I must admit that Ys (pronounced “ees”) VI – The Ark of Napishtim (YSVI) took me largely by surprise. Having no familiarity with the series whatsoever, I had no idea what to expect. When I first popped the disc into my PS2, I did not anticipate weeks of being riveted to my seat by one of the most enjoyable action RPGs I have ever played. Despite having only passable graphics, it contains a worthy storyline, wonderful music and some of the most enjoyable gameplay mechanics I have come across. YSVI was — and remains — a welcome surprise.
Action RPGs tend to fall into the hack and slash model. That is to say that by frantically pressing the attack button, you can overcome any opponent by sheer force of will. YSVI allows you to hack away, but you will get absolutely mauled unless you put an equal amount of energy into dodging, manoeuvring and figuring out an enemy’s weak point. Weak points come into play a fair bit within the game, especially when battling some of the daunting, yet exciting boss encounters.
The battle engine allows for strategy and variety by giving you access to 3 different swords with which to dole out damage. Taking on the properties of lightning, fire and wind, each sword has its own strengths and weaknesses and each harnesses its respective element to command interesting and useful attacks and special moves. Cycling (and powering up) the right sword will make the majority of battles in this game much easier to overcome.
While YSVI does guide you along in a fairly linear fashion, you are given the option to explore. While exploring can be fun and interesting, you also run the risk of getting totally obliterated by higher level monsters. Thankfully, through the nicely balanced experience system and pacing, you rarely come across anything that is overly tough to handle. Since the story runs so intuitively, you will seldom find yourself somewhere you should not be if you follow the clues on what to do. I found YSVI to have some of the best pacing in any game I have played of late.
YSVI tops off its fun and impressive gameplay by incorporating a deep, yet simple to use item and equipment system. Obtaining items and equipment as you explore the world and equipping it actually makes a difference. Are you tired of equipping brand new, incredibly cool pieces of armor that bring about very little change in the gameplay? YSVI makes sure that every piece of equipment you acquire has a significant effect. The game also adds the very convenient ability to map an item to your triangle button. By doing this, you save time bringing up the item management screen and can heal on the fly.
From a story perspective, I found YSVI to be a wonderfully crafted adventure with characters you will actually relate to and feel for. The voice acting is top notch and nearly every character in the game has their own vocals (including non-playable characters). While the storyline becomes grandiose near the end, the path towards that end is one of mystery, memorable characters and good times. Since this is a continuation in the series, I can only assume that those who have played the previous games in the series will see some mention to characters and locations from games past. I say “assume” only because this is my first foray into the YS series and the game makes quite a few references to adventures past.
Graphically, YSVI looks as though it might have been fine on the PS1. While the graphics are a bit under the weather for a PS2 title, in a game like this it simply doesn’t matter. The locations are colorful and nicely constructed, and the character artwork during cut scenes is top notch. While not exactly a PS2 showpiece, the graphics are definitely serviceable and I had a good time checking out and interacting with the lush environments.
I really love the soundtrack for YSVI. It’s been a long time since a soundtrack has brought back feelings of nostalgia without having any reason for such a feeling. I have never played a YS game before, and yet I found myself hauntingly drawn to the sounds coming out of my TV. Relaxing, moody and well crafted, the music for YSVI had me scrambling to reach the next area just to hear a new track. I highly recommend picking up the soundtrack as it’s very rare to come across an album of video game music that is this lovingly orchestrated.
I hope I’ve shown you the big picture here. I truly loved this game and heartily recommend it for anyone who enjoys video games. Those of you who were weaned on games like Final Fantasy VII will appreciate the high paced action and nicely crafted story, while those of us who grew up in the NES and Super NES days will find YSVI a welcome throwback to gaming years past. Lovingly constructed and a true masterpiece of its developers, YSVI has made a YS fan out of me.