Review: Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (PS2)

Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim
Developer: Falcom
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date 2/23/05

Ah Ys, one of the oldest and most revered RPG series of all time. At least it was until the US had a decade long drought without the Ys (Prounced YEES) series making it over from Japanese shores. Believe it or not, Ys was once a system seller and as popular as the Legend of Zelda series. But the developers, Falcom, kept choosing the losing systems to put the games out on. First, Ys was on the Sega Master System. Then Falcom supported the Turbo Grafx 16 and the follow up, the Turbo Duo. So you can see how Ys sinked into obscurity over here.

Back in Japan, Ys has had a massive resurgence in popularity with the first 5 (actually 6 as there two different YS IV, Mask of the Sun by Tonkin House and Dawn of Ys by Falcon and Hudson Soft. Dawn of Ys is a better game, although they are mostly the same, but Mask of the Sun is the “official” YS IV.) Regardless, All 5 Ys made is to the PS2 with the first 4 redone and even Ys I and II sold together. But none made it to the US, making most long time Ys fans assume the series was dead to them unless they imported.

Then Konami announced it was bringing over Ys VI. This made me raise an eyebrow in surprise. After all, all the Ys games connect storywise and have characters you meet again and again throughout the games, meaning people would be missing 5 games of back story (and yes, previous games are talked about in Ark of Napishtim and old characters are met). So the question is, why this one? Especially as Ys VI has been available on PC’s in Japan for TWO YEARS now. Why not do two sets of three Ys games as compilations to get people more interested? After all, it’s been ten years since Americans have had a Ys game. Wouldn’t showing people that this is a classic venerable series help sales ala Working Designs work with Arc the Lad and Growlanser? Most new and casual gamers will probably overlook the title especially with Konami doing little to no publicity of this title.

Ah well, just the crusty old retrogamer in me I suppose who wish I could get the other Ys without importing as hey, growin up, Ys was one of my favorite series on the TG-16 growing up along with Bonx (IMPORT the Gamecube Remake!!!), Splatterhouse, and Vasteel.

So is Ys six good enough to stand on its own and get gamers to pick up this title? Will Ys return to its glory in the States that it once held as it is doing in Japan, or will this chance taken by Konami be the final nail in the series stateside coffin?

Let’s Review

1. Story

For those of you new to the Ys series, these games feature Adol the Red or Adol Christian (Originally Called Aron in the US SMS Ys: The Vanished Omens). Adol is a mercenary adventure seeker with a pure heart who sets wrong right throughout the world. In this specific game, Adol has boarded the Pirate ship of his old friend Terra’s father, the Dread Pirate Ladoc in order to escape the Eurasian army who want him captured for some reason or another. The Eurasian Navy attacks while the Pirate ship is navigating through a series of islands, A lucky shot strikes where Adol is standing and he is knocked out and falls into the ocean.

Adol awakens on an island populated by elfish looking people with long ears and tails. This race is called the Rehdan and the chief is very suspicious of humans (Eurasians) and mentions that the islands are at the mercy of something called “The Great Vortex” which traps people on the series of three islands known as the Canaan.

What follows for the 12 or so hours of the game (Yes, I know, that’s very short for an RPG), is Adol runs back and forth through islands, helping villages and figuring out the mystery of the Great Vortex, while slaying monsters, encountering mysterious strangers and conspiracies and collecting a substance known as Emel which will power up the three mystical swords you can find, one controls wind, another fire, and the last lightning.

As you can imagine there’s not much substance for a game that last as long as it takes most RPG’s to get started. But what there is of a story is good and classic old school RPG styling. Adol doesn’t speak but instead has classic things like “…” or “!” or even the very classic “Character does not speak but there is instead a different color text indicating Adol has said or done something towards another character.” It’s great nostalgia, but it doesn’t really hold up compared to the lengthy and intricate plots that exist nowadays.

Probably the best part of the plot is the Humans and the Rehdans disliking each other for little things while all the time there is a third party involved pitting the two against each other.

Most of the game is in fact running back and forth like a Tomb Raider or Resident Evil game, which does make it impressive that EVERY villager on the islands have distinct personalities and background stories they are willing to share. But it’s filler and has no real importance to the actual game being played itself.

In all, what we have in Ys is a cliche story that really doesn’t stand out from any other games. It’s easily lost in the shuffle. It’s a nod to classic style storytelling from 8 and 16 bit games and brings any Ys fans from yesteryear back into the series and it makes you feel like the gap between English language games is nowhere as vast as it really is.

Story Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

Well, let us just say the plot isn’t the only thing leaving you feeling like this is an old school RPG, eh? ;-)

But seriously, the game is not that pretty. The CGI scenes are okay, but I’ve seen better on the PS2, and considering the PS2 is the weakest of the three consoles graphicswise right now, that’s saying something.

As well, the in game graphics could easily be done on a PS1 and in some cases I find myself feeling this should be a GBA game instead (and it is in fact being ported to the PSP so…) The monsters are undefined and rather bland. The human characters also look very generic and really lack any substance put behind their designs. The anime pictures that show up occasionally or in the manual are better than a lot of the characters and monsters that appear in the game.

