Ys Book I and II
  • Genre:
    • Action RPG
  • Platform:
    • TurboGrafx-CD
  • Developer:
    • Falcom
  • Publisher:
    • Hudson
  • Released:
    • JP 12/21/1989
    • US 1990
Score: 70%

This review was published on 05/28/2014.

Ys Book I and II is an action role-playing game developed by Falcom and published by Hudson Soft for the TurboGrafx-CD, which is a CD add-on for the TurboGrafx-16 console. It was first released in Japan on December 21, 1989, and later came out in North America sometime in 1990. In case you're wondering, Ys is pronounced "eese," like cheese without the first two letters. There are several things worth noting about this game. Firstly, as its name implies, this is a full remake of the first two Ys games. The Ys series started on 8-bit computers in Japan and were then ported to and remade for many other platforms, with the TurboGrafx-CD remake being one of the best versions. Another version considered to be the best is Ys I and II Complete, a remake for Microsoft Windows. The music was butchered in Ys I and II Complete, though, so many fans still prefer the TurboGrafx-CD remake. Ys Book I and II was one of the first video games to be released on a CD-ROM and also one of the TurboGrafx-CD's launch games in North America. As if that weren't enough, this was one of the first games to have an English localization with voice dubbing. That's a lot of firsts. The original versions of Ys I and II are difficult to play these days, and even then, they haven't aged well. This version, however, has aged considerably better. As such, Ys Book I and II is a perfect way to introduce newcomers to the series.

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The Ys series chronicles the tales of an adventurous, red haired youth named Adol Christin, not to be confused with Adolf Hitler. Six months before the beginning of Ys I, an island known as Esteria was cut off from the rest of the world by a shroud of turbulent weather referred to as the Stormwall. There was nothing natural about this disaster, so Adol decides to get on a boat and sail straight for it. That proves not to be too bright of an idea, as Adol ends up shipwrecked on the island. Upon being saved by and meeting with residents on the island, Adol discovers that there are many more things amiss in Esteria beyond the dreaded Stormwall, like an onslaught of monsters. Since he's such a nice guy, Adol helps the island's denizens with their woes. Ys II begins immediately after the first game ends, on the ancient land of Ys, which floats high above the earth. There Adol learns that the source of all Esteria's troubles lies within the heart of Ys. If not handled, this problem would spread to the rest of the world, dooming anyone and everyone. Determined not to let that happen, Adol explores the land of Ys to discover its hidden secrets, in the hopes that he can fix what needs fixing. Because this is a remake of the first two Ys games, the plot of the two games were combined. It's essentially one contiguous story, with the ending of the first game directly flowing into the beginning of the second game. The plot of both games is a standard tale of good versus evil, but this being the TurboGrafx-CD version, the story is presented rather well.

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This remake of Ys I and II takes full advantage of the CD-ROM format. That means there's Red Book audio, voice acting, and anime cutscenes. For the time, all this stuff was absolutely mind blowing. Today, the visuals are considerably less impressive, though they still retain their charm. The anime cutscenes have decent art in them, but they're rarely full screen and lack actual animation most of the time. Entering houses treats you to nice full body character portraits of the residents, though these aren't exactly full screen, either. Aside from the intro and ending, there isn't too much voice acting, but there's enough to give the game extra flavor. Outside the fancy cinema scenes and artwork, the in game graphics consist of typical 16-bit sprites. This was before 16-bit graphics were common on consoles, though, so they were still moderately impressive for the time. The game play is done via a top-down perspective, much like The Legend of Zelda. Overall, this remake of Ys I and II has a solid presentation, though it pales in comparison to more advanced remakes. The Red Book audio soundtrack is still amazing, however, even by today's standards. Many fans of the series still prefer this remake over others for the soundtrack alone.

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Something that will rub a lot of people the wrong way is the unique combat system. In Ys I and II, battles are fought in real time by repeatedly ramming into enemies. There is no dedicated attack button; simply running headfirst into the baddies will damage them. This goes against the rules of almost every video game ever made, where you're normally supposed to avoid touching enemies. The way in which you collide with enemies makes a difference. Crashing into foes from the front means Adol will likely sustain heavy damage, especially if going up against something powerful. However, Adol can smash monsters from the behind or the sides without sustaining any damage whatsoever. It's tough to actually catch enemies off guard like that, though, so a trick is to walk straight towards them at a slight angle. This trick is a little tricky to pull off, but it can be essential against strong foes. Standing still on the overworld restores Adol's health, something that becomes a staple for the rest of the series. This makes grinding super easy, as life will rarely be a concern outside of dungeons. Speaking of grinding, the game has a lot of it, but the brisk combat mechanics make the grinding relatively painless. The eternal conundrum with battles in Ys is that they're too easy and uninvolved. That doesn't stop them from being strangely entertaining, though. Fighting in Ys lacks the interactivity that games like Zelda have, but its brevity allows for good pacing.

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Once you beat Ys I, the game immediately continues into the beginning of Ys II. You can't access Ys II until you've completed the first one, because that would be just plain weird. None of Adol's items, equipment, or money transfer over into Ys II, but his level does. The maximum level cap was raised considerably to compensate for that change, in addition to the stats of enemies being rebalanced. There's also no way to return to the areas in Ys I once Adol steps into Ys II, which is kind of a bummer. Individually, Ys I and II are both microscopic in size. They're slightly longer when combined, but not by a whole lot. Length is definitely not one of this game's strengths. The transition between the two games is handled well enough that people who haven't played these games before probably wouldn't notice. Well, except for the part where Adol loses absolutely everything. That part is a little frustrating, especially the money bit. It's strange that Adol's level transfers over, when everything else doesn't. Most of the items from the first game are useless in the second game, though, so starting off on a clean slate reduces the clutter. Either way, it's nice to have both games on one disc. Two games are better than one, son.

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Being that Adol is a swordsman, he has no natural magic ability on his own. However, in Ys II, Adol gains the ability to cast magical spells through the use of mystical wands. Adol acquires new magic wands as he progresses through the game, and one wand can be equipped at a time. Depending on which wand he has equipped, Adol will be able to cast a spell with a different effect. The game doesn't have too many spells, but they're almost all useful. There's one that inflicts long ranged damage, one that teleports Adol to any town he's previously traveled to, one that erects a defensive shield, and even a spell that transforms Adol into a monster! The most unique spell is the monster transformation one, because this spell gives Adol the ability to speak with monsters. It's also a good way to avoid damage when low on health, as monsters won't attack Adol if he looks like them. Like in any RPG, casting spells consumes MP, a stat Adol doesn't acquire until Ys II. MP is harder to restore than HP, so magic should be rationed for pivotal moments, such as fighting bosses or tough enemies. In fact, most of the bosses in Ys II can only be harmed by magic attacks. There's really not much more to magic than that. The magic system in this game is simple and effective.

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Ys Book I and II may not be the greatest way to experience the first two Ys games, but it still is a great way to do so. The soundtrack is stellar with its Red Book audio, the voice clips help add to the story, and the anime art during certain sections of the game is pleasing to the eye. Another advantage to this version of the game is that it connects a lot better to Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys, especially since the two games share some of the same areas. When it comes to graphics, there are better remakes of Ys I and II out there, but this version still wins in the music department. It's also closer to the originals than any of the other remakes. If you're interested in playing the first two Ys games, or just want a good action RPG, then give Ys Book I and II a shot.

Word Count: 1,618

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