Legacy of Ys: Books I & II Review for Nintendo DS

Legacy of Ys: Books I & II Review for Nintendo DS

Back to the Grind

Atlus has done a great job of supporting our seemingly insatiable appetite for rare, import titles. Their latest offering, Legacy of Ys: Books I & II brings the first two chapters in the Ys series to U.S. shores in one compiled cartridge.

Legacy of Ys: Books I & II screenshot

Fans of the franchise, which first released in 1987, will tell you that the first two books were always supposed to be released together, but for publishing and marketing constraints were launched as separate entries. As such, Atlus bringing both of these classics together for a North American release made a lot of sense. After blazing through these titles in under a week, I am happy to say that these reworked games still have a lot of charm even though they are decidedly dated.

Legacy of Ys (rhymes with geese) is one of the first action-RPGs ever made. Initially released for the NEC PC-8801, it stood apart from other contemporary text-based RPGs for its fast-paced, action gameplay. Along those lines, modern gamers – used to lengthy turn-based and strategy-RPGs – may or may not appreciate just how quickly conflicts are resolved in this game. Players simply run up to enemies and whack them – end of fight. Sometimes enemies require more than one hit, but fights never take more than two seconds. This makes progressing through the game and its entertaining story a breeze. Of course, the overly-simplistic controls will likely turn off many gamers looking for a more complex ride. That said, the game is still remarkably playable despite its dated nature. Going through the dungeons, collecting experience, gold, and loot, and advancing the plot is a nice bit of fun.

Still, this incredibly simple mechanic makes combat dull after just a short while. Thankfully, the frequent pattern-based, find-the-weakness boss battles will give players a bit of a diversion from the utter simplicity found in the rest of the game. The problem with these showdowns is that it quickly becomes apparent what needs to be done to defeat them. Nevertheless, these fights are often artificially drawn out by Adol’s inability to exact large chunks of damage. The metered out damage approach against bosses can be cumbersome and silly.

One can play through both included titles in a little over 10 hours of game time. This is probably too short for modern gamers – especially JRPG fans – but I found it refreshing to rip through the games like a soft-cover novel. If you’re someone who feels stifled by more complex RPGs, or you simply want to try out a classic entry from the genre’s infancy, Legacy of Ys: Books I & II may be perfect for you. I know I had a lot of fun.

Legacy of Ys: Books I & II screenshot

Despite how much enjoyment I derived from the titles, they do suffer from some archaic foibles. For starters, level balancing is quite poor. Defeating enemies was either too difficult or too easy. When going through the dungeons, if you found Adol – the main character – hitting for only one point, you’d have to XP grind awhile on the previous floor until you leveled up. After doing so it’s incredibly easy to hack your way through the rest of the baddies. This holds true until you reach the level cap of 24. At level 24 you’re a bad-ass capable of dealing out the hurt to everything that gets in your way. Unfortunately, I reached level 24 just before recovering the third book of the priests of Ys. That’s about half way through the game, as there are only six books to find in all. What’s more, even items are poorly doled out. For instance, I found the next-to-best shield in just the second dungeon. All in all, I tended to find the best gear long before even mundane items became available in the shop.

Graciously, the story is compelling enough to make poorly contrived power leveling and loot accumulation not much of an issue. The narrative centers on a young man named Adol – a fire-haired youth from a distant land in search of the fabled Ys. At the outset of his journey, Adol runs into trouble from a massive storm at sea that seems to have blocked his advance to the Island of Esteria. This curtain is known by the islanders as The Veil of Storms. This freak weather along with the resurgence of monsters has isolated the island from the rest of the world. It becomes Adol’s task to get to the bottom of the island’s woes and find out why all the silver has been disappearing and what the source of the monsters is. Along the way, Adol meets two mysterious women from a former age that prove to be vital in Book II. In spite of its predictability, the story is quite enjoyable, unfolds in rapid succession, and will have engaged gamers playing for long stints just to get to the bottom of it all.

