That’s right: Ys.
That’s no typo. Ys is the title of a somewhat obscure action-RPG series. Pronounced “eese,” it isn’t as mainstream as The Legend of Zelda, but it’s been around almost as long. That’s a long time in video game years, and publisher XSEED celebrated its silver anniversary by releasing Ys: Memories of Celceta on the Vita. You can view the English trailer of Celceta above to see what’s in store for all you adventuring types, then read what I think about the game below. Spoiler: It’s good. Really good.
So, what is Ys about?
Ys takes place in a fantasy version of our world. Each game (except Ys Origin) stars red-headed amnesiac adventurer Adol Christin. He’s the Link of the Ys games since, well, he swings a sword, attracts the attention of distressed maidens, and says little about the fantastic events around him. Yes, he’s a mute protagonist, but Adol surrounds himself with characters with plenty to say as he ventures from one mysterious continent to the next. Stories are usually basic fantasy fare — ancient evils awaken all over the place and Adol happens to be the chosen one to stop it — but they’re earnest and executed well enough to be charming.
Gameplay offers frantic, fast-paced arcadey action combined with the RPG genre’s stat, equipment and ability progression. You’ll find magic, armor, and hit points next to the action genre’s usual cache of moves like jumping, evading, and dashing at breakneck speed. Ys games are challenging affairs with brutal boss fights and amazing synth-rock-orchestrated soundtracks by composers Ryo Yonemitsu, Mieko Ishikawa, Yuzo Koshiro (of Streets of Rage, ActRaiser and Etrian Odyssey) and Falcom’s famed sound team, the JDK Band.
Seriously. Famed! Like Final Fantasy and Zelda, the Ys games have enjoyed entire CD collections and arranged albums dedicated to their wonderful music. In fact, the music is what got me into the series.
Okay! In honor of the latest Ys game, Memories of Celceta, here’s a chronological rundown of the games in the series so far, a brief summary for each title, how you can get your hands on them and how much you can expect to plunk down to enjoy them.
Ys I & II Chronicles
Release Date: June 21, 1987 (Ys I) and April 22, 1988 (Ys II)
Best Way to Play Today: PSP, Vita, Steam (PC)
Expected Price: $14.99 on both PSN and Steam
The first two games are not for everyone due to their strange bump-to-fight combat — you ram Adol into enemies to hurt them, swords be damned — but the two game collection is still worth trying out to see where Ys started. Be warned, however, they’re really not for everyone. The not-so-complex gameplay begins and ends with walking into enemies. That’s it. You get magic fireballs in Ys II, but that’s not a huge step up. These games are for curious retro enthusiasts. A better game for Ys beginners would be Oath in Felghana, detailed right below.
Originally released separately, the first two Ys games were bundled together in subsequent releases since Ys II picks up directly after Ys I’s cliffhanger end. The two titles have been re-released over the years on just about everything from the Master System to Windows to the Nintendo DS. The PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 version of Ys I & II is notable for being one of the first games with a CD quality soundtrack, a rarity at the time.
PC players can find Ys I & II Chronicles on Valve’s Steam store. Vita and PSP players (both of you!) can find it on Sony’s PlayStation Store.
Ys: The Oath in Felghana
Release Date: July 21, 1989 (Ys III: Wanderers From Ys) and July 4, 2005 (Oath in Felghana, Windows)
Best Way to Play Today: PSP, Vita, Steam (PC)
Expected Price: $14.99 on both PSN and Steam
Oath in Felghana is the definitive remake of Ys III: Wanderers From Ys, which was considered the black sheep of the series due to its side-scrolling perspective, similar to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Originally released on the PC-88, Genesis, Famicom and SNES, the PSP and PC remakes of the third game in the series may be the best games in the entire series. It’s at least the best of the “classic” games, before Falcom made the move to a more modern, polygonal engine with Ys Seven.
Felghana finds Adol in, well, Felghana, where he does all he can to settle a sibling dispute that could decide the fate of the world. It is by far the most challenging of the games, and unlike the first two titles, this one allows Adol to jump, use his sword, and cast elemental magic spells that enhance his abilities. For example, the wind spell will help him jump longer distances, something you will need to do a lot to backtrack and gain access to new areas, Metroid-style. The combat feels much more satisfying. Enemies explode and scatter HP-recovering and EXP-granting detritus everywhere to collect. Chain enemy kills together and you get more HP/MP/EXP bonuses. Keeping chains up can get very addicting. Felghana doesn’t outstay its welcome either as most players will finish the tale in 10 to 15 hours.
