Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Originally, I played Ys I & II Chronicles+ in order to prepare myself for Ys: The Oath in Felghana (I know I didn't need to play them in "order", but I figured it gives me a good perspective on the series). But Felghana is a different beast than the bumpin' grind-fest that I & II were. It's faster, prettier, smarter, and way more rock'n'roll. I was glad to finally find myself getting into the series, but many of the questionable Ys eccentricities still remained. So it's fun... but with plenty of exceptions.

The general story follows the mold of innumerable JRPGs at the time, which is a given since Falcom stuck close to the original 1989 material. While it feels like a retread of Ys I & II at times (a cheery town full of upstanding individuals, a faceless evil lurking in the shadows, and a naive girl that gets the cold shoulder from Adol—yet again), the writing is strong enough that I felt engaged whilst stumbling upon every predictable story beat. Though much of it is mostly forgettable, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't charmed by some of the characters, as well as interested in seeing how the main plot resolved itself.

But story has rarely been the main draw of the Ys titles. If anything, the combat usually garners the most attention, and here is no different. Gone is the bump system! In its place are beat-'em-up-esque controls, as Adol can only perform one combo on his colorful foes. This can be mixed up with some magic and aerial attacks, but for the majority of the game you'll be hearing the same six "swoosh"es over and over again as you cut your foes down (and thankfully they drop healing items this time around). It's better than the bump system because it demands more attention than "run into the corner of every enemy", though I do kinda miss the charm of smooshing enemies against a wall while grinding.

Luckily grinding isn't really required in Felghana. The trade-off is that you have to learn boss patterns more intensively, but you can always go decimate scores of baddies for XP if things get too crazy (and like with Ys I & II, one additional level makes a world of difference). I love me some tough bosses, but I didn't find Felghana to be a significant step above Ys II in this department—many of their designs are extremely gaudy and their attacks can be all over the place. Having the ability to jump adds this bizarre layer to the combat space where it can be hard to tell what plane bullets are on and whether jumping is effective during certain attacks or not. The fighting is a magnitude more frantic than it's ever been but it's not necessarily invigorating to play, since you'll have to memorize when/where to attack after many attempts on the same boss (the ice dragon was the worst offender).

I will give the game credit however—it can be pretty fun at times. The boss fights being difficult makes them rewarding to topple... well, when you're not frustrated out of your mind at the accuracy and speed of certain attacks. While the enemies aren't all that engaging to fight it's still satisfying to slash them to pieces, and each elemental magic is surprisingly useful (though nothing tops the whirlwind). The music is so over-the-top that it's an absolute blast to listen to as you explore the land; the tenacious fighting spirit of the Valestein Castle's track easily makes it my favorite. Another bonus is that no areas feel like filler, and by the end you'll feel sated from your seven hour sojourn in the troubled lands of Felghana.

I can't say Ys is a favorite of mine yet. It's too RPG-focused to be a purely satisfying action game, but the lack of combat depth doesn't allow it to rival other Action RPG titles. Ys: The Oath in Felghana exists in this strange middle-ground where it doesn't excel at one particular thing, as the boss battles are too disorganized, the story too bland, and jumping still feels weird to me.

However, it's not a bad game. I never got to a point where I felt upset or agitated like I did in Ys I & II, and I never needed to revert to a walkthrough to finish it (other than how to damage the last boss—a minor inconvenience compared to damn Darm Tower). It's a zany ride that offers a solid experience if you're interested in getting lost in a quaint yet nondescript world teetering on the brink of demise, or if you wanna just beat the ever-living snot out of some monsters.

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