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A DYsent Beginning
By: Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland
In 1988, Nihon Falcom commenced their flagship Ys series with two different versions, one for the Famicom (the NES here in America), and the other for the Sega Master System. While the latter version reached American shores with a butchered localization, the former port unfortunately did not, sharing the fate of the vast majority of the series’ future installments and innumerable ports. The Famicom version is in a few ways superior to the Master System version; nonetheless, it suffers from one significant flaw making it a bit short of a masterpiece.
The Ys games are action RPGs, though not in the traditional hack-and-slash sense. Rather, most of the series’ titles require you to charge into enemies in order to deal damage. Trying to assault foes head-on will result in heavy damage to your character, quite possibly even death, although charging towards them while inched half a square leftward, rightward, upward, or downward is a safe way to battle them, giving you advantage over even the most powerful enemies, if your strength and levels are sufficient (if they’re too low, you won’t even damage certain antagonists). What makes the Famicom version superior to the Master System port is that assaulting regular enemies in this manner is much, much safer and will rarely, if ever, result in lost life. The game’s boss battles, though, require a slightly higher degree of strategy to defeat, although they are definitely beatable.
Interaction with the game is decent, for the most part. The menu system is downright conservative, and you can save your game anywhere. Still, the game’s few dungeons are quite labyrinthine, where getting lost is very easy; furthermore, once you go to the game’s last dungeon, you can’t turn back.
As for originality, I’m quite certain that the Famicom version predated the Master System version, since the latter’s opening copyright credits mention it being reprogrammed. I’ve seen a few folks call these games “Zelda clones,” although they clearly play nothing like those titles, what primarily with the charge-into-enemies battle system. Overall, the first Ys game is definitely original.
Story, perhaps, is the first Ys’ greatest weakness. After starting a new game, you receive no introduction at all, and come directly into the game. You play a redhead named Adol Christine, looking for the six Books of Ys while performing many random tasks. What exactly is his motivation for finding the Books, and what is his background? Come on, even Dragon Warrior gave story-desperate players an idea of what was going on before sending them off to do their business. In the end, the developers definitely could’ve made some sort of effort to give players a better understanding of the first Ys’ storyline.
The soundtrack, though, is excellent, full of memorable tunes, such as those in Darm Tower, the mines, and the two towns, although the sound effects, as one can suppose from an 8-bit RPG, are archaic.
The visuals are a mixed bag, moving on. The field graphics are bright and colorful, though a few character and monster sprites contain sloppy design, as do the anime stills found throughout the game.
As for challenge, the game is easy overall, with a few boss battles proving to be minor challenges. As for playing time, one can easily clear the game in one sitting, taking from around four to eight hours.
In conclusion, the Famicom version of the first Ys is superior to the Sega Master System port, yet unfortunately suffers from a story deficit, as well. Nonetheless, its gameplay is short yet sweet and solid, and if you can look beyond the absence of a storyline, this version is definitely worth a look, with a complete translation being available.
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