A Classic RPG for the Modern Day
It’s safe to say that, within the last few months, the excitement over Nihon Falcom’s upcoming Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA has been palpable. The premise of a new Ys title alone is enough to get many people excited. But the steady stream of new information given to us about the game has managed to work people up even more. We here at HPP were even lucky enough to get an interview with Nihon Falcom President Toshihiro Kondo. It’s some seriously exciting stuff! So, with all of that out of the way… Can you guess which game we’ll be taking a look at today? Can you?
…That’s right, Ys Seven! Oh come on now, don’t act like that was a surprise. The title of this review is literally “Ys Seven Review”. There’s no way I actually tricked any of you out there. Don’t worry though, there is a reason why I brought Ys VIII up in the first place. You see, as impressive as Ys VIII looks, it’s only the second fully 3D Ys title ever. Ys Seven for the PSP was first. That’s pretty wild if you think about it. This is a series that managed to hang on to its 2D roots for an impressively long time. And there’s a very good chance that its stubbornness was an asset. Ys Seven is an incredibly fun and technically solid RPG adventure that, although now in 3D, doesn’t lose any of its classic Ys charm.
Setting Sail for Adventure
Ys Seven begins innocently enough, with our red-haired protagonist Adol and his faithful companion Dogi who, thanks to a friendly band of pirates, find themselves out on the high seas in search for adventure. It isn’t long before they find what they’re looking for in the form of a nearby kingdom called Altago (who, due to a recent war, isn’t too keen on foreigners). Excited by the prospect of exploring Altago and uncovering the secrets that lay within the kingdom’s many ruins, the two set a course for what they hope turns out to be their next big adventure.
Sure enough, they soon get the excitement that they’ve been looking for. Adol and Dogi quickly find themselves in a chain of events that involves rescuing a girl, being thrown in jail by one of Altago’s high-ranking Dragon Knights, getting sprung out by a different Dragon Knight, meeting Altago’s king, and accepting a quest to discover some nearby mysterious ruins. All of this before even leaving the city! And you can bet that things get even more hectic when the ruins Adol is sent to investigate suddenly spring to life, imbuing him with the power of Altago’s long-slumbering dragons.
The best way to describe Ys Seven‘s story is “comfortable”. On the whole, it’s rather predictable. If you have any experience with RPGs whatsoever, you’ll see most of what’s coming a mile away. Thanks to the number of high-quality, story-driven RPGs that we’ve been treated to over the past few years I don’t mind saying that I’ve become more picky when it comes to storytelling. I found myself not taking any issue with Ys Seven whatsoever, however. This series has been around for a long time. It’s a series that does its best to emulate the spirit of the classic JRPGs. It surfaced when storytelling didn’t need to be as convoluted as it often is now. Although I do like my Kingdom Hearts and my Shin Megami Tensei, I can very much appreciate a story where good and evil are clear-cut, and motives aren’t hard to figure out.
Ys Seven may take place in a new land, but you can bet that its gameplay still fits like an old glove. Adol’s latest (but not for much longer!) adventure will have players familiarizing themselves with all of Altago as they venture through each of its areas. Like its predecessors, Ys Seven is very linear and formulaic. Gameplay generally consists of trekking from one major location (usually a town or a dungeon) to the next, via a series easy-to-navigate roads. These “in-between areas” are very straightforward and, aside from hiding plenty of treasure chests within their nooks and crannies, don’t allow for much freedom of exploration.
There are also several dungeons to explore which, although linear, aren’t quite as straightforward as the overworld. Most of your time in each dungeon will be doing what Adol & Co. do best; slaying monsters and collecting items. Still, most dungeons have a “Zelda-lite” element to them, occasionally tasking players to solve minor puzzles, time their movements, or make use of whichever special item you picked up in that dungeon in order to proceed. Given how little the game deviates from its own formula, these small changes within each dungeon are surprisingly effective at keeping gameplay fresh and fun.
