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E3 2010: XSEED Games Sprouted Some 'Ys' At E3

June 20, 2010
- Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time left in the day for me to see everything XSEED has to offer at the show this year. What I did see, however, I liked. What I did see, was the Ys series.

Ys is something of an anomaly for me, personally. I’ve always maintained an interest in the series but never gotten around to playing one. After the impressive showing I saw today, I may need to remedy that in the future.

As the (debatable) “inventors” of the modern JRPG, Falcom are sticking closely to their roots with Ys Seven, and the Ys I and II Collection and Ys: The Oath in Felghana (re-makes of Ys I, II and III, respectively) action/RPGs for the PSP.

Somewhat episodic in nature, Ys games always focus on the same character: Adol (al-ways, as ever, accompanied by heterosexual life partner Dogi) crashing on a beach in a strange land, going on adventures and casually wooing ladies. Yet, with the exception of Ys II, there isn’t any strong serialization to the series. New players can pick it up just as easily as veterans and only miss out on the fan service of seeing familiar characters and locations. XSEED was upfront in saying that the focus in Ys, unlike so many JRPGs, is not story, but fun gameplay, with a serviceable narrative to provide a setting and frame for the action.

What I saw of all three games definitely reinforced this philosophy of refinement over innovation. Starting with the newest entry in the series, Ys Seven is a very retro-feeling party-based action/RPG, with some platforming elements.

While Ys Seven is party-based, Falcom is focused on delivering non-stop action. With that ideology in mind, there is no fiddling around with your party. They’re controlled by AI and all the AI does is fight; they won’t waste items, get in your way or run off, and we were told they wouldn’t do any other “stupid things.”

That begs the question: what’s the point of even having a party? In the interest of that fast-paced action, the combat in Ys is all about delivering combos and switching be-tween party members on the fly, in the midst of combat, to chain and continue those combos. Other characters also provide different damage types and special abilities. For example, Dogi’s fists deal “strike” damage, which are effective against armor, while a mage character we saw is capable of ranged attacks and Adol himself delivers “slash” attacks, which are good against “fleshy things.”

Ys Seven does have a few unique gimmicks going for it, as well. One is the skill sys-tem; like many JRPGs, weapons come with skills that are learned by gaining expe-rience. The difference here is that skills also gain their own experience though use. When they level up, they become more powerful, and even acquire new physical and visual effects. Once again in the interest of keeping the pace moving, special skills are mapped to the face buttons and accessed by holding the R button, so the action never has to pause.

Each dungeon also features its own unique gimmick. In our demo, we played through a dungeon that features a strong emphasis on wind. By equipping a special cape, we could use the giant fans located throughout the dungeon to reach new floors.

More interestingly, however, were parts of the dungeon that lacked any floor. This is where some of the platforming elements come in, as we had to navigate our heroes across a chasm using the wind produced by large fans, all the while avoiding the blades of those same fans. It isn’t a wildly innovative gimmick, but in the context of a JRPG, it stands out.

Next up was Ys: The Oath in Falghana, the remake of Ys III. Originally a “black sheep” in the franchise, Falcom is taking another stab at Ys III in hopes of removing that stigma and delivering a better experience this time around.

Another isometric 3D dungeon crawler, Oath in Falghana looks like a solo affair, which they described as being not unlike a Metroidvania style game, featuring an emphasis on exploration and backtracking.

We navigated our way through a lava-filled labyrinth, fighting monsters along the way. A little bit different from Ys Seven, Oath of Falghana doesn’t feature an item menu. In-stead, restorative items are dropped by monsters and automatically used when picked up. Additionally, monsters drop temporary stat-boosting items, which XSEED compared to buffs in an MMORPG.

Oath in Falghana has a very arcade-like feel to it, almost like a combination of a classic JRPG, a classic action game, and just a pinch of Diablo. The game screams, “retro ‘80s action,” right down to the heavy synth-rock soundtrack. Like Seven, it’s focused on non-stop action, so much so that “all load times” have been eliminated.

Finally, we got a brief look at Ys I and II Collection. The show was rapidly coming to a close for the day, so unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see much. Like Seven and Oath in Falghana, I and II Collection look to have a strong focus on fast-paced action. One big difference is that I and II have been remade in crisp, 2D graphics, as opposed to the isometric 3D of the other two Seven and Oath. One interesting feature is that combat is “buttonless” and based on running into enemies, but we didn’t have time to get a good look at this mechanic.

One thing was made clear during our time with the Ys series: a powerful devotion to fast, retro action, eschewing new mechanics or strong narrative. In a demo, it was hard to get a feel for the longevity of the games. Seven boasts 30-40 hours at least, but this style of game could either become really repetitive or really addicting. Finding the right side of that line is no doubt tricky, but all three titles look very promising. Expect them to release staggered throughout the next several months, with Seven in August, Oath in November and I and II Collection in January, 2011.

Written By: Christian Higley

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