Ys III is probably the first Ys game that I had played so it was a big surprise to me to get into Ys I and II to learn how different they were from this one.
The first two Ys games used a top-down view and you fought enemies by “bumping” into them, earning experience and gold to build our red-haired hero, Adol, up. Ys III, on the other hand, turned the system on its side – literally. Instead of a top-down world, it packed that action into a side-scrolling engine that required a bit more from the player.
Bumping into baddies only got you killed this time around. It was now up to you to time your flurry of sword strikes to do the most damage. Farming for experience was still the same, though. Leaving an area and coming back to it often respawned more monsters to whip into experience, but this kind of platforming choice still made the game a challenging title especially when it came to the last boss, Galbalan.
It also helped that it looked pretty good on the SNES. The ending area with the spiral staircase up the side of the tower was a favorite scene, but developer Nihon Falcom also packed the game with great music and a flair for storytelling. Despite it’s radical redesign from the first two games, the game had earned itself a place in Ys history among many fans for its story-driven style and fast paced gameplay. It’s also one of the Ys titles to undergo as many cosmetic changes to it as platform releases.
Like most of Nihon Falcom’s games, especially the Ys series, Wanderers from Ys came out first on PCs in Japan (the NEC PC-8801) before being ported over to a wide variety of platforms such as the SNES in ’91. The quality of the releases also varied, sometimes dramatically and usually for the better.
For example, the TurboGrafx/PC-Engine version featured richer music and detailed visuals, especially in the end sequence (with Galbalan now called Demanicus in the English voice over). The Genesis/Mega-Drive version also boasted a number of visual tweaks especially in the last boss battle with Galbalan.
The CD version of the same game for the TurboGrafx CD in ’91 went even further with a spoken intro, animated cutscenes, sharper graphics, and what more than a few hardcore Ys fans consider to be the most beautiful iteration of the title’s soundtrack.
Nihon Falcom didn’t publish many of its titles directly to markets outside of Japan often leaving it to companies like the American Sammy Corporation to do the honors. Interestingly, they also licensed the development of a few Ys titles to outside houses.
And not every Ys title would make it over to the West in full, translated glory. After Ys III in ’91, it wouldn’t be until 2005 that the sixth major Ys title, Ys: The Ark of Napishtim, would re-introduce Western audiences to the Ys world thanks to Konami’s efforts in bringing it over. Still, Ark came out on the PS2 nearly two years after it came out on PCs in Japan, emphasizing Nihon Falcom’s focus on PC releases.
The popularity of the series, however, continued to encourage more releases and remakes slated for the West thanks to the help of companies like Atlus and Xseed. Ys III would also undergo a dramatic remake as the Oath in Felghana in 2005 which ditched the side-scrolling engine for the top down, hack ‘n slashing platform approach of Ark of Napishtim. With the system polished even further and the soundtrack considered a one of Nihon Falcom’s best by many fans, Oath is often cited as a fan favorite of the Ys series.
Based on the excitement around it, I imported it a few years ago and patched it with the English translation. The packaging also made me nostalgic for the old days when PC titles splurged on shelf appearances. The game came in a plastic clamshell case and the manual was a small, illustrated booklet of pure quality, both bound in a hard cardboard case wrapped in even more detail.
As for Oath in Felghana, it wasn’t the Ys III I remembered. At the same time, it’s also one of the best action RPGs that I’ve played. The music rocks, the adrenaline charged action is exciting, and Nihon Falcom’s love of storytelling has made it a benchmark in how remakes should be done. It literally feels like a completely different game.
It later came out on Western PSPs in 2010 thanks to Xseed and two years later, it’s now on Steam. From what I’ve read, Deuce (of fansub fame for Oath in Felghana) is also working with Xseed on another Ys game to come out on Steam later on, Ys Origin, which is a prequel to the Ys series. An interesting note is that Deuce is also the translator who helped with the English fan patch for the import versions of Ys Origin.
It’s been a long, but rewarding, journey for Wanderers of Ys to make it as far as it has, but it’s also a testimony to the timeless gameplay and hardcore fandom that accompanies every Ys release in the West. Ys is a great series and action RPG fans owe it to themselves, and their collections, to dive in.
Just don’t trust Adol around water. Or boats. And not necessarily in that order.