1. The representation of someone as existing or something as happening in other than chronological, proper, or historical order.
2. One that is out of its proper or chronological order, especially a person or practice that belongs to an earlier time: “A new age had plainly dawned, an age that made the institution of a segregated picnic seem an anachronism.” (Henry Louis Gates, Jr.).
If some of you are wondering why I started this review with a vocabulary lesson, bear with me. It’s just that after spending 15 or so hours with Konami’s Ys: The Ark of Napishtim, anachronism happens to be the one word bouncing around in my head. Being “out of its proper or chronological order” would almost seem to hint that Ys is a bad game- something that it’s certainly not. Instead, the title is a throwback to an earlier era of gaming- one that old timers like myself look back on with fond memories. And that’s perhaps the funniest thing of all about the game. Depending on the player’s age, the title could be viewed in one of two ways: an old-fashioned game that looks really long in the tooth, or as a fond trip down memory lane. For me, it’s entirely the latter option.
For many, Ark of Napishtim will be their first experience with a Ys (pronounced “ease”) game. However, the series has been around for ages. It’s always just been overshadowed by the Zeldas of the gaming universe. Recurring character Adol Christin could have easily been as big an icon as Link, but the poor guy’s just never been given the chance. This is attributable to a number of factors: some games not appearing on popular systems, poor marketing, and so on, but trust me, the gameplay of a Ys title is definitely on par with the classic Zelda titles of the 16-bit era. Of course, now that the 16-bit era’s been over for more than a decade, how exactly does the game fare in today’s crowded gaming market?
Surprisingly well, actually. While Ys doesn’t do one thing that’s even remotely groundbreaking, it manages to capture the elusive “fun factor” in spades. This title wouldn’t have been groundbreaking on the Super Nintendo, let alone in today’s 3D crazed world, and yet I had more fun playing it than I did playing the more advanced hack-and-slasher Champions: Return to Arms.
At least part of the reason for this is because current generation action role-playing games (RPGs) are more interested in giving the player a ton of customizable features and striving for replayability through the utilization of elements like random dungeons. While the options are nice, they tend to detract a bit from the game’s overall story. Being able to pick from eight different classes and races means that the game has to become inherently more generic to accommodate all the potentially different skillsets a player may have at any given point. Ys and games like Zelda never have these problems because there’s only one character to be, allowing the developers to concentrate more on a story and interactive environments directed toward the specific skills of the player. Neither is truly better than the other, but there’s definitely something charming about the older titles. They just feel more organic and slightly less generic than the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliances of the world.
Granted, the story of Ys isn’t going to be winning any awards. Adol Christin finds himself trapped on an island after being sucked into the Great Vortex – which is sort of like the Bermuda Triangle. While here, he’ll island hop and search out some ancient relics, all with the goal of destroying the vortex once and for all. Anyone expecting major plot twists or deep philosophical implications should look elsewhere. The story in The Ark of Napishtim is just as straightforward as the gameplay.
Ah, but what fun that gameplay is. Adol runs around exploring forests and dungeons armed with three upgradeable swords. Each weapon has a simple combo animation, a jump attack animation, a built in magic attack, and a power move that’s linked to a gauge. Now armed, Adol encounters a variety of enemies that he must hack-and-slash to death in his never-ending pursuit of experience points, gold, and emel- the latter being a special ingredient required to upgrade the swords. When not killing something, Adol explores various locations in search of treasure or quest items. Dungeons are simple affairs with the odd branch here and there, but nothing too difficult. What is difficult are some of the game’s platforming sequences, for two reasons. First, the game has a fixed camera, meaning that occasionally the player will have to make a jump of faith since they can’t see the ledge they’re aiming for very well. The second problem is that the game features a “dash-jump” maneuver to reach far away ledges. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but pulling off the dash-jump with any kind of regularity is, since the controls for it are so finicky. Compounding the problem is the fact that when a player misses a dash-jump, it usually means he drops to a lower level and has to backtrack (and fight the respawned enemies) through several rooms just to try the jump again. This gets a little aggravating as players advance through the game. The one saving grace is that the dash-jump is never essential for advancing; using the maneuver generally leads to treasure chests (which often have good items,) but nothing that’s required for actually beating the game.
My only other complaint with the title is that it requires a lot of back-and-forth traveling that gets tedious in the latter stages of the game. The problem is that the enemies never get stronger in these areas, so they’re really just a nuisance instead of any kind of threat or aid to leveling. Running back and forth, and forth and back definitely wears as time goes on.
Visually, I find the game gorgeous. The 2D backdrops look great (like a Super Nintendo game on steroids, really) and the bosses are suitably huge and intimidating. In-game character models aren’t as impressive, but for dialogue scenes each character gets either a facial box expression or a full body shot. These are anime quality and add a ton to the game. Aside from that, there are even a few anime-styled cutscenes littered throughout the narrative as well.
While the game is definitely pretty (in an old-school way,) the area that’s my favorite of all is the music. There was some controversy over Konami adding a new score to the American version, but from what I understand this was scrapped at the last minute and the original score was put back in. It’s a great score, too – simple, light, airy, but always well suited to the action. It forms a nice complement to the voice acting (which is good, if a bit cartoonish overall) and the visual splendor of the game.
Ultimately, scoring a game like Ys: The Ark of Napishtim is pretty tough. There are some flaws in the game’s design, and it’s definitely a title that looks completely out of place when put next to today’s crop of action RPGs. However, it’s an anachronism- a throwback to a simpler time in gaming. While it may not do anything new or anything spectacularly well, there’s no denying that it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Fun may be a subjective quality, but at the end of the day, it’s the only thing that should really matter when it comes to gaming. Ys is fun, and I can’t ask for anything more from it than that.