Under Reconstruction: Ys V -Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I have something of an obsession with remakes. The only real problem I have is that most of the time, I feel like they’re being wasted. It’s the same with movies: most of the stuff getting remade is already perfectly fine. It just seems like a waste in many cases, in some cases, the remake even turns out worse than the original (Wander of the Dragons, anyone?). Isn’t the point of remakes to improve on the source material? Why remake a perfectly good game when there’s so much trash out there just begging for a second chance?

Welcome to the first entry in a new series: Under Reconstruction. Similar to some of the other series I’ve written on here, this is going to be a proposal series, taking a look at weak games in various franchises (with at least a cult following) and determine the best way to rehabilitate them into something worthy of their respective series. …or at least cut down on how terrible it is.

Today’s topic is the fifth game in the Ys franchise: Ushinawareta Suna no Miyako Kefin for the Super Famicom. This topic hits me a little more personally than usual, as I spent the better part of this year doing a marathon run-through of 5 games in the series, concluding with Ys V. Now Ys V wasn’t the only clunker I played through: the SFC version of Ys IV (Mask of the Sun) was also fairly mediocre, but it has two competent companion titles (The Dawn of Ys on PC-Engine CD and Memories of Celceta on PlayStation Vita) to pick up the slack. Ys V only has a remake on the PS2 handled by Taito, one that fixes some of the original game’s issues, while creating entirely new ones in the process.

Ys V is generally considered the black sheep of the Ys franchise, but apparently originally that title was held by the third game in the series. Wanderers from Ys was a deviation from the traditional top-down perspective commonly associated with the early Ys games, opting for a side-scrolling system that led to some unfavorable comparisons to Zelda II. However, this all changed when the game was remade as The Oath in Felghana, generally considered one of the best games in the entire franchise. There’s also been something of a pattern in the Ys series’ releases as of late: Ys Seven was followed by the aforementioned Memories of Celceta, which was a reimagining of Ys IV. When the eighth game in the Ys franchise (recently reconfirmed by Falcom, to my relief) was first announced, fans of the series began to speculate that a similar remake or reimagining for Ys V would be on the horizon.

Gameplay

Ys V was a significant departure from earlier games in the franchise. What separated Ys from most action-RPGs of its era was its combat system: instead of using a button to attack, the player would simply bump into enemies off-center to deal damage to the enemies. Bumping dead center would either lead to traded hits or just damage to the player, depending on which game you were playing. However, both original versions of Ys IV revealed some significant shortcomings with the Ys series’ trademark. In Mask of the Sun on the Super Famicom, poor collision detection, stiff movement and precise hitboxes forced all but the most skilled players to grind in order to compensate for the game’s shortcomings. The PC-Engine CD’s Dawn of Ys, on the other hand, veered in the opposite direction. The addition of diagonal movement broke the traditional engine wide open, making killing enemies far easier than in previous games.

In order to compensate for this, Ys V elected to use a more traditional attack system. Unfortunately, this did not come without issues. Compared to the earlier top-down games in the series, combat felt sluggish, especially during boss fights. This was only compounded by the addition of a jump button, which was awkward as it sent Adol forward a set distance every time. This came into play with some awkward isometric platforming (not unlike that of Super Mario RPG) and worse yet, boss fights that required you to jump and slash to land hits, leaving little to no time to dodge. Even more bafflingly was the decision to give different swords completely different attack styles. Some swords slashed, allowing for a wider range, while others did more of a poke, which allowed for better range, but only facing forward. Regardless, it’s somewhat jarring to totally have to switch up your tactics simply based around what weapon you’re using…and since Ys V generally follows the same item progression as other games in the series, it’s pretty much unavoidable.

For as bad as Ys V was, it definitely had a net positive impact on the series overall. The following game in the franchise (Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim) refined on the gameplay mechanics introduced in Ys V and would eventually lead to the release of two games that are generally considered among the best of the entire franchise: the aforementioned Oath in Felghana and Ys Origin. So while Ys V was filled with its own hiccups, it was an experiment that would eventually bear fruit and help perpetuate the Ys series until they eventually made the jump to 3D on the PSP.

Having said that, I’d probably use either Oath in Felghana or Origin as a base when it comes to developing this new game’s gameplay, just as an homage to the fact that this game was the progenitor of those games. There’s also the fact that the system used in Ys Seven, Memories of Celceta and apparently the upcoming Lacrimosa of Dana are all party-based: Ys V really lacks an assortment of characters that are battle-ready and I’d rather not shoehorn in a bunch of OCs to compensate for that. It would also be a nice change of pace for fans of the earlier games in the series.

Aside from that, most of my advice for the game’s base gameplay mechanics are pretty simple: “make it better” isn’t a constructive suggestion after all. First and foremost, ditch the separation between experience for physical attacks and magic: all that really did was provide me with less incentive to use magic (more on that later). To pay tribute to the original Ys V, I’d like to see two separate physical attack buttons to reference the “slash” and “poke” methods of attack I mentioned earlier: balanced so that slash is faster and provides more peripheral range, while poke deals more damage and has further reach. Finally, I’d fix the jumping mechanics. It looks like later games fixed that issue, but I figured that it was still worth mentioning regardless.

