That long history of remaking and re-remaking these same adventures has given us some great editions of them over the years, but unfortunately it’s bad news for this latest reissue on the PSP. Ys I & II Chronicles has a killer new soundtrack and some fairly new art, but underneath the pretty paintjob is still just feels old.
The Ys series (pronounced like “Geese” without the G) tells the tale of the energetic and ambitious red-haired swordsman Adol Christin and his on-going quest to ram himself face-first into every villainous monster he sees. Seriously – that’s the signature gameplay mechanic in these first two series games. You have no attack button. Swinging your sword is not mapped to a trigger. You simply line up Adol with an enemy and charge straight into them with repeated, relentless and ridiculous body slams.
It’s a unique and, at first, somewhat off-putting battle system – since nearly every other video game trains you to always avoid making direct contact with foes, and here it’s entirely required. You’re not invincible during these collisions. Enemies can still hurt you. So it’s all about your angle of approach – if you hit them directly head-on, your HP bar will take a hit. If you touch them off-center, from the side or from behind though, you’ll earn clean strikes against them with no negative consequence to you.
The whole thing ends up devolving into you, as Adol, running in mad circles around the mindless foes and ramming them again and again until they explode – literally – into a mass of mutilated flesh and bone that comically goes raining out across the landscape. Adol’s speed, too, is incredibly quick – so quick that, again, it’s somewhat off-putting at first.
It’s definitely a different kind of gameplay. And still unique, even after 20 years, as no other games outside the Ys series have ever been too eager to borrow this style of combat. Here, it kind of works. Adol’s excessively accelerated standard speed and the fact that you don’t have to do anything more complicated than touching your foes to hurt them are intentional design choices meant to make Ys I & II play at a constant rapid pace. And the pace does benefit from it – it’s certainly fast, and that can be addictive.
But the design sacrifices depth for that speed, as Adol’s enemies are all mindless and have no attack patterns other than just walking around. And the quickened pace hits a wall any time you get too hurt and have to run back to a safe haven for healing.
Or any time you run into another problem, being the adventures’ many utterly nonsensical item-based obstacles. XSEED happily spins these pace-stalling stumbling points as “wonderfully obtuse,” presenting them as respectful examples of the modern product paying homage to the games’ most old-school original versions. That’s a nice way of saying you’ll be getting frustrated as you play – since the truth of the matter is that you’ll just get totally stuck in the quest on more than one occasion and have no good clue what to do next.
As an example, Ys I’s biggest dungeon, the Darm Tower, includes a malevolent hallway that immediately drains away all your health when you step inside its walls. The only way to turn off that instant-death effect is to find a hammer, then go back to a different, unrelated previous portion of the dungeon to locate one particular stone column out of dozens of similar-looking ones and smash a hole into it. What? Exactly. It’s the kind of nonsensical disconnect that was totally common over 20 years ago, but in a “modern” product feels very out of place and just confusing.
Ys II, thankfully, is a bit more straightforward and easy to figure out, but Ys I would be almost entirely impossible without the help of some FAQ, guide or walkthrough – and that’s ultimately what this “new” compilation boils down to. It feels old.
And as it turns out, it is – this Chronicles release actually isn’t newly developed just for the PSP, but is really an adaptation of a previous remake of Ys I & II from 2001. The sprite art still looks pretty slick, and it’s totally at home on the PSP screen. And the music is entirely new, with each track given a fresh and energetic 2011 remix (and you can even swap out the entire soundtrack for either the 2001 or original 1987 versions of the same songs at any time in the adventure, which is a nice touch).
But the core elements of the game itself – where you go, what you do and the conversations you have – don’t seem to be 2011 caliber, beyond a handful of amusing recent pop culture references the latest porting team decided to toss into the script. And after all the other different versions these same games have had throughout the years, it’s unfortunate that the PSP edition didn’t get a little more modern effort.