. It's hit a number of different platforms, including the PC88, TurboGrafx, PC, Nintendo DS and now the Sony PSP, each with their own tweaks to the game to fit the platform they were released on. XSEED Games and Falcom, who started their partnership last year with the release of Ys Seven, have set out on bringing the definitive version of Ys I & II to the PSP. The question is, how does this port in the long list of existing ports fare?

Being originally released in the 1980s, Ys I & II definitely show their roots in their story presentation. You take on the role of Adol Christin, a red-haired boy who sets off on a journey of excitement and ends up hitting a rough patch of weather while on the sea, washing up in a nearby coastal city where he learns of demon attacks which are driving the country's citizens into hiding. As you progress through the game, it becomes clear that things aren't as simple as they seem, with items called the Books of Ys being collected as you progress through your journey. These later become important to unraveling exactly what is causing this country's plight and showing how to set things right.

Because the original platform for the series, the PC88, didn't have enough space to release both games together in one game, Ys I and Ys II, while tied to the same story, were released in two separate parts, which is carried over into this PSP port. Both games share the "bump" system for attacking, which forces players to hit the enemy with your body to deal damage while at the same time aiming to their sides to not take damage. At first, this system seems odd and obtuse for a modern handheld RPG release, but once you get used to the mechanic, it makes passing through areas and dungeons much quicker than many other RPGs. Ys II adds various magic spells to the mix, but the same core battle mechanics stay in place in both entries.

Being that this is an older RPG, there are some grinding issues present in this release. Ys I, being merely a prelude to Ys II, only takes about 3-5 hours to complete and only allows for Adol to level up to Level 10. Levels control whether you win or lose in Ys I, and at times you'll have to grind in the initial dungeons to get through some of the bosses. This issue becomes a bit worse in Ys II, which ups the level cap to 55, but lessens the EXP gained from enemies as you level up. This requires players to, at times, spend time farming enemies in one area of a dungeon, lest they get installed killed by enemies in a later part which Adol can't touch with gaining more levels and grabbing enough gold to get the best weapons for that period in the game. Some of the latter bosses are particularly unfair in this regard, forcing players to gain 3-5 levels above what the enemies are at just to get through the boss fight with a sliver of life remaining. While this only occurs in a few parts of the game, it's still an annoyance that could have been fixed with a few slight tweaks by Falcom for this release.These slight annoyances carry over into the core story progression of both titles. As both titles were released back in the 1980s, the RPG mantra of including key items in obscure places holds true. This is especially true for Ys I to the point where XSEED had to include a full walkthrough for Ys I explaining what to do at each point in the story. Numerous times in Ys I players will be unable to progress through the story because they forgot to talk to or walk into a specific story event that was either barely mentioned or not mentioned at all. While Ys II fixes this for the most part, there's one key item in one of the final dungeons which requires players to go to a unmentioned room instead of a house in town, which is where players would assume it was located due to the game's dialogue. While there is something to be said about changing up the game too much by entirely reworking the story progression of the titles to fix these problems, the game could have benefited from some streamlining for newer fans of the series.

Even with those negatives, as with most Ys titles, the first thing players will notice is the game's soundtrack, which like in Oath and Seven, runs circles across most of the other games on the handheld. The soundtrack, composed by the video game music legend Yuzo Koshiro of Etrian Odyssey fame, along with Falcom stalwart Mieko Ishikawa, is easily the shining gem of this compilation. As explain before, Ys I & II have appeared on numerous platforms in the past, so the game compliments this by allowing players to choose between three different versions of the music. The default choice is the new "Chronicles" remix made specifically for the PSP version of the game, but players can also choose the "Complete" remix (from the enhanced PC port of which the PSP version is based upon) or the original PC-88 audio. While there are numerous other versions of the soundtrack that could have been included (at the sacrifice of UMD space), all three versions of the soundtrack are in crystal-clear uncompressed quality, so unless you are a hardcore Ys fan wanting them all, this isn't much of a detriment to the package.

One of the most impressive parts of Chronicles outside of the soundtrack has to be the game's storyline and translation. For a title which was released back in the 1980s, the story still stands shoulders above many other titles of that era, as well as some of the RPG hits of the 1990s. While cliche by today's standards, the core characters in Ys I & II are exceptionally well-developed and have their own place in the storyline without feeling shoehorned in for the sake of increasing the number of characters present. This combined with the music and the general artistic presentation of the game makes for some very heartwarming moments.

Of course, all this work wouldn't mean much without a proper localization, which XSEED has provided dutifully. The main storyline was translated in a way which feels authentic without falling into the "ye olde" trap that most remakes of classic RPGs fall into. XSEED also threw in a couple pop culture jokes in some of the more obscure areas of the game for those who take the time to check out everything.

Final Thoughts

Ys I & II Chronicles is an interesting mix of the old and new gaming development styles. Falcom aimed to keep the core mechanics as close to the original games as possible while at the same time updating the graphics and music to fit the platform the game was re-released on. While there are some issues with this approach, namely revolving around the obtuse methods needed to progress the storyline, Falcom had to walk the fine line between updating and completely remaking a classic. While there's some rough edges with how they went around implementing the final product, Chronicles is a worthy re-release of the classic titles and will satisfy long-time fans and newcomers, as long as they realize what they're getting themselves into.

Falcom's excellent Ys soundtrack prowess is in full display here
The script is excellently localized
Still has an excellent storyline after all these years
Some plot points require excessive backtracking
The "bump" battling system can take some getting used to
Newer Ys players might be off-put by the differences from later games
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