Ys is a series that gets far less attention than it deserves. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that Americans have not really gotten to experience as many of the adventures of Adol the Red as their Japanese counterparts. There are also some people that are probably turned away simply by its title; it’s not exactly intuitive to pronounce it as ‘ease.’ Regardless, Nihon Falcom and XSeeD are determined to rectify the first issue by releasing more games stateside, hoping to give Americans more time with the top-down action RPG series. That’s where Ys Seven comes in, and as it takes the series in many new directions, there’s a lot to like.
Ys games follow Adol and his large friend Dogi as they travel the world going on adventures. These often wind up determining the fate of entire countries, and he usually starts them by washing up on their shores after some kind of crazy boating accident Ys Seven bucks this trend by having the pair arrive to the country of Altego the traditional way without needlessly sinking another boat. Dogi even comments on this fact, which is a bit of a nod to longtime fans. After arriving, Adol and Dogi are asked to explore a sanctuary that was recently discovered after an earthquake, and by doing so, they begin an adventure in which all of Altego is held in the balance.
As mentioned before, Ys is a 3/4ths view action RPG that is most frequently compared to the Legend of Zelda series due to the combat and use of items to solve puzzles. Ys Seven makes many improvements over the earlier games in the series that make it stand out from the few games we’ve gotten to experience. For starters, Ys Seven finally allows Dogi to get in on the action. In all of the previous games, Adol had tackled his adventure solo, but Ys Seven introduces up to six other playable characters that can form a team of three. The extra characters offer more than just more skills and more damage; there is a new battle system in which most enemies are weak to one of three attack types: slash, strike, or pierce. Soft and fleshy monsters are weak to Adol’s slash attacks, whereas armored foes take little damage from slash damage and are invulnerable to pierce attacks. Instead, players should use a character like Dogi to deal massave damage to these monsters. Finally, characters with ranged pierce attacks take down flying monsters with ease, all while fighting at a distance. Thus, a group that includes all three attack types is most effective, as it can tackle the widest variety of foes.
There is also a new skill system in which each weapon has a particular skill attached to it. By using that skill, it can be mastered and kept, even while equipping a new weapon. Skills become incredibly important as they do more damage than regular attacks, and they also fill the EXTRA gauge, allowing for an even more powerful super attack. Skill points are easily replenished by doing regular attacks, so they don’t really have to be conserved.
You can also craft weapons and armor. Apart from expanding your options for each character, the crafting system is great for getting items and equipment at a discount. You can never have too much money, and powerful equipment gets expensive towards the end, so crafting provides a cheaper alternative.
Finally, one major improvement is in the item system. Earlier Ys games were notorious for having non-intuitive puzzle items. A good example is in the first game, where Adol must use a mask while standing in front of a certain column in one of many identical rooms full of columns. Honestly, I have no idea how a person is expected to figure that out without some sort of guide. In Ys Seven this is a non-issue, as puzzles are intuitive and it’s clear where and when to use the quest items to progress. The game flows nicely and no walkthrough or guide should be needed.
While on the topic of flow, it should also be mentioned that despite being on the PSP, Ys Seven has minimal loading issues. Ys VI was nearly as much loading as game on the PSP, but this game was optimized from the beginning to run on Sony’s handheld system. There is no need to install data, and the longest load times will not exceed a few seconds. Moving between screens is fast and snappy, so the game never has to slow down just because you changed rooms. You also no longer need to change rooms to get monsters or item gathering points to respawn for grinding; they will reappear after 90 seconds. This is especially important when it comes to the item crafting system. There are only a few monsters in the game that drop key synthesis materials, so if you want to make the best equipment, you will have to spend a little time hunting. For what it’s worth, Ys Seven requires significantly less grinding than previous games in the series, so once again, the game flows better than any of its predecessors.
Graphically, Ys is a pretty game, but nothing will drop your jaw except for the larger versions of character sprites. The world of Altego is colorful but generic. There is a desert, a plain, a cave, and all the typical RPG settings. There are also large bosses, some of which are pretty fun to fight. This game does have the best graphics in the series, but graphical prowess is not what really defines Ys.
Aurally, Ys Seven is a bit of a mixed bag. The music is pleasant to listen to, but the soundtrack is easily outclassed by older games in the series. It also has several tracks that bear a strange similarity to music from Ocarina of Time, which does nothing to help separate it from the Zelda series. There is little voice acting, and most of it is actually annoying. Characters say the same thing every time you switch to them, and the battle cries get old in a hurry. Unfortunately, my favorite character, Aisha, was the most annoying. The good news is that you’ll be mashing X so much that the bad voice acting quickly becomes white noise that is easily ignorable, though it is still sad that you have to do that.
Finishing the game can take anywhere from twenty to thirty hours, depending on how much you want to grind and synthesize. If you want to craft every character’s best weapons and armor, which is not a bad idea at all, you’ll spend an hour or two in the last dungeon tracking down enough drops to finish everything. There are also three optional bosses that can be extremely difficult if you go in underleveled. Pretty much every boss can be easy or hard depending on how much you grind. To help balance things a bit, the game scales experience gains down as you gain levels. As you go to a new area, kills give significantly more experience, and the amount of experience required to reach the next level is smaller. This means you will quickly reach a soft level cap for the area, but if you were so inclined, you could theoretically reach whatever level you want from the beginning by grinding endlessly. If a boss is proving difficult, ten to fifteen minutes of grinding is usually enough to gain one or two levels, which can make the difference between a simple victory and a drawn out, soul-crushing defeat. The game also has four sets of difficulty, so if you want more or less challenge, the game can be somewhat tailored to your needs.
Another thing that bears mentioning is the interface. It’s not difficult to use, but it may be somewhat counter-intuitive at first. Items can only be used from the field by hitting the triangle button. You can hit start and look at your inventory, but you can’t use items there. You also have to navigate a menu to equip weapons, armor, and skills. It’s not hard to do, but even towards the end of the game, you’ll likely find yourself hitting triangle when you mean to hit start or vice versa.
Though it is not a part of the game itself, I also want to draw attention to the game’s manual. A lot of attention was paid to the little booklet in the case that many people never read. It contains full-sized art for every major character and an amusing FAQ section. In an age where the instruction booklets are becoming unnecessary due to the inclusion of tutorials and in-game manuals, it is nice to see that companies are still putting some effort into the smaller details. Many may fail to notice it, but they do so at their own loss.
As mentioned before, the weakest aspect of the game is probably its story. In fact, pretty much every game in the series can have its story summed up as such: “Hi. I’m Adol the Red. I arrived (washed up on your shores) and noticed your country (the world) is in a crisis. I am an adventurer and I will save your country (the world) because that’s what I do.” The story in Ys Seven is admittedly a bit deeper than its predecessors, but it still boils down to the aforementioned synopsis. Despite the lackluster story, it is still a fun game.
Ultimately, Ys Seven is the best game in the series to date. Improvements were made to nearly every area that needed them. The game plays better than any other in the series, but it still has the weak story and suffers a bit in the audio department. If you played any of the previous games and enjoyed them, it is most definitely worth your time and money. If you are new to the series but enjoy the genre, it is still worth your money, but you will find that many of the references will sail right over your head. It can stand alone by itself, but a little knowledge of Adol’s past adventures is greatly recommended. A better introduction to the series would be Ys: Oath in Felghana for PSP, or Ys VI: Ark of the Napishtim for PS2, though one should avoid the latter’s PSP port like the plague due to its horrible loading issues.. You can always start at the beginning with any of the compilations of Ys I & II, but those are older games with the problem of practically needing a guide to finish.
This game was played to completion using a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.