I’ve played too many Japanese role-playing games to count. When working out, I actually see experience points drifting up above my head, and I’m pretty sure the frog I accidentally killed with the weed whacker in middle school left behind some gold coins.
All kidding aside, I consider myself well-versed in the JRPG universe, but I’ve somehow missed out on the Ys series — a long-running franchise from developer Falcom that revolves around the heroic exploits of Adol Christin (or, in more heroic fashion, “Adol the Red”). Ys Seven, which hit Sony’s portable this week, is one the latest entries in the series that’s actually coming to the United States.
Ys Seven is an action-packed RPG that once again documents Adol’s journey, along with his close companion Dogi. When Ys Seven begins, Adol and Dogi land on Altago and are soon tasked with investigating the mysterious phenomenon that are plaguing the land and its people. This includes plenty of scary earthquakes, rampaging monsters and other things that would totally ruin someone’s day. Although it takes a little while for the action to pick up, the rest of the experience is fast and battle-heavy, which works perfectly for how Ys Seven is designed.
Your party consists of three characters, but you only control one hero at a time — the AI handles the other two members of your party. This works surprisingly well, as the two computer controlled characters seem to be exempt from a good amount of damage that’s happening on the screen. Although some powerful area attacks will hurt your comrades, your primary concern is keeping your currently selected character alive and kicking. And it takes some effort.
Battles in Ys Seven are not like the traditional turn-based numbers most JRPG nuts are used to. Everything happens in real-time and the game feels more like an action title than anything else. Each character has a combo that doesn’t really change and is used for basic damage-dealing. Then they have a charge attack that does a bit more damage but, more importantly, refills the character’s SP gauge more effectively. This SP gauge governs your usage of special skills, which are critical in defeating difficult opponents. Some skills will unleash a projectile attack, while others will command your character to unleash a flurry of powerful strikes.
Each character has a wide assortment of these special skills and those skills are leveled up by using them. Characters acquire these skills by equipping weapons that carry them. Use it enough and your character will permanently learn the technique and will not need to have the weapon equipped to access the special move. This system works beautifully, as it encourages players to collect weapons, try them out and keep their inventory up to date.
The weapons themselves also play a huge role in combat. Every character is limited to a specific weapon type. Dogi, for example, uses gauntlets for punching, while Aisha makes use of a bow and arrow. These characters represent specific attack types which are useful against certain types of enemies. Dogi is good at handling hard, shielded characters while Aisha’s piercing weapons are handy when flying enemies come along. This dynamic forces players to switch between the different characters and maximize the usage of their party. Fun stuff.
There’s a lot to love about Ys Seven. I was incredibly surprised at how fast-paced the combat is — it’s very unlike any JRPG I’ve played in recent memory. Even more surprising are the game’s boss encounters, which require extreme focus to beat. Players must read the bosses attack patterns, dodge constantly and stay on their toes. It’s wonderful to see a JRPG demand fast reflexes and timing.
But this adventure isn’t perfect. The world of Altago isn’t quite as expansive as I would have hoped (though there are some cool sights to see) and the plot takes you through the same regions of the land several times. This is probably my biggest complaint with Ys Seven. After visiting five different dungeons and traveling the world, the game then informs the player that all five dungeons need to be explored again — just a little more thoroughly. Luckily the developers at Falcom made the second trip feature different dungeon layouts, but it still had the taste of the infamous “backtracking” so many gamers grow weary of.
Even with this somewhat disappointing design choice, Ys Seven is a whole lot of fun. Although I would have liked to see more character development, the simple tale of Adol and Co. has some heart to it and it was adequate motivation to keep going. More enjoyable is the game’s great combat system, which is speedy and rewarding (every defeated enemy drops a ton of coins and items, which must be physically gathered — yay!) And with such incredible boss fights, you can’t go wrong.
Don’t worry if you’ve never played an Ys game before — the story of Ys Seven is self-contained and easy to get into. The real fun comes from the game’s battle system, which features plenty of action, special moves and enough coins to make Mario jealous. Even though the scope of the world is limited and the game requires some backtracking, I’d recommend this one to any JRPG fan looking for a portable adventure. And Adol is an old-school badass to the core.