Often released as a bundle with its immediate sequel, Ys I really is just one half of a bigger whole. However, since it still works as its own standalone game, I decided to review them separately. As the first Ys game I ever played, there was an initial sense of confusion as I tried to figure out the somewhat archaic combat system and lack of explicit guidance. Thankfully, once it clicked, I enjoyed my short time with it and made me eager to check out the rest of the series.
Story: Adol Christin is a young, wandering adventurer who happens to come across the town of Minea, in the land of Esteria. Here, he meets a fortune teller named Sara, who informs him of a terrible evil that he must ultimately bring an end to (nothing new, am I right?). In order to do this, he must find the six Books of Ys–text which contains the history of the ancient land of Ys and the knowledge needed to bring an end to the dark forces at bay.
Despite containing a simple plot, it’s still impressive to note how it exceeds expectations for a game released in 1987. In the same year that The Legend of Zelda released for the NES in North America, Falcom was creating an ambitious duology that not only contains plenty of dialogue, but also fairly interesting lore. This is achieved through solid world-building and interesting NPC conversations, as well as a fairly detailed and expansive backstory for the main hero in the original game’s manual. And again, this game is just one half of the full story, ending on an obvious cliffhanger, which is good enough motivation to play the sequel and hopefully the rest of the series. 7/10
Gameplay: This was the biggest roadblock upon starting the game. The infamous “bump” combat is a weird system that, although easy to understand, is incredibly awkward to execute for a first-time player and takes a bit of getting used to. But once I did, I was making mincemeat of enemies left and right. The bump combat simply involves running into enemies at an off angle in order to minimize damage received and increase damage taken. There is no attack button involved for this. The main limitation to this is the lack of variety. Even during bosses, it’s mainly a matter of learning its attack pattern and just bumping into their weak spot when possible. Still, the game is short, which helps a bit with its inevitable redundancy. Not to mention, the boss designs are damn cool and the fights themselves are still fun and challenging.
As with any RPG, you level up after gaining enough experience points. And trust me, if you feel like you are doing next to no damage to a boss, then you have to grind. Because here’s the thing: The level cap is 10. That’s right, you can only reach level 10 in this game, which means that each level gives you quite the significant boost to strength and defense. With each new area, enemies give a lot more EXP, so grinding isn’t much of a problem in this game, as it’s fairly quick.
Apart from this, there’s also a shop where you can buy better equipment, as is typical for the genre. Through this short journey, NPC’s will give you hints on certain items you must find and use in order to make progress. None of these are usually too cryptic but backtracking and traversing some of the maze-like dungeons can be a bit of a chore unless you look up a map. The final dungeon is especially huge and can be a bit of a pain. And not to spoil anything, but… the final boss is notoriously difficult. All I can say is good luck. 6/10
Graphics and Artstyle: Let’s talk about the sprites first. Chronicles gives you the option of picking between the newer PSP character sprites or the older PC sprites (Complete). This is simply a matter of preference, but I do think the older sprites can look a bit goofy at times. I went with the newer sprites myself. It’s a nice option to have regardless. As for the graphics themselves, there is a distinct charm to them. There was a significant overhaul done to them and it’s plain to see with a side by side comparison with the original release. The overworld has a distinct rustic quality to it, partly due to the graphical engine itself. The best way I can describe it is that it looks “very 90’s.” And that’s something I don’t mind at all. This is an old-school RPG after all, and it’s a very fitting look to have. It’s worth mentioning that the bosses look great in this style, with vibrant colors that tend to pop out from the usual dark arenas they are fought in. 7.5/10
Music: Um… yeah… There is no reason for the music to be this good. Honestly, all the Ys games I’ve played have had great soundtracks, but it’s especially impressive to hear these tracks from a game released 35 years ago. Granted, with this being a remaster, the soundtrack has been re-recorded and remixed, but even after hearing the original soundtrack, it’s amazing to hear the foundation of a wonderfully melodic and haunting track list that perfectly captures the sense of adventure. Not much else to say here. The music is fantastic. 10/10
Replay Value: This game is short enough to warrant a replay every once in a while if you really enjoy it, but there’s not a whole lot of sidequests/bonus content to do so too often. Plus, as one half of a package, if you’re replaying this, you’re probably replaying II as well, which makes it slightly less appealing if you are just looking for a quick palette cleanser from longer RPGs. However, there is a “time attack” mode which is a timed boss rush. It certainly provides a decent challenge for those who are into that sort of thing, but it’s not something I personally enjoy much. Especially considering that the final boss is a part of it… shudder. All in all, despite enjoying the game, there’s still better Ys games out there that I’d sooner replay than this one. 5/10