In 1987 a small yet important computer game was released by Nihon Falcon. This game was Ancient Ys Vanished Omens for the PC-88.
As a side note, Ys is pronounced iːsɯ, much like ease.
The story begins with a small boy hearing of incredible tales of goddesses and devils, of heroes and villains. This young boy grows with these stories of old and at age leaves his home to travel to the world as an adventurer. With blazing red hair and just heart, this man would be known throughout the lands. Adol Christin would bind his name to the history of the world.
I had a good paragraph about the start, but then I remembered that this existed
Be sure to check at least this one
Adol wakes up a little hurt in the town of Minea. He has managed to break through the storm relatively safely. However, not everything is as it seems, as he soon hears that Esteria is overrun by monsters and demons. Silver has gone missing, people have been killed and the land seems to be in peril. Adol, the adventurer he is, takes matters in his own hands and solve the mystery what’s going on.
He is called upon by the fortune teller named Sara, who tells Adol that he might be the one told in the legends. She informs Adol of Six Books of Ys that he must seek in order to unravel not only the mystery behind the recent uprising of evil, but the history of Esteria itself. She also gives Adol her Crystal, as with this her aunt will recognize Adol as the one whom Sara has been talking about in her visions. With this knowledge Adol roams through Esteria, striking down evil in his path.
Adol meets with Sara’s aunt in the Zepik Village, where he hears more about the Books of Ys. He is instructed to wonder to the Shrine of Solomon, an old shrine dedicated to the Goddesses of Ys, which now lays in ruins. In the Shrine Adol finds a maiden locked in a dungeon. Her name is Feena, and she knows nothing else, not even how long she has been imprisoned in the dungeon. Adol escorts Feena back to the Zepik Village before wandering deeper to the Palace and defeating the monstrous guardian keeping the unwanted guests away from the one of the Books of Ys.
The Palace of Salomon and the Darm Tower
During his travels Adol meets with the high Roda Tree, and eats one of its fruits and thus gains the understanding of the ancient language of the Roda trees. He also returns to Sara to deliver the news about the Books he has acquired, only to to hear that she has been murdered. Adol also meets with another maiden named Reah, who is sad that her only memento the Silver Harmonica has been stolen as well. However, as Adol ascents the Minea’s mine he stumbles upon this harmonica and delivers it to Reah. However, in the same abandoned mine Adol founds yet another Book, again watched over by a guardian of evil origins.
Adol has found pieces of Silver Equipment as he has travelled, gaining more strength and courage to meet the dangers lying ahead in the Tower of Death, or the Darm Tower as it’s known. Before entering this high tower of no-return, he visits Feena.
Upon entering the Darm Tower, Adol is shut in. A group of thieves have made the base of the tower their headquarters in order to guard that no evil shall leave the tower. Goban, the leader, knows of the Books and the legends surrounding the ancient land of Ys.
The Darm Tower is a high place, filled with monsters, treasures and traps. Here Adol meets his long time travel companion, Dogi. Dogi’s well known for busting through walls of stone, and here he busts Adol out of dungeon he has been trapped into. He also finds more Books in the Tower… and find Reah in the tower as well. Reah allowed herself to be captured so that she could give Adol a magical item to ensure that he will make to the very top of the tower where answers lye.
At the very top of the Darm Tower stands the one who has been behind all the evil at large; Dark Fact. With his black cloak and blue skin, he commands an army of monsters and demons. He too has been seeking the Books and is the one who has been collecting all the silver. Challenging Adol into a fight over his possessions, he is defeated in a fierce battle, where magical Silver Equipment of Adol clash with the fires of Dark Fact.
Here we find the truth behind the Books of Ys and Dark Fact; the Books are the key to access the Land of Ys, floating far above in the sky amidst the clouds. As the power of the Books of Ys is released, Adol is propelled into the sky as Feena and Reah watch over him. Seven hundred years ago the Land of Ys faced rising evil from within. The two Goddesses had created the Black Pearl which granted the land wealth, fortune and the magic. However, soon they found that for every good bit of cleria it produced the evil within was tainting the Black Pearl, giving birth to the evil that is Darm.
Honestly, To Make End of Battle is my favourite rockin’ intro tune
Adol is found by a young woman named Lilia near the Ruins of Mondooria alongside the Books of Ys. She takes him to her house where Lilia and her grandmother take care of Adol’s wounds. When Adol is wakes up, he is astonished to hear where he truly is. Upon stepping to the edge of the world, seeing glimpse of the Darm Tower below with the crater where Ys once stood, he decides to continue his journey which started when he broke through the storm barrier. Stepping into the Ruins of Moondooria and the Noble District of Toal, Adol learns the tales of Ys from the Priests whom the Books belong to, and is granted the privilege to wield magic by the two Goddesses. He is instructed to march towards the Ice Ridges of Noltia, where more of Darm’s protectors await him.
