DotEmu has rebooted Ancient Ys Vanished Omen, part of what they refer to as “the godfather of Japanese action-RPG sagas,” stretching back to the late 1980’s. The result is Ys Chronicles 1, newly adapted for mobile devices. With the exception of one flaw, it is arguably a perfect RPG.
The plot is set up quickly without too much exposition. The protagonist, a spunky redhead named Adol, washes up on a beach in a land under attack by monsters. Being a swell guy, he decides to get to the bottom of the situation (and kick monster butt in the process).
The game is beautiful. Even with a top-down, 16-bit aesthetic, the environment is nicely rendered, from flaming skull monsters in a dungeon to sleeping cats in a village (which, by the way, will meow if you approach them). The characters admittedly all look alike, but it’s understandable given that they are only the size of my pinky nail. Main characters are expanded upon in more detailed anime-style artwork during dialogue, adding some depth to their personality.
The music is also spectacular. It takes on a dreamy quality in the villages, but in an area full of monsters or bandits, the soundtrack switches to fast-paced heavy metal riffs. There are few things more satisfying than attacking a charging monster to the sound of a wailing guitar.
Speaking of attacking, the combat style is perfectly suited to melee enthusiasts. There are no random encounters or tedious turn-based combat. With a feature DotEmu calls the “BUMP” system, you simply smash yourself into enemies to attack. It’s simple, but surprisingly fun. The controls are a little sensitive, and sometimes you end up circling around a monster for a while instead of attacking, but it’s not a major problem.
Even though combat breaks down to dragging your finger toward the monster, there is a small element of strategy involved, especially when it comes to boss fights. During the first boss battle, you’re locked in a room in a dungeon with a grim reaper-looking demon who disappears and re-spawns across the room from you. Oh, and by the way, flames are shooting out of the walls. It took several deaths and no small amount of grinding, but defeating the boss was satisfying when I finally accomplished it. As a delightful bonus, the mobile version has trophies so you can boast your accomplishments for the world to see. My favorite so far is the “Come at me bro” achievement, for defeating 100 enemies. It’s a gorgeous game with a compelling plot and a fun combat mechanic. So what’s the problem?
A recharging health mechanism has been a staple of Ys games since the beginning, and this reboot is no exception. After a fight, all you have to do is stand still for a few moments and your health regenerates, leaving you free to jump back into the action and clobber a tree monster. But after the first boss fight, you descend into a spooky dungeon, and your health no longer regenerates. I found myself trapped with only 1 HP left, repeatedly getting killed and re-spawning to the exact same spot. I had effectively “broken” my game; I couldn’t progress, and I couldn’t escape back outside to recover my health and grind for a few more levels until I was strong enough.
I’m not saying that the game should be easy. In fact I’m impressed that a game with such a simple combat mechanic was able to challenge me the way that this game did. And I’m not saying that a game should never deviate from established combat patterns. But I feel cheated by the fact that I was able to wreck my game, simply by playing it the way I had been successfully playing all along.
Despite this flaw, the game was thoroughly enjoyable. I often found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t playing, and am still genuinely curious as to how the plot will unfold. Though my pride is offended at the thought of having to start over again on a lower difficulty, and I’m not exactly thrilled at the thought of even more grinding, I want to keep playing. Come at me, bro.
Despite being a bit of a grind, this game is a blast to play.