I'm a big Ys fan. I'm not the biggest (I haven't played either IV or V) but I do love the series greatly. The mixture of excellent action RPG elements, great controls, superb music, and an authentic challenge truly establish the games as classics. Ys: Oath in Felghana is a remake of the third game in the series – Wanderers from Ys. First released on PC, Ys: Oath had excellent graphics, smooth controls, and a redone story that re-imagined everything about Wanderers. In short, they made a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
Now, with the series having made the jump to the PSP with Ark of Napishtim and Ys Seven, XSEED decided it was time to give American gamers a legitimate way to experience the game. But does this version hold up to the PC version? Read on.
Ys: Oath in Felghana takes place two years after the events in Ys Books I & II. Adol and his stalwart companion, Dogi, have been wandering from town to town (hence the original version's title of Wanderers from Ys) when they learn about trouble in Dogi's homeland, Felghana. Curious, they take a boat to the island and immediately encounter monsters. After saving Dogi's childhood friend, Elena, from a pack of wolves, they head to the village of Redmont and learn that the monsters are just the tip of the iceberg. For the last decade or two, the lord of the land, Count McGuire has been levying high taxes and impressing townsfolk into service building his castle. To top it off, he recently shut down the Tigray Quarry and Redmont's main source of income: raval ore. To top it off, the Mayor is trapped in the Quarry and needs a rescuin'. What's a red-haired swordsman to do?
I appreciated how Falcom re-imagined the story for the remake of what most fans consider the black sheep of the series. Characters have been given more depth and more distinctive personalities, events have been made more coherent, there's a plot twist that you won't likely see coming, and it's overall more dramatic. In addition, the translation was nearly flawless. XSEED purchased it from a fan, Jeff Nussbaum, who originally did the translation so that other English-speaking fans could enjoy the PC version of the game. Having played the PC version with that translation, I can see where XSEED massaged and improved upon Nussbaum's work, and in the end, it's a polished product. While it's not a revolutionary story, it's still worth the price of admission.
The Ys series has always been known for its excellent gameplay. For the most part it doesn't do anything new, but rather takes already solid elements and hones them to a razor's edge. Ys: Oath takes the mechanics from Ys VI and throws in nice little tweaks without changing what I consider to be some of the best action gameplay out there.
The game takes a three-fourths overhead view with Adol going from area to area, running around, and slicing things up with his sword. Adol moves fast and attacks even faster, which is incredibly satisfying. Defeating enemies nets you experience and gold/item drops from time to time. These items take the form of herbs and potions that give you immediate benefit when you pick them up. Some will raise your defense, some your attack, and some your magic restoration rate. In addition, the more hits you rack up, the higher your experience multiplier, to a maximum of 1.99. Money and raval ore can be used back in town to purchase and upgrade your weapons and armor.
Adol can also use three types of elemental magic: fire, wind, and earth. Finding certain bracelets gives the player access to these abilities, and finding the proper enhancement gems powers them up. While I wound up relying on the wind magic most of all, all three types are required at various points throughout the adventure, yet I never felt they were gimmicky.
Of course the main thing any Ys fan should be wondering about is the bosses. I'm happy to say that they are challenging without being impossible; in other words, Ys bosses. The nice thing, though, is that when you change the difficulty level on the game, the bosses will change their patterns and do new things. I found this change refreshing as it allowed me to challenge myself while still facing something familiar. Add to that a New Game + mode which allows you to port over certain things from your last playthrough, and you've got a solid game with enough replay value to make it worthwhile.
I know I'm gonna get flak for this, but I had a tough time dealing with the graphics in Ys: Oath. Primarily, this is a function of playing on the PSP's tiny screen. The PC version was beautiful, with well-textured polygons and cute, distinct sprites. Unfortunately, the jump to the small screen causes a lot of that crispness to be lost and I often had difficulty determining what the enemies were or even where they were. In a fast-paced game such as this, these graphical problems really put a dent in my ability to play. I also don't take into consideration the ability to play on a TV; this is a handheld system, I rate it as such.
One thing that does survive the transition in tact is the character portraits. They're all done beautifully and manage to convey the characters' expressions quite well. There is also a portrait gallery that you can unlock as you beat different difficulty levels, and a bestiary with pictures of all the enemies. These little touches help to offset the negative aspects somewhat.
Ys games have always been known for their amazing soundtracks, and Ys: Oath is no exception. Sound team JDK managed to take the one saving grace from Wanderers – the music – and give it a complete facelift. The result is an amazing score, that ranges from melancholy piano solos to expansive orchestral pieces, and of course JDK's trademark hard rock. The re-envisioning of the original tracks was done flawlessly, and there is no bad music to be found. Furthermore, the game will come with a soundtrack that includes two older renditions of the original's music. You can't lose there.
Where you can lose is in the area of voice acting. One of the changes from the PC version is a heavy dose of voice acting. Every character in the game (save Adol) gets at least one instance of voice dialog. The only problem is that it's a crapshoot as to whether that acting is good, bad, or meh. Characters such as Dogi, Elena, and Chester are voiced quite well, whereas Margo, Anya, and Cynthia are badly overacted. Most of the others are just mediocre.
I think the addition of voice acting was a good move, but the quality is so inconsistent as to make it almost a wash.
Good controls are a staple of the Ys games. While I found Ys VI to be the pinnacle of the series in terms of controls, Ys: Oath was a close second... on the PC. On the PSP, however, control does suffer due to the lousy analog nub. Adol weaves around as if he were drunk (and I'm quoting the manual here), and sometimes the analog nub makes it difficult to get him to move where I want. I can switch to the D-pad, but I shouldn't have to. In addition, some button combinations required awkward finger placement to execute, and this is not something I wanted to deal with when fighting a particularly nasty boss or navigating treacherous landscapes.
While the lackluster controls didn't make Oath unplayable, they were probably the biggest factor in my decision to not give the game an Editor's Choice award.
Ys: The Oath in Felghana is a fun game, and it's worth the purchase for any Ys fan, if simply for the included soundtrack. If you've played the game on the PC, you won't be getting a better experience on the PSP. There are some nice little bonuses, including the ridiculously hard "Inferno" mode, New Game +, and character galleries, but they don't make up for the PSP's sub-par controls and graphics. Still, this is a must play for fans of the genre, and if you haven't played it before, I recommend it wholeheartedly.