There are also three options to switch between on the fly when listening to the rock-inspired soundtrack: 8-bit, 16-bit, and orchestral. All sound fantastic.
The Steam version, the original version, features higher resolutions. The PSP/Vita version has multiple difficulties, the option to tone down the difficulty after losing boss fights, voice acting (that I recommend muting in the options), and a New Game + mode. And portability! The choice is yours.
Ys: Memories of Celceta
Release Date: November 26, 2013 (Memories of Celceta)
Best Way to Play Today: Vita
Expected Price: $39.99 (PSN, regular retail edition), $59.99 (Silver Anniversary Edition)
Memories of Celceta represents developer Falcom’s true vision of Ys IV, which was originally three different games made by three separate companies. Hudson Soft made Dawn of Ys for the PC Engine Super CD, Tonkin House did Ys IV: Mask of the Sun for Super Famicom, and Taito remade Mask of the Sun for PlayStation 2. All these games stayed in Japan. Memories of Celceta for Vita marks the fourth version of Ys IV, and as it was done by Falcom it’s the official version of the story. It’s also the first version of Ys IV to be released in America, and it’s pretty damn great. So great it may even topple Oath in Felghana. If you’re a Vita owner and you enjoy fast-paced, crunchy action, Memories of Celceta belongs in your library.
Celceta updates Ys Seven‘s combat by making it play more like a technical Devil May Cry game. Block and/or evade an enemy attack at just the right moment and you gain the initiative. Time slows down Matrix-style, a gratifying graphic pops up alongside a cheery sound cue and you’re allowed to go to town on the baddie with extra damage. It’s an immensely satisfying addition. For armor and weapon management, there is a robust crafting system that takes advantage of drops from enemies and loot deposits found around the environment. Instant switching between multiple characters with unique abilities also returns from Ys Seven, which keeps you on your toes as certain characters are stronger against certain monsters. Add side quests, large zones to explore, maps with custom waypoints, excellent music, creative dungeon design (it’s not linear in the least), charming characters, and you have quite the robust action-RPG package.
If you have a Vita, get this. If you’re interested in trying the series out for the first time with this particular entry though, I recommend starting with Oath in Felghana or Ys Seven instead if only because Celceta builds on what those games established. And if there are any Silver Anniversary Editions left out there, nab it for a 100+ page artbook/instruction manual/guide, three-CD set, map, and compass.
Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand
Original Release Date: December 29, 1995 (Super Famicom) and March 30, 2006 (PlayStation 2)
Best Way to Play Today: Fan translated patch of Super Famicom version or import PS2 version
Expected Price: $8 – $142 depending on where you look (Amazon.com, eBay) and on the quality (used/new)
Ys V is the last game in the series that has yet to see official release in the States, though it may be the next entry Falcom bases a remake on, according to Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo. It was originally made for Super Famicom in 1995, then remade by Taito for PlayStation 2 in 2006. As you can see in the above video, series star Adol and his pal Dogi return to explore a new land in the PS2 version. Completionists may want to pick up a copy from second-hand online places. Everyone else may want to look at the recently completed English translation patch of the Super Famicom version from Aeon Genesis. I have yet to try it myself, but word online about the original release is lukewarm at best. The import review from Diehard GameFan (those page layouts!) pointed out the series’ move from PC Engine to Super Famicom as the big problem. That meant no more animated cutscenes, no CD quality music and, perhaps independent of the system change, easier difficulty. Falcom took those complaints to heart back in the day and released a more difficult Ys V Expert not long afterwards.