Magic

Now onto the weakest part of the original’s gameplay: the magic system. The magic system in the older games in the series was simple: equip some kind of relic (wand, ring, whatever) and you’d either get access the magic’s effect at the cost of some magic points. Simple stuff. Not so with Kefin: things became a lot more complicated. Basically, you have various elements of 6 types which are hidden throughout the game’s setting. You take these elements you find to various alchemists, who are able to craft items known as “Fluxstones” from specific combinations of three elements. Each Fluxstone can be equipped to any weapon (all 5 of them) and used at a cost of specific MP. Did I mention that you also have to charge the spells by holding one of the shoulder buttons before you can actually use them? Needless to say, the magic system in this game was a mess.

I’d say I could have come up with a better magic system in my sleep, but that would only be half-true: I just sort of outlined this one as I was drifting off to sleep one night. First things first, ditch the fluxstones. Crafting specific spells permanently without the knowledge of what they can do is stupid, period. Instead, we limit the number of elements found in the game themselves, 18 elements – 6 of each type found in the original game: fire, water, earth, wind, light and dark. Likewise, each weapon would have a set number of element slots, ranging from 1 to 3 depending on the strength of the weapon. As such, magic would be limited to a single button with the charge times dropped, much like the earlier games in the franchise.

As for the magic attacks themselves, they’d be pretty simple with three levels of attacks based on how many elements are equipped to Adol’s weapon at a time. Level 1 [a single element] would provide an “elemental slash” attack that would use a minimal amount of MP. Fire, Water, Wind and Earth would each act according to a “rock, paper, scissors” style of buffed damage on elemental enemies of specific types, while using an element on an enemy of the same type would heal it (like in the original Ys V). Likewise, dark and light would have their own system, where opposing types do double damage and same types only do half damage.

Level 2 [2 elements of the same type] would cast an elemental projectile, like the fireball from the old Ys games, and cost a moderate amount of MP. For example:

  • Fire casts the aforementioned fireball from earlier games, possibly with an added “burn” mechanic to slowly drain health from the enemies it hits
  • Water casts the ice ball (from Dawn of Ys), freezing enemies on impact
  • Earth could generate a seismic wave, which would deal massive damage on grounded enemies, but have no effect on flying enemies
  • Wind could cause a short-range projectile attack
  • Light could cause a weak homing attack that tracks the closest enemy
  • Dark could cause a chain lightning attack that could hit multiple enemies in proximity, but have the lowest range

Finally, Level 3 [all 3 elements of the same type] would cast a “magic attack”, either causing a powerful long-range attack or grant Adol some kind of special effect at a high MP cost. Here are the examples I came up with:

  • Fire – lava geyser
  • Water – tidal wave
  • Earth – earthquake
  • Wind – tornadoes
  • Light – a temporary boost for Adol’s attack and defense stats until his MP depletes
  • Dark – Adol would be invulnerable until his MP depletes (Shield Magic from Ys II and The Dawn of Ys)

Adol would also be able to combine different elements to create hybrid versions of the Level 1 and 2 attacks. Having all different elements would create a hybrid slash, which could cover the weaknesses of individual elements. Having 2 of one type of element and a third would create a hybrid projectile – one with the main traits of the dominant elemental projectile, but some added bonuses from the additional element: for example, water + water + light would create a homing ice ball and dark + dark + fire would add burn damage to the chain lightning attack.

Story

Conversely, Ys V’s story wasn’t particularly bad. At worst, I’d probably describe it as sparse. To the extent where by the end of the game, the storyline finally kicked into high gear and I started enjoying it, but by that point it was too late. There’s no simple answer that will automatically fix the story’s issues from the original, but I do have a few suggestions. For those of you who haven’t guessed it, this section is going to be filled with spoilers – so if you haven’t play Kefin and still intend to, stop reading now.

First off, I’d expand on the following characters:  Dorman, Rizze, her lieutenants (Karion, Baruk and especially Abyss [who didn’t even get a boss fight]) and the Ibur Gang (especially Terra, considering she ends up showing up in the sequel). Jabir should also be established earlier on in the game, he felt tacked on in the final product, pretty much literally appearing out of nowhere. Even if you just keep his identity secret and allow him to do monologues off-screen, that would be better than what he got in the Super Famicom version. Speaking of the Super Famicom version, keep Stoker and Foresta in the game. They were interesting and I still don’t understand why they were omitted from the PS2 version.

Next up, and this is crucial: bring in Dogi. Dogi is pretty much a key element in any Ys game that stars my favorite red-haired swordsman and Kefin was definitely poorer for having lost Dogi. In fact, Dogi was originally intended to be in Ys V, but was omitted due to time constraints. He actually ended up appearing in the PS2 remake. This would also have the added benefit of expanding on Effie’s character, as she was originally intended to be Dogi’s love interest in the game. When Dogi was dropped, Effie’s role was significantly downplayed – scaled back to simply saving Adol from his latest shipwreck and nursing him back to health.