That being said, there are two things that stand out. The first are the boss monsters. Very original and freaky. I enjoy seeing them and they look very nice. The second are the amazing backgrounds. Remember Legend of Mana for the PS1 and how amazing the backgrounds and scenery was is that game? Like a painting come to life! Far superior to all the CGI Square put into their more famous series of Final Fantasy, because Mana looked like actual honest to god amazing artwork. And that holds true here as well. I’m often amazed by the water, the forest, the mountains, and even looking down on a town from a tower. Just really amazing the level of effort put into this part of the game.

So we have some great backgrounds, and crappy looking characters and monsters. The important thing is that most of the game will be spent looking at the later and not the former. Because the scenery can’t KILL YOU.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

Now, this is by far the games strength, and in fact the thing Ys is best know more: simply amazing music you love to listen to and that fits the mood of the game perfectly. Now, I have heard that Konami redid the music for the US version of this game, but regardless the music in this game is amazing. I know there’s a cheat that lets you turn on the Japanese voices and even both US and Japanese PC version of the game, but there’s only the one set of tunes to slaughter fiendish beasties with that I found.

I love the music so much in this version of Ys. It’s not the best, but its some of the best music I’ve heard on an RPG in a long time. It’s frantic, catchy, and I catch myself humming some of the songs after I’ve turned off the game, and I rarely ever do that aside from a Pokemon or Zelda game. If there is a CD soundtrack for this game, I strongly recommend picking it up.

Then we have the voice acting. This entire game (Save Adol) is completely voice acted. Nice touch, especially for such a short game. Every character has a distinct voice, and that is both good and bad, as some characters grate on your ears like fingernails on a chalkboard while others have excellent voices that fit the personality of the character perfectly. Olha the Rehdan priestess sounds exactly like Ayeka from the Tenchi Muyo! Series. But it’s not. Still, her quiet meek voice was perfect for the character. And that is just one example of dozens I could give you from the game.

By far the reason to go out and rent this game for the weekend is to see what an excellent job this game has done in the sound and vocals category.

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Well, I’ll admit I haven’t sworn at a game like this in a long time. There are parts of this particular Ys that is like playing a platformer. And I hate Platformers. And the jumping in this game? Oy. My. God. It can be truly annoying. First of all, there are some times in the game when you push the direction key on your D pad (I learned early on to not use the analog stick and just stay on the D pad for moving. Trust me on this. It’s akin to using analog on a 2D style shooter. The difference in the controls is night and day.) where your guy will just walk forward and not jump. And don’t get me started on the dash slash/jump combo. The dash slash is hard enough to pull of as it is thanks to unresponsive controls in that regard, but to time it with a jump immediately after finally hitting it? Yeah, welcome to Frustration City, Population: You. Amazingly annoying. If I wanted to play a Crash Bandicoot style game, I’d have bought that and then immediately afterwards beaten the tar out of myself for having such lousy taste in video games.

But other than the annoyance that follows with jumping, the controls are pretty tight. But then, they’re also pretty simple and nothing actually taxes the controller or is confusing. You have a button for your sword that has three attacks: a three hit combo, a jumping up thrust or a jumping down thrust (which can get messed up again due to the weird responses this game has to jumping), a button for using items, one for jumping, and one for using magic when your meter is full. You can also use the shoulder buttons to switch from one sword to another.

One thing I do hate is there is no button for item management. You have to pause the game, which then takes about five seconds to load up to the management screen, move to what you want to equip, then hit start again and deal with another loading time. It gets frustrating, especially if you get poisoned a lot.

Oh, and I am deducting points for being one of those games where you can only save at certain spots in the game instead of being able to save anywhere. This has always served to irk me in regards to games, and this is no exception.

Really all you will be doing is using the D pad and pressing the Square button (attack) and occasionally using the other buttons on rare occasions. It’s pretty much the same as the SMS or TG-16 controls.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 6/10

5. Replayability

There are 4 difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Nightmare. The only difference is how long it takes you to beat the game due to enemies being able to take more damage and it requiring you to have more XP and Emel to level you and your weapon up respectively. That’s it.

You can play through and get a Time Attack mode, and there’s a cheat section you can access from the very beginning of the game if you want to and know some codes, but really there’s not much to the game. It’s still super linear, and everything will be exactly the same. There’s no point at all in playing Ys VI a second or third time, even if you enjoyed the game. Again, it’s very much akin to an 8 or 16 bit RPG. But it lacks that special spark a lot of those games have that make you want to play them again and again.

The length and lack of anything but a very short linear game is why I can’t recommend this game for anything but a rental. I mean, games like Contra from the age of 8 bits? That game is something you can do with 2 players. You can try with different weapons. You can do the thirty life code or see how good you are without it. But with Ys VI? Nothing. There’s no desire to want to pick it up again. Use your Gamefly membership and take this out for a weekend joyride, but that’s the most I can say for this.

