A Wishlist Named GOG

On the one hand, giving up on the PC ports articles helped me out with regards to the quality of my writing, at least in terms of the topics I’d cover. After all, they were effectively vanity pieces, where I would essentially just lay out a list of ten games I’d love to see ported to my current platform of choice, particularly via Valve’s Steam platform. Back in the early days, this was a much more viable endeavor: many companies (particularly those of Japanese origin) had just began looking at PC ports as a potential revenue stream and I simply wanted to make my voice heard, even against the backdrop of a little-known blog, echoing from the most obscure corner of the vast internet. Since then, I’ve gotten a significant dividend on my investments and at this point, it seems like more companies have adopted the PC as a secondary platform for Western releases, superseding the current incarnation of the Xbox, with many smaller Japanese companies considering the PC market as a viable place to invest in general. As such, I decided to focus my interests elsewhere – honestly, those lists about ports of PC-exclusive games to consoles have been fun to write – but at the same time, it feels empty. After all, what’s in it for me? I’ve been itching to write another list and despite the fact that I’ve decided to revive the original concept for one more go this holiday season, I wanted to do something a little different first.

Before we dive into this new list, I’ve clearly got some updates to right, on the acquisitions the PC platform has made since that last list back in April. Truth be told, this was one of the determining factors that all but assured that this list would become a reality: if I’d waited until December to write up on everything else, I probably could’ve written an entire article on all the new PC ports we’ve seen announced and released alone. First off, the first Bayonetta was ported to PC as expected, but it was soon followed by a second Sega/Platinum project, the oft-requested Vanquish. Both have been given an even further coat of paint from their original HD releases and as such, now the PC versions are generally considered the definitive releases. de Blob 2 has joined its predecessor on Steam, skipping out on console versions at this point for some strange reason. Glad to see both games have been re-released on PC – I always felt that they were a bit of a longshot – and I hope this means that THQ Nordic has plans to revive the series down the line as well. Then there were games I’d wanted that didn’t even get the chance to be put on this year’s upcoming list: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was confirmed for release tomorrow on Steam, GOG and Humble Store via XSEED, who confirmed that the second game in the trilogy would also be receiving a PC port later this year and is now apparently taking PC development far more seriously (more on that later); Natsume released their first PC game in the form of Wild Guns Reloaded last month; SNK finally granted my wish and released The King of Fighters XIV on PC, with the port being handled by Abstraction Games, the very company that handled Double Dragon Neon, my first successful request; and Raiden V: Director’s Cut, an enhanced release of the former Xbox One exclusive was announced for both PS4 and PC. Speaking of which, last year, I wrote up a top 10 list of the games that I’d mentioned in previous lists that I most wanted to see become a reality. I’m happy to say that not only did two of those entries become a reality, but they were my top 2 choices overall. MegaMan 9 and 10 are coming to PC (as well as PS4 and XBO) via the upcoming MegaMan Legacy Collection 2, with all of their DLC included. As an added bonus, MegaMans 7 & 8 will also be included: truth be told, I’d have paid the $20 asking price for MM9 and MM10 with their bonus content alone; including MM8 was just gravy. Even more amazing was the news from last month that Ys Seven would be coming to PC in the West, via a brand-new port commissioned by XSEED themselves. Coming to us with an improved translation, 60FPS gameplay and enhanced graphics, it’s looking to be the definitive version of the Ys franchise’s first fully-3D adventure. Better still, this means that now, none of my lists are complete failures: at least one game from every list I’ve written up has had at least one PC port listed made, so I’m absolutely ecstatic about it. What this means for Memories of Celceta, now the only modern game in the series missing from PC, I don’t know, but I’m going to keep my fingers crossed, especially in light of the information that Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo went on record saying that he wants “all of their games on Steam“. Of course, with my top two games on that cumulative list acquired, that may just mean I’ll have to write up a new one in December.

So with that gargantuan list of victories, let’s get to the topic at hand – what is the list going to be about this time around? Quite simply, I’m going to turn the entire concept on its head: instead of asking for games that are exclusive to consoles to receive brand-new ports, why not ask for some old PC games (ports or otherwise) to be re-released so that modern generations can enjoy them? If the title didn’t give it away, this wishlist is dedicated to the fine people over at GOG. Formerly known as “Good Old Games”, G-O-G – or “Gog” as I prefer to pronounce it, simply because it sounds like a caveman’s name. Since they generally deal in older PC games, it just seems fitting to me – is perhaps the second-most popular digital platform when it comes to PC games, and that’s probably due to their unorthodox strategies. If their original name didn’t make it obvious, GOG focuses mostly on providing digital re-releases of old games that are long since out of print. That is to say, the majority of their “new releases” are a bit of a misnomer.

I personally believe that GOG’s popularity is because it bucked the trend that many digital storefronts embraced: attempting to create a “Steam-killer”, seemingly going after an entirely different niche audience of PC gamers – a solid concept given their focus on “good, old games”. Of course, perhaps the most prominent way they’ve separated themselves from Valve’s nigh-monopoly is with their strict policy against DRM software. That essentially makes GOG one of the few digital storefronts where you can literally buy PC games. While that’s had the unfortunate consequence of making them the perfect source for PC game piracy, it’s still something that has earned them quite a few companies’ respect, not to mention a dedicated fanbase, especially among anti-DRM advocates. Likewise, while GOG traditionally works off their website, they’ve also built their own Steam-like client, GOG Galaxy, which allows for various quality of life features Steam is acclaimed for, such as in-game achievements, automatic updates and even online cross-platform play with Steam users.

GOG is the class valedictorian to Steam’s starting quarterback with really rich parents. Valve’s massive war chest has allowed them to become everyone’s favorite PC gaming service, effectively becoming the last man standing after the all-out war against the now-defunct Games for Windows Live. GOG’s focus and policies make them a far less popular choice for the majority of developers and especially publishers, but in return, they provide their customers with far better service. Perhaps the best illustration of this is by comparing the two stores’ refund policies: while Steam offers a strange 2 weeks owned/2 hours played policy, GOG offers a 30-day refund policy, no questions asked. Of course, many times when GOG goes out of their way to secure the re-release of an oft-requested title, it’ll often just show up Steam later on, usually after a particularly anemic exclusivity period. Seems a bit thankless to me, but I guess I understand it.

Perhaps my favorite thing about GOG would be their community wishlists. In my opinion, these are the ultimate proof of their dedication to provide their customers with the best possible service. GOG has wishlists for new features on the website, new features on their Galaxy client, new movies (yes, GOG offers digital video downloads as well), but the longest-running and my personal favorite would have to be their wishlist for new PC games. While there are quite a few cases of people completely missing the point of the service, I’ve upvoted quite a few of these and quite a few of these games have ended up emerging on the service. In fact, GOG’s community wishlist is what inspired this wishlist in the first place, both the concept and some of the entries on here. I’ll include links to those with entries on the community wishlist, in an effort to get them some support and, perhaps, one day, some of these games will find their way onto the service.

