RPGFan


 
Robert Fenner
Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Often, when we think of a memorable RPG ensemble, we tend to think of the hero and their party: the friends and allies we meet along the way assembled into a merry band on a collective mission of world salvation. And with good reason; whether it be the larger-than-life BFFs of Persona 4, or a blank-slate Wizardry party affectionately named after our IRL friends, we grow deeply attached to those who remain at our side throughout the duration of our quest. But memorable ensembles need not be exclusive to RPGs with parties, as demonstrated by the cast of Ys: The Oath in Felghana.

However, one can't discuss Oath without an examination of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, the 1989 title that Oath remade. Whereas Ys I & II were solitary affairs that saw protagonist Adol Christin dropped into a mysterious and hostile land in search of adventure, Wanderers from Ys shifted the focus to a character-driven narrative, as Adol and the erstwhile thief Dogi take a detour to stop off in Dogi's hometown of Redmont, in the country of Felghana. What was intended as respite quickly becomes a crisis as Adol and Dogi find themselves in the midst of a multi-sided conflict between the townsfolk, the nobility, and an eldritch cult.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Wanderers from Ys stood distinctly apart from its 1989 contemporaries in just how much detail went into the writing of its core cast. Most notably, this was the title that established Adol and Dogi's relationship as lifelong companions, a characterization that would continue in almost every successive title. Though unplayable, Dogi serves as a reliable anchor throughout the quest; he's always there to lend an ear when the going gets tough and — echoing his breakout (ha) introduction in Ys I — smashes his way through an avalanche to rescue Adol when the adventurer finds himself literally in over his head. You really get the impression that Adol and Dogi always have each others' backs, a portrayal that was largely foreign to the more simplistic RPG stories of the time.

But Wanderers from Ys isn't content to shine the spotlight on Adol and Dogi alone; we're also introduced to the Stoddart siblings, Elena and Chester. Decades prior, Elena, Chester and Dogi were inseparable as they caused mischief throughout Redmont together. However, the adult Chester is a shadow of his former self: a hard-eyed knight of the wicked Count McGuire. His sister Elena frets over his new identity, as Dogi contemplates what could've caused such a change of heart. Chester serves as Adol's first true foil throughout his adventures in Felghana, a morally ambiguous adversary who clearly laid the groundwork for future rivals Geis and Ernst. Elena, being an early Ys heroine, unfortunately doesn't really do much outside of being kidnapped during the climax. However, she's very present in the narrative, frequently conferring with Adol and Dogi on the events of the day. This makes her far more well realized than her series predecessor Lilia, even if she's not the most take-charge heroine.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana
Oath in Felghana's expanded and retooled narrative elevates this ensemble from memorable to unforgettable.

The cast of Wanderers from Ys always stuck with me ever since I played through it in the early '90s, but it was 2005's Oath in Felghana that codified the story as a true RPG classic. Not only was the game rebuilt from the ground up, but the story was greatly expanded as well — each townsperson is given a name, portrait, and new dialogue following each story beat. Oath particularly gave the villains a much-needed shot in the arm: What was initially a vague group set on reviving the dark god Galbalan became an esoteric order who've infiltrated certain power structures to hide in plain sight. Further elaboration would take us too far into spoiler territory, though I will say that Oath's incarnation of penultimate villain Garland has been fleshed out in an exciting way. Equally impressive, if not moreso, is the expanded role of Dularn. Oath transforms Wanderers' inconsequential first boss into a deadly stalker who watches Adol from the shadows, ready to strike at a moment's notice if he comes too close to the truth. This dogged pursuit makes Dularn one of the most notable players in an already memorable cast.

Five sequels, a few spin-offs, and three decades(!) later, the diverse people of Felghana remain my favorite Ys cast. Even minor characters like Mayor Grady, Gatekeeper Gardner and the grieving Aida radiate a sense of familiarity and warmth that few RPGs at the time replicated. Oath in Felghana's expanded and retooled narrative elevates this ensemble from memorable to unforgettable.




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