Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Ancient Land of Ys: Won! (and Final Rating)

There's no "congratulations" screen, so this will have to do.

Wow, right? I didn't expect it to be over that fast, either. But it actually took longer than you might think, as I essentially played it for 16 hours straight yesterday.

As you can see from the screenshot, my name isn't "Adol" after all, it's "Arick." I didn't find this out until late in the game, when someone addressed me. But it seems like all of the proper names changed between the original versions and the DOS version. The villain in at least one console version, for instance, is Dekt, not Malificus. I suppose that's to be expected when (as we covered yesterday) the very title of the game changed for the DOS port.

Anyway, what I took to be the "opening area" of the game--the city, a nearby village, a cave, and a palace--was in fact the "only area" of the game, and the side quests I got at the beginning, which I took to be representative of a slew of side quests that would be forthcoming, were the only side quests. The game was still bigger than it seemed--much more vertical than horizontal. The cave, the palace, and the ending tower all had multiple levels and multiple bosses.

I suspect this would actually suck in battle.

I didn't take great notes or capture copious screenshots, I'm afraid. I was just trying to plow through it. Getting to the end was a process of finding a slew of items in various treasure chests, including a sword, armor, and shield of silver; keys; special items like a rod and a hammer; necklaces and rings that would allow passage into otherwise-forbidden areas; and so on. There was a lot of backtracking involved including a particularly annoying bit where I got all the way to the top of the tower and the endgame, only to find that I needed to turn around and go back down most of the tower to get an amulet from a guy in a dungeon. That backtracking took almost 90 minutes by itself.

I thought this might be heading for the first example of a CRPG romance (the one on the left, wankers), but this game wasn't quite that sophisticated.

At one point, I rescued a damsel from the palace named Fiina. She had lost her memory but turned out to be one of the ancient goddesses of Ys. The game could have done something with this, but it doesn't--Malificus just drops this information on you at the end. I should point out, because I don't think I did before, that there are lots of NPCs in the game, but there are no dialog options; you just read what they say.

Combat never got easy, but increasingly powerful weapons and armor helped, as did a magic ring that gradually restored my health even indoors. Aside from the backtracking, five things annoyed me about the game:

  • Most of the "side quests" turned out to be interlocking bits of the main quest. For instance, the recovery of the Rodane seed was necessary to talk to a Rodane tree and recover a silver shield needed for the final battle. So that still leaves Might & Magic with the only true "side quests" so far.
  • Upon entry to the final tower, there was one of those tiresome "taken prisoner" scenes in which I lost all my silver items. I had to slowly recover them from chests in the tower later.

Here's an original plot device. I wonder if there's a way out of this cell?

  • The game allows you to collect healing potions, but it doesn't allow you to use them (or access your inventory at all) when in combat with bosses, when you most need them.
  • I maxed out my experience points way before the end of the game. That is very annoying--there should always be reasons to kill more enemies. I maxed out the gold, too, and instead of freezing it at the max, the game flipped it over to 0! Fortunately, by that time there was nothing to buy (another thing I don't like).

Oddly enough, the max number of experience points is the same as the max number of rows in Excel 2003, and the max hit points is the same as the max number of columns!*

  • In a lot of the dungeons, you have to take doorways in the southern end of rooms, but very often you can't see, or can only barely see, the doorway at the edge of the screen. This was responsible for a lot of my backtracking, as I thought I'd thoroughly explored certain levels when in fact I had missed huge sections.

Can you see that doorway just south of me?

Balancing all of this: the game was fairly short. And the boss combats (one to retrieve each book) were quite challenging, each requiring some new tactic to avoid attacks and land my own attacks.

This double-headed thing could only be damaged when its two heads came together. In the meantime, I had to avoid its spinning fireballs.

I had to replay the endgame seven or eight times before I finally defeated Malificus, who had transported me to a platform flying through the firmament and was flying around, shooting fireballs at me. Every time I hit him, another piece disappeared from the platform, so I had to avoid both his fireballs and falling down the holes. I kept trying to record it, but since I kept dying, I eventually gave up. Here's a recording of that scene that ends with me falling off the platform:



And here's a recording that picks up after I finally kill Malificus and see the end game:



By the way, I figured out later that a lot of the boss combats would have been simpler if I'd cranked the CPU speed in DOSBox down to an era-accurate level.

