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CONSOLE: PlayStation 2 DEVELOPER: Falcom PUBLISHER: Konami
RELEASE DATE (NA): March 10, 2005 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by SoyBomb

There are no animals on THIS Ark.

The majority of the North American gaming community today probably are not familiar with the legacy of the Ys (pronounced like "ease", not like "whys" or "eyes") video game series. Heck, it's likely also true that those of us who have been around a fair while don't know too much about it either. Although the Ys series has been primarily released only in Japan, certain games somehow have made their way stateside. When they do, gamers are treated to a unique and deep storyline, as well as solid action-RPG style gameplay. Konami must have seen in the sixth game of the series, "Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim" because not only did they port it to both the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable systems, they also released it overseas, making it the first Ys game to reach American shores since the early 1990s. Dropping the enumeration, "Ys: The Ark of Napishtim" reintroduces us to the series while providing a fairly decent hack-and-slash experience as well.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Ys series, they follow the wacky adventures of Adol Christin, a flame-haired hero that everyone seems to like (except for adversaries, but that's typical, isn't it?). He is somewhat like the epitome of good, so to speak. A resident of the continent of Eresia, Adol often ends up getting caught in a mystical quest somewhere fairly far away. That could not have been more true in this installment of the Ys saga. In this game, Adol hops aboard a pirate ship while escaping soldiers from the Romun Empire who wish to arrest him. (Yes, they use many interesting names for various locations in the world that essentially mimic real-life places, such as the Romun Empire and the continent of Afroca. How utterly creative.) He meets an old friend, Terra, on the ship and ends up feeling more at home. It turns out, however, that the vessel is destined for the Great Vortex of Canaan, a mysterious region in the sea that ships generally never return from. And such becomes true, as the ship is whisked up by a fierce storm. Adol washes up on an unfamiliar shore and is nursed to health by two strange pale girls with pointy ears and tails. And so Adol begins yet another adventure, this time without even knowing where he is. The whole "washing up on shore and being rescued" storyline is cliché, I know, but I'm not overly concerned about that. The storyline does remain somewhat entertaining as your quest gradually transforms from commonplace missions to monolithic religious endeavours. You become more and more important to the status of the world as you progress, and that's what heroes ought to be about: saving the world!

The game is essentially an action-RPG. There is no separate battle screen; all enemies are fought in real-time immediately as you approach them. Adol is equipped with all the basic moves standard to any action game. He can walk, run, jump, and slash his sword. The circle button (when this skill is acquired) will release a magic attack, though only if his magic meter is full; the meter will recharge on its own over time. He can also perform basic slashing combos, as well as a downthrust, which will prove to be a boon throughout the game. The controls are quite responsive, although you may not always be swiping your sword in the desired direction 100% of the time. Speaking of your sword, did you know that there are three specific swords that Adol will use in this game, and they are always at hand? Over the course of the game, Adol will acquire three special swords made from the powerful mineral Emelas, each one based upon a specific element: wind, fire, and lightning. Each sword has its own unique magic attack: the wind sword will create a stationary tornado, the fire sword will send off a ball of fire into the distance, and the lightning sword can strike multiple enemies with a single shot. Furthermore, these can be strengthened and improved by allowing the swordsmith, Leav, by spending Emel, which is dropped by enemies and also attained by other means. Overall, the battle system is quite simple, but that actually doesn't bother me. Frankly, simple attacks are all you really need in life.

But when you're not in the heat of battle, what's there to do? Why, visit towns, of course. Sadly, the number of towns in this game is very limited -- there's only two. There are many non-playable characters to interact with, and often they quite impressively have new things to say. Even more surprising is the fact that all characters, even the NPCs, have spoken dialogue with voice acting. This does not appear in the original PC version of the game; Konami could have taken the easy route with a mere direct port of the game, but they went the extra mile and added many new features, including this one. I tip my hat to Konami for doing so well. The voices themselves are interesting, though sometimes a bit overdramatic (as any normal RPG suffers from nowadays). And there is no lack of ethnicity in the voices; there are all sorts of crazy accents! I guess the people within the Great Vortex is composed from a vast number of cultures. Anyway, most people will tell you things you already knew or were generally uninterested in knowing, but they provide local charm if that's what you want to hear. And of course, in the two towns, you can also purchase items, weaponry, armor, and weapon upgrades. Some things end up being pretty damn pricey, and you likely will be broke more than once. Of course, it's not always necessary to buy new armaments: as they say, the best things in life are free, and that's true because you can pick up some pretty nice stuff on your travels anyway (although not the best armor in the game... and you'll need to upgrade your swords without a doubt). Another things that grinds my gears a bit is the relative limitations as to how many of each item you can hold -- only nine of each. That may seem okay, but consider this: during major battles, you can have one type of healing item "equipped", one that can be used during that battle. Once it runs out, you can't switch over to a different type of healing item. Once you run out of that equipped item, that's it. Either you win the battle or you die. You can't even cure your status during those battles; you'll have to hope and pray that it wears off eventually. That's annoying.