The land of Ys is overrun by demons, controlled from the high Palace of Salomon, where the Black Pearl resides. Inside and beyond the Moat of Burnedbless waits new friends and new enemies, struggles and moments of happiness. All this time Adol has pressed onwards despite of the misfortunes he has seen and the demons he have had to slay. Ultimately, will the the evils of heart corrupt the magic he is wielding…?
In the end, we all know what a brave heart can accomplish.
Darm defeated, the Land of Ys is returned back to it’s rightful place on the land of Esteria, joining the long separated people together again.
Adol Christin, and the Goddesses of Ys
The above story is a very condensed version of the overall plot from the two first Ys games. Originally it was supposed to be one massive game, but PC-88 and the floppy discs of the time couldn’t handle that much data, so they decided to split the game in two. A wise decision, looking how larger and more refined Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished ~ The Final Chapter is. Alongside the Legend of Zelda, Ys is the game series that truly set into stone what it is to be an action RPG… alongside Hydlide, but the less we talk about Hydlide the better.
Ys I & II has been ported numerous times, and remade few times around. The first remake was for the PC-Engine, where the already good music got instrumental treatment. Sega Saturn version upped the ante even higher, only to be topped by Ys Eternal games released in the early 2000’s, which were later ported to the PSP with remade music. With every new incarnation the two original stories have become more elaborate, the battle system more refined and leanient, and the music has had new fittings.
What separated Ys from the bulk of action RPGs of the time, or even now, is the lack of battle system. The system itself is simple; you ram the enemy either in an angle, or just so that your sprite is off from the middle line from the enemies’ sprite. The rest is handled by how much Attack and Defence you have. There’s a kind of satisfaction to ram into your enemies, slice them into pieces and continue onwards. Of course, the boss battles become interesting in their own regard, as you’re ramming them in the same manner. In this regard Ys is a really fast paced game with no real moments to breathe. Ys II throws magic into the mix, basically changing some of the fights into light a STG. The main form of magic the player uses, the Fire Ball, is useful to attack enemies from afar, and for better or worse majority of Ys II’s bosses can only be damaged with the Fire Ball.
Ys I & II had the same development team that would later continue with Enix’s Soul Blader, Illusion of Gaia/Time and Terranigma. You can see the influence Ys had over them in every regard, even in the story. One of the main composers for Ys I & II was Yuzo Koshiro, best known for his Streets of Rage and Actraiser compositions among others. However, Yuzo Koshiro’s best works in my opinion can be found in Ys and assortments of PC-88/89 games like Misty Blue.
While extremely rough on the sides, Yuzo Koshiro’s early works really show how good the man was with FM-music. Later on he kinda mangled with real instruments and lost some of the awesome beats going on
If you wondering if that’s all for Ys I & II, you’re right. Ys is a minimalistic game with decent scale. None of its versions have grandiose FMVs outside intros and endings. Ys has been made by design to be a game first and story after. However, it all blends well together in a cohesive narrative, the music completing both story scenes, and more importantly, the main gameplay. In essence, Ys doesn’t need anything more than it already has. The overblown modern RPGs with complete orchestral music and plots that go about killing gods and becoming some sort of saviour to whole universes is something that Ys as a whole has managed to avoid, while pretty much every other RPG game, action or not, has fallen into the same pit. Granted, Dragon Quest did play fun on killing God by making Him a hidden boss, who even then plays it as a joke and tells the player “now you’re strong enough to kill even a God! Hohoho!”
With the success of the two first Ys games, Nihon Falcom decided to do a third game in the series. Following the same lines of thought as Nintendo with Zelda II, it was to be a 2D sidescrolling ARPG. Not the best of decision if you ask the fandom, but even this game has some good points in the gameplay, namely the chainsaw sword mechanic that basically allows you to saw through hoards of enemies… that is if you have good enough stats. The game was a hit & miss overall, but there’s one thing they overdid themselves; the music.
Listen to these two back to back
While Ys III ~Wanderers from Ys has been labelled the black sheep of the series, it has also been regarded to have the best music in the series, a sentiment I share. Much like Ys I & II, Wanderers got a remake in the mid-2000’s named Ys ~ The Oath in Felghana (OiF). This was the second time Ys series stepped into 3D, first being Ys VI ~ The Ark of Naphistim which was released some years earlier. OiF actually uses Naphistim’s refined game engine and Falcom has fine tuned this game to take every bit out of it. The gameplay, while in 3D, is still as fast as in Ys I & II with very similar magic system. What Nintendo failed to do with their 2D games Falcom succeeded; they managed to take everything that made the original two games so good and implanted them into 3D. Ark of Naphistim, while good and balanced, had some rough parts that made the game a little degrading here and there, but all that’s gone in Oath in Felghana. And the remade music happens to the best soundtrack in any video game. While I’m usually allowing myself to be swayed into a direction or another when discussing subjective matters, I will stand with my opinion that Oath in Felghana has the best soundtrack thus in any video game. I’m going to go a bit overboard here, but while some game series gets remixes after remixes after remixes, Ys’ original soundtracks have always been able to stand on their own. If you want to hear remixes, check out Ryo Yonemitsu’s remasters of Ys I & II on Perfect Collection. This man knew how to use a synthesizer.