Replyability Rating: 3/10

6. Balance

Well, let’s use this story as an example. I climbed up this mountain to get my second sword, the sword of flame after saying this half-breed kid. There I encountered a boss with 800 hit points. I fought bravely, knocking it down to 250 or so, but I was only doing 1-6 points of damage with each hit. And he was doing 40 or so. Yes, 1-6 points of damage. So you can imagine how freaking long this battle was. So after the third time of trying this I said “Screw it” and started from my last save point instead of the beginning of the boss encounter. I lost on 15 minutes or so of my game, and used all the Emel I found climbing up the mountain to power up my sword to level 6. Then I walked up the mountain AGAIN, gaining levels on the way, and this time when I met the boss, I was doing 36 points of damage a hit and slaughtered it in less than two minutes.

And this is a big problem with Ys. Often you will encounter an enemy you can barely hurt or not at all, and the only solution is to run away like a cowardly baby and kill wimpy enemies until you have powered up your sword and gotten more levels. Then the bosses become pathetic cakewalks. There’s only extremes here. And a lot of your dozen of hours playing will just be clearing a screen of enemies that give you lots of XP and Emel and then leaving, coming back, and killing them all again until you have enough to level up.

And this is very true of old school RPG’s in that there is no need for finesse or strategy. You’re just supposed to spend a lot of time cheesing your character out and then running roughshod over the bosses. And Ys takes that thinking to the extreme. It’s very disappointing to me, and helps to really lower the enjoyment and replay value of this game. I love challenges, but not insurmountable odds where I have to level up for 30 minutes before I can start to do even a point of damage to enemies that 2 levels later I will be killing in one hit.

Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality.

It’s the sixth Ys game. Familiar characters, very typical plots, same exact gameplay as they had back in the 80’s. There’s nothing really here to make the game stand out. A lot of the game is passe while the rest is cliche. I enjoyed the game for what it was, but it was a perfect example of why sometimes it’s a good thing we’ve progressed in the RPG genre. Some classics holds up like Phantasy Star I or Dragon Quest, but Ys? Maybe it is a good thing to leave this series in a positive nostalgic light for long time American gamers.

Originality Rating: 4/10

8. Addictiveness

Fun at first, but the magic quickly dissipates. It’s always fun when you go to a new dungeon or someplace in the game you haven’t been before, trying to think of new ways to kill the boss as the old ones didn’t work, or to see what happens next. But then one has to deal with the constant backtracking, the places you can go but shouldn’t because you can’t hurt the enemies at all and you only do 1 point of damage and so you play guess and check for a lot of the game, and so on until the game is done.

It’s fun but yet it’s not. It has a very Jekyll and Hyde mentality to it. I do urge you to try the game as it is a Ys afterall, but it’s just not something I can see anyone saying “I have to keep this game and play it over and over for the rest of my life!” No, I can only see people renting this, saying “Hmmm.” and then move on to something else.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

40$ for a 12 hour RPG? Not bloody likely to make too many people shell out the cash for that, eh? It’s short, sometimes frustrating, not very pretty to look at, and carries a name that most gamers today won’t recognize or care about. I can’t see Ys selling very well or those buying this game being very happy with their forty dollar purchase and trading it in or selling it on Ebay. Only those extremes.

Only someone saying “I want a quick action RPG that makes me feel nostalgic” will really walk away from Ark of Napishtim content. Everyone else will just walk away.

Appeal Factor: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

Okay, I’m sure I came off rather harsh towards this game in the last half of my review, but I did in fact enjoy it. I love the Ys games, and this was good. It just was short, overpriced and I had some issues with it. But Ys does capture a lot about what was good in regards to 8 and 16 bit era RPG’s. It just also happens to capture a lot of the bad as well.

There’s the aforementioned cheat mode and various levels of difficulty, but no extras on the game as well. Again, this is a game that should have been part of a Ys compilation. Konami would have made more money, it would have sold better and received a strong preorder sales, and done a lot more towards helping re-establish Ys as a classic series with strong name value in America. Instead, this is probably the last Ys game we will see brought to the states.

Miscellaneous: 5/10

The Ratings:

Story Rating: 6/10
Graphics Rating: 5/10
Sound Rating: 8/10
Control and Gameplay Rating: 6/10
Replyability Rating: 3/10
Balance Rating: 3/10
Originality Rating: 4/10
Addictiveness Rating: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10

Overall Score: 48/100

Short Attention Span Summary
A pretty darn good weekend rental, but I have to really strongly advise against shilling out money for this game in regards to owning it. It’s not worth the cost. When you see it in 6 months in the used or bargain bin section for 15-19 bucks, then maybe buy it, but that is a strong maybe. I was very excited for this game, and that’s what makes the disappointment all the stronger. Merely an average game that will be lost and forgotten very quickly. And more’s the shame for that. It means I’ll never get my Ys anthology I’ve been so hoping for.



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