OK, confession time. When Ys SEVEN first dropped in 2010, I wasn’t as thrilled with it as I expected to be. My initial joy of finally being able to play as Dogi was soon undercut by a feeling that Ys had changed irrevocably. Loot gathering, weapon crafting, and party mechanics weren’t why I came to the series; my mood not helped by the then-recent English release of Ys: The Oath in Felghana, which, in my eyes, was pitch perfect.
Now, seven (!) years and a PC re-release later, I realize I was too preoccupied with what Ys SEVEN isn’t to see it for what it truly is: a sublime action RPG and a worthy evolution of Ys’ thirty year legacy.
Ys SEVEN opens much like any other Ys title: our heroes Adol and Dogi arrive in a new country seeking adventure— in this instance, the coastal Kingdom of Altago. Before the duo can get their bearings, they run afoul of the local authority by challenging the behavior of a lecherous Knight Captain. After a brief stint in jail, they find themselves pardoned by the kindly King Kiemarl and tasked with the investigation of numerous anomalies plaguing the land. Sure enough, Adol and Dogi are soon swept up in a grand quest involving six mystical artifacts, legendary dragons, and halting a world-ending disaster. It’s a fairly by-the-numbers RPG plot; while there are some surprising twists along the way, they cease to make sense if you stop to think about them for five minutes. There’s also a vague message of anti-colonialism at the story’s heart, yet it’s so tone-deaf and misguided that it may as well be apologia.
Adol isn’t alone in his quest for the six magic whatchamacallits. Whereas earlier entries saw Dogi assist from the sidelines, Ys SEVEN’s introduction of three-person parties sees him join the fray alongside a rotating cast of allies; most of whom are new, though a few familiar faces make appearances. The party system isn’t just thrown in for the sake of it. Each character is assigned one of three weapon characteristics: slash, blunt, or pierce, which determines what type of enemy they’re most effective at tackling. For example, Adol’s sharp sword makes quick work of soft-bodied creatures, Dogi’s fists are adept at crushing sturdy carapaces, while Altago’s Princess Aisha takes down aerial foes with her bow. While only three party members can be active at one time, Adol eventually gains a total of six allies to choose from. This allows for a great deal of flexibility around party balance, and Adol eventually finds weapons with different properties to allow you to stick with your favorites while still being able to cover all situations.
And what a joy combat is! Adol and Co. dash, dodge, and roll around the field with the greatest of ease, buzz-sawing their way through all manner of strange creatures. Ys SEVEN’s hyperkinetic pace paired with its highly mobile heroes really makes you feel like a badass as you obliterate your foes, swapping out characters on the fly in the middle of a 50-hit combo. Although your team is virtually unstoppable in the field, boss battles are a whole other story. These monstrous foes, or Titanos as the people of Altago call them, are huge abominations that are generally just as fast as Adol and test your dexterity to the limit. All of this set to Sound Team JDK’s trademark hard rock soundtrack, and I found myself punching the sky with glee as I fought my way across Altago. My only real complaint here is that some late game areas commit cardinal sins of dungeon design: battles may be fun, while teleporter mazes and pitfalls just draw things out unnecessarily.
Although Ys’ combat has been critically acclaimed for decades, let’s face it: firing off spells has never felt very useful. Ys SEVEN ditches earlier titles’ half-baked magic to introduce weapon skills, a feature kept by each subsequent title. Every weapon bestows access to a character-specific skill suitable for a range of situations. These skills can be devastating combos, speedy evasive attacks, wide-reaching crowd control blasts, and more. Skills level independently via usage, and must be leveled from 0 to 1 to be used without a governing weapon. Filling out each character’s skill list is satisfying in itself, though realistically you’ll probably only stick with a few for each character, as they take so long to reach higher levels.
Also introduced in Ys SEVEN is the loot gathering/crafting system, which provides an extra layer to Altago’s economy. You can buy most healing items in shops, though if you gather their components — either from harvest points or as monster drops — to have them synthesized, they often cost a tenth of their retail price. There’s also a range of late game weapons only available via synthesis to keep loot collection a viable activity. It wasn’t really for me, but I can’t argue with the satisfying feeling of obliterating monsters into a shower of bones and running around to collect them all, so I managed to be flush with loot despite not going out of my way.
Undoubtedly, Ys SEVEN was one of the PSP’s finest action RPGs, yet I can’t help but feel it shines much brighter here. The original release was just as speedy as this port, but the PSP’s analog nub was a nightmare to use. Opting to play on Vita eliminated this issue, though the chaotic action could get a little cramped on the handheld’s small screen. This PC port’s higher resolution makes it easier to keep track of everything happening on screen, while playing with a gamepad just feels great. The trade-off, aside from lack of portability, is that many of the game’s muddy textures were never meant to be seen in HD. That said, it’s not a bad looking game by any means, and the low-detail yet brightly colored character models evoke a certain nostalgic charm.
I was happy to have the chance to revisit Ys SEVEN with fresh eyes. Falcom and XSEED have pulled off an excellent port that runs like a dream even on my (far-)below spec laptop. As far as Ys titles available on PC, we’re spoiled for choice, and this is an especially fine one to revisit.