After 2 long years of waiting, Nihon Falcom sought to please eager fans with the next installment of Adol's adventures. Ys III: Wanderer's from Ys tried to recapture the magic of its predecessor while diving into new territory. Not unlike Nintendo's notable foray into the action RPG market, Ys III was a departure from the original in both style and execution. Going from an overhead perspective to that of a side scrolling adventure, Ys III seemed to follow The Legend of Zelda's approach to gameplay quite closely. How successful was Nihon Falcom's semi classic pseudo sequel's sincerest form of flattery? Let's find outů
While Ys III was an improvement over some of the utilitarian sprites of Ys Book I & II; with larger, more animated character renditions. The backgrounds they inhabited ranged from pretty to slipshod. Upon beginning the game, Adol and his male companion Dogi arrive at the mining town of Tigre. A town cast into darkness and mired by uninspiring architecture and the choppiest dual scrolling this side of the Master System.
While Adol makes his way through a host of environments, most of them subterranean, the graphics are particularly dark, dank and awash in more tones of sepia and burnt sienna than last year's blockbuster "Traffic". While there are some areas in which the backgrounds show some signs of life, running waterfalls etc., it's hard to enjoy the scenery when its independent planar scrolling is jarring enough to make an epileptic lose his lunch.
The character animation also needs attention. While far more animated than its predecessor, Ys III manages to make the character animation jar as much as the dual scrolling. The anime cinematics got a major overhaul, as there is far more animation overall, and the direction is superb. The one drawback is that Falcom's selection of paintings in the opening cinematic is highly irregular; Adol is portrayed as a husky blonde of Harlequin ilk (perhaps the glorification of his legend?) Thankfully, once the intro gets into full swing, Adol is depicted as the redheaded adventuresome youth we all know and love.
Overall, Ys III's graphics were an improvement over the amazing Ys Book I & II, but for a game produced 2 years after the fact, it almost falls flat on it's face when compared to other RPG's being released at that time.
Redbook Audio lives. PCM can sulk in its low-bit rate corner for ad-infinitum. While nowhere near as powerful and moving as Ys Books I & II, the acoustic performance of Ys III is admirable. While some may say the soundtrack is mired by one too many electric guitar riffs, the soundtrack complements the action quite well, especially during boss fights. Those who despise Satriani-eque melodies may want to stay way because Ys III is guitar-iffic.
The music during the more pedestrian portions of the game are placeholder and completely forgettable. The sound effects have also been given a fairly significant upgrade from Ys' previous incarnation. There are considerably more samples for weapon usage, spells and monster madness. You'll be jamming to the grinding axe as you cut a swath of destruction through the denizens of darkness that populate the catacombs of Ys III.
The acting is not as pleasant. What happened.... where did all the voice talents go? This...this...is.... so Sega CD?! While not quite as nauseating as "Night Trap" for Sega's disc spinner, the voice acting in Ys
III is truly sub par. The main character has the advantage of being the strong silent type, but the other NPCs aren't so fortunate. The voice acting ranges from passable to laughable. If you can stand the "love interest" sounding like Sally-from-Accounting, then you may not mind the acting as much as I did. Sorry Falcom, Hudson Soft USA recruited from the car pool for this one.
While the score of the game is fast paced, effective and of very good quality, it's the lack of variety in the musical selections and the aberrant voice acting that bring the rating down a notch.
No more Milli-Vanilli chest bashing...Hurray!! Ys III's gameplay is highly reminiscent of Zelda II: Adventure of Link. You jump, and slash, and jump again. Besides the standard menagerie of hack-and slash, Ys III brings a new addition to the gameplay. Removing the traditional magic-use from Ys I & II, Ys III instead allows the player to imbue his blade with elemental power through a ring-system. Throughout the course of his adventures Adol will find several rings, each blessed with an elemental property. By equipping these rings Adol can add that elemental power to his steel. Use of the rings will require ring energy, which like MP is finite. By traveling to the gypsy in the village of Serina, Adol can charge his ring power and once again put the smack down on the more tenacious beasties that roam the lands.
