Nihon Falcom is a small and relatively unknown Japanese game developer. The United States has seen few of their titles, and many RPG gamers, save the truly hardcore, have never even heard of them or the masterpieces they've created throughout the past decade. With grand series such as Ys, The Legend of Heroes, Vantage Master, and many others, Falcom amassed a small and dedicated cult following of its fans and is still making games to date. To celebrate the great titles of their past, however, they released the Falcom Classics series on the Sega Saturn, the second installment of which features ports of the magnificent Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished The Final Chapter and Asteka II: The Temple of the Sun.
For those unfamiliar with the series' history, Ys I and II were originally released together, on the same CD, in a package for the TurboGrafx-16 system known as Ys Books I & II. The second game is a direct sequel to the first and resumes the action immediately where the first game left off. If you're wondering what exactly Ys is, it is a floating continent in the sky ruled by six benevolent priests and two goddesses. These priests sealed their knowledge in tomes known as the six books of Ys and hid them in the land of Esteria, the mainland continent below. When monsters suddenly appeared and began invading Esteria, Adol Christin (the series' red-haired, wandering swordsman protagonist) appeared and set out to liberate the country from the evil it had become infected with. At the heart of this evil lies a massive structure known as Darm Tower, where Dark Fact, a dark elf bent on world domination, awaited his conquest atop its summit.
In the case of Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished The Final Chapter, Adol has just finished gathering the six books of Ys. Having ascended to the summit of Darm Tower, he bravely fought and destroyed the evil lord Dark Fact, and upon Adol's victory, the tomes he had collected throughout his journey in the first game began to glow brightly. Adol is then engulfed in a brilliant light and rockets off the tower, flying straight to the land of Ys, a floating continent in the sky.
While already a captivating prelude, the Ys series is enhanced by the fact that it contains a fair share of beautiful anime scenes, and the previously mentioned events are all a part of the game's opening sequence. In the TurboGrafx installments of the series, these scenes mainly consisted of anime stills with other effects occurring around them. The Saturn version of Ys II, however, kicks this effect up a notch by actually having animated, moving scenes, albeit slightly choppy due to the system hardware's weakness in the field of movies.
Upon his crash landing on Ys, the weary Adol is greeted by the cheerful Lilia, a young and optimistic girl from the village of Lance. She takes him back to that exact village, where our protagonist's adventure to unravel the secrets of the land and exterminate the evil roots deep within it lead him to explore through mysterious caverns, icy mountain slopes, blazing infernos, and finally into the heart of evil itself - the ominous Palace of Salomon. Be aware, though, that Ys II is not a game to purchase for a poignant and profound storyline. Character development is almost nonexistent, but the gameplay department is where this gem truly shines.
Gameplay in Ys II is similar to The Legend of Zelda in many ways. Throughout his journey, Adol gains experience and gold from defeating his foes, and is able to purchase a variety of equipment and items to bolster his strength. He is also capable of wielding a variety of magic wands, each of which have a different effect, whether it be offensive, defensive, or a support spell. Ys II is unique, however, in the way that battle itself is conducted.
Adol does not use contemporary and traditional gaming methods to attack his foes, such as by swinging a sword. Rather, he merely dashes and crashes into them in order to deal damage. Sword swinging is automatic, and the angle at which the assault is performed results in the efficiency (or lack thereof) of his attack. Running head-on into a formidable foe will undoubtedly result in Adol receiving damage himself, while if he uses hit-and-run tactics and strikes them from the side, his odds of achieving victory increase substantially.
With such a unique battle system in this Action-RPG, control is a significant aspect in determining quality. In the Falcom Classics II port of Ys II, Adol is noticeably looser in control than in any other port of the game. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but just takes a little while to adjust to. Adol is completely responsive, however, and is able to move fluidly in eight directions, a step up from the TurboGrafx version of the game.
Ys II's difficulty level manages to stay quite balanced throughout the entirety of the game. It maintains this balance by controlling the progression of your character's experience gaining. Gamers who love to level-up until they are indestructible will have to cope with the fact that as they increase in levels, the amount of experience that enemies yield decreases in an inverse proportion. This ensures that boss battles are usually never frustrating, but a modest challenge even for a seasoned player.
Graphics in Ys II are actually the second nicest of all the available ports of the game, only falling short to the excellence shown in Ys II: Eternal on the PC. Although 2D, the game's sprites show a decent amount of detail, environments make good usage of color, and the large anime portraits during dialogues are beautifully drawn.
Sound and music have always been one of the greatest features of the Ys series, but unfortunately, in this Saturn port, they fall disappointingly short of what we would expect. The original TurboGrafx editions of the game featured rock-inspired tracks composed by Ryo Yonemitsu and performed by the Falcom JDK Band, and they were recorded in magnificent redbook audio. It is no wonder that Ys soundtracks are widely regarded as being the finest game music ever composed. These energetic tracks have been butchered badly in Falcom Classics II, however, and are played through the Saturn's sound chip with less than half of the original energy of their TurboGrafx counterparts.
Furthermore, Ys II features a lot of spoken dialogue in Japanese. For some reason, however, all the voices were recorded at a much lower volume than the music playing in the background itself. During many scenes, it is quite difficult to hear the characters' talented voice acting, which is truly a shame. It would have been nice if a control was present to control the volume levels of these two, but unfortunately, there is not such an option available in Falcom Classics II.
While Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished The Final Chapter is definitely a slice of gaming nirvana pie, ten minutes playing Asteka II, the other game on the Falcom Classics II compilation, will probably leave a pretty bitter taste in your mouth. It's an adventure game, where you run around ancient ruins on a 2D overhead map as a little guy wearing a big cowboy hat. When you enter ruins, you're given options to examine your surroundings, push and pull on things, take and use items in your inventory, and other options that you would find in your standard adventure title. The gameplay in this one is so mundane, however, that it nearly put me to sleep. Most of your time is spend wandering around experimenting on different ruins, hoping that something will actually happen. The ability to read Japanese is a definite requirement to even attempt to play this one, but even so, it still remains quite a sub-par title that seems to have absolutely no purpose except to fill space on the disc. It's a shame that we couldn't have received The Legend of Heroes 2 in its place.
As an overall package, Falcom Classics II is a solid purchase. Although it fails miserably at being a "compilation", if you don't have the TurboGrafx or Eternal versions of Ys II, then the port in this compilation is well worth your money; it's definitely a classic.