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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Thursday, March 27, 2014

FEATURE: Analyzing Ys Book I and II

The Feature Series takes a look back at games you may have heard of, but never played. We'll analyze the best and worst parts of these titles and see if they've aged like fine wine or end up woefully outmatched.

Flashback twenty-four years ago: it's 1990 and the RPG is a fledgling concept. The introduction of a console with the first-ever CD-ROM peripheral allowed expanse material to be brought to the TurboGrafx-16- in specific,  titles like Ys Book I and II. Revolutionary for its time, Ys featured action-based gameplay with role-playing elements, a pounding soundtrack, and a surprisingly in-depth story. This feature will take a look at some of the best parts of Ys Book I and II, highlighting why it is still holds up in its base form almost a quarter of a century later.

Fundamental Game Design- Progression Perfection
Ys begins with basics in the best way possible- short story introduction, a basic task, and an introduction to gameplay. One of the most clever parts of Ys opening is how it forces the player to adapt to its mechanics- combat, story, and menu design. In its first objective, the player is required to buy armor to prepare for the journey ahead- except the funds available are not enough to purchase all three items, meaning the player will have to learn the combat mechanics to find gold. It may seem convoluted, but it's a brilliant way to get a player into the groove of how a game will play. Likewise, the next objective will not unlock until you have equipped your armor- causing the player to have to access their menu and learn the navigation and confirmation elements. If a player never opened the instruction manual for Ys Book I and II, they will learn how to play the game, and not a familiar game- the foundations of Ys were, and still are very different from other RPGs.

It doesn't stop there- by the time you have reached the endgame, you are prepared for the dungeon format in its lightest form. As an ultimate challenge, the player is thrown into a massive, challenging tower that demands constant activity and combat. Even the bosses in Ys slowly evolve into more complex and precise affairs. Ys II builds on everything the player has already learned and adds another level of complexity, but still based on what the player has already learned.

Difficulty and Save Points- Accessibility and Player Respect
Ys features a save system that is extremely forgiving, but it is a mechanic that must be accessed frequently. Unlike so many modern games, Ys' save function is extremely quick and painless, meaning progress lost is really the fault of the player. Likewise, Ys automatically saves progress before fighting key bosses, which is really the only time you have to do so once you've eased yourself into the mechanics. Bosses are the truly the most enjoyable challenges in the game, offering varied conflicts that reward players experimenting with their approach rather than running in, swords blazing.

Ys has text dumps, but they are rarely intrusive enough to break the flow of gameplay. They contain key plot and progression notes, though, which means the attentive player will learn some valuable information from them- this becomes especially prevalent in Book II, when even roaming mobs have something to say that often hints at the player's progression. If you respect that the characters have something important to say, the game will respect you. It's an interesting dichotomy, one that was probably refreshing for its time and maybe a bit inaccessible today.

Flawed Elements- Ambiguity Issues and Hidden Doorways
While Ys has some great flow, there's still a few speed bumps here and there that stop it from hitting top speed. Yes, the opening is truly sublime and the game progresses at a fast pace. But there's a few points where the game throws some awkward translations and extremely ambiguous objectives at the player. NPCs will ask the player to speak with characters never before referred to by their true name, or, more often than not, you will have to resort to utilizing every ability in your inventory to find a solution to something. Ys Book I has a particularly punishing portion where the player must backtrack ten floors of a dungeon to get in contact with an NPC. While some of these instances can be solved with a few minutes of trial and error, others are a bit frustrating because of their roundabout execution. Still, since the game worlds aren't massive, it won't take you long to figure out the solution, but it's still a bit frustrating to deal with.

Also, Ys graduated from the "hidden doorway" school of thought, where secret entrances are never explicitly pointed out and feature key items behind them. I thought Ys Book I was going to subvert this oft-used mechanic with one of the early game items, but it turns out Ys Book II embraces it, and even makes its endgame dungeon an extremely difficult and convoluted area to traverse with areas that barely look like entrances.

Conclusion- Does Ys stand the test of time?
Ys is very different. While Book I focuses on taking precise shots at invulnerable enemies, Ys Book II focuses more on ranged combat, with some melee here and there. Interestingly enough, the game still manages to deliver a satisfying final boss even when the player maxes out their stats- it shows how carefully the game was designed and given a sense of progress. Its action-based gameplay allows for a smooth play experience, and can even act as a sign that the player isn't quite prepared for the challenges ahead. With some very classy-looking aesthetics in its cutscenes, a fantastic soundtrack, and addicting mechanics, it's hard not to recommend Ys Book I and II. Of course, the games have been remade over and over, but even the classic still stands the test of time, and that's truly impressive.

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