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RELEASE DATE (NA): February 22, 2011 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by SoyBomb

A one-two punch of classic ginger action!

Apparently, everyone in the dusty offices of XSEED Games has Ys fever. Why else would they localize and release three Ys games in the course of a year on the already ailing PSP? First came Ys Seven, the latest numbered game of the series; next came Ys: The Oath In Felghana, a remake of Ys III; and finally, they stepped back to look at the very roots of Ys with Ys I & II Chronicles. (Wouldn't it have made more sense to release them in reverse order? And yes, they were all available at the same time.) The first two games were solid action-RPG games where hacking and slashing were the in thing, and you got a solid adventure out of each experience. Ys I & II Chronicles, on the other hand, requires a far more old-school mentality in order to enjoy this retelling of the origins of red-haired Adol Christin and his introduction to the Ys universe.

Okay, okay. I'd better backtrack a bit because this isn't the original Ys I & II. So here's a basic rundown of these games' history:

1987: "Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished" was first released on the PC-88, a computer system exclusive to Japan, released in the early 1980s by NEC Corporation, the same folks who delivered the TurboGrafx-16. Ports to other similar computer systems (and, eventually, consoles) would soon follow, and in 1989, North American gamers would first get to play this game thanks to an English release on the PC by Broderbund.

1988: The direct sequel, "Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished - The Final Chapter", was released a year later, also for the PC-88. And, as with the first game, it was ported around like nachos at a rave party.

1989: "Ys I & II", a compilation of both games, was developed and released in 1989 for the Turbo-Grafx CD (also known as the PC Engine CD-ROM in Japan). Under the title "Ys Book I & II", it would be the first time that Ys II could be played outside of Japan and the first time that the two games would share the limelight together in one package. Ys I & II was also the first CD-based RPG for a console. How about that?

2001: This two-game package was re-released for Windows in Japan only under the guise of "Ys I & II Complete". The graphics were greatly improved, and new cinematic sequences were added, alongside a more vivid soundtrack, as was the style at the time.

2003: "Ys I & II Eternal" was released for the PlayStation 2 (in Japan only, to the dismay of some). Based on Ys I & II Complete, it featured a few additions, including new items and characters.

2009: The Nintendo DS got its own share of the Ys pie, courtesy of "Legacy of Ys: Books I & II". Both Ys I and II had been released in Japan separately a year earlier, courtesy of an outside developer, Interchannel-Holon. Big man on campus Atlus, however, packaged them both together and released them on one DS cartridge in North America, alongside a bonus soundtrack CD. The graphics in this game are 3D, aside from character sprites... but they're not exactly the most beautiful. (Then again, the DS' meager 3D output was often questionable.)

2009: Yet another Ys I & II compilation comes to the PSP as "Ys I & II Chronicles", which was localized for the North American market (and, later, Europe) by XSEED Games two years later. It's also based on Ys I & II Complete, but has a few new tricks up its sleeve. And that's what we're talking about now!

If you're used to action-RPGs like Secret of Mana, Kingdom Hearts, or Star Ocean, you're going to be thrown for a loop here because Ys doesn't play that way. Or, at least, they didn't when the series first started (more recent games and remakes have taken a different route). When you see a game such as this where you rush out into a field or down deep into a dungeon, you expect to come across monsters and slash them to bits by swinging a glimmering sword or a sharpened axe. Not so here. Oh, granted, Adol has a sword and can buy or discover more powerful versions of such as he progresses (and he won't easily survive unless he does), but he sure doesn't fight in the same way any other warrior does in an action-RPG. He rams his enemies.

Just slam right into the enemy... at an angle. Indeed.

Back in the late 1980s, developer Nihon Falcom decided on a unique form of battle, separate from all the rest. They had Adol run into the enemies; the sword would automatically swing. This makes it sound as though no skill is required, but that would be untrue. If you ram an enemy head on, you will get hurt as well, but if you attack off-center, or from the side or behind, you will be free and clear of injury while doling out damage. While it's quite a jarring shift at first, it will eventually become second nature. It is, however, a sign of how archaic Ys I & II actually is by today's standards. Ys II was kind enough to include magic as well, with a magic meter that is extremely generous in how much of a spell can be used before it runs dry.