The rules are going to be a bit different this time around, just to make my life a bit easier. Chances are this will end up being a one-shot, so I’m not particularly worried with the changes. I’ll be keeping the concept of consolidating multiple games in a single series into one entry, simply to both save space and get as many games in as possible. As these are all existing PC games, there’s no point in separating series by platform, so it’s pretty much a free-for-all in that regard. I’m bumping the company limitations from 1 to 2 entries this time around, simply because there just aren’t as many companies with games I’d want. Likewise, much like previous “special” lists, I’ll be including an additional write-up, this time focusing on my thoughts on the likelihood of these games being released on GOG in the future. That seems like it might be good for a laugh.

The House of the Dead/The Typing of the Dead – Sega

I’m sure I’ve mentioned on several occasions that when I was young, my main outlets for gaming were the Game Gear, my ill-fated Nomads (never give a child with a temper a fragile, yet expensive handheld) and of course, the family computer. Sega was a constant presence on all three platforms. I was always a fan of the “Sega PC” line of games: it blew my mind to see Sonic 3 & Knuckles on my friend’s computer and I was equally blown away by the mere existence of Sonic CD. But there were many more games in there, and as time went on, Sega’s offerings improved. The Sega PC lineup was particularly strong during the Saturn days. Given the fact that the source code is long gone, I think Sega re-releasing the original House of the Dead’s PC port would be a good way to honor the franchise, especially given the fact that every other game in the franchise has been re-released in some form. Likewise, I’d love to see a re-release of the original Typing of the Dead, given how much I’m loving Overkill. Unfortunately, since The Typing of the Dead 2 was Japan-exclusive, I’m far less optimistic about that one seeing a re-release on GOG, unless Sega decides to include a translation.

Odds: Well, Sega has yet to release any games on the GOG platform, so that makes things kind of dicey. Still, given Sega of Europe’s recent shift towards PC ports and original development, I think there may be a chance that we could see some of these games pop up in the future with enough fan demand. (5/10)

Panzer Dragoon – Sega

It almost pains me to include this one, simply because there was another game I wanted from the Sega PC line-up. Alas, that game ended up below, in the honorable mentions, simply due to the importance of this game. Generally considered one of the best games for the Sega Saturn, not to mention one of the best games developed by Sega period, Panzer Dragoon only saw release on the Saturn, on the Japan-exclusive Sega Ages line and as a bonus feature in the Xbox’s Panzer Dragoon Orta. The Xbox version utilized the PC port as its basis – a not-at-all uncommon move for Sega with regards to many titles from around that era – which should speak to its quality. As such, I had to put my nostalgia aside and give Panzer Dragoon the nod: besides, I never really got to play it and I’ve been interested in the game for quite some time now.

Odds: I’d almost say that it’s on par with the HotD games, but honestly, given the sheer zealotry of Panzer Dragoon’s small but dedicated fanbase, I’d say that if any Sega PC game makes it onto GOG, it’s got to be Panzer Dragoon – though, hopefully, Sega doesn’t decide to stop at just one. (6/10)

Metal Gear Solid: Integral/Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance – Konami

I guess it just sort of proves how dumb of a kid I was: I had no idea that either of these games had even received PC ports. Of course, given Konami’s history with the MSX, I guess it kind of makes sense. From what I can tell, both ports were fairly well done, and there were even mods that upscaled all of the textures and graphics to allow for HD gameplay, effectively giving the PC versions an edge over any other version. There was a rumor for quite some time that Konami was planning to port the MGS HD Collection to Steam, but frankly, I think I’d rather just see these ports of the first two games re-released instead.

Odds: Like Sega, Konami has absolutely no presence on GOG at the moment. To make matters worse, they’ve earned themselves a fairly poor reputation among gamers in recent years, both through many of their releases but mostly due to some of their managerial shenanigans. Unless Konami decides they want to win back gamers, I wouldn’t hold my breath. (2/10)

MegaMan Legends/MegaMan X3, X4, X5 & X8 – Capcom

The funny thing about MegaMan Legends is that, for quite some time, the only version you could buy new was the PC version. It was sold for quite some time on GameStop’s digital service, then just randomly vanished into the ether. I’m not sure if Capcom ordered them to take it down or if the game just stopped being compatible with current versions of Windows. Whatever the reason, it just disappeared. Considering the fact that Capcom was able to license a re-release of all three games as PS1 Classics, I’d kind of hope that they would be willing to swing a similar re-release of the PC version on GOG.

I also decided to include all of the MegaMan X games that came out in English-speaking regions, with the exception of the piss-poor port of the first game, handled by the folks at Rozner Labs. From what I can tell, all the ports I’ve mentioned are on par with their counterparts on PlayStation consoles (that includes X3), which is honestly fine by me. There were also ports of X6 and X7 (as well as Legends 2), but these were strictly made for the Asian market, and therefore, wouldn’t be available in English. From what I’ve heard, the port of Legends 2 was of poor quality anyway – and given how little I think of X6 in the first place, I’d be fine with just ignoring them. X8 was released exclusively in both Japan and Europe, so it gets a pass.

Odds: Well, for starters, Capcom has already released a couple games on GOG, namely the recent PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, but more importantly, their Windows PC port of Street Fighter Alpha 2. This effectively makes them the first company I’ve mention that’s clearly aware of GOG’s existence. Having said that, I’d have to give Legends and the X games two separate scores here. While it’s unlikely that Capcom’s planning any major re-releases of the Legends games, it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a MMX-themed Legacy Collection down the line. While a release along those lines would technically bring those games back to the PC, it would still be cool to see those old ports re-released on GOG, if only for curiosity’s sake. (Legends: 5/10; X Games: 3/10)

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo – Capcom

This may seem a bit redundant to many of you: after all, I included the HD version of Puzzle Fighter in one of my earlier wishlists. However, I think both versions offer me something different. While the HD version includes online play and the additional two modes that originated in the Dreamcast version, the existing PC port was based on the PS1 release, which means that it has one thing going for it that the HD version couldn’t possibly compete with: nostalgia. SPF2T was one of the earliest games I owned on the PS1, and it included both the original and arranged soundtracks, as well as Street Puzzle Mode. Street Puzzle Mode was among one of the first video game challenges that I found difficult, but managed to overcome after hours of practice and it left me feeling satisfied. Quite simply, Street Puzzle Mode taught me the joys of “gitting gud” at video games, and I can’t stop thanking it for that. While most people would probably just prefer the HD version to get a re-release, I’d personally love to see both: HD on Steam and the original port on GOG.

Odds: Honestly, it’s hard to say. On the one hand, re-releasing the old port would probably be easier than porting the newer version to PC. But given the fact that current platforms in general also lack Puzzle Fighter HD, it’s entirely possible that Capcom would just do it in an effort to keep bringing older games forward to the current generation of platforms. Like I said, I’d like to see both re-released, but something tells me Capcom wouldn’t be onboard with that. (4/10)

Jazz Jackrabbit series – Epic Megagames

It’s actually really surprising how many great platformers there were on PC back in the good ol’ days. I mainly remember Commander Keen and Duke Nukem, but they weren’t the only ones. Perhaps the most popular was Jazz Jackrabbit, who I mainly remember because I kept confusing him with Bucky O’Hare for reasons that…I’m honestly sure I don’t need to state. I never ended up playing the Jazz Jackrabbit games, but when I was young, I absolutely wanted to play them, and considering all of the good things I’ve heard about them, that interest definitely lives on.

