Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Ys I & II Chronicles+ - Thoughts

 Ys I & II have not held up well.

To be fair they're an ancient piece of Falcom's history that started way back in 1987 on the PC-8801, and the remakes have done their best to try and stay true to the original's framework. However, that doesn't mean Chronicles+ is all that fun to play because of that. My first real foray into the Ys series felt like going back to a time where the wild idea of adventuring in a virtual 2D fantasy world was exciting in and of itself. But having experienced numerous other (more modern) titles, I couldn't help but feel like my time could've been better spent elsewhere.

The Bump system is a good idea—in theory. It boils traditional RPG encounters down to a mere second, since either you bump your foe into oblivion or they counter you. It reminds me of Half-Minute Hero in a way, as it makes grinding significantly more fun than in the original Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Trying to master your approach and angle of attack can feel a bit awkward at first, but it works for the most part in both games. And you better enjoy the Bump system, because it's the only action you can perform for the entirety first game.

The main problem with the combat is that nearly every enemy behaves the same way. Besides speed and durability, each baddie feels like the same creature in a different colored disguise. There's rarely any projectiles to dodge, clever hazards in the dungeons, or challenging gimmicks to any of the enemies—just bump 'em 'til they explode into XP. Ys II attempts to vary up its bestiary, but you can stun-lock most of the enemies before they even get a chance to charge their attack. After a while enemies become nothing more than minor inconveniences, and you begin to understand that what you're actually doing is traversing flat labyrinths for the entirety of the game.

The labyrinths aren't that interesting either. The artwork for the tile set itself is vibrant and gorgeous, but there's no identifiable landmarks or distinguishing feature to each dungeon, so it's easy to lost if you lose your sense of direction. Besides the multitude of dead-ends waiting for you, there's also a boss to cap off each area that will test your mettle... but only in the second game. Ys I has some utterly atrocious bosses—like that accursed bat—so I was real glad to see the series do a 180 and offer up some great fights in Ys II. I'd argue the best part of that game was battling the agile monstrosities, but only when you're of an arbitrarily fitting level. Never have I played an RPG where your level is so essential to overcoming challenges before: the first boss of Ys I absolutely wrecked me until I purchased a new sword and leveled up, and then he was a joke (he died in three hits!)

I didn't like Ys I all that much. It was short, had boring areas to explore, and only Darm Tower at the end of the game was interesting. However that whole structure soured me due to the amount of backtracking required and how vague some of the progression was (use a hammer to break a column to rid a room of poisonous gas?). Ys II fared far better, but it's not a significant step up. Sure, there's more meat and variation to it (you finally get to use spells!) but the aforementioned enemy variety is still lacking and much of the path obfuscation remains. And the final level in this game was even longer and more obnoxious. If I was younger I wouldn't mind these dungeons taking over two hours to complete even with a guide, but currently I have little patience for that type of design.

Finally, the story is... whatever. It's the traditional "silent protagonist rescues girl(s) and saves the world from very evil bad guy", with some prophecy thrown in for good measure. Three things I liked were the Stormwall, the metaphysical division between Ys and Esteria, and the ability well to talk to demons, but the game doesn't do anything interesting with either any of those: the Stormwall exists solely to strand you on the island, citizens in Ys and Esteria act the same, and the demons act just like regular NPCs! Even an idea as interesting as a goddess falling in love with a mortal is kinda brushed aside at the end, as if she was a schoolgirl struggling to admit her crush (which she pretty much was). I admit it is demanding to ask more from a Japanese RPG made in 1987, and to the game's credit its characters are more memorable than many of the genre's kin at the time, but I suppose I just wanted the remake to explore more avenues that the original version opened.

Ys I & II Chronicles+ is an aged relic with a new coat of paint on it. The experience is more palatable with enhanced graphics, rebalancing, and multiple soundtracks, but the archaic details remain. The second game easily trounces the first with its bigger journey, better mechanics, and fantastic bosses, but it still has a long way to go to become something I'll ever play again. I'm not giving up on the series as I'm eagerly looking forward to playing The Oath in Felghana—it's just that the series' origins failed to impress me. Well, at least the games were relatively quick to play through.

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