|The title screen calls it "The Ancient Land of Ys," but everywhere else seems to call it "Ys: The Vanished Omens," though occasionally "Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished." (I think it's a platform thing.) I have to go with the title screen.|
By the Power of Grayskull, another Nihon Falcom game. They are apparently going to be a big part of my life from now on. I was having fun the last few days, blazing through some minor titles on my way to 1988, but there's no half-assing this one. Unlike Sorcerian, Ys has a full main quest. One last dragon I have to slay before I can enjoy the rewards of the 1988 golden age.
Like Sorcerian, Ys is fundamentally a console game, requiring a minimum number of controls--basically the directional pad and two keys for inventory and status. I would say something like "the influence of The Legend of Zelda, which came out the previous year, is obvious," except that I know next to nothing about the Japanese CRPG market and never played Zelda except for maybe two hours as a 13-year-old, so I'm worried I don't know what I'm talking about. [Later edit: I was right about not knowing what I was talking about. See LordKarnov42's contributions in the comments.] I should point out that unlike Zelda (as I understand it), the character in Ys does gain experience points and levels. There really can't be any question as to whether this game is a proper CRPG. I'm not saying it's a great one, but it's in the right category.
The back story of Ys is dripping with metaphor: the land was once peaceful and happy, but when a farmer discovered a precious magic metal called "kureria" (the uses are left vague), the land was stricken with sudden wealth, income inequality, and natural disasters. Sick of the destruction, the people of Ys gathered up all the kureria, stuffed it into a vault in the Holy Shrine of Sarumon (yes, really), and erected magic statues to guard it. Things returned to normal. But man years later, an evil wizard named Malificus has seized the six Books of Ys, which hold the secret to kureria and has taken the metal. "Only by recovering the six Books of Ys can the people hope to regain their land and end the evil reign of Malificus." But five of the books are being guarded by "huge monsters" and Malificus himself holds the sixth.
Neither the manual nor the game tells you who you are, but I gather from the MobyGames summary that the character is Adol Christian, and the starting town is called Minea. You don't get the main quest right away. Instead, you get a few side quests from exploring Minea and a village nearby. Already I've been tasked with:
- Dealing with some robbers who have been harassing the bartender.
- Find a seed called the Rodane seed.
- Find a stolen harmonica for a distressed songwriter.
- Recover a lost ring for a one-eyed man in the bar.
- Recover the Silver Bells, treasured symbols of the village, from a band of thieves.
Little NPCs wandering around the town help you with these quests by giving you hints. You have to talk to them through the cumbersome method of standing in their paths until they run into you. For instance, after I got the quest from the one-eyed man, an NPC told me:
This was the first quest I solved, though it took me a while to kill enough monsters to get the gold needed to buy the ring from the pawnshop owner. With the reward from the one-eyed man, I bought a proper suit of armor and shield, at which point I was apparently equipped enough to get the main quest (or at least the recovery of the first book) from Sara the Fortune Teller. More on that below.
When I played Sorcerian, I lamented about how basic the combat was, involving simply mashing the spacebar until the enemy dies. Well, Falcom apparently decided that even that was too much for Ys. In this game, there isn't even an attack button; you attack enemies by charging directly into them, much like in NetHack. There are, however, some tactics to this combat: you do more damage, and avoid damage yourself, if you charge into them from the back or side instead of the front. This is, in fact, the only way to survive at the opening level, when you have only 20 hit points. You thus have to dexterously dance around your enemies, watching their movements and looking for openings. Much more interesting than Sorcerian. Once you have a shield, head-on charges become a little less damaging. In the comments to Wizard Warz, LordKarnov42 clued me in that enemies can't hit you if you're slightly offset from their path of movement, but still in contact with them, although getting this just right (especially in dungeon corridors) is difficult.
If you can survive combat with a single creature, you just need to run off to a safe corner and stand still for a bit, and your hit points recharge fairly quickly (at least, outdoors). Despite this, I have died many, many times since starting the game; some of the enemies are brutal. Unfortunately, their little icons (everything in the game is tiny) don't correspond to the pictures in the game manual, so I can only guess at what I'm fighting outside the walls of Minea. Black knights and mutant dwarves, I think. After I gained a few levels, with consequent increases in strength and hit points, the battles went a lot faster. Enemies that used to take a few hits now simply disappear with a satisfying bloop as I charge over them.
There are a number of things I like about the game, starting with the number of quests, and the fact that you get experience point rewards and gold for completing them. These seem like such staples of CRPGs these days that it's easy to forget their comparative rarity in this era. How many games so far in my blog have featured side quests? Exactly two: Might & Magic and Sorcerian, and it's hard to count the latter's as "side quests" because there was no main quest. Leveling is a process of grinding your way through dozens and dozens of respawning enemies, and yet it's still fairly quick, and the results are satisfying. Finally, the game has a reasonably complex inventory of swords, armor, shields, magic items, and special items.
My gameplay so far has centered on Minea and its environs. As I said, I solved the ring quest right away, but most of the other side quests involve defeating a band of thieves who have holed up in the mountains. Meanwhile, Sara wants me to recover a Book of Ys from a shrine in the mountains, but my first few trips there show that I'm not quite strong enough to defeat the big bad.
The video below shows a little bit of the gameplay, including combat. As you'll hear, the sound effects are still a bit primitive. There's music in the game (as Taylor pointed out yesterday, much inferior in the DOS version), but oddly, you can only have music or sound effects, not both. As you'll see, I accidentally managed to record myself getting killed.
The Ys series includes nine games going right up to 2006. Most were developed for consoles and Japanese PCs; only a handful were ported to DOS or PCs, so we won't be visiting the land of Ys again until Ys V: The Ark of Napishtim in 2003 and Ys Origin in 2006. I hope there's not a lot of plot in between.