Ys V: Kefin, Lost City of Sand
  • Genre:
    • Action RPG
  • Platform:
    • Super Famicom
  • Developer:
    • Falcom
  • Publisher:
    • Falcom
  • Released:
    • JP 12/29/1995
Score: 80%

This review was published on 05/13/2014.

Ys V: Kefin, Lost City of Sand is an action role-playing game developed and published by Falcom for the Super Famicon. Released in Japan on December 29, 1995, the game later got an "expert" edition with a higher difficulty level that came out on March 22, 1996, also on the Super Famicom. There eventually was a PlayStation 2 remake that got released in Japan on March 30, 2006. The remake is drastically different from the original, so this review will be focused on the Super Famicom version. Ys V never got officially released outside of Japan in any shape or form, neither the original nor the remake. However, like many SNES games that never got Western releases, this game did eventually get a fan translation by Aeon Genesis on November 28, 2013. According to Aeon Genesis, the game was notoriously difficult to hack, which is why it took so long for a full translation patch to come out. Thanks to that, the English speaking parts of the world can now finally experience the lost chapter of the Ys series. In any case, Ys V was a vast departure for the series, though not as vast as Ys III was. Also unlike Ys III, this game is actually good.

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The young, strapping protagonist of the previous Ys games, Adol Christin, is back and ready for more adventure. While on his travels in search of said adventure, he learns of the lost desert city of Kefin. An ancient legend has been passed down from generation to generation about a mysterious city in the continent of Afroca. Gee, I wonder what inspired them to come up with that continental name. The elusive city was located in the Kefin Desert and suddenly vanished many years ago. Rumor has it that there is a treasure somewhere nearby, and rumors have a tendency to be true in video games. Why did this city disappear and are the rumors about the treasure true? Adol is determined to figure it all out. Being that this is a perfect opportunity for adventure, Adol decides to investigate the lost city of Kefin. He does this not for the treasure, but for the underlying adventure involved in its pursuit. It's the journey that counts, not the destination. Adol begins his adventure by setting sail to the town of Xandria, where he is commissioned by a shady man named Dorman to locate several crystals related to Kefin. On this most momentous journey, Adol will encounter many strange and interesting things as he slowly reveals Kefin's dark secrets. This Indiana Jones inspired premise is effective at getting the ball rolling with minimal fuss. The plot isn't spectacular, but it manages to keep you involved without getting in your face too much.

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This is a beautiful game. The graphics are a huge step up from Ys IV on the SNES, making this the prettiest Ys game on the system. It was 1995, after all, and that's when many of the SNES' more visually appealing titles started coming out. While Ys V sticks to the traditional top-down view used in most of the series, it does change a few of the series' mainstays. The changes aren't as drastic as they were in Ys III, but they're still noteworthy enough to be worth a note. One major change is that you can actually jump. Sure, you could also jump in Ys III, but this is a top-down Ys game, so jumping is an unusual luxury here. Now you no longer have to wait for townsfolk to slowly move out of your way, as you can simply jump right over them! You can't jump diagonally, though you can walk diagonally. The controls are, for the most part, responsive and intuitive. Movement in particular is very tight. As far as the interface is concerned, Ys V uses ring menus similar to Secret of Mana. Like Secret of Mana, these ring menus can take some getting used to, but they're overall not too bad. Traditional menus would have been way nicer, though. Ys V's presentation, game play, and controls are like a cross between The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Secret of Mana. That's not at all a bad thing, considering how both those games are veritable masterpieces.

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Combat in Ys V is a lot more sophisticated than previous games in the series. No longer do you attack enemies by simply running into them. Instead, you do the incredulous thing of pressing a button to swing your sword! Is that not the most innovative thing ever? Sarcasm aside, this is actually a pretty good change. As unique as the combat mechanics were in previous Ys games, they're kind of unwieldy. You have a lot more control over what transpires in a battle now, which makes it easier to attack enemies without being attacked yourself. That makes fighting tough enemies much more doable. In addition to now being able to swing swords with the press of a button, you can also press another button to guard against attacks with a shield. You can't move around or attack while guarding, though, so this maneuver isn't terribly useful. Still, it's the thought that counts. Even though the only weapons Adol uses are swords, some of them will have slightly different attack animations. This is more than a cosmetic difference, as the different sword swings affect attack range. It's a nice touch, because the development team could have easily gone with the same attack animation for all the weapons in the game. Oh, and HP can be restored by standing still on the overworld, just like previous in Ys games. The combat system in Ys V is a huge improvement over its predecessors, though some purists may disagree with that assessment.