Legacy of Ys: Books I & II screenshot

The second book is very similar to the first except for the addition of magic to the mix. Along the way, players will gain access to six different kinds of magic, which serve both combat and the story. Still, there’s little difference between using magic rods and using swords. Players won’t derive anymore fun from the title because magic has been included, but it does help to add some flavor to the story. As such, it’s a welcome addition. Other than that, dungeons in Book II tend to be more complex, enemies are slightly more difficult to defeat, and the story becomes a bit more convoluted.

In fact, the second book suffers in a few ways that the first did not. For example, losing all your accrued powers upon starting the second part feels like a real kick to the cod-strap. Waking up on ancient Ys in a daze as a weakling is disappointing and frustrating. Also, Book II seems to have some spatial detection issues whilst inside dungeons. I often found Adol getting hung up on phantom bits of cavern walls, resulting in my untimely death. Finally, Book II is full of mini-pauses for loading that tend to curtail adventuring. Players will immediately notice that the town and overworld maps are broken up inconveniently by them, even though there isn’t any more detail to the environments. If it weren’t for the hook that was set by the first title, I may not have wanted to see the end of the second. I expect this may be the case for a lot of gamers.

Legacy of Ys: Books I & II screenshot

Also, presentation, in both parts, is very dated. The graphics are devoid of detail except when presented with the colorful storyboards and sporadic cutscenes. Still, the storyboards do a nice job of capturing the look of previous versions of the game. So, as far as fan-service goes, the team succeeded at updating the game without losing its original charm and character. However, when compared with sparkling remakes such as the latest Star Ocean titles for PSP – Ys fans may feel they’ve been given short shrift. The music has been recomposed and remixed for the game. It fills the title with catchy melodies that are only somewhat bothersome. In fact, the music is actually quite pleasing – it is varied and changes often to match new environments and situations. All in all, I enjoyed the aural experience – which is a good thing because a copy of the themes is included with the purchase of the cart – yet the simple midi tracks are best left for the DS and not for your MP3 player.

As previously mentioned, controls are as simple as can be via the D-pad and face-buttons. However, a stylus-based method was also included. I found this setup to be awkward, so I didn’t use it. That being said, it harkens back to the days of old when Ys players simply had to run into their foes to do damage. In fact, the devs still allow players to get a tactical advantage on monsters by attacking from the sides and rear. Unfortunately, it rarely works out to be much of an advantage for very long. Still, I enjoyed the fact that the touch-screen controls were reminiscent of the classic games even though they employed the modern tactile interface.

After beating Book I, players will unlock a Time Attack mode as well as multiplayer functionality. Time Attack brings together all the bosses from the game, and it times the player’s ability to hack through them. This mode is fairly superfluous, but some will enjoy perfecting their skills. The multiplayer functionality allows four players to hook up in cooperative play. This seems like a novel idea, but all four players have to have a copy of the cart. As such, I doubt more than two will ever get together to play through the game. Again, this is another nice idea that doesn’t bring a whole lot to the gaming table.

Looking back upon my experience with Legacy of Ys: Books I & II, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised – many of these import releases aren’t exactly my bag. Still, I found the games to be quite enjoyable despite their shortcomings. If you think you can deal with dated mechanics and lackluster graphics, the world of Ys will provide you with a lot of fun and an engaging story. If you simply can’t stomach even genre-defining efforts from yesteryear, don’t bother plunking down the cash.

Despite the extensive upgrades, the game still looks quite dated. 3.6 Control
The controls are very functional. The addition of optional touch-screen controls makes the game feel more similar to the original editions. However, the utter simplicity could be a turn off. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The classic and varied musical score punctuates the title. The fidelity of the midi-like tracks keeps the old-school feel but, at times, it just seems old. 3.4

Play Value
The inclusion of both Ys I & II along with multiplayer functionality gives players a good bit to wade through. Although, the simplistic action-RPG mechanics aren’t compelling enough for a second playthrough, even though multiple difficulty levels are offered.

3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Containing two chapters of the heralded action RPG franchise, Legacy of Ys: Books I & II delivers the first two epic tomes of the famed saga on one cartridge.
  • Presented with a series of never-before-seen enhancements.
  • Playable in 3D for the first time on Nintendo DS, Legacy of Ys offers remastered graphics, a remixed music score, optional touch screen control, and local wireless multiplayer for up to four people.

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