Welcome back to the RPG Lounge, an occasional retrospective/review series about the RPGs I play through, most of which will be livestreamed.
Falcom’s Ys series has been hugely popular and influential in Japan for a long time. Yet, despite a few releases of the early games in the series in the late 80s and early 90s (In particular, the ahead-of-its-time Turbo-Grafx CD had an even-more-ahead-of-its-time compilation of Ys I & II, featuring professional voice actors ten-plus years before most game companies realized that was a thing you could do in video games), plus a Playstation 2 release of The Ark of Napishtim in the mid-2000s, it’s only in the last 5 or so years that the series really gained momentum in the US, as XSEED Games has worked to bring English translations over to the States.
Besides the newest Ys games, one of the packages released is a compilation of the first two games. This compilation, titled Ys I & II Chronicles + (The unwieldy title is partly due to the fact that this is about the fourth or fifth re-release of these games, counting Japanese titles), adds some new wrinkles to the games if you’ve ever played the versions that made it to the States in the 1980s/1990s.
Before that, though, a basic overview of Ys II. It takes place immediately after the ending of Ys I, as Adol Christin, the hero of most of the series, has just recovered the six books of Ys, which causes his to shoot up into the sky, into the land of Ys. There, he’s found by Lilia, a girl from Lance Village. Meanwhile, Dalles the Wizard and his boss, Darm, prepare to put their evil plan to take over Ys into action.
Ys II is, as one would expect from the name, the second game in the series. And it’s a good deal longer and more balanced than the first. For one, the leveling curve is much more gradual–you won’t need (And won’t be able to, at least not in any reasonable amount of time) to max your level by the halfway point of the game, as in the first game. There are also a higher number of dungeons, versus the original game’s three, although some of those come at the cost of not having a proper “overworld”, if you will. Another element introduced in Ys II is the use of magic spells. In particular, Fire magic adds a new dimension to the crash-into-enemies-to-kill-them combat. The magic makes it possible to kill enemies from a distance, which can be quite helpful.
As Chronicles is a re-release/update of the original game, it adds some audiovisual goodies and creature comforts. First, you can choose portrait styles between the Chronicles and Complete releases of the game. You can also choose from one of three soundtracks, which you can switch between at any time–the PC-88 original, or the Chronicles and Complete releases. Finally, you have a much greater freedom of movement than the original’s four-directional system. This games the combat a more frantic feel, and makes actually engaging enemies directly a more attractive proposition than it was in earlier versions.
While Yuzo Koshiro didn’t compose all the music in Ys II–he shared credit with Mieko Ishikawa and Hideya Nagata for the PC-88 version, and other people arranged subsequent versions–his style is all over the soundtrack (And you can continue to hear his influence even in more modern Ys games). The music is, in general, upbeat, driving you forward on your quest to defeat Darm.
The greater emphasis on hand-to-hand combat in this version of the game as compared to previous versions does have an unintended side-effect–because magic isn’t as useful in this version in a general sense, it might be hard for the first-time player to figure out how to hurt bosses if they don’t pay close attention to what they hear in the early game. Also, Ys II Chronicles changes just enough things that you do have to pay attention and can’t just coast through based on previous knowledge. There was one item that evaded me for longer than it probably should have, until I realized I had to drop my preconceptions of where I was expecting that item to be from previous versions and just went with what the game was telling me. Some bosses have new attacks and phases as well, to keep players of previous versions on their toes.
Ys II Chronicles + is available as part of the Ys I & II Chronicles + compilation. While you can honestly give Ys I Chronicles a pass, the compilation itself is worth it just for Ys II Chronicles. It’s a much longer experience than Ys I, with a wider variety of combat and environments. The new elements make it worth playing even if you’re a fan of previous versions.