RPGFan had a chance to chat with Tom Lipschultz, Localization Specialist at XSEED Games about today's release, Ys I & II Chronicles for the PSP. As a huge Falcom nut, he's got a lot to say, so check it out below!
RPGFan: What are the new additions to the PSP version of Ys I and II Chronicles compared to the other iterations?
Tom Lipschultz: Well, it depends on which versions you're comparing them to, really. The brand new additions - the things you won't find ANYWHERE else, period - are the newly-arranged soundtrack, the new character art and the new translations.
The soundtrack is particularly notable, as virtually the whole thing was performed with live instrumentation by Falcom's in-house JDK Band, making it the heaviest (and arguably the best) version of this music to date. With an emphasis on electric guitar, keyboard and violin (yes, the rock violin makes its triumphant return!), it's really pretty amazing stuff, and complements the game's frenetic pace really well.
Much as with Ys: The Oath in Felghana, too, players who'd rather experience something a bit more appropriate to the old-school look and feel of Chronicles can choose to switch to a different version of the game's music at any time, with three options available (the new studio-performed tracks, the excellent synth tracks from 2001's Japan-only "Ys I & II Complete," and the original 1987/1988 chiptunes).
The new character art is also togglable, where players may choose to play with the art from the 2001 version or the new Chronicles designs when starting a new game. Both versions are pretty cool, but I think the new one will appeal more to anime fans (especially fans of the "kawaii," or moe enthusiasts), while the old one will appeal more to D&D fans and old-school PC gamers.
And the translation... well, I'll get into that in a bit!
Anyway, those are the things that set Chronicles apart from some of the Japan-exclusive versions of Ys I & II. But if you're coming into Chronicles having played the TG16/VC or DS versions of the games (the only two full releases of Ys I & II North American gamers have ever officially seen before now), there are SIGNIFICANTLY MORE changes and additions to speak of, with full 360-degree analog control (throttlable to 8 directions if you'd prefer), a new gift-giving system, newly-designed 2D sprite and tile work and unlockable "mascots" comprising the most notable of them.
Without a doubt, I'd say these are the nicest-looking, nicest-sounding, best-playing and most complete versions of the two games that English-speakers have yet encountered, and I'd encourage anyone who enjoyed (or even disliked) these games in the past to give them another try now.
RPGFan: There was a Nintendo DS iteration of these two titles released in 2009 to fairly tepid reviews, what's different here?
TL: Aww, man, you're killing me! Well... to our friends at Atlus, please accept my apologies for what I am about to say. I swear, we mean you guys no disrespect, because you really did do a fantastic job with the DS versions of Ys I & II... you just picked the wrong versions to work on!
The short answer to your question is, Ys I & II Chronicles was developed in-house by Falcom themselves (the original creators of these two games back in 1987 and 1988), and plays the way Ys I & II were *meant* to play. As with Oath in Felghana, this will actually be the very first time Falcom's own versions of Ys I & II are ever officially released in English, since the TG16 versions were ported (and slightly altered) by Hudson, and the DS versions were ported (and HEAVILY altered) by a lesser-known company called Interchannel.
The most controversial change to the DS versions of Ys I & II would have to be the battle system, which was COMPLETELY redone from scratch. See, Ys I & II use what's commonly called the "bump system" for combat - buttonless fighting that revolves around ramming your character into the enemy at high speeds, with damage calculated based on the angle and trajectory of the impact. It sounds odd, I know, but it works surprisingly well in action (it's been compared to everything from American football and bumper cars to a Rocky training montage by various people over the years), and is a lot deeper than you might expect.
But most importantly, the two games (Ys I especially, since Ys II introduces magic that changes the dynamic a bit) were designed around this system. As in, every boss was created to be fought via bumping, enemy AI was all designed around bumping, etc.
And one of the golden rules of game design is that if you're going to drastically change a major element of gameplay, you can't just swap the new system for the old one and call it a day - you need to pretty much redesign the whole game AROUND that change. If you don't, the entire dynamic of gameplay suddenly shifts, and you wind up with a lopsided experience - a game that just somehow feels "off."
And that's pretty much what happened with the DS versions of Ys I & II. The classic bump system was replaced with a traditional button-pressing sword-slashing combat system - but one where every time you swing your weapon, you stop dead in your tracks, versus the original's emphasis on constant motion. The bump system WAS retained for stylus play, but ONLY for stylus play - and when you can only see a short distance around you on all sides, and your own hand gets in the way of a good portion of the screen, this becomes rather problematic.
