Good morrow, constant readers! Appy-polly-loggies for such a late post, but I am recently returned from my
conquest visit to the Carribean islands, and as such, have been incommunicado for some time. However, my forced isolation from the Internets has provided me the chance to complete a number of portable games, one of which is the subject of the current review, Ys Seven, or the little JRPG that could.
For those unfamiliar with Falcom’s quirky and ironic series, the Ys saga started many years ago on the Sega Master Drive system. Falcom’s conceit has never been platform loyalty, and throughout the years, their games have appeared on any number of Japanese consoles, and even for a Windows-based PC. The net result of this is that the English-speaking world has received only ports of the games, some of them quite bad (YS III springs to mind) and others marred by valiant but lacking efforts at bringing them stateside.
Ys Seven, on the other hand, from the good folks at Xseed Games, is a very well-done port, but it suffers (sadly) from a lack of major-studio production values that would have elevated it from an enjoyable game to one of the best portable RPG experiences available.
Ys Seven is pure action RPG. It is action RPG distilled to its pure essence, and then sauteed in a little bit more of action RPG, just in case someone was unsure that this game was hack ‘n slash beauty. Controls are simple: the directional pad or thumbstick are used for movement (I felt the analog stick was better for nagivating the isometric environs) and the four buttons correspond to jump/dodge, attack, menu and cancel, as one would expect from a JRPG. Modifying any button with the right shoulder button launches one of four equipped special attacks, while the left trigger launches the ultimate attack. Simple and effective.
Environments are colorfully and cleverly realized, if a little blocky due to the nature of a portable system. Were this game to have come out on consoles seven years ago, its graphics would be lauded as “exceptional,” which is a good track mark for a portable RPG.
Equipment management is handled through a menu system, although it rarely leaves anything to guesswork. Upgrades are clearly highlighted. Weapons and armor are obtained through either crafting or in-game purchase, with these methods roughly alternating as players venture between areas of the game. Dialogue is handled solely through text boxes, although these are accompanied by well-rendered cel-shaded portraits of the characters.
Boss fights are, true to the Ys tradition, exceptional in scope and challenge, and will provide players with plenty of adrenaline-fueled moments in their quest.
Although some (lookin’ at 1up here) have pooh-poohed the story, I cannot fathom why. Xseed’s translation is impeccable; humor is preserved, and there are quite a few “meta” moments that left me in stitches, such as the constant reference to our heroes’ Dogi and Adol’s profession of “adventuring” being no way to make a living. Further, most of the characters are three-dimensional, with conflicting motivations and desires. The world is deeply constructed, even giving voice to the underlying socioeconomic conflict that exists within most societies.
Although the story does stray too close to the typical JRPG touchy-feely “we are hurting the world with our greed!” motif, it is otherwise an enjoyable storyline that at least attempts to invert a few tropes.
Graphically and musically, the game fits within the Ys canon: weapons and shields change appearance, although most character models are static. Animations are fair to middling, and the sound is the best MIDI-inspired j-rock money can buy. The one beef I have with the presentation is the lack of FMV and voiceovers, either in the original Japanese or dubbed to English. While this might have been acceptable a decade ago, it simply is not in the current climate. I understand that Nihon Falcom is a small studio, and the Ys series has always been a niche market that does not justify spending of Square-Enix proportions on a portable game, but that kind of production would have made this game excel beyond my wildest hopes.
The Final Verdict
I have always been a Ys fan; the gameplay, the story, and the characters have always spoken to me, even though as far as JRPGs go, the Ys series ranks somewhere out in the “only for weirdos” column. However, most of the games have suffered the necessity of fan-translations or multiple re-releases on various platforms, leading to some serious discontinuity between the versions. Hopefully, the encouraging signs I have seen with Ys Seven will lead to more re-releases on modern consoles (as I understand it, the Wii Virtual Console has seen re-releases of Ys I and II and Ys III, with the latter scheduled to have a “re-imagining” as Ys: The Oath in Felghana later this year on the PSP.
Adol and Dogi’s story is somewhat unique in the JRPG canon, and one worth telling. I hope that if both Ys Seven and The Oath in Felghana succeed where The Ark of Napishtim did not, it will encourage Falcom (and Western markets) to produce more of the series for the English-speaking world, and to raise the production values to those befitting a well-made and modern game. As it stands, however, one would be remiss to miss the short jaunt of fun that is Ys Seven.