With the PlayStation 2 port, Konami took the liberty to add many new things, one of which is particularly enticing here, and that is the inclusion of Alma's Trials. This is an optional set of five trials which can only be accessed by utilizing a specific item to warp to a discrete location and take them. Each trial has some type of basic puzzle that you'll need to solve -- have no fear, they're never too difficult -- as well as a final boss to tackle. It is a good place to test your skills against some fairly formidable foes. Each one is progressively more difficult, naturally, but it is a good way to determine whether you are strong enough to continue on where you are in the game (each trial becomes available at different point in the game). Also, if you pass it, you can be treated to more gold, more Emel, or more experience. Bonus!

Konami also one-upped the original version in the graphical department. While the PC version made frequent use of pre-rendered 3D sprites for all characters, Konami made all characters and enemies polygonal instead, all of which move quite fluidly. I'll bet that took a bit of work, yes? All the people are of reasonably realistic proportions, although Adol is a bit short and round. The environments are very colourful and vibrant as well; they were always in 3D, so there's nothing new there. Sadly, the environs cannot be manipulated in any way, which was a bit of a disappointment, especially when I had just finished another game around the same time that maximized that potential. It's a bit of a moot point, but a worthy one to discuss. They also provided brand new FMV sequences throughout the game, adding an extra layer for the already thick storytelling style. The FMV is decent and detailed, although I always scrunch my nose at dubbing, especially when they don't even TRY to match the dubbed speech to the general lip movement. But in general, the CG movies are a welcome addition to the game. There is also a certain level of anime to the game, especially during times when characters are speaking. An anime-style portrait appears, usually just a small facial profile, unless it is a principal character. One thing I've noticed -- and who wouldn't -- is that there is certainly no shortage of, um, rather large breasts in the full-figure illustrations. Those things just stick out, and sometimes they aren't even covered very well! Even I have to say that it's a bit ridiculous at times. Put some sort of chestal covering on. But I can't say that the fine graphics are without consequence. There is the occasional bit of slowdown, especially during a specific underwater region. The framerate dropped significantly through the entire area. That should have been taken care of prior to release.

On the flipside, we have the element of music and sound. Sadly, this does not follow the same positive path as the graphical style. I can't say that I have any negative feedback about the game's soundtrack; on the contrary, it's very nice but also forgettable. I just finished playing the game and I can't immediately recall any of the songs particularly well. There's no need to mute the tunes, but don't expect to be humming anything from this at the office Monday morning. The sound effects, on the other hand, are rich and full. I found Adol's footsteps to be quite loud and distracting though; in caves and dungeons, the reverb on each step is overbearing. No wonder the monsters want him dead. His shoes are keeping them awake. I also mentioned the voice acting, which is actually decent to listen to, although it is often drowned out by the music. I realize that I could turn down the background music on the Options page, but should I have to?

There are a few other qualms that I have with this game. One thing that really bothered me was the difficulty level within the game. Most RPGs have a gradual increase in difficulty as the quest advances, but the progression in Ys was more like walking up a flight of stairs with a ball-and-chain attached to your leg. As soon as you whip out all the strength to get to the top of the next stair, you realize that you are too weak for the next step. The increases in difficulty, I found, were quite sharp. You become strong enough for one section of a game, then when you have to go to the next one, you find yourself as being far too weak. Leveling up as much as possible is more than recommended, it's a necessity for Adol. Be prepared for that. Furthermore, you could still be strong but get ambushed by too many enemies and be clobbered to death. That happened on more than one occasion for me, and it was quite unpleasant. The game also suffers from the occasional glitch, such as in particular rooms in the game where you have to kill all enemies in other to progress, but one enemy seems to be invisible (in the middle of the process of disappearing and reappearing elsewhere) or stuck behind a wall where you can't see it. You'd better have that auto-targetting electricity magic on hand for that instance. Finally (and this doesn't just apply to this game but to many others), why is it when enemies drop items, they disappear after a short while? I had no idea that items expired so quickly. Grab stuff when you see it; don't delay!

But in spite of all these wacky problems, I enjoyed my experiences with Ys: The Ark of Napishtim. It's not as lengthy a game as, say, any Final Fantasy title in existence, but I'm sure those who praise the action-RPG genre will no doubt find glory here. Some may declare the graphic style as outdated (although technically it's all in 3D and it looks fine) and the gameplay as simplistic, but in an industry where an RPG can no longer be considered complete until it has some wild, complex unique element (like the implementation of some stupid card collecting system), it is a breath of fresh air to have an easygoing title such as this to simply pick up and slice away with. Plus there are numerous references to previous games in the series for those gamers who actually played previous iterations. Ys: The Ark of Napishtim is a triumph for its genre, and although it is not perfect, it is just plain ol' fun. Remember when things were fun? Yeah, it's just like that.

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