Add to that an attempt at redoing all the game's background graphics in 3D (but still playing as if the game were in 2D), and music that really didn't translate well to DS synth, and yeah... it's just not the same.
In all honesty, though, I would encourage people to try the DS versions for themselves, as they kind of feel like two entirely different games from Ys I & II Chronicles. But to me, they're simply not Ys I & II at all! They're similarly-themed action RPGs... but they're not the experiences Falcom intended, and they're not particularly representative of the series in any way.
RPGFan: What is your favorite part of Ys I? What about Ys II?
TL: Geez, how can I pick only one? ;)
Let's see... for both games, my answer would have to be "the final dungeon." I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that Ys I's final dungeon is the Tower of Darm, since that's foreshadowed from the moment you turn on the game (and even beforehand, if you read the instruction manual!)... but yeah, unlike a lot of towers that have appeared in other RPGs, the Tower of Darm actually FEELS LIKE A TOWER. Its layout, its size, its many balconies, and the constant climbing to an ever higher floor make it feel absolutely massive and totally epic. Add to that all the secret passages, traps, puzzles, bosses and even a sub-tower (!), and you have a dungeon that still feels huge, imposing and EXCEPTIONALLY well-designed to this very day. It's hard to believe something like that was originally created in 1987!
Then, when you think Ys II couldn't POSSIBLY top that... it does! Ys II's final dungeon is even MORE massive, with an even MORE labyrinthine (and varied!) layout, MORE COMPLEX puzzles and traps, MORE intense bosses and MUCH CRAZIER secret passages. And by the time you get there, you've learned the spell to transform yourself into a monster so you can talk to other monsters, which just creates this whole new dynamic that's absolutely unmatchable. I especially love the clever puzzles in this dungeon, many of which hinge upon you learning sensitive information from run-of-the-mill enemies through some of the most brilliantly-scripted acts of subterfuge I've ever seen in a video game. You really feel like a one-man army, slyly infiltrating a massive enemy base and taking it down from the inside. It's probably my favorite final dungeon of any game, EVER.
RPGFan: How do you think modern gamers will feel about the old-school "Let's Ram Adol Into Random Monsters" (LRAIRM, and please feel free to make this the permanent acronym) battle system compared to the more modern systems in Ys Seven and Ys: Oath in Felghana?
TL: That is the question, isn't it! The bump system's been fairly controversial ever since the first time Ys I got an English release way back on the Sega Master System (or did the DOS version come first?), and getting people to accept it and adapt to it has always been a real challenge.
I think it's a matter of "try before you judge." No one can deny that it sounds really peculiar to have an RPG that you play by ramming into enemies, but it honestly does work REALLY well, and is frankly quite a lot of fun. And in Chronicles, it's better than ever, since you can now use analog control for full 360-degree movement. One thing I like to do is run headlong at an enemy, then swerve at the LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT, effectively "drive-bying" the thing into pieces.
Oh, and that's another great thing this game's got going for it: lots of blood and gore! When you kill an enemy, it literally EXPLODES into chunks. This was true of Felghana as well, but it's even more satisfying in Chronicles - for one thing, there's actually blood this time; and for another, you're exploding enemies JUST BY TOUCHING THEM. And without even slowing down! You can literally run through a hallway full of baddies and leave a trail of disgusting gore in your wake, never missing a beat. It's sickly satisfying!
So yeah... don't judge this one till you've tried it. Believe me, it works a lot better than you'd expect!
RPGFan: Much like the combat system, Ys I and II's graphics are more classically-styled. How do you think gamers will react to this?
TL: I don't think that will be a problem at all, honestly. The graphics are 2D, sure, but they're not exactly pixelated or anything. Honestly, I think Ys I & II Chronicles are pretty gorgeous games! The sprites and tiles are all finely detailed, with lots of subtleties that really make the world come alive. I particularly love the shadows of passing clouds in Ys I - if you let one pass over Adol's sprite, you'll see it steadily grow darker, then get lighter again as the cloud passes.
If anything, I think the visual style of Ys I & II Chronicles is a perfect analogue for the two games as a whole: they're old-school, but they've been cleaned up JUST ENOUGH to be beautiful and striking in the modern age, without losing any of their 80s charm in the process.