As is my wont, since the gameplay for Ys only took two sessions, I'll do a quick GIMLET right here in this posting.

The game's backstory is somewhat nonsensical (really, what does this metal have to do with anything?) and its trappings are undistinguished fantasy fare. The explorable world is very limited--more a "small hamlet of Ys" than an ancient land. On the plus side, your actions do affect permanent changes in the game world, and the NPCs acknowledge it (4).

There is no character creation: everyone starts playing Arick with the same statistics and equipment. Leveling is swift and satisfying in the first half of the game and then suddenly (and maddeningly) freezes to a halt at about the halfway mark. This is one of the few games of the era to give you experience point rewards for quests (3). NPC Interaction is important--you learn valuable things from them, and some of them are interesting--but it is all one-way (5).

NPC "interaction."

Regular foes vary only by icon and toughness, and I didn't know what most of their names were, but the boss foes are quite original, and figuring out the best tactics to defeat them was slightly fun. This is another game where the enemies constantly respawn, but to no real benefit since the experience and gold stops doing you any good (4). There is no magic in the game (aside from a couple items), and combat involves charging into creatures, with the added tactical complexity of trying to achieve the right angle--interesting, but not enough to redeem the combat system (2).

Boss fights were challenging and interesting; the rest of the combat was not.

You have a basic variety of equipment, but it is all found at fixed locations, and none of it is dropped by foes (3). The economy is maddening: although you need money at the beginning of the game, after you've purchased a few fundamental items, there is no reason to keep collecting all of the gold that the enemies offer you (3). The game has a main quest and fooled me into thinking it also had side quests. There is only one ending to the main quest and no way to role-play it (2).

Graphics are decent enough, if a bit small. Sound is the bloopish variety of the time. The controls are extremely basic, as you would expect from a console port, but intuitive enough (4). Gameplay is mostly linear, given the limited game world, and there would be no reason to replay it. The boss fights do add a satisfying level of challenge, and the game doesn't overstay its welcome (5).

The final score of 35 seems about right. I wouldn't have wanted to play it for much longer, and the score would have been much lower without the challenge and tactics of the seven or eight boss fights, but it was an acceptable way to pass a couple of CRPG sessions.

Next stop: The Bard's Ta...no, wait. Arcanum had to go and do some research. We have to do Zeliard first.


*That was a joke. I know why this is.

24 comments:

  1. Hmm, the upcoming Dracula in London looks like another miscategorization by Mobygames. :/
    Looking forward to the BattleTech game, though.

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  2. There has been a row of uninteresting/Japanese/hardly-CRPGs games now, but I'm looking forward to Bard's Tale 3, BattleTech and Demon's Winter.
    BT3 should be less frustrating than BT 1 and 2, since there is no real time check for random encounters, but I never gave it much chance when I was a kid. Should be interesting too see your verdict of it.
    BattleTech I remember was great fun, but has it stood the test of time?

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  3. Well, no roleplaying, but your descriptions indicate you had fun. The reading felt a bit nuanced from your standard rpg gameplay descriptions, too.

    About all conversations being one-sided: At this chronological point in game design I think it's a toss-up whether participating in pseudo conversations is worth it or not. The text parser way of conversing I've seen you use so far would make me want to avoid talking to as many people as I could (maybe because I have a deep-seated loathing for texting). A key word and show items menu like what was used in Final Fantasy II would be fine for me(you might encounter the game if you look at an MSX fan translation, but I would not recommend it as I finished the Gameboy Advance version once already and TVTropes can explain its anguish-inducing leveling system under "Forced Level-Grinding," though I would also put it under "Training from Hell").

    The most enjoyable conversation system I've experienced so far was in the Knights of the Old Republic games, but the system does feel a bit cosmetic now in II atleast (I prefer the main VAs from I much more) when I started replaying them on my 360 this morning.

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  4. Well, I guess we'll see if Zeliard really is RPG-ish or not.