Ys VI: Ark of Napishtim
Original Release Date: September 27, 2003 (PC), February 22, 2005 (PS2, Konami) February 28, 2006 (PSP, Konami)
Best Way to Play Today: PS2 and PSP
Expected Price: $8 – $55 depending on where you look (Amazon.com, eBay) and on the quality (used/new)
This may be the Ys games most players are familiar with besides the first two titles. A Windows game in Japan first, it came out on North American PS2s, and later, the PSP, both ports courtesy of Konami. Like Ys V, I can’t speak to its quality yet, but it was the first Ys title to shift from pure 2D to 2D sprites on 3D backgrounds. Falcom would later use Ys VI‘s engine for Ys Origin and to remake Ys III into Oath of Felghana. Adol can slice with a sword rather than ram into enemies, jump, use magic and fight gigantic boss battles as usual.
Unfortunately, Ark of Napishtim is nowhere to be found on Steam or PSN. Your best bet is the dreaded underbelly of the Internet after-market.
Original Release Date: December 21, 2006 (Japan), May 31, 2012 (U.S., Steam)
Best Way to Play Today: Steam (PC)
Expected Price: $14.99
The first Ys game I played on PC as it’s only available on PC via Steam. I liked it a lot, but the basic story does tend to get in the way when you just want to beat up bad guys and bosses, and the game tries to make you play through it three times with three separate characters to get the true ending. And none of them are Adol! Ys Origin, as its title suggests, is a prequel to the entire series. It takes place in one location, a large dungeon called Darm Tower, that you navigate floor by floor. The goal? Get to the top. Origin‘s combat hews closely to Oath in Felghana, so much so that some of the same abilities reappear (like that wind jump). It’s easy to call Origin a lazy cash grab with its scaled back design and “See the True Ending!” gimmick, but it’s still a blast to chain combos together and conquer gigantic, nigh impossible bosses.
There is a free demo on Steam. Try it to see if this whole Ys thing is for you (it is, don’t worry), then pick it up during one of Steam’s many sales.
Original Release Date: September 17, 2009 (Japan), August 17, 2010 (U.S.)
Best Way to Play Today: PSP and Vita
Expected Price: $14.99 on PSN
Here we go. The first game in the series I tried, I knew almost from the get-go that it was going to be something special. And I was right. Crazy, fast-paced action and a steep difficulty kept me entertained for dozens of hours. Only available on PSP and Vita, it wound up being one of the best games on Sony’s handheld.
It takes a little bit to get going (you spend too long in a seaside town at the beginning) but once it does it never stops. Most significantly, Ys Seven is the first in the series to introduce new playable characters to control alongside Adol. His stalwart companion, Dogi, finally gets to bruise and brawl with his fists, allowing him to take out sturdier monsters, while Adol slashes at softer foes weak against his sword. Airborne enemies fall to characters with knives and magic, and so on. Switching between your allies takes a split-second thanks to the game’s emphasis on speed.
Speed was the major benefit of Ys I‘s goofy battering ram combat; Ys Seven modernizes that idea perfectly. Every action takes no time at all. When Adol and crew dodge, they practically fly across the screen. When they attack, enemies explode like popcorn in a microwave, one after another into bloody messes of gold, limbs and loot in a fury. The attacks themselves happen in flurries and flashes so fast, you feel like Kenshiro or Ip Man. And remember, Ys Seven‘s basic gameplay reappears in the all-new Memories of Celceta, so if you want to go through the series it may be a good idea to start with Seven before moving onto the more refined Celceta. It’s a win-win.
And the music. Ys Seven uses music so well to get you in the mood for action and adventure, it’s almost like Falcom never left the hot-blooded ’80s, when all you needed to keep playing a game was fun arcadey action and a catchy, rocking track for each new area of the world you discover.
Unfortunately, that’s all for now.
There are spin-offs like Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki, Ys Strategy and mobile titles, but they have yet to garner attention from publishers or fan translation projects, so we’ll leave those be for now. At the moment, there’s a lot of Ys available for to catch up on. And who knows, by the time you’re done, you may be ready for the inevitable future installment. It will be interesting to see where Falcom takes the series now. After a stint on Sony’s handhelds, Ys might return to the growing PC space or turn to the new generation of consoles. Either way, Ys deserves to be played for plenty more anniversaries.
I hope this little guide helps newcomers. Feel free to sound off in the comments about your favorite games in the series, Ys memories or how the Ys games filled the void left by Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia, and Valkyrie Profile like they did for me. Interesting which franchises survive for 25 years, isn’t it?