Odds: Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a legal caveat here. Jazz Jackrabbit is co-owned by Epic Games and the series’ original creator, Cliff “Cliffy B” Bleszinski. Cliffy B departed from Epic awhile back and is currently puttering around on his own, and I’m not sure if the break-up was amicable enough to allow Jazz Jackrabbit re-releases to be licensed by anyone, let alone GOG. I hope I’m wrong on this one, but the odds don’t look too good. (1/10)

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos/Croc 2 – Fox Interactive (Jeremy “Jez” San?)

I didn’t exactly adjust all that well when platformers made the shift from 2D to 3D. To this day, I’m still not fond of Super Mario 64, which is generally heralded as one of the greatest platformers of all time. I preferred games like the original Crash Bandicoot and Fox Interactive’s Croc. Croc has recently seen something of a resurgence in popularity lately, due to the alleged effect the game had on the development of Super Mario 64, and by extension, the 3D platforming genre. Even before I knew about any of that, I was just fine playing the game on PS1. Seeing the game revived would be a nice little treat in my opinion.

Odds: Another tricky one for rights issues, but for totally different reasons. With Argonaut – the game’s developer – shuttered and Fox Interactive having been closed down, it’s hard to pin down exactly who owns the rights to the Croc franchise. I’ve heard rumors that the whole shebang belongs to Argonaut founder Jeremy “Jez” San, and therefore any re-releases or new iterations of Croc may have to go directly through him, but considering the fact that he doesn’t seem to be quite as hands-on within the video game industry these days, that may make this pretty much impossible. (1/10)

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain – Eidos (Square Enix)

I’ll be honest, in recent years, I’ve found myself interested in the Legacy of Kain series from …well, I guess at this point, it would be Square Enix Europe, wouldn’t it? But I’m a stickler for these kinds of things: especially when delving into series that are “newer” – namely, those that started well after I’d gotten into video games – I generally like to start at the very beginning and work my way forward. The original Blood Omen is the one game from the LoK series that hasn’t seen re-release on PCs, though the PlayStation version is available as a Classic on the PS3. I don’t know why, but I always find incomplete collections to be troubling and re-releasing the first game would be the perfect excuse for me to try getting into it.

Odds: Much like the previous two games, there are apparently some legal issues at hand here. I find this particularly baffling, considering that, as I mentioned earlier, the PS version is still currently available on both the PS3 and PSP. Apparently, Activision and Silicon Knights ported the game to PC, which is likely the source of the hang-up. The game’s been made available on Abandonia, an online repository for games that are considered “Abandonware” and has apparently seen no legal action from either Activision or Square Enix. Either way, the chances of an official re-release seem quite poor at this point. (1/10)

Mortal Kombat Trilogy/Mortal Kombat 4 – Midway (WB Games)

Growing up as a kid, I was in a tough spot: I was absolutely obsessed with fighting games, but generally limited to PC as my main outlet for gaming. Man, if only little Icepick could see the literal deluge of big-name fighting games available on PC nowadays! My main outlets for 2D fighters in my early years were the god-awful port of Street Fighter II, handled by the abomination known as Hi-Tech Expressions (even writing their name sends chills down my spine!) and the first 3 Mortal Kombat games. Sure, later on, I’d become enamored with the PC version of X-Men: Children of the Atom, but that’s a story for another time. Now, the Mortal Kombat ports were actually very well made, pretty much as good as their source material, and I loved these games growing up. Fortunately, GOG already has these games available on their service. What I didn’t know is that these weren’t the only MK PC ports made during this era. No, despite my beliefs that the series took a hiatus between 3 and the 2011 reboot, two more games actually made their way to Windows PC. While Trilogy and 4 weren’t the best games in the franchise – Trilogy was the true forerunner to MUGEN and MK4 was just another in a long line of games that were tarnished by the fifth generation’s obsession with 3D – I’ve got enough nostalgia attached to the previous games in the franchise to want to see just how well or poorly these games translated to the PC.

Odds: Like I said, WB Games already put the first 3 PC ports on GOG, they own the rights to the series and I’ve seen footage of both ports running on modern hardware. I think the only thing keeping these games off GOG is their relative lack of popularity compared to earlier games in the series. Seems pointless to keep them off otherwise. (7/10)

Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits – Midway (WB Games)

I’m actually kind of ashamed that I had to make the wishlist entry for this one myself, but it is what it is. The Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits Collection on PC was one of my earliest introductions to retro video games, particularly those made before or around the time of my birth. Truth be told, I absolutely loved every game in this collection, even if I wasn’t particularly good at any of them. The first two Defenders, Joust, Robotron 2084, Bubbles and Sinistar – all great stuff. Since PC missed out on WB’s most recent slew of Midway/Williams Arcade re-releases, this would be the next best thing.

Odds: Well, if Midway Arcade Origins gives us anything to go by, it’s that WB Games owns the rights to all six of the games present in this collection, so clearly there are no legal issues. This may just be another case of WB not knowing what they’re sitting on. (7/10)

Honorable Mentions

Virtua Fighter PC/Virtua Fighter 2:  I actually had Virtua Fighter PC when I was a kid and that’s what made it so hard to leave it off the main list. I had no idea that its sequel also received a PC port, but considering the fact that I’d almost certainly prefer to see the version from Sega’s Model 2 Collection hit PC instead, I almost considered leaving it off. Still, it’s better to have options in general, so I figured why not?

Jill of the Jungle: This game actually almost made the list, but considering my lack of nostalgic love for the game and what I’ve seen of the gameplay, I decided to push it down to the honorable mentions instead. Still, it’s an important game when looking back at platforming games on the PC, so it deserves to be preserved in some form and enjoyed by modern audiences.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo: I really wish that I had known about this port when I was a kid: if only that SF2 port had been half this good, I would’ve been happy. By no means arcade-perfect, the game is still impressive in just how much they got right. Supplemented with an amazing arranged soundtrack, courtesy of Redbook audio, Gametek’s port of SSF2T should have gotten way more love than it got. I’ve seen its demo floating around on the Wayback Machine’s PC game archive, but I’d love to own the real deal – even just a digital copy.

Having the past of PC gaming available in the modern day is great. It shows you just how far PC gaming has come and what we’ve lost along the way. While I doubt I’ll have enough material to do a follow-up list for GOG in the future, I’m still happy I decided to write up this list. While I’ve got my clear favorites on this list, I’d love to see any of these hit the service in the near future. I’m not particularly optimistic about most of these games seeing re-release, but who knows, maybe by the time I write the next list, this one too will have borne fruit. I just wouldn’t expect any future lists on other services – I wouldn’t have any idea where to begin with Battle.Net, let alone Origin.

