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Review – Ys Seven

posted on December 3rd, 2010 by christian

Ys Seven is a momentous release for developer Falcom. It is the first Ys game developed natively on the PSP, and it is also the first game in a major licensing deal struck with publisher XSeed Games. Westerners can finally play an original Ys game exactly as it was intended, rather than through a shoddy port.

Anyone excited for their first taste of this cult franchise will be sorely disappointed, however. If you’re looking for an introduction to Ys, you’re better off with Oath in Felghana, or the upcoming Ys 1 & 2 Chronicles. As for Seven, it isn’t an awful game, but even someone as hardly experienced with Ys as I am can tell that it isn’t the best showing the series has to offer.

Ys Seven still uses a realtime combat system, but lacks any need for strategy or precision outside of the boss battles. As long as you keep up your offense and dodge the occasional enemy strike, you’ll never face a truly difficult situation. Instead, the focus of the game is on the concept of “loot”. Enemies die in a shower of coins and materials, both of which are used to obtain new gear via the game’s crafting system. The nice thing about crafting is that, in a rare move, it’s actually possible to craft all but the end game equipment using materials you’ll find over the course of normal play. It’s a nice example of Falcom rebelling against the genre’s tendency to make crafting a task that is as Herculean as it is important.

Another important facet of the combat engine are the Skill moves. These special moves are activated at the cost of Skill Points, and they are bound to a specific weapon until mastered. We have seen this concept in other RPGs, but it works in tandem with the crafting system in order to address our most primitive gaming urges. For most of the game, battles take on a specific pattern. You whack on enemies until the SP gauge is full, spam your Skill move, and repeat. When the move is mastered, you can switch to another party member (a new feature in the Ys games) and learn theirs. This should get you through to the end of the dungeon, at which point you can take your haul of materials to the nearest village, and unlock new weapons (and thus new Skills).

Of course, you could play the game differently, learning only the moves that you master naturally. But Falcom is clearly trying to cater to the completionist that dwells in every gamer, and they caught me hook, line, and sinker.  Part of this is due to simple features and simple execution, but the main reason is that Ys Seven has incredible momentum. If played a certain way, the game serves as an abridged version of other, longer, RPGs.  You have the easy introduction, the tough middle section, and with a minimum amount of work, you can have the empowering endgame, in which your overpowered characters bulldoze through every challenge.  You get the guilty pleasures of the genre without any dull filler to sap away your interest.

At the same time, Falcom’s new devotion to the unwritten rules of jRPGs leads to some frustrating decisions.   Like so many games (and anime) these days, the dialogue in Ys Seven is overly convoluted and chatty, such that characters will use three or more lines of dialogue when one would suffice. This is coupled with the fact that the characters are, as usual, made to be intentionally oblivious to the world around them.  So when Adol and Dogi are joined by a princess escaped from her castle, you can bet that they won’t figure it out until they’re presented with more evidence than is present in an episode of Blue’s Clues.  This style of writing is pervasive through our hobby, and it is also unacceptable.  Even teenagers would (or at least should) have their intelligence insulted by it, and yet it persists.  I can only chalk it up to slavish devotion to perverse traditions.  That, or an entire generation’s aversion to reading.

Another, more severe issue is the inclusion of multiple party members beyond Adol and Dogi.  Each one is a walking cliche, and they each replicate another character’s function on the battlefield.  They simply aren’t worth our attention, and their existence forces the game to last almost twice as long as it should (in case you’re wondering, it is because the game won’t let itself end until you’ve been able to play for several hours with a full party.  Blech).

The thing is, while I think the characters and the narrative hurt the game, I know they’ll probably help it appeal to the larger audience Falcom is aiming for. Ys Seven is the jRPG equivalent of a pile of Pixie Stix, a pure sugar high with no real substance. Even if you can’t stand most of the genre’s tropes, you’re likely to get hooked, but when all is said and done you won’t want to go back to it any time soon, nor will it stand out as a memorable experience. If this was a ploy for new fans, I’ll tip my hat to Falcom. If instead this is the future of the franchise, I’ll have to hope for remakes of the rest of the back catalog.

2 Comments

  1. Marie said on December 4, 2010:

    Amen on the comments about writing in games. I was replaying Xenosaga a while back, and actually found my cheeks burning over the bad dialogue style. My “favorite” is when a character goes through a spiel that ends with a new term, leading Shion or another lead character to repeat it as a question.

    Mysterious Character #1: blahblahblah apocalypse blahblah KOS-MOS blahblah Eternal Reoccurance.

    Shion: Eternal Reoccurance?

    Mysterious Character #1, or possibly KOS-MOS: Yes, blahblahblah apocalypse blahblahblah the Key.

    Shion: The Key?

    It seems benign enough at first glimpse, but once you catch on that it’s an overused device, all three games basically become unbearable.

    And this all culminates into an ending that I describe as “furiously rubbing MacGuffins together and hoping for a resolution.”

    There are things about the series that I truly love, but I feel like bad writing along these (and other) directions prevent it from attaining any kind of greatness.

    It’s too bad that Ys Seven seems to have fallen into the Story Trap. I really liked that I and II, especially, had just enough plot to propel you forward. Add a neat bit of lore before the boss fight, and win. I don’t think every game needs to be that succinct, but it would be nice if -some- did. I remember my husband and I checking out Mario Galaxy for the first time, and then wondering if we had -really- just watched a twenty minute introduction to a -Mario- game. I don’t need cinematic Mario, I need pure-distilled-fun Mario.

    Does anyone know if there’s been a port, or if there’s any plans to bring Ys Origins to the West? I was reading about it through the list of Ys games on Wikipedia, and liked how it went back before Ys I, and gave you three historical perspectives to play through with.

  2. christian said on December 4, 2010:

    There’s no plan to bring over Origins right now, though a lot of people seem to dislike it. I admit to being curious at the very least.

    I’m glad to hear you say that about Mario Galaxy. Can’t stand those cutscenes.

    To elaborate more on storytelling, I’ve heard this method described as “awkward” or “unecessary” exposition. Another good example would be a story involving a parent and child who have lived together for years. Then, in the opening scene, the parent says something like “as your mother, I cannot allow you to go and do that”. In order to explain things to the audience, the characters state things which they all clearly know already, which breaks the illusion and (unintentionally) the fourth wall. There are ways around this, but they involve either more clever dialogue, or trust that the viewer can piece basic information together. Hell, in this scenario, all you’d have to do is have the kid refer to her as “mom”.

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