    I'm looking forward to seeing your run through BT3 as the C64 version is one of the CRPGs I'd played as a kid and one that I've still considered going back to from time to time. I haven't gotten back to it yet since there's always something else competing for attention.

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  5. Zeliard would be the first game that I played around the time of release and that you're going to blog about.
    I did play some of the Ultimas and Nethack and Bards Tale, but this was late in the nineties when I developed a taste for RPGs.

    Back to Zeliard, it is an RPG in the sense that it has a story, levelling up, NPC's, currency, magic and items.

    I never finished it though, maybe I'll search for an LP version of it on youtube.

    Oh yeah, been loving this blog immensely. Keep it up!

    Cheers, Rob.

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  6. Grandia II was released on the PC?

    I weep for you.

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  7. I'm through with Zeliard as of tonight (see post tomorrow). Bottom line: too much of a platformer for me, even though it has some RPG elements. There is a full play on YouTube that I'll link to tomorrow.

    FHMCG, I don't know what you're talking about, but it doesn't sound good. But since there are bout 600 games between me and Grandia II, I won't fret about it.

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  8. I've always wondered if the Y series was worth a spin. Thanks to you I have my answer. Perhaps the later ones may be better.

    A bit of trivia concerning the HP and XP limits (and excel limits) 256, and 65536 are the largest numbers you can store in one byte and 2 bytes of computer memory respectively. Back then, when most home computers would work with a maximum of 1 byte or two bytes at a time (8-bit and 16-bit computers), the limitations prevented larger numbers without some tricks. I imagine you will run into those numbers several more times on your travels until more powerful computers become more common-place in the late 80's early 90's

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  9. Whats interesting most about Ys is how long lived the series is. Its hardly known in the west outside of in really niche RPG fan circles, but it has 7 games in the series not counting multiple remakes and in a couple cases 2 different games with the same number. It even had a cartoon or two made of it.

    Ys is one of the big RPG franchises really. But like Phantasy Star, very few people really know about it.

    I guess I do as I am playing the 7th game on my PSP right now with a preorder for a compilation of the first 2 games using one of the more modern game engines. (Ys 1 is one of the more prolific RPGs for sheer number of systems its been released on too.)

    Right now the PSP has or will be host to Ys 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7.

    Maybe Ultima is one of the only other series where one machine plays most of the franchise. (That being a 486 DOS 5 or 6 machine. Which can play 1-8, both Underworlds, and both Worlds of titles.)

    Though the original model DS is pretty close with Dragon Quest. (1-6, 9, a couple of the spinoff games.)

    Don't judge Ys too harshly based on the original. While good for its time the basic action RPG formula has been improved on since. Even in Ys. No more bumping into dudes to kill em.

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  10. I guess the problem is that, to me, action RPGs don't get interesting until they develop a greater array of tactics to use in battle--items, spells, combos, summoned creatures, and so on. Then they achieve a greater balance between strategy and manual dexterity. Games like Ys, Faery Tale Adventure, and Sorcerian, which basically feature one attack, get boring for me fairly quickly. As I said, though, Ys redeems itself here with more challenging boss fights in which tactics do come into play.

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  11. Ys 1 and 2 were developed as one game, but split into two due to the sheer size of it. I believe Ys 2 is the only direct sequel. While others use some of the same main character names, they can be played independently so you don't have to worry once you get to the later Ys games.

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  12. I was about to make the 16-bit/2-byte comment before I saw that someone else had before me. ;p

    The thing about the metal was expanded in the remakes and the prequel (Ys Origins), but I agree that the game is mostly gameplay oriented. The original PC Engine version had rather nice music too. I wonder why that wasn't used much in the DOS version.

    Falcom did release some other, better (at least in terms of story) CRPGs, such as the generically named Dinosaur Resurrection, but that never made it out of Japan, so you probably wouldn't be able to play it.

    Nice articles, by the way!

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  13. Ys II was released for the TurboGrafix-16 in 1990 in America (your master game listing has the date for 2000 for Ys II Eternal, which was a remake that just improved visuals and sounds). Do you have any intention of playing it?

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    1. The TurboGrafix-16 being a console, no.

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    2. http://store.steampowered.com/app/223810/

      Could play it on Steam though.

