Ys Book 1 «

The most successful mobile games tend to be short but sweet exercises in microgaming. Puzzle games and simple, single button tests of coordination show a clear dominance on a platform where gaming is, at the moment, kind of an afterthought. Gamers seeking something with a little more meat to it tend to look to more traditional handheld games. What many of them haven’t realized is that there are engrossing games like Ys out there, which cost about as much as a video rental and are available for a device that they already have in their pocket.
Cellular phones have a notoriously bad interface for gaming. Pretty much all of them are a telephone first and a gaming device second (or third or fourth.) Attempts to do things the other way around, putting functionality as a gaming platform ahead of usability as a phone, have proven that the status quo is really for the best as far as most people are concerned. Nonetheless, it’s a state of affairs that’s frustrating for anyone who has tried to play any game involving a lot of running, jumping and shooting with a keypad that was pretty clearly not intended to be a video game controller. Which is why it’s nice when in the course of plundering a library of classic games for mobile reincarnation a publisher brings over a game like Ys, which is fun to play not in spite of its controls, but because of them.

The first of Falcom’s cult classic Ys games is nearly a generation old (that’s a human generation, not console or dog years or something.) It’s hard to believe that there really was a time when they weren’t giving away cell phones as prizes in breakfast cereal, but Ys is from that long forgotten age. Funny then that it seems to have been crafted with a cell-phone interface specifically in mind. Classic console style RPGs offer an experience that isn’t at all hampered by a mobile keypad. Ys in particular, which eschews an attack button or menu in favor of allowing the player to simply plow through enemies like a sword wielding fullback, is well adapted to the interface. Combat isn’t entirely without strategy, as attacking enemies from the side or while slightly off center is more effective than clanging against them head on, but it’s nothing difficult to manage with a keypad. Clashes are over extremely quickly, which is a good thing on a platform where gaming is often squeezed in a couple minutes at a time.

The simplified fighting makes the game more ideal for playing on a phone, but other than that fortuitous quirk most of the elements common to old school adventure/RPGs are the same. The player wanders through mazes and kills monsters for xp and cash while collecting armor, weapons, keys, and doodads that need to be returned to villagers who are always losing their stuff in monster-infested caves. It’s an old but fun formula.

Ys has been around for a while, but the bright, clean graphics haven’t aged badly and are well suited to a cell’s comparatively small screen. All the creatures and landscapes are colorful and iconic, and every new floor of a dungeon brings fresh types of enemies. They all attack with the single mindedness of a pac-man ghost, but bear appearances that reflect their relative degrees of danger to the player. They range from comparatively harmless puppies in the green fields of the overworld to flaming ghosts and armored knights in the game’s deepest caverns. Ys isn’t terribly plot heavy by modern standards, but the occasional conversations with major supporting characters are often accompanied by large and attractive anime styled portraits.

That Ys can be saved anywhere at any time with just a couple key presses is just the last touch it needed to be perfect for its new home. It’s a game that can be picked up and played anywhere, but can be left again in an instant without loss of progress. It’s ideal for getting a few minutes of gaming in while on a bus or waiting for an appointment or doing pretty much anything where the player’s attention might be taken away at a moment’s notice. While it’s possible to play the game impulsively and in tiny doses, it still offers a more rewarding and long term experience than the simple puzzle or twitch games usually associated with cell phones.

At a glance it may not seem like more than retrogaming shovelware, but Ys actually does a great job of playing to the strengths of a new platform. It’s definitely worth dropping a few bucks on a download, and is available on a number of carriers. Look to the list on Hudson’s website to see if you can get it.


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