Retrospective: Ys – Part I

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Growing up, RPGs were never really my thing. Sure, there were the occasional games I liked – the Lunar games on PS1 and Evolution on Dreamcast come to mind – but for the most part, the genre eluded me. That is, aside from one subgenre: the action RPG. Now being a child and, by extension, having a fairly low budget for video games meant that I had to choose my purchases wisely and quite frankly, I tended to prefer platformers, puzzle games like Tetris and especially fighting games. Fortunately, I did manage to cement my love for the genre via various demo discs, with my introduction to the franchise at the hands of such games as Brave Fencer Musashi and Threads of Fate – games, ironically enough, made by the main purveyor of RPGs I found bland: the company then known as Squaresoft.

Since then, I’ve been able to better explore the action-RPG genre and have found many of the titles of old to be enjoyable. One series stands above the rest in my eyes: Ys. Developed by the good people at Nihon Falcom – a Japanese development team that cut their teeth developing for various PC platforms – Ys stands out as one of the longest-running action-RPG series of all-time, effectively the subgenre’s equivalent to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Unfortunately, aside from a few early releases, the series never managed to gain a major foothold in the West until the days of the PSP, which saw the release of a whopping 4 titles in North America – most coming from the good folks at XSEED. Before that, it was mostly relegated to the perpetually third place TurboGrafx-16 system when it came to American releases, though the third game also saw releases on the Genesis and Super Nintendo outside of Japan. I can’t quite recall if this is wishful thinking or a repressed memory, but I somehow recall seeing the box art for the Genesis version of Wanderers from Ys up for rental at a mom-and-pop video store back during my childhood. I almost wish I could’ve gotten into the series sooner, but considering the lack of options I would have had for obtaining the games back then, it’s probably for the best that I waited.

Since I started playing the series, I’ve become something of a journeyman with regards to it. I’m by no means an expert on the series, but among my group of friends, I’m generally considered the best direct source of information. As of yet, I haven’t played the “full 3D” games in the series – specifically Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta – but aside from that, I’ve played at least some version of every other game in the series. Granted, in many cases, it wasn’t “the original” – I would generally aim for the “definitive versions”. So, considering that today is the 30th anniversary of the original release of Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished and with the North American release of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana coming later this year, it seems only fitting to discuss the series or at least as much of the series I’ve played thus far.

Compared to the previous two Retrospective articles I’ve written for Retronaissance, this Ys article will be handled slightly differently. In the earlier entries, I sorted the games by release date. This time, however, I will be sorting them in the order I played them. While this will lead to an effectively identical ordering throughout the majority of the article, I feel that this format will better serve to illustrate my thoughts on the franchise as a whole, with each consecutive game adding to my insight regarding the series as a whole.

Ys I & II Chronicles+

Ironically, the first Ys game I ever played was not the first one I purchased – it was a remake of the first one I ever owned. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: Steam sales are a hell of a drug. Admittedly, I bought the Ys games that were available on Steam at that point due to my interest in the series and because I felt like if I was going to play the games on any platform, it would be PC. What I’d heard of the soundtracks intrigued me, action-RPGs were always a passing interest of mine and the unique combat mechanics of the early games in the series piqued my interest enough to start me on the series, a whopping 2 years after I’d purchased the game on Steam. Looking back, I regret nothing.

Chronicles+ has a unique history behind it. In 1998, Falcom developed an enhanced remake of the original Ys for Windows computers, dubbed Ys Eternal. It was followed by a remake of the second game – fittingly dubbed Ys II Eternal – in 2000, which made even more improvements to its source material than the first release. The following year, Ys Eternal was further improved and bundled with the second as “Ys I & II Complete”. This release was ported to a few consoles by various developers: the PS2 saw Ys I & II Eternal Story from DigiCube; Interchannel ported both games separately to the Nintendo DS – and both of these ports would later be released in North America on a single cart by Atlus USA as Legacy of Ys: Books I & II and finally Falcom themselves would further enhance their original PC version on the PSP as Ys I & II Chronicles. Falcom would eventually port Chronicles back to the PC themselves, but this isn’t the version available in the West. Instead, XSEED – the company responsible for the most recent batch of Falcom releases in North America – went back to the original release of Complete and managed to rebuild Chronicles in its entirety with a host of further enhancements: hence “Chronicles+”. It’s kind of impressive when you consider this was done for a remake that, at best, was already over a decade old. Since then, Chronicles would be re-released on iOS and Android by DotEmu as two separate games.

Unlike later games in the franchise, Ys I & II are linked to the extent where it’s difficult to truly understand the story of the latter without the former. Ys introduces us to a young swordsman by the name of Adol Christin – dubbed “Adol the Red” due to his crimson hair – as he ventures to the small island nation of Esteria. Hearing rumors of the fabled lost Kingdom of Ys – which once existed alongside Esteria according to legend – Adol recklessly ventures there by boat, only to end up shipwrecked in the port town of Barbado. He eventually makes his way to the Town of Minea, where he finds the fortune teller Sara who shares what she knows of Ys: legend states that six books were left behind when Ys disappeared and the location of Ys will be revealed to the one who obtains every tome. Upon searching for the first book, Adol meets a mysterious young woman by the name of Feena, who was being held captive by the demons that have invaded the once-peaceful land of Esteria. After collecting the first three books of Ys, Adol soon learns that the remaining three are locked away in Darm Tower – a colossal fortress said to be built by demons that reaches far into the sky. What evils will Adol confront at the tower’s summit?

Ys II continues directly after the events of the first game. After collecting the six books of Ys, Adol is forcibly teleported to the mystical land of Ys – the continent now resides in the sky, floating effortlessly above the world below. Drained from both the arduous trials he faced in Darm Tower and the journey to Ys, Adol falls unconscious. He’s then rescued by Lilia, a young girl from nearby Lance Village, who helps to nurse him back to health. After recovering from his wounds and exhaustion, Adol continues his journey – after returning the six books of Ys to their resting place and conferring with the spirits of the priests that once ruled Ys in its infancy, he explores more of the mystical continent, including the labyrinthine Solomon Palace. Eventually, Adol discovers the true plan of the demons: they seek to revive their master Darm, an unimaginably powerful demon who caused such calamities that the people of Ys had no choice but to raise their great nation to the skies to escape his malice. Darm seeks to steal the powers of the twin goddesses of Ys to achieve world conquest and the destruction of humanity.

The gameplay in the original Ys is simple but unique. At first, it appears to be a standard top-down action RPG, not exactly uncommon for its time. There is, however, one simple difference: there’s no attack button. To attack enemies, Adol must ram into them – but there’s a caveat, he must attack from off-center. Attacking dead-on allows the demons to trade hits, which will generally work in their favor. This makes boss fights particularly grueling – as it can be difficult to determine what doesn’t count as a direct attack with some of them. Fortunately, Adol is also capable of recovering his health by standing still – but only outside of dungeons. The game also allows players to save their game at any time, though one must be careful when saving: the game can be saved directly over an enemy spawn point, which will render the save absolutely worthless and force players to restart from an earlier save – or worse, from the beginning of the game. Trust me, this has happened to me not once, but twice.

