Simplicity is something rarely celebrated in videogames, but Ys: The Oath in Felghana is refreshingly straightforward – ironic, considering it’s a port of a remake of a 20 year old game. In the wake of Final Fantasy XIII’s absurd, 20-hours-long tutorial, jumping into a JRPG and just beating the snot out of everything is a nice change of pace. That this PSP port is just plain great works to its benefit, too.
You won’t find a lot of story to waste your time in The Oath in Felghana. Our hero’s a ginger with a sword who loves to murder monsters – that’s all we need. What little story’s here – the bad guys are dicks, blah blah, etc. – is a mixture of melodrama balanced out by an excellent translation and campy banter. It’s well-written and regularly funny, and the fully voiced dialogue is mostly likable. Even when the VO is bad it’s good. Even the odd character – Mams is a standout – is so deliberately, laughably terrible you can’t help but listen and be amused at how silly they sound.
Once the quick discussions end, you can get right to the stabbing, and Ys is an immediately gratifying, stabtacular adventure. The combat’s a little basic, but it throws a few curveballs at you, like enemies that are impervious to your sword and such. You’ll spam the jump, attack, and magic buttons more times than you can count, but it’s far more than bland button mashing.
See, The Oath in Felghana is so absurdly difficult that its combat requires deliberate grace to come out on top. You’ll fight tons of enemies at once, and you’ll need to move a lot to stay alive. This is a fast game, and if you’re not thinking ahead you’re screwed. The outstanding boss fights force you to jump, run, and dodge to the point that you barely have a moment to attack. You’ll die, and you’ll die plenty.
Perhaps Ys’ strongest asset – aside from its seriously rockin’, non-stop-awesome original soundtrack – is that this extreme difficulty, even on normal, is rarely frustrating. We’re not prone to enjoying trial and error, but the combat is a skill-based challenge. When you die, you know it’s your fault, and you know how to succeed even when you repeatedly fail. It’s brutal, but not unfair, which leads to even more satisfaction with your success.
Because everything moves along at such a quick clip, you’ll probably push through The Oath in Felghana fairly quickly. Compared to other Ys titles, this is a far more straightforward and short experience. You won’t collect a ton of loot, which may burn some players. But we enjoyed building big combos, clobbering experience bonuses out of baddies, and collecting materials to upgrade our various weapons and magically endowed bracelets.
Despite its 10-15 hour running time, Ys: The Oath in Felghana never feels short – which it is by conventional Japanese RPG standards. It’s a punchy, fulfilling game that takes you to plenty of cool places and does a lot of basic things right. We’re a fan of a good ol’ fashioned action game that gets right to the good stuff, and this is evidence that we don’t get enough of this kind of game these days.
Nov 1, 2010