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    3. I COULD play it on a TurboGrafx emulator. I don't exclude console games because I can't play them; I exclude them because I've made a decision to limit my list solely to games released for a PC.

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    4. The TG16 was called the PC Engine originally, but I think you're entirely right in that the system is a console since it lacks a keyboard and other things PCs normally have.

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  14. While I completely understand limiting your RPGing to computer games (you have to draw the line somewhere), it's a shame you won't play Ys I+II for TGCD, as it fixes a few things you complained about in Ys 1:

    -Magic system in Ys II, even though the only regularly useful spell is fireball.
    -Leveling curve is much more satisfying. Not only is gaining even one level a noticeable improvement, but the max level is 61 and a typical endgame level is 57-59, so EXP will probably never be completely pointless.
    -And, you spend all of Ys II... in "Ancient Land of Ys" instead of running between two small towns. If I remember right there's four towns and the environments are much more varied.

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  15. Here is video of the very first version of YS for PC-88!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96tLZTtNcZA

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  16. I love Ys. Probably one of my favorite game series, though that's partly for nostalgic reasons. I'm glad to see you enjoyed it, at least somewhat! I cut my teeth on the fan translation of the Windows remake from 1997, which expands the playable area by a bit, adds some quality-of-life features, and may have rebalanced prices somewhat.

    The levelling in Ys I is... fairly aggravating, too. II is better about that, which a couple of other commenters have talked about. It's obnoxious to run up against a wall of a boss and realize the problem is you need another level, because they're far apart and a single level makes a *huge* difference.

    And yeah, Ys I is suuuper short... which is probably why most rereleases/ports/remakes package Ys and Ys II together. II is a lot meatier, and absolutely the better game of the two. It's a shame II never got officially translated on PC until the 2010s, I think you'd enjoy it quite a bit more.

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  17. PS: Kureria's basically mythril, IIRC. Your "silver" weapons are made of the stuff.

    Just in case you're curious 9 years later.

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  18. Actually, the original plot was that the island was initially called "Ys". The two goddess coming here created the "Black Pearl" which made the whole civilization prosper. Thanks to that, the silver mine in here actually changed into the "Cleria" metal which had magical properties. Unfortunatly even using that "Black Pearl" had a cost even the goddess ignored : It birthed a lot of monsters that started to attack Ys. The whole city disappeared, only leaving a huge crater behind it.

    A lot of time passes, and human started to find the old mine of Cleria again and thought it was silver ore (which is why even Japanese version of Ys call that metal "Silver", it was meant to be a twist... Even if it's not understandable enough to be a good one ). The fact they are mining again freed the magic energy which attracted Dark Fact (Malicious or something for you) which used it to ressurect the demons of old. (and also cutting the island from the main world) His motivation is that he wants to go back to its master, Darm, that he think is on Ys (but ironically enough : is not ) and need the Book of Ys for that. I don't really know why he don't go immediatly (the plot is also a bit more complex when you take into account the fact that a lot of PNJ including Dark Fact are descendent of Priest from Ys) but he sure is cautious, stealing all "silver" object he can find because he knows that a weapon made of Cleria is its only weakness.

    The original PC-88 manual actually describe a LOT the life of Adol Christin the hero, saying where he will go during its life of adventure ( Which are adventures which Falcom will made way later) and even where he will die and when. ( At 63 at Antartica if my memory serves right ). He heard about the island of Esteria being impossible to attain and just.. Go for it. Because he likes adventure, he investigate the whole "silver stolen" stuff, find the girl, go to Darm Tower and beat Dark Fact. Then, in Ys II, he learns that the ancient land of Ys is not destroyed but instead escaped to the sky ! So the whole Darm Tower had be build by demons in an attempt to reach it ! So the book shine and Adol is send directly to the flying island of Ys where Ys II will take place. Here, the final boss is Darm which is the Black Pearl itself. ( Keep in mind that the story had been retconned a bit after Ys Origins and the guy behind the TurboGraphX version changed some stuff too )