Of course, the game also has various elements that are common to the RPG genre. Adol still gains experience by defeating enemies and can level up to increase his strength. Adol can also equip swords, armors and shields to further augment his power – new swords increase his attack, while armors and shields increase defense. The ability to improve Adol’s arsenal remains a consistent throughout the series. Adol can also find an assortment of rings, which he can wear to grant various abilities. The Power Ring doubles his attack, Shield Ring halves the damage he takes, the Heal Ring allows him to heal within dungeons, the Timer Ring halves the speed of most enemies and the Evil Ring …slowly taints and destroys whoever wields it. So maybe just ignore that last one. Switching between these rings and determining which is best for your current situation is perhaps the closest thing to actual strategy the game requires. There’s also a standard inventory, which keeps track of all of the minor items Adol collects on his journey – only one of them can be equipped for active use at a time. A few key items from the original Ys include the Mask of Eyes, which allows Adol to see secrets at the cost of being able to see enemies (also color); the Blue Necklace, which protects Adol from demonic traps and the Monocle, which allows you to decipher the ancient text of the six books of Ys.

The second Ys builds on these mechanics, adding entirely new wrinkles to change things up. Perhaps the most prominent of these would be the Magic system. Throughout the game world, there are six different magical staffs found during Adol’s journey – each associated with one of the six priests of Ys. The Fire Magic allows Adol to shoot fireballs – which completely changes the dynamic of combat and becomes essential to completing most of the boss fights in this game; Return Magic allows Adol to warp to any towns or villages he’s previously visiting; Light Magic illuminates dark areas and reveals secret exits; Shield Magic protects Adol from any and all attacks and Time Magic freezes enemies in place temporarily – far outstripping the Timer Ring from Ys I. The most interesting of the magics is the Alter Magic, which transforms Adol into a Roo: a creature as demonic as it is adorable. This leaves you defenseless, but also prevents standard enemies from attacking you and even allows you to understand the language of the demons, which even becomes relevant to the plot at various points in the game. However, this new mechanic comes with the addition of magic power (MP), which helps to balance things out. For example, though Shield Magic renders Adol invincible, it also consistently drains MP at a steady rate, and taking damage reduces it significantly.

The Rings from the previous game are replaced with a new set of “accessories”, which by and large serve the same purpose. The Spirit Cape – like the Heal Ring from Ys I – allows Adol to heal in dungeons. The Hawk Idol adds homing capabilities to Adol’s Fire Magic, which can be further augmented by the Falcon Idol. The Cleria Ring allows for random attacks to be parried, avoiding damage. The Ring of Ease – ha! – halves the consumption of MP. Finally, there’s the Goddess Ring, which increases Adol’s strength and defense. Likewise, the Inventory system from the previous game returns, effectively serving the same purpose. Some items return from the first game, but there are also some brand-new ones: for example, the Roda Leaf filters out poisonous gas; the Stone Shoes give Adol traction when navigating slippery areas; and the Elixir can revive Adol after he runs out of health – but there’s only one available in the entire game.

Having said all that, Chronicles+ is not a perfect representation of how the original Ys I & II played – and I mean that in the best way possible. Various improvements were made to the game engine: including the ability to move diagonally, the addition of a bestiary and character log allowing the collection of information on both the game’s enemies and various NPCs respectively and even expanding on the story with some additional content. Chronicles+ even gives players the ability to choose between two separate user interfaces: the more compact one seen in the PSP version and a more ornate border, based on the one present in the earliest releases in the Ys series. I personally went with the latter, but offering players the option between the two seemed like a nice touch overall.

For the most part, Chronicles recycles the art assets from the Eternal and Complete releases, including character sprites, backgrounds and even the animated cutscenes. Fortunately, none of them really show their age: one of the advantages of pixel art from that era. In addition, entirely new CG art was drawn for the various major characters in the game specifically for the PSP release. Chronicles does offer players the choice between both versions, which further cements its status as the definitive version of the Eternal line of remakes. Both art styles differ only slightly: Complete better resembles a JRPG from that era, while Chronicles has a style more befitting a manga. The stylistic differences are visible, but difficult to properly articulate – both are clearly Japanese, but illustrate this cultural origin in different ways. I personally preferred the new artwork for Chronicles, simply because the characters’ posture looked a little more realistic and less staged. Still, having both options was great.

Perhaps one of the most acclaimed aspects of the Ys franchise would be its music. Best described as “symphonic metal”, much of Adol’s adventures have been accompanied by a soundtrack that perfectly characterized their tone – equal parts epic and relentless. The first game in the series started this tradition, ranging from the courageous overworld theme “First Step Towards Wars” to the downright imposing “Tower of the Shadow of Death”, effectively the theme of Darm Tower. Ys II would further expand on this, with songs like the anxious “Companile of Lane”, the melancholic “Apathetic Story” – which I’m sure was meant to be “A Pathetic Story”, but whatever – and the imposing theme of the battle with Darm himself: “Termination”. The soundtracks of both Ys I & II were expanded upon in Complete, adding a variety of unused tracks intended for the first game to improve the already exceptional soundtrack. These include “Tension” and “Dreaming” – both used to break up the monotony of Darm Tower – as well as “Over Drive” which was given to Dalles – Darm’s second in command – as a unique theme for his boss fight. Technically, only one piece of music was exclusively arranged for Complete: “Colony of Lava”, which itself is simply a serene take on “Moat of Burnedbless”, better suited to its village setting. As with the artwork, players are given the option of three soundtracks: the original version used in the PC-88 release – composed by Mieko Ishikawa and the legendary Yuzo Koshiro – as well as the arranged soundtrack made for the Eternal games (and by extension, Complete) which was handled by Falcom’s Sound Team J.D.K. and finally, a brand-new arrangement from Yukihiro Jindo that uses actual instruments in addition to synths. Again, I personally used the soundtrack unique to Chronicles, but having the option to use all three is a major plus.

Chronicles itself appears to be something of an anomaly at this point: a pure throwback to the early games of the Ys franchise. As such, it’s generally not recommended as a first game for most people just getting into the series, as the game just doesn’t offer an accurate representation of what the series has evolved into since then. Personally, I found the bump system engaging as an introduction to the series, simply because it differs so much from the norm of the action RPG subgenre. It was a unique method of attack that clearly influenced the trajectory I took when further exploring the series itself: focusing on the older games in the series, before working my way to more modern iterations.

Ys: Book I & II

Having played through the first two games on Steam, I’d become a huge fan of the Ys series in general. With the long-awaited English release of the original PC version of the sixth game in the franchise finally arriving on digital storefronts, I decided that I would dedicate a significant chunk of my free time in 2015 to playing through some of the older games in the franchise to prepare myself: to experience the storyline of the Ys games for myself and to scope out the series’ evolution through the ages. This would also finally give me the chance to right a self-inflicted wrong and finally play through Ys: Books I & II on the original Wii’s Virtual Console. This was the first Ys game I ever received, given to me as a gift some Christmas past – I’m still a bit angry that Nintendo removed gifting from future platforms, but that’s a delusional rant for another time – and since then, it had rotted away in my backlog, effectively forgotten. As I was going to be playing through the other games in the series released during the fourth generation of consoles and because I was otherwise starting from scratch, it only felt right to start my streaming marathon with the duology where it all began …again.

Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished was originally released in 1987 for various Japanese computer platforms – particularly NEC’s PC-8801 and PC-9801, but also Fujitsu’s FM-7, Sharp’s X1 and the MSX2. The following year, Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter would be released on the same platforms. These would eventually be followed by a variety of ports for other platforms. Both games would be ported to the Famicom in 1988 and 1989 and Sega’s Master System would receive a port of the first game in 1988 as well: this would be the first game in the series released in North America. 1989 would see English PC ports for Ys I on both Apple IIGS and DOS computers, handled by Kyodai. The very same year, the two games would be ported to the PC Engine CD by Alfa Systems and published by Hudson Soft. In 1990, it would be released in North America as “Ys: Book I &II”. Future releases of the two games would include a port of the original to Sharp’s X68000 in 1991 – this version had some bizarre mish-mash of graphical styles, including pre-rendered 3D bosses and poorly-digitized photographs for CG art – as well as the Falcom Classics collections on Saturn, which included enhanced remakes of Ys and Ys II on the first and second volumes respectively. These would later be followed by the Ys Eternal remakes on Windows, which I mentioned earlier.

The story is identical to the game’s remake, but I guess it’s worth mentioning the differences between the two versions. For example, while Adol ends up shipwrecked in Barbado in the remake, he uneventfully arrives in Minea Town’s port at the beginning of the original version. As such, the town of Barbado didn’t exist in the original game, leaving Minea and “Zeptic” Village as the only two towns in the entire game. One major difference that only exists in the TurboGrafx-CD version would be the fate of the fortune teller Sara: she survives in this version, while she dies in every other version. I assumed that this was a case of censorship for the Western release – specifically because she just essentially disappears for the remainder of your adventure regardless – but it turns out she survived in the original Japanese release on the PC Engine as well. Aside from that, Chronicles simply expands on the original’s story, which could be taken as a testament to how well they handled the story in the first place.

As a bit of an aside, I’d like to discuss the final boss of Ys I’s campaign: Dark Fact. The first time I played through the Ys games, I found him intriguing, simply because he was an enigma – you had no real interaction with him until the end of the game, but you heard vague references to him throughout the story: the mysterious cloaked man stealing anything made from “silver”. Adol was a hero fighting simply for unknown reasons and Dark Fact served as a perfect foil, performing evil deeds to further equally mysterious ends. The fight with him was perhaps the hardest thing I had to deal with in the entirety of Chronicles – maybe even the entire series – and then I ended up beating him on my first try in the TG-CD version. I was staggered by that. Looking back, Dark Fact was unique in the Ys series – simply because he was the only case where the main villain you face ends up being the game’s final boss. His backstory, detailed in future releases, would also prove interesting: born Siegue Fact, a descendant of one of the Six Priests, he sought power to avenge the death of his parents, who were killed by a mob for preventing the mining of what the people of Esteria knew only as silver – in reality, Cleria, a holy metal sealing off the evil that would eventually spawn the demons he would end up commanding. Kind of ironic in the grand scheme of things.

As with the story, the gameplay in Ys Book I & II is, for the most part, identical to the later release. Motion is limited to the cardinal directions in this version – no diagonal movement – which in turn helps to better define the strategy associated with the “bump” system. Being able to move diagonally outright breaks this method of attack, which is likely why they dropped it in future games. However, the TurboGrafx version of the first two games were generally considered an improvement over the previous PC versions of the game, strictly because there was a lot more leniency given to aiming the bump attack – these early versions would require exact aiming to deal damage without being harmed in response. This change is perhaps a big part of the reason why this version was considered the definite version of the first two games before the Eternal re-releases, though being readily available in English was likely the biggest factor.

Of course, as with most early translations of Ys games, there were a few misnomers in the TurboGrafx version, though thankfully not nearly as many as in the earlier Master System and Kyodai releases – the former referred to Adol as “Aron” and Dark Fact as “Dulk Dekt” for some inexplicable reason and apparently the latter had so many translation issues, it’d be worth discussing in detail at a later point. Reah is renamed “Lair” – clearly just a poor translation – but Dogi has been rechristened “Colin” for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Thankfully, his name was reverted in Ys III, but in retrospect, that makes the earlier change even more baffling. A few items have also been renamed, but these are relatively minor by comparison. The most significant example would be the Rod that allows you to travel through the mirror maze near the end of Darm Tower is reclassified as a “brooch”. Aside from these minor quibbles, the translation appears to be relatively accurate, which is a pretty remarkable feat given both the game’s relative obscurity and the period it was translated during. Perhaps both the minor reputation of Ys and the TurboGrafx itself worked to the localization process’s advantage.

I think what I found the most interesting about this version of Ys I & II is the fact that it outright links the two – both adventures have been combined into a single narrative. This led to some balancing changes between the two games: in most versions of Ys I, Adol’s ability to level up is generally capped at 10, but this version allows for a much higher limit, allowing a much more gradual boost in power compared to most versions of the first game. As Adol maintains his experience when shifting over to the Ys II portion of the game, the beginning of that game also had to be rebalanced to allow a smooth transition. This direct continuity is unique to the TurboGrafx release – even the current Chronicles releases packaged both Ys I & II as separate titles. As such, I found the concept unique and thoroughly satisfying – it had always struck me as odd how you could technically play the games in any order in most other bundled re-releases.

The graphics in-game aren’t particularly spectacular, though they do far outstrip all of its predecessors. The TurboGrafx-16 itself wasn’t exactly a powerhouse, especially when directly compared to its contemporaries during the 16-bit era. This coupled with the fact that the game was released roughly one year after the PC Engine’s CD add-on – the first video game home console to use the CD-ROM format – makes the graphics a little more impressive by comparison. Of course, the game’s true graphical star would have to be the animated cutscenes. Boasting 20 minutes of fully animated cutscenes – an impressive amount given the game was originally released in 1989 – Ys Book I & II typifies what I’d expect all CD-based games of the time should look like: that distinct anime style common in the 1980s and 1990s, the limited yet fluid animation, even the limited color palette representative of video game consoles and home computers at the time. The game even managed to sneak in animated character portraits for important moments within the game itself.

The TG-CD version of Ys I & II retains the amazing soundtrack the games were known for – for the most part. In addition to lacking the tracks that were clearly added in the Eternal releases, Book I & II is missing a few tracks: the original game over theme from Ys I – which is, honestly, forgettable – as well as the standard boss fight theme from Ys II. These tracks were just replaced with the counterparts from their respective pack-in. On the plus side, another unused track from Ys I – “Theme of Adol” – was rearranged for one of the game’s opening cutscenes. The soundtrack is split between the TurboGrafx’s internal sound chip and Redbook Audio courtesy of the game’s CD format. To many, the TurboGrafx-CD arrangements are considered the best versions of each game’s soundtracks – though I’m not clear on if they mean the direct TG-CD soundtrack or the extremely similar “Perfect Collection” albums. However, as both were arranged by Ryo Yonemitsu, it may not matter in the long run.