I’ll be the first to admit that Ys Seven doesn’t often do too much spice things up for its players. Like its story, its gameplay is predictable. But it’s that very same predictability that allows other elements to shine through. Instead of experimenting with freedom of exploration like many games do when they jump from 2D to 3D, Ys Seven never wavers. It remained committed to doing what it did best; challenging its players. There’s not much guesswork in moving forward. But the ever-present threat of Ys Seven‘s numerous enemies will constantly keep you on your toes.
The Art of Fighting
Combat in the Ys series has always been known for its simplicity. In fact, the game was so simple in its infancy that you couldn’t even manually attack. And, while the series has come a long way since its “bump attack” days, it’s never added more than it needs to. This game is no exception. Ys Seven‘s fights (of which there are plenty) are very basic, boiling down to hack-and-slash combat with the allowance of special attacks and dodge rolls. You would think that, because of its technical minimalism, combat wouldn’t be too hard. And of course, you would be wrong.
Before playing Ys Seven, it had actually been a while since I had played a Ys game. I had forgotten how difficult the series was at first. Or at least, how difficult its bosses were. Normal enemies aren’t too much hassle to deal with, so long as you’re halfway paying attention. Boss monsters, known as “Titanos” in Ys Seven, are on a whole different level, though. Ys Seven knows that its mechanics are simple, so it expects you to have them mastered. This essentially turns Titano skirmishes into a dance. Most of your time will be spent gracefully dodging or defending against whatever the Titano throws at you, pausing only to leash the occasional chain of attacks when you can.
The game’s RPG mechanics do allow for a little wiggle room. If a particular area is giving you trouble, you’re always free to grind. Levels are important enough that even one could spell the difference between success and failure when fighting a Titano, and the gold that you pick up can be spent on new weapons, armor, and healing items. Depending on where you are in the game, or which difficulty mode you’re playing on, however, these things almost become more necessity than advantage. Though these are clearly defined RPG mechanics, the game works in a way that almost always has you exactly where it wants you. Even I, the textbook over-leveler that I am, never found myself too overpowered. I can appreciate a balance like that objectively. But the game’s rigid structure, at times, made stats feel more like an illusion of progress than anything else.
Rock, Paper, Adol
Interestingly enough, Ys Seven does manage to change combat without actually tweaking much thanks to the inclusion of weapon types. Simply put, nearly every enemy in the game (bosses withstanding) fits into one of three defense categories. The defense category that they fit into determines what they’re weak and strong against. Soft monsters are weak vs slash damage (like Adol’s sword), but strong against strike damage (like Dogi’s fists), and so on.
Since each character can only use a specific type of weapon, players will be making use of their party members to take down specific kinds of enemies. Since Ys Seven allows for a three-person party, you’ll almost always have someone available who’s good against any given monster. You can also switch between party members on the fly. This makes it easier to take control of the combat situation, regardless of what kind of baddie you’re fighting.
Combat isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. You need to constantly switch between characters. You can’t over-level. There’s no cheesing your way though difficult parts by overstocking on healing items or buying over-powered equipment. There’s never an easy way out. But it’s because the game makes you get through everything almost entirely on skill alone that makes it so much fun to play. Ys Seven (not to mention the series as a whole) makes a strong argument that solid, simple gameplay mechanics can be just as challenging and entertaining as games that constantly throw in loads of new mechanics. A true case of style not always being better than substance.
Ys Seven is an incredibly fun game with plenty of old-school RPG action and, despite its simplicity, an immense amount of challenge. It manages to add just enough new things to keep the game fresh, yet never strays far from its roots. With Ys VIII fast approaching, some of you may be tempted to pass this one up. I would suggest that you don’t however. Ys Seven marks the series’ beautiful transition into the 3D realm. If you’re a Ys fan, or just an RPG fan in general, this is worth getting. Even if it’s only to hold you off until Ys VIII arrives.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: XSEED Games, Marvelous USA Inc. ; Developer: Nihon Falcom ; Players: 1 ; Released: August 30, 2017 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Ys Seven given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher