Game Description: Ys SEVEN is the latest installment in the long-running Ys series which first debuted on PC in 1987. This is the first iteration to be built specifically for the PSP system, taking full advantage of the widescreen format and hardware. The battle system consists of a three-member battle party with enemies engaged on the field map in real-time for fast-paced combat. Old fans of the series and new players alike will be immersed into the rich vibrant world containing over 30 hours of gameplay.
HIGH Bringing down a boss that has over 100K hit points in short order thanks to the fluid and fun combat system.
LOW Whenever the game forces players to stop killing things and advance the uninspired story.
WTF Really? A princess in disguise and a prison scene? Come on, RPG writers...
They say time waits for no man—not even for a cult video game icon like Adol Christin.
Christin, better known as Adol the Red, is the hero of Falcom's Ys (pronounced like "eese" in "geese") series of action role-playing games. Since 1987, titles featuring Adol's exploits have adhered to a fairly standard formula that appeased hardcore fans but did little to broaden the franchise's appeal. 1987 was a long time ago, though, and Falcom has taken it upon themselves to give Ys a bit of a makeover in the newest title, Ys Seven. Are they successful?
Ys Seven made some longtime fans nervous when it was announced because this was the first title built from the ground up for a handheld (Sony's PSP). Seeing an opportunity to expand upon how the Ys games worked, Falcom appears to have approached this latest outing with a "change is good" attitude. There's something to be said for not tinkering with a game that isn't broken in the first place, but in this case Falcom succeeds in actually making the beloved franchise stronger.
At its core, Ys Seven still feels a lot like Zelda. There's a mostly mute, sword-swinging protagonist who lives for adventure and always seems to find himself embroiled in some world-altering event. There are dungeons to explore, monsters to kill, loot to discover and the occasional puzzle to solve. The similarities seem fairly pronounced - and there's nothing wrong with that. People love Zelda and Ys is arguably just as good a series. In fact, I've preferred games like Ys: The Ark of Napishtim and this title over any of the recent Zelda games.
Seven tweaks the formula, but Falcom seems to have a clear understanding of what players love about their games and they're careful to build on that foundation without destroying it in the process. Think of Ys Seven as a cosmetic makeover and not major reconstructive surgery—it's a minor procedure designed to make Adol appear a little fresher; something that works in 2010. In this regard, the game is a complete success.
The biggest tweak by far is the one that concerned fans most: the addition of party members. Previous Ys titles had Adol going it alone, so the inclusion of two other active party members seemed like not only a big change, but a risky one as well. Fortunately, Falcom pulled it off.
The party system works well in Ys Seven. Players control one character while the A.I. controls the other two. This could have been a recipe for disaster, but instead becomes one of the game's greatest strengths. The simplistic A.I. does just enough to be helpful without requiring the player to babysit constantly. Hurray for that.
The decision to add these extra characters also adds depth to the gameplay experience. Players can switch between them on the fly (save for boss battles, where options are slightly more limited) and each has a weapon "affinity" that makes mixing and matching members with Adol a vital component for success. These affinities are set up in a sort of "rock, paper, scissors" fashion, where one weapon type is especially useful against an enemy's weakness. This ensures that players don't just build a "dream team" of three characters for the whole game.
The combat is engaging and fun, thanks to the variety of weapons and characters. The controls are spot on, save for the Flash Guard move, which requires players press both shoulder buttons on the PSP at the same time. That wouldn't be an issue, except the left trigger is used for the super-charged extra attack too. This leads to countless instances where players will accidentally discharge the super attack when they didn't intend to. It's a bit frustrating, but the combat is such a blast that most people will forgive this one transgression.
Ys Seven's bigger problem is its story. This is a series that hasn't ever been particularly concerned with advancing the cause of narrative in the Action RPG subgenre, and this entry is no exception. Ys Seven takes a long time to get going because it spends between thirty minutes to an hour just setting up the tale. If the game featured a story that was actually engaging or fresh, this would be acceptable, but since the narrative features a princess in disguise, a stint in jail, and about a hundred other hoary Japanese RPG tropes, the build up doesn't seem justified. Add in unskippable cutscenes and it becomes even more annoying.
Despite these minor miscues, Ys Seven proves that you can tweak a classic game series without ruining it in the process. The lengthy campaign (roughly thirty hours of gameplay with multiple difficulty settings) and smooth combat make the latest Ys highly addictive and one of the better offerings to emerge for Sony's PSP. It seems unlikely that Ys Seven will place the series on the same level as Zelda, but Adol the Red's latest adventure should earn him some new acolytes.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PSP. Approximately 33 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time).
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, fantasy violence and mild language. Yet another game slapped with a T rating for a few minor curse words. The ESRB seems to be rating strictly these days, because there's really nothing much in Ys Seven that is objectionable, let alone anything that makes it something for kids teen and up.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The dialogues is wholly presented in text, so gamers with hearing impairment won't miss out on anything except the musical score and sound effects.
HIGH The pulse-pounding boss fights are some of the best in the series.
LOW The story is easily one of the worst.
WTF Sanitized or not, I never thought I'd see a torture scene in an Ys game.
Ys is not a series known for pushing the envelope. Each new installment comfortably reiterates those that came before. The series didn't even have an "attack" button until until its fifth entry, demonstrating Falcom's steadfast commitment to the series's roots.
In gaming, stagnancy frequently foreshadows decline and doom, but the right series with the right developer can occasionally break this rule. Ys is one of those rule-breakers, owing largely to Falcom's clear understanding of what makes the world of Ys compelling.
With Ys Seven it's obvious that Falcom questioned that understanding and decided some big changes were in order. It's a shame that many of those changes are for the worse.
As Mike mentioned in his review, the most obvious revisions are to the combat, and these changes are pretty positive. Dodge rolling, special attacks, and additional party members add nuance to the very standard gameplay the series has been rocking for some time now, and effectively complement the hyperactive pace that has set Ys apart from its genre peers. In particular, some of the boss battles have a measured insanity that feels more akin to combo crazy actioners than to a top-down action-RPG.
The addition of party members has benefits that extend beyond combat mechanics. Since his earliest adventures, Adol has befriended a broad cast of characters, many of whom are characterized as perfectly capable fighters. Until now, Ys games have invented excuse after excuse as to why these warriors couldn't accompany their dear friend on his most dangerous trials. Ys Seven dispenses with all of that. Unlike so many other legendary heroes of gaming, Adol has never been much of a loner, so the sight of him charging into battle with his allies at his side is both welcome and long overdue.
Unfortunately, that about sums up the positives. While I was glad to see Adol fight alongside his companions, I was less enthused to hear them talk, and talk, and talk. Ys Seven frequently puts the brakes on the fun to stuff players with exposition, whereupon each party member feels the desire to reiterate the obvious in their own words. This is an experience that does not grow more charming with time.
In general, Ys Seven is way too proud of its story. The series has never been known to have a mind-blowing narrative, but its simple, unobtrusive tales worked well as a kind of gaming comfort food. Not only does the story of Ys Seven fail in this regard, it is trotted out and given center stage far too often, and for far too long. In a nutshell, Adol and co. must visit five dragon shrines (representing the elements, natch!) to restore balance to the increasingly chaotic land of Altago, and that's it. With such a basic premise there is no reason to force players to spend a half-hour just walking around and talking to people. Occasionally I'd find myself with a snatch of time to kill, and thought I might spend them playing a portable game on my portable game system. Foolish me, as these sessions were frequently devoted to reading inane jabber.
The uninspired storyline has repercussions for the gameplay as well. Running the gamut through elementally-themed dungeons is one of the oldest and most insipid ideas in game design since as far back as I can remember, and to see it practically celebrated here is disappointing. Ys Seven is so in love with elemental dungeons that it forces players to go through a second circuit of them immediately after completing the first set. While these are technically new dungeons, it's hard to get excited about a cave full of magma after you've already seen a temple brimming of the stuff. In the first round, Ys Seven's settings are serviceable, if uninspired. In the second, they're flat out boring, and I was eager to see them end.
Another misstep is the unnecessary inclusion of a crafting system. If said system were interesting or in any way unique that would be one thing, but its so elementary I have to wonder why it was included at all. At its greatest depth, crafting only requires the player to find X number of Y components and take them to a local shop. The developers must have realized this wasn't exactly groundbreaking design, so in addition to getting drops from defeated monsters and designated farming points, the field is littered with treasure chests that contain ten monster spines or twenty moon stones. They may as well have scrapped the crafting and filled those chests with cold hard cash or better yet, actual equipment.
The reason the crafting system (and its associated "treasure" chests) earns so much of my ire is because it exchanges the simple-yet-charming way Ys used to handle equipment for something utterly soulless. In previous installments, Adol had a very hard limit on his equipment and accessories. The menu consisted of a few rows of empty boxes, each one silently urging players to seek out the wondrous treasures that would make them whole. Opening chests was a near-monumental experience, because they were guaranteed to have something special inside. By contrast, Ys Seven has scads of items for all of its characters. These items are bought or crafted or found in chests, and no sooner are they equipped than exchanged for something incrementally better. The Menu of Implied Destiny has been traded for a charmless loot machine that never stops grinding.
If it isn't obvious by now, a lot of my time with the game was spent reminiscing for the old days. While doing so, I discovered a small distinction between this title and the rest that perfectly encapsulates their fundamental difference. Every single one of the previous entries carried a subtitle: Ancient Ys Vanished; Wanderers from Ys; Dawn of Ys; Kefin; The Lost City of Sand; The Ark of Napishtim. This game is simply Ys Seven, and that really says it all.
Disclosures: This game was received via retail purchase and approximately 23 hours were devoted to the single-player storyline (completed 1 time).