Falcom's seventh proper Ys game welcomes series newcomers with its self-contained story while pleasing JRPG fans with winks and nods to past games. It's got all the makings of a classic: staggering boss battles, quick and smooth combat, and a red-haired hero. Will its old school roots hold it back or lift it to handheld glory?
- Sophisticated boss battles, especially by handheld standards
- Smooth, natural combat without mindless hack and slash
- Well-designed menus allow for intuitive inventory management
- Constant backtracking: you call it tradition; I call it annoying
- Uninspired story doesn't pick up until 10-15 hours in
- Lack of an objective-based navigational system means lots of confused wandering
Falcom’s seventh proper Ys game welcomes series newcomers with its self-contained story while pleasing JRPG fans with winks and nods to past games. It’s got all the makings of a classic: staggering boss battles, quick and smooth combat, and a red-haired hero. Will its old school roots hold it back or lift it to handheld glory?
Finally Ys Seven delivers someone for redheads to look up to besides Shaun White and that one white guy with dreadlocks who works in the Barnes & Noble Café. Adol Christin, ginger waif, is the JRPG series’ silent but deadly hero. With burly man companion Dogi in tow, Adol the Red approaches a troubled town as all great Japanese adventurers do: accidentally by boat.
After finding safe harbor in Altago City, Adol and Dogi learn that Altago has been experiencing unusual monster activity despite boasting the ripest monster repellants on the market. Good guys that they are, Adol and Dogi -- along with a party of heroes that alternates more than the Avengers -- hit the road in search of five power-granting dragon shrines and a solution to the dangerous anomalies in and around Altago. You won’t find an emotional reason to keep on trucking, courtesy of the uninspired, uninvolved story that doesn’t pick up steam until the 10-15 hour mark.
You will, however, find a reason to keep on maiming in the game’s excellent real-time combat system. On your way to the dragon shrines, each representing an element (fire, earth, water, wind, and…moon), you’ll encounter common monsters, all of whom more or less fall into three categories: heavy/armored, soft/light, and quick/airborne. Rather than assigning each character with a variety of basic attacks, each character is best suited to maim one type of monster—rock-paper-scissors style. Stock your three-person party accordingly. Though you’ll kill thousands of monsters in Altago, Ys Seven never devolves into brainless hack and slash; quickly switching between party members after visually identifying every monster’s physical properties is enough to keep your head in the game. The other two party members are sufficiently controlled by the AI.
Besides your weapon’s basic attack, violence comes in two other flavors. Skilled strikes, which you will continue to unlock and level, must be charged and deal medium damage. The Extra attacks come along only once in awhile, and once unleashed, are suitably grand and devastating. It’s a simple formula, but one that works.
After fighting and reading the drivel of inconsequential villagers like “Pompous Man” and “Muscular Man,” you’ll spend most of your time with the action on pause. Falcom was able to fold its contents into a tightly stacked, easily maneuvered menu system. Your inventory may be busting at the seams, but it’ll take only a button press for you to equip your party with the best available items. Unfortunately, the four-pronged customization is a bit shallow.
The Road More Traveled
Though you’ll eventually acquire the power to warp between villages (of course, this is later lost to that old JRPG deus ex machina, the mysterious energy disturbance), you’ll still need to wrestle with the hopelessly outdated map system. Navigating on a broader scale is simple enough, with stone markers helpfully strewn about the countryside. Finding your way around once you’ve reached your destination is another matter. Expect confusion and frustration as you plod around pathways you may or may not have already visited, hoping to trigger a boss battle or cut scene. This is 2010: I want hoverboards, robot hot dogs, and maps with clearly marked objectives. Ys is a sturdy old cougar, but someone needs to politely suggest she reach for the wrinkle cream.
By the time you hit the 10-15 hour mark, you’ll forget all about the clueless wandering that made you want a map in the first place. You’ll have spent so much time backtracking through the same terrain that it’s now familiar territory. Though monsters rise to your level, retracing your steps is just an irritating time-waster between you and your next objective. I spent hours somersaulting past treasure chests I already looted, destined to permanently reflect my open and empty heart. Remember the five shrines you had to visit? Once you’ve finished with that, you need to revisit them all, one by one. Granted, new areas open up within them, but you will be covering ground you’ve already covered many times over, the backtracking over new old ground. The game will take you a good 20-30 hours to complete, ten of which you will spend like this.
So why did the JRPG fanatic cross the Altago Plains seven thousand times? To get to the epic boss battles. Fighting the titan class baddies, hulking behemoths a mother would bury alive without regret, is intense. These bosses are each uniquely choreographed, requiring players to thwack away at their PSPs at an arthritis-inducing pace while relying on mental quickness to follow the giant monsters’ individual patterns of attack and defense. These are nothing like the monsters littering Altago’s branching walkways—good luck fighting against a purple demon phoenix who, while spitting kill orbs and popping death squats, gives birth without pause—then promptly forces her cuddly hatchlings into monster jihad.
Ys Seven’s lack of direction and forced backtracking cloud some of the best boss battles fought on a handheld.
It isn’t bad games that are killing the PSP, it’s near-greatness.