Fair warning: I love this series, so I do have a bit of a bias towards it. Even though I will admit the first two games have *not* aged well considering the much better combat systems future games in the Ys series use. But I still consider Ys 1&2 a classic, so yeah, we’re talking about that.
GENRE: Bumpy Action RPG with really great music
Ys is a longrunning series from a smaller but nevertheless very popular Japanese developer known as Nihom Falcom, and when I say longrunning, I mean looooong. The first Ys game released on Japanese computers back in 1987, the second in 1989, and both have seen countless ports to other systems since then. The series follows the journeys of redheaded adventurer Adol Christin, who seems to find himself in the middle of way too many significant events that alter the course of history wherever he goes. Also, he has very bad luck with boats. No, seriously, they’ve sank or he’s been knocked overboard and washed up on beaches several times now, it’s literally a running joke in the series how bad his luck on boats is.
Now you might be wondering: Why are you looking at 2 games together? Because at the end of the day, Ys 1 and 2 are practically treated as a single game at this point, since 2 begins the very moment 1 ends, and both games together are what fully tell the story of Adol’s first adventure.
But what *is* that first adventure, you ask? Well, Adol was only 16 when he left his unnamed homeland to begin adventuring across the Europe (Pronounced Europa) region of the Eresian continent most of the games take place on. Upon stopping in Promalock, he heard rumors about a neighboring island of Esteria being cut off from the the rest of Europe by what was described as a wall of storms, a literal Stormwall. As a young boy who craved adventure, and I mean *craved* it, Adol immediately set off to Esteria to see this for himself and uh…
…Promptly had his boat destroyed, was tossed about by the storm, and washed up on a beach with severe injuries and only the clothes on his back. Yeah, rough start to his first adventure, right? Thankfully he’s patched up by the locals, who are quite surprised anyone was crazy enough to try and come to what was now believed to be a cursed continent, due to the stormwall and a major demon infestation problem. But where most sane people would consider this something to get the heck away from, it just makes Adol want to go deeper into the rabbit hole and find out why this is all happening!
While I won’t be spoiling the details, the first two games revolve around the kingdom that existed on Esteria ages ago: Ys, hence the title “Ancient Ys Vanished” being the thing for the first two games. The story of its rise and fall are central to the plot of Ys 1 and 2, and Adol will be piecing this history together as he ventures through Esteria. This is, admittedly, where the games are either going to be a love it or hate it thing for you, because while Chronicles may be the latest and thus “modern” version of the original Ys 1 and 2…It retains all the gameplay quirks of the original releases. What does that mean, you ask?
It means you fight by RAMMING YOURSELF INTO ENEMIES.
Ys is a game where you attack by just running smack dab into your enemies, at which point Adol swings his sword automatically. But it’s not just as simple as running head on into an enemy, as a direct hit head on, with a foe facing you results in them hitting you right back! Instead, you have to either hit them from the side, back, or be off centered when striking head on to avoid taking a hit back. This makes combat all about positioning and being able to quickly reposition to ensure you aren’t smacked as you repeatedly ram yourself into your foes, which does add a bit of depth to a combat system that can be simple to a fault. Healing is a bit of an oddity in this game, as you won’t find a lot of healing items, you can only carry one at a time in fact! Instead, the key to healing is to take a literal breath of fresh air. Any time Adol is idle in an outdoor area, or at least something resembling the outdoors like a tower balcony, or an open ceiling in a cave, he will regenerate his HP over time. This means you’ll often need to stop and take a breath between outdoor fights, or be ready to retreat to a safe area that allows healing when in a dungeon. It’s better than having to run all the way back to a town to heal, at least.
So, with sword in hand, Adol is tasked with finding the six Books of Ys, which talk about that oh so important history I mentioned. He’ll have to search all over Esteria to find them, meeting important people along the way, and having to solve item based puzzles. The item based puzzles can be another point of confusion at times, as sometimes you won’t immediately know what you need to solve a puzzle, and might have to do a significant amount of backtracking. Combined with the lack of any kind of map, it is fairly easy to get lost in Esteria, so those who lack a good sense of direction may actually want to draw their own map as they play just so they remember where everything is.
The big meat of Ys1 though is probably its final dungeon, the Tower of Darm, which is a point of no return. Once you go in, you aren’t leaving until you finish Ys1, so you’d better be prepared. The tower is massive, with over 25 floors making up this dungeon full of puzzles and traps you’ll have to deal with on top of a lot of demons and boss battles. You’ll often find yourself having to travel back down to lower floors as well.
