Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
Just to set the record straight, I am a neophyte in the world of Falcom’s games, specifically the Ys series that has gained a cult following since its debut in 1987. The series has had numerous ports across multiple consoles, and I have played none of them. My only exposure to Ys prior to this game were a few samples of music that some online acquaintances sent me, as well as my purchase of an import music CD entitled, ‘The Very Best of Ys’ that I reviewed several years ago on this very website. Ryan Mattich’s own Ys: Oath in Felghana review has made it clear that this is a remake of Ys III and for longtime Ys players, it is revisiting old territory. For a newcomer such as myself, this is a completely new experience. If anything, my review serves as a selling point to gamers whom like myself, have never played a Ys game before.
The game wastes no time thrusting you into the middle of combat. Things start off with a red-haired swordsman named Adol Christian accompanied by the stout looking Dogi, a pair of acquaintances walking up the dock away from a boat. Dogi relates memories of his hometown of Redmont which is housed on the island they just arrived at. Mere moments later, a canine bark is heard in the distance. Adol immediately scampers off in the direction of the noise and comes across a blonde-haired girl named Elena surrounded by wolves. From here, you get a taste of the game’s intuitive action-based combat engine.
Graphically, the game presents itself really well without requiring a powerhouse of a PC to play. Utilising basic lighting and fog effects, it fully supports your standard Direct 3D features such as anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing, all customizable in the configuration menu. Environments are rendered in 3D while characters are colourful 2D sprites. The town of Redmont, while small, comes nicely detailed and filled with a fair number of NPCs, each having a unique character portrait used in dialogue windows. Every adventure area follows your standard variety of elements and handles them admirably; you have your fire areas, ice zones, dark underground mines, and so forth. While a nitpick, it is worth noting that the 3D environments scale effectively with increased resolution, but the game’s 2D artwork and sprites don’t seem to fare nearly as well resulting in some blurriness.
The game’s music needs but one simple word: Amazing. To date, the game sports what I would consider the best game soundtrack I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. It employs heavy usage of dance and rock themes for most songs, and they work exceptionally well. Rushing through Valestein Castle with electric guitars jamming in the background while slashing at zombified monsters is a rather unique experience as far as RPGs go. The sound effects are crisp and appropriate, and monsters growl and groan as you slay them. The one thing keeping this game from what would have been a perfect score for its audio is a specific song that plays in the Abandoned Mines entitled “Snare of Darkness.” To me, it comes off as cheesy B-rated horror movie music and feels completely out of place given how every other area’s music is presented, faulting what is otherwise an incredible musical score.
As mentioned earlier, the controls are extremely responsive. Gamepads are supported and highly recommended, although keyboard input comes as standard. All controls can be customized in the same configuration menu where you can alter the graphical settings. If there were one thing I’d like changed however, it would be the jumping. Adol’s jumping feels more like pouncing, since the movement from start to finish is particularly faster than I prefer. It takes a little getting used to and can be a problem, since there are a number of aerial enemies in the game.
The storyline isn’t what one would consider all that epic, but enjoyable just the same. The cast of major characters is relatively small, and while they have interesting personalities, nothing is delved into too deeply. Revival of a sleeping evil isn’t exactly original, but Felghana manages to deliver a refreshing approach to it. A friend of mine put it best: Adol doesn’t go out to save the world. Instead, he’s merely an adventurer that fixes problems on a local level during his journeys. His actions just conveniently happen to coincide with saving the world. The absence of dragging along a party of characters with a world-saving crusade in mind from the first hour of gameplay is in my mind, a good thing.
Going back to gameplay, Ys: Oath in Felghana manages to deliver the perfect balance of basic problem-solving, platformer, and combat elements to deliver one of the smoothest gameplay experiences ever. Standard attacks are handled with a single button which can be pressed repeatedly for a maximum of six hits in one combo. The game has fire, wind, and earth magic at your disposal upon obtaining each element’s respective bracelet, also handled by the press of a button and can be swapped on the fly with other buttons.The elemental bracelets also serve a purpose beyond attacking, which is a nice touch. Jumping is handled by a single button press, and a little bit further into the game, you are granted the ability to double jump, a rather useful ability.
Killing monsters is a lot of fun, and there’s a nice variety of them. The game rewards an aggressive gamer through a combo meter that tracks how many hits you’ve done, the meter slowly shrinking as time passes until it resets to 0. Each hit adds a .01 bonus multiplier to experience point gains, up to a maximum of nearly double the points per kill. Monsters also begin to drop items more frequently as the combo meter climbs, handing over potions that improve speed, attack, and defense in the same manner that the combo meter works for experience, as well as money and healing herbs. These healing herbs are the only manner of restoring your hit points aside from going back to town, as there are no healing items that you can carry. The game has a fair number of bosses, all of them challenging your ability to time jumps, wait for openings, and utilize the three elemental bracelets. Many of these bosses will humble you on your first attempt, and thankfully, upon death you can choose to try again, eliminating the annoyance factor.
Progression through dungeons is generally linear, with branching paths leading to optional items, some of them inaccessible the first time you run through them. There are save points placed throughout the dungeons, and Elena eventually gives you a pendant which can be used to teleport to any save point you’ve accessed in the game, eliminating the need to start from the very beginning of a dungeon when re-visiting them. As you gain access to new magic and the ability to double jump, backtracking is rewarded with special items, gemstones to improve your magical bracelets, and raval ore. Raval ore is used to upgrade your equipment, which adds weapon damage or defense. The ore is in short supply unless you take the time to check every nook and cranny. There are also optional side quests in the town of Redmont, which naturally come have rewards of their own.
The game has multiple difficulty modes and definitely scores high on the replay factor. With excellent gameplay, an outstanding soundtrack and pleasing visuals, Ys: Oath in Felghana is a worthwhile gameplay experience. While easily cleared in less than 10 hours, it is a joyride from start to finish with no semblence of filler content and the perfect pacing. For those unwilling to go the import route, make your opinions heard and bug developers for a localization. This is a title that really deserves one!