Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
Ys 3: Wanderers from Ys is the follow-up to the excellent Ys 1 and 2 CD for the PC-Engine. Ys 3 attempts to outdo its predecessors by making some gameplay and layout departures from the rest of series; however, its attempts meet with somewhat disappointing results. Despite its unparalleled soundtrack and overall solidity, Ys 3 fails to fully live up to the legacy of its series.
Ys 3 takes place about 3 years after the conclusion of Ys 1 and 2. Adol, the protagonist, is pretty much just wandering around the countryside in search of adventure with his pal Dogi. One day, the duo runs into a band of merchants who inform them of problems with a bad harvest and some monster infestation befalling the distant land of Felugana. Dogi, a native of Felugana, is especially concerned, wondering if his friends and family are all right, and the adventurous duo set off for Felugana to lend their assistance.
Ys 3 marks a radical departure from the rest of the Ys series in terms of gameplay. Instead of the overhead 2D action RPG gameplay found in Ys 1 and 2, Ys 3 is a side-scrolling 2D action RPG more similar to Castlevania games than the previous Ys games. In addition, you no longer run into your enemies to fight them; you have to swing your sword at them to hit them. This change in format makes the game feel like it’s not an Ys game, and meets with mixed results. I like 2D side-scrolling action as much as anybody else, but the execution is noticeably less smooth than that of the previous Ys games, or the better Castlevania games (as a non-Ys point of reference). For example, enemies don’t get knocked back when you hit them, so it’s difficult to avoid being hit by an enemy you are fighting if it takes more than one hit to kill that particular enemy. The game tries to compensate for this flaw by insuring that most of the non-boss enemies you face only take one hit to kill, but this introduces monotony and takes away a lot of strategy in your fights with enemies. Most of the fights with earlier bosses are also really lacking in strategy as well; you pretty much run up to them, start hacking away, and hope you can outlast them.
Despite its somewhat rough execution, however, the gameplay does have some redeeming factors. The dungeons are fun to explore; they are intelligently laid out, but never get annoyingly long or overtly confusing. There is a good variety of enemies who attack you in different ways, so you do have to use different strategies in approaching different enemies. And the later bosses do require some strategy to beat (other than Garbaran, the final boss) and come at you with some interesting attacks.
Ys 3 also differs from Ys 2 in that Adol can no longer use magic. He can, however, augment his abilities with rings such as a power ring (which gives more strength to his sword blows). However, his use of rings is finite; the use of rings draws from his ring power, and the ring power has to be replenished either in a shop (the quick way) or by defeating enemies (the slow way).
Ys 3 has a completely different layout from Ys 1 and 2 as well. In Ys 1 and 2, Adol moved from area to area by either physically walking through the areas or using teleport magic. In Ys 3, there is a world map (similar to Grandia), where you simply move the Adol icon over an area to select that area. A weakness of Ys 3 is that there are relatively few areas to explore in the game (like Ys 1), and there is only one town (Redmont) in the entire game. Now, towns weren’t exactly ubiquitous in Ys 1 and 2, but there were at least a few of them, and it would have been nice if there were a few of them in Ys 3 as well, especially considering that Redmont isn’t even a big town.
Ys 3’s graphics unfortunately don’t quite live up to Ys 1 and 2’s graphics, either. Despite the fact that the backgrounds are detailed and well drawn like those in Ys 1 and 2, the colors used in them are much more drab. In addition, even though a plethora of parallax is present, the scrolling is extraordinarily choppy; it’s perhaps some of the worst that I’ve ever seen. And even though the onscreen characters have a good amount of detail for their small size, their animation is extremely clumsy and choppy (typical enemies and townspeople have about 2 frames of animation, while Adol is not much better). The bosses do look pretty good, although they tend to animate poorly as well.
Like Ys 1 and 2, parts of the story of Ys 3 are told in anime stills. The stills are comparable in quality to those in Ys 1 and 2 (they’re good, but not quite up to today’s standards in anime stills). The character designs are also quite comparable to those in Ys 1 and 2, but I liked the art style a little bit better in Ys 3 than in Ys 1 and 2.
Control is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s tight and precise when Adol is running around at a good pace (and he moves quickly in this game), and the sword swinging is very responsive as well. However, Adol tends to overreact to small movements. For example, attempting to have Adol edge towards the tip of a ledge will often result in him just running off of the ledge, which, for obvious reasons, is really annoying. Also, the jumping is relatively poor in Ys 3. Adol takes too long to get off of the ground, and spends an unrealistically long time in the air, often leaving him as a sitting duck to enemies.
The storyline is fairly pedestrian and not as interesting as that of Ys 1 and 2. New areas are opened up as the storyline progresses, but it feels like the storyline is merely a tool to open up new areas. Supporting characters number very few in Ys 3, and most of them are eminently forgettable, due to the fact that, in typical Ys fashion, character development is largely ignored. However, the brother/sister pair of Chester and Elena do prove to be interesting characters, and are adequately (though not impressively) developed.
The sound and music aspect of Ys 3 is so spectacular that it almost redeems the game and makes it worthy of the series (the key word here is “almost”). Like Ys 1 and 2, the sound effects are nothing special. However, the Ryo Yonemitsu-composed soundtrack is the very best I have ever heard in any video game, bar none. The music is very similar in style to Ys 1 and 2 (heavy rock songs with brilliant melodies), but the songs are even more energetic and intense than those of Ys 1 and 2. I also found the Ys 3 melodies to be more memorable than those of Ys 1 and 2. In addition, the arrangements are fuller than those of Ys 1 and 2, but never get too busy, and the instrumentation is superior as well. Highlights from the soundtrack include the upbeat opening theme, the powerful Ilverns Underground Volcano theme, and the sorrowful Eldarm Mountains theme. Like Ys 1 and 2, the majority of the songs are in redbook format, and, like Ys 1 and 2, the only weakness in the soundtrack is that a few of the songs, while brilliantly composed, are played in PC-Engine PSG.
Ys 3 also contains a fair amount of voice acting. Like the majority of import games with voice acting, the seiyuu do an excellent job in Ys 3. However, most of the spoken dialogue is streamed (as opposed to being in redbook format), and the sound quality of the streamed dialogue is noticeably worse than that of the redbook dialogue.
On its own, Ys 3 is a pretty solid action RPG. However, as a game in the Ys series, it is a disappointment. My recommendation of this game is somewhat mixed; the soundtrack alone is almost worth the price of admission, but it’s almost impossible not to be disappointed by the overall product if you’re a fan of the rest of the series.