Colorful, vibrant, artistic and detailed, without compromising its roots - that's Ys I & II Chronicles in a nutshell.
RPGFan: These titles have been translated several times before - are you working from scratch or using previous translations?
TL: As with Ys: The Oath in Felghana, we purchased fan-translated text from the 2001 Windows game "Ys I & II Complete," once again provided by fan-translator extraordinaire Jeff Nussbaum, a.k.a. Deuce.
But of course, once again, we used the extra time we'd freed up for ourselves by doing this to give said fan-translation an extra coat of paint, so to speak. Whenever we outsource a translation, we always make sure to go over it in-house afterward, as there is a certain quality standard that XSEED fans have come to expect from us. In the case of Ys I & II, Deuce's translations were quite excellent, but there was some nomenclature that didn't match with previous XSEED Ys translations (as one might expect), some lines that had been slightly altered between Complete and Chronicles, and some conversations or throwaway lines that we felt needed an extra injection of personality (fireballing villagers, for example, invariably produced dialogue that was something along the lines of "Ouch!", or "What are you doing?", yet every one of these lines was completely unique in the Japanese... so, in an effort to make this optional aspect of the game more fulfilling to players, we expanded these lines, turning simple expressions of pain and discomfort into more humorous interjections).
The end result, I believe, is the best localization either of these games has ever received. Not only did we have an excellent base translation to work with, but we had the time to really polish it to a shine. Every line has been revisited three or four times, and every little subtlety and nuance from the original Japanese has been perfectly captured. In other words, not only are Ys I & II Chronicles themselves pretty much the definitive versions of Ys I & II, but so are their localizations. I think anyone who plays these games will be very pleased with the way they turned out.
RPGFan: What difficulty options are available? The original Ys games are pretty hardcore...
TL: Chronicles offers players the four selectable difficulty levels that seem to be a staple of most Falcom games: Easy, Normal, Hard and Nightmare. Playing on Easy will net you a fairly straightforward gameplay experience (even going so far as to allow you to use items during boss battles in Ys II, which is disallowed on ANY other difficulty level), whereas playing on Nightmare will net you... a lot of Game Over screens. ;)
In addition, completing either Ys I or Ys II will unlock a "Time Attack" mode for that game, allowing you to fight through all the game's boss battles in rapid succession to beat your best time.
So like any Ys game (and really, just about any Falcom game!), Ys I & II Chronicles offers a wide range of challenges, making it perfectly suited to just about any gamer's abilities.
RPGFan: What was the reasoning behind releasing these games in backwards order? Shouldn't Chronicles and SEVEN be swapped?
TL: Chronologically, yes. But Ys games, as a rule, don't need to be played in order (with the big exception being Ys II, which picks up at the exact moment where Ys I ends), so we decided to go with Ys SEVEN first and foremost due to its accessibility.
Simply put, Ys I & II Chronicles may represent the start of the series, but it's also a title that has no in-game tutorial - which, when mixed with a combat system that's not entirely intuitive (and is unlike anything else in the American video gaming world), might be a hard sell for players who aren't prepared for it.
Add to that 2D graphics and an old-school story (that's actually pretty ahead of its time, but is still a very 80s game plot nonetheless), and you get a bit of an oddity: an excellent game in its own right, but one which is much more readily enjoyed if you already know what the series will later become.
The short version is, Ys I & II Chronicles is a game for people who are already Ys fans. If you've never played an Ys game before, you should probably start with Ys SEVEN or Oath in Felghana, then work your way over to I & II Chronicles, because you'll enjoy the first few games a lot more if you can compare them to their sequels and get a real sense for what's changed over the years, and what's stayed the same.
RPGFan: Can XSEED host a contest equivalent to the Ms. Falcom contest held decades ago? We need an American equivalent to Rie Sugimoto!
TL: Pfft, who needs that when you've already got ME? ;)
If I'm not good enough, though, then I nominate my co-editor, Jess Chavez! Given her deep and unconditional love for the script to "The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky" (her baby!), I'm sure she'd be honored to receive the Ms. Falcom U.S.A. title, and would gladly sing many a kawaii jpop love song while dressed as Lilia and graciously fielding otaku marriage proposals.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to start fleeing for dear life...
RPGFan would like to thank Tom and XSEED Games for taking the time to answer our questions. Ys I & II Chronicles is available now for the PlayStation Portable in retail stores for $29.99 USD and on the PlayStation Network for $24.99.
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