This one also falls under gameplay, but it really applies to both: I’d keep the elements that Adol can equip to his sword separate from the elemental crystals used to revive Kefin. On that note, I’d also give each individual element its own purpose: the first element would be hidden in a specific chest in its corresponding dungeon and act as a boss key (boss doors would only be able to be opened by an elemental slash corresponding to the dungeon’s element) and the second would be a reward for beating the dungeon boss (along with the crystal). The third, however, would be a good excuse to expand on Kefin itself though. At one point in the game, Adol literally just has to hit various switches to move onto the next area. Instead, I’d purpose an additional 6 dungeons in Kefin with the expressed purpose of giving Adol complete mastery (the third element) of each element in order to continue on with his quest. It would have the added benefit of adding to Kefin’s importance in the overall storyline. On that note, I’d also expand on the final dungeon of the game, maybe hide all of the Isios items in there as opposed to just having them by the switches.

Regarding the villains, I’d like to see some specific changes made. First off, I’d like to see some expansion on Dorman, specifically regarding his motivations. Originally, Dorman was conceived as a descendant of royalty from one of Kefin’s rival kingdoms, destroyed during Kefin’s prime. I’m not exactly fond of that origin, so I don’t mind that it was discarded. Still, explaining his reasons would be a nice expansion on them. By that note, I’d like some changes to be made to the final boss. I’d like to see Jabir demoted to penultimate boss and the final boss position taken up by Rizze herself. Considering she was the main villain during the second half of the game and got hijacked by Jabir at the last second, she deserves it. Even if we end up with the clichéd “I was of the Kefin Royal Family. But now I’m even more, I’m a goddess!” shtick, it’s better than Jabir appearing literally out of nowhere and Rizze basically just being useless at the end.

The last thing I’d like to add is somewhat selfish, but I feel like it’s necessary given its omission from the original version. I’d like to hear some more mentions of the older Ys games, especially IV. The lack of references to earlier games just felt a bit odd. Maybe it could be explained by the new locale, but hell, even The Dawn of Ys threw in a reference to Wanderers from Ys and that technically took place AFTER Ys IV. Hell, what would be really cool would be if there were references to all four versions of Ys IV as rumors surrounding the mysterious red-haired swordsman.

Setting

At first, I was going to say something about how lazy the name “Afroca” for the Ys universe’s counterpart to Africa was. Then I found out that the continent where the earlier games in the Ys series took place was called “Eresia”. Three guesses what continent that was supposed to represent. Needless to say, I dropped my objection. On the other hand, it is the setting of Ys V itself I’d like to see somewhat modified, to see it draw more inspiration from its real-world counterpart, as opposed to just being “generic Squaresoft RPG land”. Keep Xandria as-is, perhaps change it into a Eresian colony and port town. Likewise, I’d keep the town of Felte as-is, I liked its Middle Eastern motif. Kokiriko Village and the Zeibe Ruins took on something of a Mesoamerican design with its pyramids, I’d prefer it to take on more of an Egyptian or Nubian look.

Graphics

Unlike most of my articles, I actually have a particular graphical style in mind for a remake of Ys V. 3D graphics seem more likely than 2D, especially since that’s the direction Falcom has been heading these days, but in this case, I’d prefer a more old-school “super deformed” for the characters, much like the Ys games of old. The Super Famicom version of the game went for a slightly more realistic character design, which I feel was a disservice to the game itself. Ideally they’d go for a 2.5D look like some of their earlier games: mixing 3D worlds with 2D character sprites, but in this case, I’d be more than open to a full 3D recreation of the games of old. I’ve seen it work with such games as A Link Between Worlds and Bravely Default, so imagining it for a Kefin remake seems perfectly valid in my eyes.

Music

I’ve heard some people say that Ys V had one of the weakest soundtracks in the franchise. I’m inclined to agree. That’s not to say it’s a horrible soundtrack by any means, just that compared to the other games in the franchise, it’s not particularly memorable. Having said that, I’d keep the majority of the soundtrack for a remake. Some of my personal favorites include Field of Gale, Thieves of Brotherhood, Break Into Territory, Crimson Ruins, Bad Species, Wilderness and Turning Death Spiral. In fact, if I really had any major issue with the music itself, it would be that the instrumentation leaves the music sounding like a generic SNES RPG, with a soundfont torn straight out of a Squaresoft game. The solution to this is pretty simple: let Falcom’s in-house JDK Sound Team take a crack at rearranging some of the original soundtrack and add in some new tunes as well.

Wow, this ended up a lot longer than I would have ever expected. This whole concept just sort of emerged from my utter frustration with playing Ys V and originally manifested as a small checklist of things to look out for if Falcom were ever to do a remake. I probably won’t end up with anything quite this long in any future entries of Under Reconstruction. What did you think of the article? Do you agree that Ys V should be remade or do you think that the Super Famicom and PS2 versions are good enough? Do you disagree with any of the changes I made? Feel free to sound off in the comments section, I’d love to hear some feedback.

 

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2 thoughts on “Under Reconstruction: Ys V -Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: Ys – Part I | Retronaissance: The Blog!

  2. Pingback: Under Reconstruction – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest | Retronaissance: The Blog!

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