But it isn't the battle system that truly provides a sense of datedness within this brief collection: it's the opaqueness of the gameplay. The path in which the game should flow is not clear-cut; you'll spend far too much time simply wondering, "What am I supposed to do next?" Some dungeons are so large, it's easy to get lost without a detailed map in hand. And the people of Esteria and Ys, they often offer very little of use to say, making you wonder if they really deserve your assistance! Ys II suffers a bit less from this phenomenon, but there will definitely be a need to consult and re-consult a walkthrough on various occasions. Publisher XSEED must have been aware of this prior, having included a walkthrough for Ys I in the back of the instruction booklet (for those who purchased a digital copy, you're out of luck). Surprisingly, even the walkthrough provided in the back was insufficient for me; I still returned to GameFAQs for sage advice on how to proceed and why things in the manual's walkthrough weren't going according to plan.

Even with the extensive aimless wandering, the games are notably short. Ys I is a mere few hours in length. The quest itself is surprisingly brief, plus Adol maxes out his stats at Level 10, and it's extremely difficult NOT to get that high, so grinding won't take up much of your time, either. Ys II has more meat to it -- not a lot, mind you -- but because the experience train does not end at Level 10 (you could probably go all the way up to 99, but it's seriously not worth it), more time will be spent leveling up and improving your stats. But really, it's two games that, combined, will offer far less than twenty hours of gameplay, perhaps begging the question of whether the game is worth its price. But its unfortunate length is (partially) tempered by some whimsical moments that make the limited narrative effective. Of note is in Ys II (because Ys I is far too short and overly serious to be cute), when you gain the ability to transform yourself into a new creature -- a Roo, to be precise -- and can talk to any enemy you like in the game. That's a cute feature, and also one that actually DOES serve a purpose.

Other problems plague the game as well -- or perhaps just help to solidify it as a bona fide member of the old school troupe -- but one that stands out in my mind is the mishandled concept of a healing herb. Yes, you can get them. Sadly, you can only hold one at a time in Ys I, upgraded to three in Ys II. And on your journey, you can use them freely... except for during one particular time. Herbs cannot be used during boss battles. Seriously, the one time when I need to heal the MOST, and I can't do it. I believe this is required:

They might as well not have included the herb at all if you can't use it during crucial gaming periods. As well, though I realize these games are from a far earlier time from today, you really should be able to carry more than one healing herb in your inventory (three is more reasonable in Ys II). That's just a sad oversight on the developer's part, and even though the game DID come out in 1987, it's still just another strain on the difficulty of the game.

But with or without the herb issue (and I hope this is the last time I use the word "herb" in this review), the games are difficult. Well, actually, I take it back: Ys I is very difficult. Bosses require more than just immense attack power; you need to have the maneuvering skills of a hummingbird to survive some of those battles (and the patience of a sad-eyed donkey), and the local baddies are nothing to scoff at, either. Ys II, however, can be far more tolerable with some grinding and the latest in offensive and defensive technology. I actually found the final boss to be of disappointing simplicity to destroy.

The game looks moderately decent for what it is. Adol and most other non-playable characters/enemies remain in sprite form, albeit fairly detailed ones at that. The bosses and environments are all rendered with 3D polygons, and they look quite decent, especially when held side-by-side with their Nintendo DS counterparts. The overall appearance of the game is a mere derivation of Ys I & II Complete for the PC almost a decade earlier; the only major difference this compilation provides is the ability to use new profile images for important characters when talking to them created specifically for the Chronicles edition. Overall, Ys I & II Chronicles looks acceptable for a PSP game, though a few more bells and/or whistles wouldn't have hurt it any.

The soundtrack is another story. Ys I & II have been proclaimed by many to possess some of the best video game music ever produced. While I wouldn't go that far, I can say that Ys I & II has some rather decent music in its arsenal. You can choose to listen to three different soundtracks: the Chronicles version, which was arranged specifically for this collection and features the most modern of instrumentation (including those oft-unnecessary electric guitars also featured in Ys: The Oath In Felghana); the Complete version from Ys I & II Complete in 2001; and the PC-88 version from Ys I & II's original release on the Japanese computer system. Luckily, you can switch between them on the fly through the Options menu, so if you want to hear what the game sounded like in the 1980s, you can easily check that out. I find listening to the PC-88 music a quaint blast from the past.

Ys I & II Chronicles is what it is: a recycling and re-demonstrating of what made the long-running series so beloved in Japan. It never quite gained the same momentum here, but XSEED is starting to show it the love it deserves with many releases and upstanding localizations. That being said, I believe that Ys I & II Chronicles, though an enjoyable experience for those willing to try something different, shows its age and may turn off more than a few gamers in the process. If you're already a fan of the other Ys games on PSP, you may find this iteration a tad unsettling, but if you want to see the origins of Adol's adventures, this may be the way to start. It's up to you as to whether or not you can handle the oft-confusing old-school adventure, but I prefer the other Ys releases on PSP as a more satisfying alternative.

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