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.