The basic layout of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys is very similar to most action-RPGs from that time. Both items and weapons are graphically displayed in the menus, allowing for ease of item use or donning of equipment. The player is also blessed with an overly simplistic catalogue of goods. Besides the rudimentary healing items, there are keys and other paraphernalia to be found in order to advance the plot.
Use of items is handled though the menu, and is as simple as point and click. Unfortunately, Ys III does not grace the player with an auto-map of each dungeon, not that any gamer should have a problem navigating the numerous catacombs presented therein. Navigating the game is simplicity personified. Each area, town or dungeon, is displayed in its respective location on a panoramic world map. The player merely moves the super-deformed Adol to any desired location and they are transported instantly. I wish the public transit in my hometown were as efficient.
This method of egress is a far cry from the meadow trolling and mountain climbing of Ys I & II, and though it speeds up the game considerably, it further constricts the player's freedom. One of the nicest features Falcom included in the game is the ability to save anywhere. After spending several hours cutting a swath of destruction through the minions of darkness, the pleasure of continuing where you had left off is refreshing.
While the control is smoother than the famed Zelda, the player cannot help but feel that the character sprite is "pasted" onto the background. This is incredibly apparent when Adol jumps, and his airtime is enough to make anyone in the NBA jealous. He also has the ability, not unlike Kid Icarus, to float when he jumps, allowing for acrobatics heretofore untold in most games. That's right; Adol can fly in all directions. Jumping straight into the air, curving to the far left then to the far right even before he lands, while holding the stiffest of jumping animation frames. The secret is holding the jump button down.
But fooling aside, the aerial hijinks are not only funny, they're a necessity. Some of the platforming expected in the game requires grace of angelic proportions. While nowhere near as infuriating as some action games (Ninja Gaiden comes to mind), Ys III expects gamers to float through the air, with the greatest of ease, which Adol does quite easily. The only real problem is with a simple jump onto a small platform. Gamers will stare in wonder as Adol goes floating by the platform, careening to his untimely demise with the slightest press of a button. But, how can one complain when you finally have full control over your character (something this series needed badly)?
I cannot stress this enough: playing with the Duo's controller is an exercise in dexterous disfigurement. Though Ys III controls with adequate response times, the controls tend to float at the most inopportune times and are always loose when the character is airborne. In a fast paced platformer, this is a crime. The player gets accustomed to the irregularities in the control dynamics fairly quickly as death usually follows a misstep. But, complaints aside, you do have complete control over the character's 2D plane, and that saves the score from mediocrity.
The village of Serina as well as the surrounding lands are threatened by the demon Demanicus and it's up to our valiant youth the free them from their bonds of suffering. Pretty basic stuff but without much variety and no side quests. The story is told through dialogue that is at times imaginative but overall dry and unpolished. The localization of much of the dialog is obviously rushed and many of the conversations seemed contrived and forced. There are numerous grammatical errors and quite a few lines are outright silly when read aloud. There really isn't much one can say about the world that's been thrown together for this game. It's little more than a diorama backdrop for Adol's hacking and slashing. Ys III pulls the adventurer through its ho-hum tale by the nose with little fanfare.
I may seem overly critical of Ys III, but only because it had much to live up to. While a fairly good game on it's own merits, it's a bit of a disappointment coming from such a proud pedigree. With the evolution of games on the established 16-bit systems, Ys III was hard pressed to compete with some of the emerging RPG franchises of the time. It succeeded in bringing more action elements where none had existed before, and that makes the game quite notable, but not enough to stand on a pedestal.
In closing, Y's III is a good, not great, game and a fairly enjoyable distraction. Those expecting the "second coming" of Falcom's dynasty would have to wait until Ys IV for the true successor to the throne.