Now you’re probably wondering why you should care about Ys. The question more likely is why the are you not caring about Ys. Ys has had more hidden impact on the game culture than you’d think. Vast majority of the western video game culture barely knows anything that has happened on PC-88. We mostly think that game music started sound like music somewhere around NES came around. Just listen to The Scheme’s track a little bit above again. Ys was one of the big things that really made video game music into a thing. It’s one of the earliest things ever to sell a music CD. Back in the 80’s it was almost unheard of that people were buying midi music because of a game. However, where Ys most hit was that it was a very well crafted game with good attention to detail. By it’s own rights Ys was an important step towards future games, even if west never really found about it until much later on. You can find small bits and pieces of Ys on lot of late 8-bit and 16-bit era games, which then have affected games at large.
It’s not just music that Ys is well known in Japan. It’s all the previously mentioned things; the battle mechanics, the minimalistic yet complete approach to the game design and the attention to details. While the same developers did make arguably better games in form of Illusion of Gaia/Time, one can’t help but see that the additional mechanics and size make the later games more convoluted and mugged down. The core of the Ys games didn’t carry over to their later works. Whoever is in charge of current Ys games since The Ark of Naphistim knows what he/she doing. This person might just be one of the few surviving game designers that know what a game needs to be.
There has been more Ys games than just mentioned here; Ys IV; Mask of Sun / The Dawn of Ys, a game that got two different version for Super Famicom and PC-Engine from two different developers under Falcom’s license (which is now getting a remake on PSVita named The Great Forests of Celcetta); Ys V ~ The Lost City of Kefin, which is pretty bland game overall and put Ys into Ys for some years; Ys VI ~The Ark of Naphistim, a game that relaunched the series into new era; Ys Origin, a prequel to this all and Ys Seven, a PSP exclusive game with a whole new engine. If I ever find proper interest outside my own, I’ll go through each Ys game mentioned here in some form.
Personally, Ys is a series close to my heart. Somewhere around 2003 I wandered the Internet for information about a game called Popful Mail. I have no recollection how I stumbled against this game, but I found Hardcore Gaming 101 through Google, and the few first paragraphs of the article they mention Ys. I’ve always been big on 80’s anime style for some reason, and the game series seemed really damn interesting from what article went over. Ultimately, I decided to check out the music, and I fell in love. I couldn’t really get my hands on Japanese-only PC ARPG series back in the day (saying that makes me feel old), but after seeing the trailer for Ys VI and the announcement that it would come to PS2 with Konami’s porting, I was excited. Getting my hands on Japanese console games wasn’t anything that hard. Ys VI’s trailer still hits like a million volts for me, as the Release of Far West Ocean is slightly different from anything else.
While you’re at it, track down vocal CD known as The Songs of Zemeth
Sad truth was that it was most likely that Ys VI would never see a release in West. I’m quite happy to say that my ponderings were wrong and that it did not only get released in the US, but in Europe as well. They luckily dropped the VI from the title (West never got IV or V) and The Ark of Naphistim was the fist Ys game to many new players around the world. While I had my hands on Ys Eternal before that I’d like to think The Ark of Naphistim my first Ys game. I’m extremely happy to see PSP release of Oath in Felghana in West as well, as well as the presence of Ys Seven. In the future I’ll be supporting anyone who’s bringing more Falcom games to the west, like the Legend of Heroes; Trails in the Sky.
It’s nearly been ten years since I got into Ys. It’s interesting to see how one game company has kept the core of a single series so close to its roots and still produces new successful games based on the same core idea. While Nintendo continues making non-Zelda Zelda games and CAPCOM keeps shitting on their fans, Falcom seems to like money and produce quality products. While I might rave on how Falcom needs more exposure and people should buy their games, there’s really no need. Ys has found its audience some time ago, and new fans are introduced to the series with every new game released in the West. While the games still sell, the fact is that Ys series is getting a little old with each game. I see no end to the series as such, but with Ys Seven there are marks that Ys has very little to do with the Land of Ys any more. However, renaming the franchise any other way would be bad decision as well, so we’ll have bear with it. Whether or not a series this old will keep surviving is a good question that I have no answer. As long as they can keep the core same in the future iterations as well, Ys might just survive next video game crash when it comes. I’m not sure about other third party products without their millions of dollars behind their driving force. The future is uncertain, but just like Adol, we’ll just have to walk onwards with a smile on our faces and courage burning in our hearts.
And oh, the core Ys games? Simple and fun gameplay with good music.