Here's a metaphor: the DS is like a movie theater, and RPGs are its horror films. You get some good and even great ones, but there are just so many, and a lot of them are remakes. Now, say you like scary movies, but are starting to getting pretty worn out on them. Then along comes a remake of a little-known film that was overrated the first time, and that can be downloaded for a fraction of the cost. That should give you some idea of our mindset going into Legacy of Ys: Books I & II.
Released more than two decades ago, Ys has a place in gaming history as an action-RPG pioneer. The story focuses on a series of books about the land of Ys (sounds like "peas" minus the "p"). Adol, the star, is a young adventurer washed up on an island that is virtually cut off from the rest of the world by storms. He wants to help the stranded residents and must find the books to solve their problems, (literally) running into monsters, thieves, and goddesses along the way.
The action plays like the top-down Zeldas of old, except with the leveling and character progression of traditional RPGs. But unlike Zelda, the running around and slashing stuff with your sword doesn't hold up so well, because you don't so much cut enemies as you just run into them head-first while pounding the attack button. That’s the real heart of Ys: running headlong at enemies like an idiot, hoping you kill them.
The difficulty is incredibly hot and cold. If you haven't leveled up enough to face a standard enemy, you will slash and slash, repeatedly hitting for one point of damage and dying constantly (although the useful save-anywhere-anytime feature will help you get through this cycle of death and rebirth). Then - and this happened to us many times - you’ll go up one level and start doing 10, 25, even 30 points of damage per hit to those once-invulnerable enemies, and the game suddenly becomes a walk in the park.
Meanwhile, the dungeon bosses are built around cheap tricks and poor design that make each seem like a tired Zelda rip-off. One, a centipede-like creature, is defeated by attacking its tail end, and while it predates a similar boss in Zelda: A Link to the Past, it has none of the elegant design or direction. Another was surrounded by rising and falling flames, and eventually was beaten by luckily and clumsily running into it enough times.
Playing Ys made us question the reasoning behind rereleasing a game like this. The graphics have been “updated” to look like an ugly PSone game, but other than that nothing seems to have changed. Would it really have been unfaithful to update the gameplay a little, or at least remove the need to plow into everything just to interact with it? Maybe hardcore Ys fans think so, but it’s going to feel rusty and weird to anyone else. There’s only one untouched feature we don’t have a problem with: the soundtrack, which is just as great as it was in the original.
Ultimately, Ys feels incredibly unneeded. Its play style is too archaic and too boring, even for old-school fans. The story and dialogue may have once been impressive, but are now just empty and laughable. And the real joke is that this is being sold at full price. Here's a secret: if you have a Wii, just download the original Ys I & II. It's a fraction of the cost, which makes the flaws in this gaming history lesson more forgivable. And if you only have a DS, there are way too many other, better RPGs out there to bother with this tired fossil.
Feb 26, 2009