Ys IV: Mask of the Sun
  • Genre:
    • Action RPG
  • Platform:
    • Super Famicom
  • Developer:
    • Tonkin House
  • Publisher:
    • Tonkin House
  • Released:
    • JP 11/19/1993
Score: 75%

This review was published on 05/19/2014.

Ys IV: Mask of the Sun is an action role-playing game developed and published by Tonkin House for the Super Famicom in Japan on November 19, 1993. Falcom, the company that created the Ys series, licensed the development of Ys IV to two different companies, Tonkin House and Hudson. The two companies made separate versions of the game for two different platforms. While Tonkin House handled the Super Famicom version, Hudson made the PC Engine CD edition. The two versions were radically different from each other, so much so that the PC Engine CD version was given the different title of Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys. Out of the two versions, Mask of the Sun is considered to be the more canonical one. That's until Falcom retroactively altered the continuity with Ys: Memories of Celceta, a recent PlayStation Vita remake of Ys IV that combines story elements from both Mask of the Sun and The Dawn of Ys. A fully 3-D remake of Mask of the Sun was released in Japan for the PlayStation 2 on May 26, 2005. Like a lot of games in the Ys series, Mask of the Sun didn't see release outside of Japan. However, the game did get fan translations from the generous ROM hacking community, so those savvy in the forbidden arts of emulation got to play the game in English. Mask of the Sun is a huge step up from the travesty that was Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, but it can be a little hard to stomach these days.

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The story of Ys IV takes place in between Ys II and Ys III, because that isn't confusing at all. Adol Christin, the young hero of the Ys series, returns to the town of Minea after having vanquished evil for a second time in Ys II. Sometime after his arrival, Adol discovers a bottle with a message inside of it. The message was written in a foreign tongue that Adol could not comprehend, so he took it to Luta Gemma, a studied poet that he met on his previous travels. Luta successfully deciphered the note and discovered something alarming: the message states that a place called Celceta is in dire need of a hero's assistance. Being that Adol is now a hero twice over, he decides to answer this plea for help by setting sail yet again, this time to the far away land of Celceta. Who sent the distress note and why? Adol aims to answer these questions and more as he goes on yet another daring adventure. Throughout his quest, Adol will face many trials, like tangoing with an evil empire. You can't get a simpler premise than this, really. The Ys series was never known for its complex plots, and that remains true for this iteration, as well. As simple as it is, the story does inspire a basic sense of adventure that makes it good fun. The only snag is that there are a lot of references to past games in the series, which might alienate newcomers. Oddly enough, there are even a few references to the Ys anime. Understanding the references isn't required to enjoy the game, though.

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Mask of the Sun returns Ys back to its roots with a traditional presentation. Everything is presented in the top-down view point traditionally used by the series prior to Ys III. It's even got those garish borders around the screen that all the old Ys games use. Visually speaking, this game is better looking than most of the previous entries in the series, but it's unremarkable by SNES standards. The pleasant art style does make up for that, though. Despite how small and lacking in detail the sprites are, the game has a charming look to it. Plus, the anime intro sequence looks pretty good, even by SNES standards. Musically, the game is much more impressive. The Ys series has always had good music and Mask of the Sun is no exception. Just the title screen ditty is enough to win anyone over. Some of the sound effects could use a bit more work, though, like the annoying beep whenever Adol opens a door. It should go without saying, but this version of Ys IV doesn't have any voice acting or Red Book audio in it, unlike the one on PC Engine CD. That would be quite a feat on a 16-bit cartridge. Mask of the Sun's presentation is decent enough, though it hasn't aged as well as other SNES games from around the same time period.

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On his glorious quest, Adol will visit many different places in the world of Ys. The region of Celceta consists of beautiful forests, tree top towns, tall mountains, ancient ruins, icy caverns, and more. There is no world map, so to speak. Instead, all areas in the game are seamlessly connected, like in Zelda or Secret of Mana. Later in the game, Adol will even return to Esteria, the region in which the first two Ys games took place. Some of the major locations from Esteria have been faithfully recreated in Mask of the Sun, which should be a treat for the select few people that have played the first two games. One odd issue is that a lot of the areas in the game are unnecessarily maze-like, with plenty of pointless dead ends. This isn't much of a problem, though, because the paths are still simple enough to get a handle on. It's just peculiar design. The game is pretty linear early on, but opens up a bit later when Adol obtains a special item that allows him to teleport anywhere he's been to before. It's at that point that the game starts making you go back to previously explored areas. The prospect of backtracking is normally an annoying one, but it's a relatively painless process here due to the ability to instantly warp everywhere. Traveling around the world in Mask of the Sun is quite fun.

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As part of the whole initiative to return to the series' roots, Mask of the Sun brings back the combat mechanics from the original Ys games. That means there is no dedicated attack button: you fight enemies by ramming into them. Like in the originals, the way in which you ram into the enemies makes all the difference. Going for a full frontal assault will usually result in your quick demise, but attacking from the sides or behind allows you to inflict damage without being harmed yourself. However, as most Ys veterans know, the main way you'll be attacking foes is by running into them from the front, but doing so at a slight angle. This also enables you to injure them without taking any damage, and it's a trick that works in almost every Ys game that has these mechanics. Eventually, when Adol is strong enough, he will be able to kill enemies from the front. Another series mechanic that makes a triumphant return here is health regeneration. Adol can regenerate his life by standing still out in the overworld, but this doesn't work inside enclosed areas like dungeons. Items to restore health and magic can be equipped and used in battle with the press of a button, too. Mask of the Sun makes no significant changes to the battle mechanics, other than polishing them up a bit. Series purists will undoubtedly enjoy these mechanics, but beginners might find them obtuse.

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Adol can cast spells with the assistance of certain magical swords. The type of spell Adol casts is dependent on which magical sword he has equipped. Sometimes you'll have to revert back to using a weaker sword to cast the desired spell, which can be annoying, but it's not a deal breaker. Spell effects can be enhanced by upgrading the respective magic sword at a blacksmith, though special gems are required. Casting magic consumes MP and actually requires a button press, so this is the only way you'll be able to attack enemies by pressing buttons. Offensive spells don't do much damage, but they're useful for their range. Being able to attack from a distance is a much safer alternative to ramming into monsters, making magic an incredible luxury. There's also a sword that recovers HP, which is probably the most useful one in the game. However, a big problem with magic in this game is that MP restoration is very hard to come by. Only special items, sleeping at an inn, or defeating bosses can restore MP. It should be noted that there is only one inn in the entire game, so you won't be using that particular method much. There are some other special circumstances when MP is restored, but they're few and far between. As a result of that, magic is best reserved for bosses. Aside from the scarcity of MP recovery methods, this is a neat magic system.

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Ys IV: Mask of the Sun is all right. It's short and simple, but fun. Actually, it's exactly that simplicity and brevity that make it enjoyable. Even though it's an RPG, it's very fast paced and doesn't waste time on boring menus, random battles, or turn-based combat. The combat is the make-it-or-break-it point for most people, but the same could be said for all the old Ys games. Some people can't wrap their head around the concept of not pressing any buttons to fight battles. If you're one of those people, then you probably won't like this game. If, however, you either enjoy that system or can tolerate it, then you're in for a good time. Mask of the Sun might not be as good as its PC Engine CD counterpart, The Dawn of Ys, but it's still one of the better Ys games and worth playing if you get the chance.

Word Count: 1,644

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