The sound effects are pretty much what you’d expect from the hardware: nothing too spectacular. Fortunately, the game’s CD format added something quite impressive to the mix: voice acting. While most of the game isn’t voice acted, there’s still a fair amount – with 24 minutes in total, many major characters receive their fair share of voice work. What’s more impressive is the big names they got for a variety of roles: Debi Derryberry plays Feena, Dan Gilvezan plays the rogue demon Keith, Dark Fact is played by Michael Bell, Alan Oppenheimer plays both the narrator and Darm and, most surprisingly, his lead servant Dalles is played by none other than Jim Cummings! Unfortunately, the quality of the audio is fairly poor – which was to be expected, considering the TG-16’s weak audio processor – but the fact that the game was dubbed in the first place (and with such big names) is still impressive to me.

One might expect that I’d consider replaying an earlier version of the game that got me started on the franchise a waste of time, but honestly, it served a few purposes for me. For starters, it was technically still on my backlog, so it felt good to put that behind me. Secondly, it did provide a decent start to the stream marathon – considering I was playing the remainder of the games that saw at least some form of a release during the 16-bit era, it only seemed right to show off its respective form of the first two games. Most importantly, it gave me an even deeper insight into the games that started it all. While it’s unlikely that I’ll ever go back and play these two games in any other form – barring some ill-conceived future remake – Ys: Book I & II gave me an insight into what caused the cult following of the series in North America to get its start in the first place. Likewise, I’d have to acknowledge that even if I would probably say I preferred Chronicles+ overall, the earlier release on the all but forgotten TurboGrafx-CD did some things better than the later release would: in addition to the downright ‘90s presentation of the game, the seamless connection and subsequent rebalancing of the first Ys games made it feel like one truly grand adventure, rather than the two parts they’re separated into in practically every other iteration. It’s just a shame that, as of right now, the only ways to find this version would be to trawl for used copies in the usual fashion or hope that the original Wii’s Virtual Console stays on long enough to grab a copy digitally – which seems to grow more difficult by the day.

Ys III: Wanderers from Ys

Once considered the black sheep of the entire Ys franchise – Wanderers from Ys isn’t, at least in my opinion, really that bad of a game. It’s just a very stupid one. I’m aware of just how insulting that last statement is, but honestly: I mean it in the best way possible. Ditching the top-down overhead perspective of the previous Ys games, Wanderers resembles Zelda II – another controversial sequel in a beloved series – more than anything that came before it. A side-scrolling action RPG; what Ys III lost in overall complexity, it more than gained in pure “stupid fun”. Adol no longer rams askew into his foes, rather now he can just rapidly hack-and-slash, while also gaining the ability to jump – and by extension, a killer downward stab. Keep those additions in mind for later.

This was the second game I tackled in my retro Ys marathon back in 2015 and I was determined to play it early, simply due to both the poor public opinion surrounding the game and the existence of a “far superior remake” (more on that later). I chose to play the TG-CD version, handled again by Alfa Systems and Hudson Soft, which was generally considered the easiest of the three Western released versions. I ended up choosing that version mainly due to the animated cutscenes and the (admittedly terrible) voice acting, but also because I wanted to play as many Ys games on the TurboGrafx as I possibly could.  The Genesis version –  published by Telenet Japan (the company behind the Valis series among others) and developed by their RiOT division – is generally considered the definitive version of the game, due to proper difficulty balancing and improvements over both the TG-CD and SNES versions in various technical areas. The SNES version, developed by Advance Communication and published by Tonkin House, is generally considered both the hardest version of the game and the worst home version available in North America, despite having the most accurate translation by far. As with the first two games, the game was originally developed for the NEC PC-8801 and PC-9801 – with further ports made to the MSX2, the Sharp X68000 and even Nintendo’s Famicom.

The game’s story is fairly simple: at the behest of a fortuneteller, Adol and Dogi travel to the nation of Felghana (Kenai) to visit the city of Redmont (Sarina), Dogi’s childhood home. Unfortunately, the local economy has suffered due to mysterious weather patterns, a poor harvest and the local quarry being infested with monsters. Despite all that, Dogi returns home to a warm reception, except for Elena (Ellena), a young girl Dogi knew when they grew up together who has grown distant and indifferent. To make matters worse, the wicked Lord McGuire (King McGuire) has been terrorizing the townsfolk and the wicked knight Chester, Elena’s brother and – at one time – Dogi’s childhood friend, is leading the charge to fulfill the count’s evil ambitions. At the behest of Redmont’s mayor, Adol investigates the mysterious happenings and stumbles upon a plot to revive an ancient demon known as Galbalan (Demonicus).

There are a few things one must understand before the above paragraph makes complete sense: Wanderers from Ys was the one of the few early games in the series to actually receive an official contemporary English release – on the TurboGrafx-CD, Sega Genesis and Super NES – as well as the last game to receive such a treatment until XSEED gained the license in the 2000s. As such, many names were changed in a few of the translations – TurboGrafx changed the most, Genesis kept many of those changes, while the SNES probably has the most accurate translation of the three. To make things more coherent in the future, I decided to use the original Japanese names, while putting the new names devised for the translations in parentheses.

Having said that, Wanderers from Ys’s story has a few odd quirks behind it. Most notably, Adol’s characterization – he actually has one this time. No longer the essentially silent protagonist, Adol actually gets a fair amount of dialogue in this game. It just comes across as awkward, as Adol is portrayed as more invested in the fates of the people of Redmont than anyone else. This is only compounded by the outright apathy displayed by Elena, who is the most prominent supporting character in the entire game. The worst example comes fairly late in the game: when it appears that her brother Chester has died, Adol seems to care more about his demise than Chester’s own little sister. Furthermore, the game itself has little to do with the games that precede and follow it – effectively acting as an odd little shaggy-dog story. To make matters even more confusing, Wanderers from Ys wasn’t originally intended to be deemed the third Ys game: its Roman numeral was added in later releases. This would make sense given the game’s placement in the timeline, which I’ll elaborate on later.

As I said earlier, the game can be best described as “pure, dumb fun”. It plays like a Zelda II with far looser controls –  while Zelda II had stiff controls, Ys III goes too far in the opposite direction –  but isn’t quite as far removed from its predecessors. The game starts out difficult, because the game itself generally only consists of the Town of Redmont and the dungeons: travel between these areas is handled via a map that acts like a stage select. The general rules of the first two Ys games apply: you can heal by standing still, but only outside of dungeons. Unfortunately, the lack of substantial overworld space (you’ve got about a screen or two’s worth before each dungeon) makes this ability useless and as you need to be within the dungeon to spawn the enemies you need to gain experience and power up.  As a result,  you’re pretty much forced to constantly enter and exit the dungeon to gain your first few levels without dying at the beginning of the game. Boss fights range from insane to just plain boring – quite a few bosses are stationary, which could have posed a suitable challenge in the earlier Ys games, but not so much in the context of a side-scroller.

