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Legacy of Ys: Books I and II

Ys is one of those series that takes a certain kind of person to appreciate. A huge cultural phenomenon in Japan, the games have slipped under the radars of most Western gamers; however, the franchise has its fans here and there, people who appreciate the classic gameplay and rich stories held within each brutally difficult title. Now, the first two games have been packaged together and given a makeover for the Nintendo DS, and followers have an opportunity to relive the original adventures – or convince a friend to join them in co-op. Legacy of Ys: Books I and II is a great opportunity for RPG enthusiasts, but it isn’t for everyone.

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Ys plays like a traditional RPG, with a few quirks that elevate the gameplay into stranger territory. While players will likely be familiar with the basic template at first – shops, towns, a large overworld to explore – most will be surprised by the combat. Instead of a standard turn-based system, conflicts in Ys feel more like encounters in a classic roguelike. Damage is dealt to the enemy by running into it – literally. Depending on the angle of attack, more damage is done, based around various attack and defense statistics. It’s quite odd at first, but it’s quirky, and certainly fairly unique on the DS; a remnant of genres past. It doesn’t make a whole lot of use of the console’s features, either, but at least it doesn’t use them in unnecessary ways.

The first two Ys games are included on this DS copy, and both are huge undertakings filled with classic RPG content. These aren’t just direct ports either. Atlus has recreated the original map layouts in 3D, and applied the old, hand drawn sprites into the new environment. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s a nice upgrade for the games and it’s fairly pleasing to the eye. The music has also been reworked, and quite well, too – the surprisingly jazzy soundtrack complements the games nicely, and just for extra snazziness, the retail copy actually comes bundled with a CD featuring a good amount of music. What a treat!

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Unfortunately, all the fun music and gameplay in the world won’t be enough to convince many players. Ys is brutally difficult, both to get into and to play. Simple things like item explanations are nonexistent, and the combat is fairly grind-heavy and full of hard fights. Some people will sink their teeth into Ys, and so they should – it’s deep, challenging, and fun. Of course, it’s the “challenge” part that will put many other players off; Ys is strictly for the dedicated RPG fans out there, which is in no way a bad thing. It’s one of the least accessible games available on the DS, not by fault, but by design. It would have been nice to see a little upgrade here and there – after all, these games are relatively ancient – but keeping the originals intact was probably the best way to go. For better or worse, Books I & II is faithful to its two-decades-old source material.

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Ys: Books I & II is another great game to add to the DS’s steadily growing pile of obscure gems. While it’s hardly a mass market title, I & II packs a lot of grindy, hardcore value into the tiny cartridge, and is a perfect RPG for someone on the lookout for a challenge. If you feel like dragging your friends into the maw, then the four-player-co-op is always open – just don’t expect anyone to last long.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

Gentle persuasion

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