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Alchemy is this game's magic. Early on, Adol will learn the art of alchemy, which will enable him to cast magical spells. Three elements can be fused into something called a Fluxstone, and these alchemic stones contain spells in them. The elements that can be fused are Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Darkness and Light. Once fused, Fluxstones can then be affixed to slots on Adol's sword so that he can use them in battle. Different swords have a different amount of slots on them, for a total of up to three slots. If you've played Final Fantasy VII, then this should sound a lot like the Materia system. It's more or less the same concept. Using magic in battle is pretty simple; you simply hold the right shoulder button down for a short while to charge up, and then hit the attack button to activate the spell. You can conveniently switch between equipped spells with the left shoulder button. Obviously, casting spells uses up MP. There are a wide variety of spells that can be fused, all with different effects, MP costs, and charge times. Almost any combination of elements will result in a unique Fluxstone fusion, so this is a system that requires experimentation. It's a fun system to play around with, but a big problem is that a majority of spells in this game are totally useless. To make matters worse, finding the necessary elements to fuse Fluxstones is very difficult. That's too bad, because this system has a lot of potential.

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Character progression is divided into two separate parts in Ys V; physical and magical. This means that Adol has two separate levels, one for his physical stats, and one for his magical stats. The two increase independently of each other, depending on what you do during combat. Killing enemies with a sword will get you physical experience, whereas murdering foes with spells will net you magical experience. Basically, Adol gets better at what he does the more he does it. While the physical and magical levels increase different stats, some stat increases do overlap, so leveling them both up leads to supreme power. For instance, maximum HP and MP will increase with level ups in both the physical and magical categories, but physical levels provide a bigger HP boost than magical levels, and vice versa. As unique as this progression system is, it has some downfalls. The biggest one is that leveling up magic is a pain in the neck. Most spells are too slow and costly to use on a regular basis, and if you don't level up your magic, then spells won't do much damage, either. Worse still, enemies killed with magic won't drop any gems. It's almost as if the game discourages you from using magic. Due to these things, you probably won't gain any magic levels unless you go well out of your way to do so. That's bad, because Adol's magic level determines his magic defense stat, something that's important for survival later in the game. The progression system in Ys V could certainly use some fine tuning.

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Unlike almost every other video game ever made, money isn't obtained from monsters in Ys V. Well, not directly, anyway. Monsters drop various gems that can then be sold at shops for actual money. The game thankfully lets you sell gems in bulk, so it takes only a single button press to sell all the gems that you're currently carrying. This is similar to the spoils system in Final Fantasy XII, if you've ever played that. The thing is, this is pointless, as it doesn't change much of anything. All it does is add an unnecessary middleman to currency acquisition. It doesn't even explain the eternal question of how monsters are carrying money on them, since valuable gems are more or less the same thing. This doesn't have a negative impact on game play, though it doesn't have a positive impact, either. It basically has no impact whatsoever on anything. The only real thing this accomplishes is that it prevents you from seeing how much money you're currently carrying, unless you've memorized the gem conversion rates. I doubt that's something anyone would do. It's only a minor gripe, but a gripe nonetheless.

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Many things were changed in the fifth installment of the Ys series. Plenty of these differences were for the better, but the game did not hit a home run with all of its changes. Magic is interesting but heavily flawed, the progression system is clumsy, and the currency system is stupid. Also, the game is too short and easy. However, these are all minor problems, none of which ruin the game. This is still a solid action RPG with dazzling graphics, tight controls, decent music, and fun game play. Out of all the Ys games on the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles, this is probably the one most palatable to newcomers of the series. That's mostly because this is one of the only ones that both has a dedicated attack button and doesn't suck. If you're looking for another good action RPG to play, then check out Ys V. You won't be disappointed.

Word Count: 1,828

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