Legacy of Ys Books I & II Review «

Nihon Falcom’s Ys series is one of the world’s most enduring RPG franchises. It may not enjoy the international success of Final Fantasy or command the affection of millions like Dragon Quest, but it’s survived for nearly 25 years on the strength of its brisk action-RPG mechanics and a deeply dedicated fanbase. And that’s despite more than half of the series never making it beyond the shores of Japan. So it’s great to see a publisher like Atlus go through the trouble of bringing the most recent Ys releases — Legacy of Ys Books I & II, twin remakes of the very first two games in the saga — to America.
I just wish the remakes themselves were a more fitting tribute to such a venerable franchise. The failings here certainly aren’t Atlus’s fault, though. They’ve done a bang-up job of localizing both games. The English text is tidy and informative; every copy comes with a CD highlighting the games’ timeless soundtrack; and they’ve crammed two RPGs which were released separately at a premium price in Japan into a single, standard-priced DS card for value-minded American gamers. You couldn’t ask for better treatment.

SCREENS: Click the image above to check out all Legacy of Ys Books I & II screens.
Still, you can polish a coprolite all you like, but in the end it’s just a turd. All the localization effort in the world only goes so far when it’s being applied to a flawed product, and this rendition of Ys suffers from some debilitating shortcomings. Japanese publisher Interchannel and developer Dreams have churned out ill-conceived and amateurishly made renditions of Falcom’s classics, a pair of recreations fraught with flaws and plain old bad ideas.

On a superficial level, Legacy of Ys looks terrible. The series has never been about mind-blowing graphics, but the DS is capable of far better than this. Most 3DO developers would have been embarrassed by these graphics: simple, blocky environments filled with fuzzy sprites that somehow don’t quite seem like they’re actually occupying the physical space. There’s a bizarre visual glitch that causes motionless sprites to look like they’re floating above the ground as it moves inexplicably beneath them. It’s all the more shameful for the fact that this release is largely based on Ys Eternal, a Japan-only PC title that remade the same games with nice-looking 2D backdrops. Why Dreams dropped those in favor of these eyesore visuals is a mystery, but it does no favors to the games.

A more significant problem stems from the interface. The Ys series has always had a take-it-or-leave-it control scheme that required players to counter-intuitively smash into enemies to inflict damage. That’s replicated here, sort of, but only through an awkward stylus-only interface that requires you to tap the touch screen to move to your destination. Point-and-click is great with Diablo; not so great with a zippy action-RPG.

SCREENS: Click the image above to check out all Legacy of Ys Books I & II screens.
An alternative D-pad based control setup is available as a concession to people who demand to be able to press an attack button, but it’s a compromise as well. Hero Adol’s sword has the same range as in the traditional interface — that is to say, it’s ridiculously stubby — which means you’ll have to get up in an enemy’s face to attack it just like you do with the ram-to-kill technique. The drawback is that when you ram foes, your blade is always drawn; by forcing you to press the attack button, this new scheme leaves you vulnerable between swings. It’s tolerable against mundane enemies, but it turns bosses (which were already insanely challenging to begin with) into some of the most infuriating encounters you’ll ever experience in a videogame. Unfortunately, there’s no way to play Ys the old-fashioned way — ramming bad guys with D-pad controls — which is a shame. That’s how the series was intended to be played, and Legacy of Ys sticks so closely to the source material that the available interface options are downright maddening.

Heck, even the series’ legendary music by chiptune god Yuzo Koshiro comes off badly here. It’s all a bunch of shrill fake electric guitars and cheesy early ’90s synthesizers, lacking both the majesty of the orchestrated music Ys Books I & II enjoyed on Turbo Duo and the classic retro feel of the original arrangements.

Despite being a botched rendition of a pair of classics, Legacy of Ys is nevertheless a pair of classics, and that’s what ultimately redeems this package — that and Atlus’s meticulous care with the localization. Ys fans will probably enjoy this opportunity to revisit some old favorites, even if the flaws grate their nerves, but I doubt this will do much to turn anyone onto the Ys series. My advice: skip this and download the Turbo Duo version on Virtual Console. They’re almost entirely the same games, but one costs less and does justice to the subject matter.


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