Bosses in Ys1 are a bit of a mixed bag. Mainly because some are just too easy, others really annoying, and the final boss is just downright infuriating to newcomers. Only a couple bosses actually feel like good fights in my opinion, since they actually involve some dodging and waiting for an opening to strike, while the less good boss fights are just ‘keep running into it until it dies.’ Once you do conquer the tower’s final boss though, you’ll be treated to what’s less of an ending and more of an introduction to Ys2.
Honestly, Ys2 is where things really pick up as a whole in my opinion. The bump combat is given a major improvement: Diagonal attacks are now quite effective, giving you a much easier way to bump foes without worrying about being lined up with them or hitting them from a flank. As long as you’re running diagonally, you’re good! On top of this, you are also given access to a much, much needed tool to improve the combat: MAGIC. Early in Ys2, you are given the Fire spell, which, as the name implies, shoots a bolt of fire. It does take a bit of getting used to though, as Adol’s MP behaves more like a gun magazine than a traditional mana gauge. His MP consists a numeric value, but also a bar which represents the MP he has ready to use to cast Fire magic, but after expending that bar, it has to “reload” using his actual MP pool. His other spells will simply take MP directly from the pool, but any usage of his Fire magic means you have to be ready for a bit of downtime when the bar empties out and needs to recharge from the pool, giving battles a sort of back and forth approach: Go on the offense, then back off and wait for your MP to recharge.
This particularly shines in boss fights however, which while somewhat meh in the first game, are REALLY fun in Ys2. The addition of the Fire magic which is used in almost every boss fight turns bosses from simply bumping them repeatedly and sometimes dodging attacks into something more shmup like, where you’re dodging enemy projectiles while returning fire yourself.
That said, the flow of Ys2 is a bit different since it’s not about collecting six magical books. Instead, your goal is to find a way to reach a massive Shrine/Temple that is the plot focus of Ys2, with a majority of the game being your journey to reach it, but still plenty more to be done once you’re there, not unlike Darm Tower in Ys1. Thankfully, unlike Ys1, you aren’t locked into said Shrine and can still freely travel back to safer areas if you need to heal or restock on supplies, which play a much bigger role in 2 thanks to the addition of healing consumables.
It’s a shame they couldn’t find a way to incorporate magic into Ys1, but that wouldn’t really work from a story perspective for Adol to gain magic before Ys2. I say this because at the end of the day, I do feel Ys1 has some problems that hurt its overall experience: Namely the bump system limiting what you can do in combat, especially in the boss fights. Ys2 fixed this with the addition of Fire magic, and boss fights in that are an absolute blast thanks to the addition. In terms how Ys2 itself is as a whole? It’s a much better game, it’s bigger, it’s got more to explore, better combat, and way more story to it. Like Ys1 though, it lacks a map, and is very heavy on item puzzles where you may not even realize you lack the item you need, or don’t know where to use the item you just found. This means both games feature a LOT of trial and error, and don’t directly point things out to you like a lot of modern games do. But you are in for a treat if you can stick through it, I’ll say that.
At the end of the day, I’m going to admit, Ys 1&2 aren’t for everyone. But at the same time, I do consider them an important piece of history as they are the first adventure its main character goes on, and that first adventure ends up having some major implications down the road, due to Adol making new friends in it, being shaped by his experiences, it’s absolutely an important piece of history in the series that one should play if they intend to get into the series, even though if you’re playing the modern Ys games, you’ll never see its bump combat again.
Now, before I wrap this up, I can’t leave out what is pretty much the one thing everyone can agree on about Ys 1&2: The soundtrack and how freaking good it is. Case in point: This is your “field” music in Ys1.
Video courtesy of Falcom JDK Band.
The music of Ys is full of bangers. This is a soundtrack that somehow manages to blend the usual softer tones you’d expect in the towns of a JRPG, but then absolutely blasts you with rock when it comes to the combat. Falcom’s JDK Band (AKA Sound Team JDK) is known for good music in any game they work on, and it shows. If anything, the Steam versions of 1 and 2 are worth playing just for how good their soundtracks are. And that quality just continues across every Ys game, and pretty much any game Falcom makes really. If you like a bangin’ soundtrack, you will absolutely find one in this package that is worth the journey. And after 1&2? Ys basically transforms from a bumpy game into a much more solid action RPG that focuses on fast, rewarding combat. I’ll go into that more with the next game on the list: Ys Origin, a prequel to Ys 1 and 2 that you really shouldn’t play until you play 1 and 2 due to plot spoilers.