Ys Seven - Staff Review  

Can We Do It? Ys We Can!
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Terrific, ridiculously fast battle system.
+ Simple but entertaining story.
+ Great boss fights.
- Ye olde english doth be terrible, m'lord.
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   When one thinks of Japanese action-RPGs, usually the Tales or Star Ocean series come to mind. But one series which is oft-forgotten is Falcom's long-running Ys games, which actually date back further than Final Fantasy. It's unsurprising though, as Ys has only enjoyed a slight glimmer of recognition in the west, and disappeared entirely between 1992 and 2005. Starting this year, however, the brave entrepreneurs at XSEED Games have decided to rectify this issue by announcing the release of not just one, but three back-to-back Ys games on the PSP, the first of which is Ys Seven.

   Ys Seven once again follows the exploits of bold adventurer Adol Christin, a red-haired young swordsman who travels the world in search of excitement and mystery. One thing that becomes clear as Ys Seven unfolds, and is in fact something that the game does very well, is that the story of Ys really is a great big adventure. It doesn't bog itself down with over-emotionality, focusing instead on driving the game forward with a series of exciting battles and simple but effective plot twists. The static but personable stock of characters exchange banter and exposition to drive the story, while a handful of key figures receive a modest amount of characterization.

   In his latest adventure, "Adol the Red", along with his friend Dogi, travels to the country of Altago, which is experiencing a period of fiscal prosperity in the wake of a savage war with a neighbouring nation. However, once they arrive, they discover that the situation within the kingdom isn't as fortuitous as they had expected. A deadly illness has begun to spread, dangerous monsters roam the countryside, and foreigners have been forbidden from leaving the city. Naturally, Adol finds a way to get caught up in the mess, and soon winds up as the chosen hero destined to save the world (again).

   Surprisingly, Ys Seven's story is quite enjoyable and extremely well-crafted, despite its adherence to JRPG norms. There are a handful of questionable localization decisions, such as the use of the word "crap-face" and some incredibly hokey "olde english", but for the most part it's a light-hearted adventure story that does its genre proud.

Once you meet the executioner, you Once you meet the executioner, you'll realize that this isn't inadvertent innuendo. He means that very literally.

   The combat system is where Ys Seven truly stands out. Ys games are known for fast-paced action, but Ys Seven may have set a new standard for speed. The controls are fluid, the response times fantastic, and the pace is quite simply mind-blowing. Most action games provide a block button, but Ys Seven is so fast that it doesn't even need one — expect to spend a lot of time dodging and weaving between attacks as you find openings to strike and then retreat.

   The focus on predicting and dodging attacks is supported in several ways. For one thing, most enemies telegraph their assaults in clear ways, providing just enough time to get out of the way. More importantly, however, sources of healing are extremely limited. Adol's party can only carry a very small number of healing items at a time, and healing skills are completely nonexistent. While the enemies inhabiting dungeons generally aren't too threatening, boss battles are a different story, generally fought against massive foes called Titanos. These fights are brilliantly designed and even more fast and frenzied than regular combat. Most of them are several times the size of the human party members, and although the battles can be lengthy, each boss's attack pattern changes as the fight progresses, keeping players on their toes.

   To add a bit of strategy to the combat, each character has several different traits to take into consideration when fighting different foes. Three different types of damage are present in the game, slashing, striking, and piercing, and each character's weapon falls into one of these categories. Many, if not most, enemies are strong against all but one of these types of attacks, and the combat system encourages the player to build a well-rounded party and switch control of the characters in order to deal with each foe. Each character can also equip four special skills at a time, activated by holding the R button and then pressing on of the four face buttons. Skills require SP to use, which is gained slowly by attacking monsters and shared by all party members. More powerful skills require a large amount of SP, but SP can also be gained rapidly by charging an attack first by simply holding down the X button for about a second. Characters are still free to move and dodge while charging an attack, so this technique comes in quite handy.

   Finally, each character is capable of performing a powerful "Extra Skill", a signature attack that can only be used when the Extra gauge has been completely filled. Like SP, the Extra gauge fills slowly as enemies are attacked and defeated, but unfortunately there is no quick way to gain it. Against bosses, good use of Extra skills can rapidly extinguish their rather generous supply of health.

Enormous bosses like this are a regular (and awesome) occurance. Enormous bosses like this are a regular (and awesome) occurance.

   While combat is the game's primary means of entertainment, Ys Seven also sports some very solid dungeon design. Environmental hazards play a major role, and most dungeons require Adol to seek alternate routes until he acquires a special item that allows him to safely traverse whatever danger blocks his way. Once that item is acquired, other routes become available, eventually leading to the boss. It's similar in nature to the design of Legend of Zelda dungeons, but nowhere near as complex. Along the way, Adol will find gathering nodes where he can acquire scores of materials that can be used for crafting new equipment.

   Although Ys Seven isn't visually stunning, the game runs so smoothly that it's difficult to care. The visuals are about on par with early PS2 games, but the animation and framerates are so smooth and the loading times so... well, nonexistent, that the lower visual fidelity compared to other 3D PSP RPGs is not only acceptable, but welcomed. Enemy animations in particular are exceedingly well designed, providing ample feedback to the player about which attacks are coming, and in an action-RPG this fast-paced, that's quite important.

   Ys Seven's audio is above and beyond what one would expect from a typical RPG, however. Ys fans regularly refer to the series' music as one of its highlights, but for those new to the series, getting XSEED's collector's edition simply for the bonus soundtrack would be a wise decision. The score is fantastic, featuring catchy, hard-driving rock anthems that provide a perfect atmosphere for the game's hectic pace. If the game's opening track, Innocent Primeval Breaker, doesn't get your blood pumping for some monster-crushing action, nothing will.

   As my cohort Michael Cunningham put it, Ys Seven is "Ysy" to recommend, particularly to fans of action RPGs. The decently-sized adventure lasts about 20-30 hours, and although it starts to wear out its welcome towards the end, the final dungeon and surprisingly challenging end boss more than make up for it. For a lot of players, Ys Seven will likely be a first foray into Adol Christin's adventures, but it's definitely a good place to start. XSEED is set to bring remakes of Adol's first three adventures in the coming months, but time will tell how they'll fare when compared to his latest one.

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