    So... yeah, it seems the DOS version "knowing" that only one part of the story will be translated had modified some stuff. The main one being that no, you don't explore "Ys" during Ys I but only Esteria searching for that mysterious civlization. That being said the game have a surprisingly good translation for the time (beside names changing) which is understandable since the company behind it was funded by the designer of Black Onyx Henk Rogers which wanted more video game cooperation between Asia and America. I played all version of Ys for a review of the whole Ys series that i do for my own French website and what striked me in the DOS / Mac version is that despite the fact that they are mostly very bad (the music...) they have a very good fight physic ! It's hard to describe for a non-native English speaker but in most Ys version (including the beloved TurgoGraphX / PC Engine CD version ) you just go "through" the enemies when you successfully attack them, they do have a feedback and move back but if you find a wall, you will have to stop attacking because you will go through the enemies and take damage. In the most recents versions (like on Steam) you don't have to worry about that as the ennemy will physically repel Adol if they are blocked by a wall so it's totally possible to sandwich an enemy between you and the whole thing way easier and funnier ! Well, the DOS / Mac version ALSO had this feature that no one, not even the Saturn had until the Windows remake Ys Eternal. That's crazy !

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  19. Actually, the original plot was that the island was initially called "Ys". The two goddess who came created the "Black Pearl" which made the whole civilization prosper. Thanks to that, the silver mine in here actually changed into "Cleria" a magical metal. Alas, using that "Black Pearl" had a cost even the goddess ignored : It created lot of demons that started to attack Ys. The whole city disappeared, only leaving a huge crater behind it.

    A lot of time passes, and humans found the old mine of Cleria and thought it was silver (which is why even original version of Ys call that metal "Silver", it was meant to be a twist... Even if it's not presented well enough to be a good one ). The fact they are mining again freed the magic energy which attracted Dark Fact (Malicious or something for you) which used it to resurrect the demons of old. (and also cut the island from the main world) His motivation is that he wants to go back to its master, Darm, that he think is on Ys. He needs the Book of Ys for that but I don't really know why he don't go immediately (the plot is also a bit more complex with the fact that a lot of PNJ including Dark Fact are descendant of Priests from Ys) He has a weakness : Weapon made of Cleria so he stole all "silver" object he could find on the island.

    The original PC-88 manual actually describe a LOT the life of Adol Christin the hero, saying where he will go during its life of adventure ( Which are adventures which Falcom will made way later) and even that he will die at Artantica at 63. He heard about the island of Esteria being impossible to attain and just.. went for it eventually beating Dark Fact. Then, in Ys II, he learns that the ancient land of Ys is not destroyed but instead escaped to the sky ! Even the whole Darm Tower was build by demons in an attempt to reach it ! So Ys II takes place in that flying Island of Ys. Here, the final boss is Darm which is the Black Pearl itself. ( The story had also been retconned a bit on Ys Origin and the TurboGraphX version )

    So... yeah, it seems the DOS version "knowing" that only one part of the story will be translated had modified some stuff. The main one being that no, you don't explore "Ys" during Ys I but only Esteria searching for that mysterious civilization. That being said the game have a surprisingly good translation for the time (beside names changing) which is understandable since the company behind it was funded by the designer of Black Onyx Henk Rogers which wanted more video game cooperation between Asia and America. I played all version of Ys for a review in my own French website and what striked me in that version is that despite the fact that it's mostly very bad (the music...) it has a very good fight physic ! It's hard to describe for a non-native English speaker but in most Ys version (including the beloved TurgoGraphX version ) you just go "through" the enemies when you successfully attack so if you find a wall, you will have to stop attacking or you will go through your opponent and take damage. In the most recent versions you don't have to worry about that : Adol will be blocked so it's possible to sandwich an enemy between you and the wall ! Well, the DOS / Mac version ALSO had this feature that no one had until the Windows remake Ys Eternal. That's crazy !

    *cough* Uuuh, sorry about necro-posting, i was just starting to answer the latest comment and got a little too excited. Maybe you even had all those information before via other comments i didn't read ! Sorry if that's the case. I'm primarily a big J-RPG fans so this blog is basically unknown territory for me... That being said, i am doing a big review of all Ultimas game as of now (I'm at the fifth one, Blackthorn just did... His thing...) so your blog is incredibly useful for gathering thoughts and contexts of what those game were at the time. Thanks for what you are doing.

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