Ys III chooses to eschew the magic system from Ys II in favor of the rings from the first game. Most are identical to the assortment from Ys I, each granting Adol a specific ability. The Power Ring, Shield Ring, Heal Ring and Timer Ring all return with their respective enhancements from their previous appearance. However, like the Magic system from the second game, Adol’s rings require magic power – or ring power, as it’s called this time around – to activate and different abilities exhaust his RP at different rates.  They are joined by the Protect Ring, which shields Adol from any damage at a high RP cost – much like Ys II’s Shield Magic. Adol can also carry limited-use items as in previous games, including an herb that heals him to full health, medicine to restore RP, a mirror that can freeze enemies temporarily and an amulet that can destroy nearby enemies. The inventory system from previous games also returns, simply keeping track of any and all passive items Adol needs in his quest.

This brings us to perhaps the greatest flaw in the entire game: it fails to take advantage of both the shift in gameplay and the most popular features from the first two games. Switching from a top-down perspective to a side-scrolling game could have allowed for some interesting new game mechanics, but aside from some extremely stiff platforming – to the extent where it makes the original Castlevania feel like Super Mario Bros. – things stay relatively linear throughout, ditching the treacherous labyrinthine level design from the first two games. It’s not like side-scrolling games weren’t capable of complex layouts: imagine if Ys III’s dungeons were designed as if they were miniature versions of the maps you’d find in Metroid. Likewise, Wanderers from Ys ditches the then-iconic bump system, exchanging it for a fairly simple slash attack, which makes up for its lack of range with its ability to be “rapid fired” by holding down the attack button. What if, instead, holding down the attack button simply allows Adol to hold out his blade and ram into enemies for extra damage, effectively combining the more versatile slash with the more traditional bump mechanics of Ys I & II?

The one aspect of the game that is rarely criticized would be its soundtrack. Even the most discriminating Ys fans generally consider the music in this game to be among the best in the entire series, if not the best. While I personally don’t rate it quite that high, I do recognize the quality of the game’s soundtrack. Falcom’s legendary Sound Team J.D.K. – at the time, still led by the incomparable Mieko Ishikawa – was firing on all cylinders and delivered a soundtrack so memorable, even those entirely put off by the game it accompanied could not help but admit its quality. My favorite tracks in the game would have to be “The Boy’s Got Wings” – played at the entrance of each dungeon; “Sealed Time” – the theme of the Clock Tower; “Behold!!” – the introductory theme for the game’s final boss; and most of all, “The Theme of Chester”. The only real shortcoming I’d have to attribute to the soundtrack would have to be the fact that many of my favorite tracks only have fleeting appearances in the game itself – “The Theme of Chester” didn’t even appear in the TurboGrafx-CD version.

Regardless of the game’s flaws, I still had a blast when playing the game. The voice acting was horrible to the point of having a kitschy charm, the gameplay provided some good mindless hack-and-slash fun, the game’s short length meant that it didn’t overstay its welcome and best of all, the soundtrack is amazing. In retrospect, I enjoyed Ys III despite its flaws. It was just pure dumb fun – almost like an intermission, providing something of a breather between the first two games and the later, more complex entries in the series. While I acknowledge its shortcomings, I can’t say that I’d consider Ys III the worst game in the franchise’s history. Unfortunately, for me, the worst is yet to come.

Ys IV

Finally, we reach the end of the “classic Ys” era. After the quick diversion that was Wanderers from Ys, Ys IV would return to the classic overhead gameplay of the first two games, “run and bump” and all. Of course, Ys IV’s development was complicated by several factors: the most major of which being that there isn’t a singular Ys IV, rather two entirely different games were released by two entirely different companies at the behest of Falcom themselves. As such, Ys IV was the first game in the series to only be available on consoles – Falcom themselves did not develop a version for any Japanese computer systems. At this point in time, Falcom’s finances were struggling and while they did wish to create a fourth game in the Ys series, they lacked the necessary funds for development. As such, they created a story outline and a soundtrack, which they provided to both licensors of Ys IV.

The first company to license the creation of a fourth Ys game was Hudson Soft. They handed off development to Alfa Systems, who handled the development of the previous Ys games on the PC Engine, the Japanese counterpart to the TurboGrafx-16. They titled their treatment of the game “Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys” and created a game that managed to surpass the quality of their previous Ys treatments – no small feat, given the fact that their ports were generally considered the definitive versions of the previous Ys games. Unfortunately, in doing so, Dawn managed to stray significantly from Falcom’s original outline for the game. In response, Falcom also licensed the game to Tonkin House – the company that published the Ys III port on SNES – who once again handed development to Advance Communication, the developer that handled every Ys port on Nintendo platforms. Christening their own version as “Ys IV: Mask of the Sun”, Tonkin House stayed truer to Falcom’s original vision, but still deviated in some ways. Though Tonkin House’s version of Ys IV entered development after Hudson Soft’s, the game managed to release first on Super Famicom – and believe me, the difference in development time is reflected in the disparity of quality between the games.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about Ys IV’s development was that there was a third version planned as well, but it never came to fruition. At this point in time, Sega and Falcom had partnered up to port various Falcom games to Sega consoles, including MegaDrive ports of Lord Monarch and the first two Legend of Heroes games. The most famous product of this collaboration was, of course, the Sega CD version of Popful Mail, which actually managed to see release in the West via Working Designs. Very little is known about the Sega-Falcom version of Ys IV, aside from the fact that it was also developed under the title “Mask of the Sun”. Many speculate that the game was being developed for the Mega-CD in Japan. Admittedly hearing about this makes me feel sad: given the fact that Sega’s version of Popful Mail is generally considered the definitive edition of the game, not to mention Working Designs’ partnership with Sega – not only could this have been the best version of Ys IV, it could’ve been the only version that would’ve seen release in the West.

Regardless, due to the differences between the two versions that saw release during the fourth generation, I will be covering both games separately, followed by a direct compare-and-contrast, detailing what I liked more about each respective iteration of Ys IV.

Mask of the Sun

When I was doing my series of retro Ys streams, there was only one major question I had to ask myself: which version of Ys IV should I play first? Admittedly, my arguments for starting with the PC Engine version were weak – both keeping the systems together and the fact that Dawn had entered development first – but there was one particular reason I chose to start with Mask of the Sun: most people said it was garbage compared to its counterpart. Not specifically that the game itself was terrible, but just so underwhelming compared to the other iteration that it might as well not even exist. This essentially meant that I felt I owed the Super Famicom version the first playthrough, simply to make sure that I could be as unbiased as possible when comparing the two games. The thing is, they were right. In fact, even when I could only reasonably compare this game to the TurboGrafx version of Ys I & II, something just felt inherently wrong with this game.

Despite being called Ys IV, this game actually takes place between Ys II and Wanderers from Ys. Two years after his adventures in Esteria and the legendary continent of Ys, Adol Christin is reminiscing about his old adventures while looking at the ocean. Suddenly, a bottle washes ashore, containing a message in a language Adol didn’t recognize. He took the letter to Luta Gemma, who determined that it was written in the Celcetan language and translated it: “Celceta is in dire need… please, if a great hero lives among you, send him to aid us…”. Adol’s natural sense of heroism implored him to do what he could to help, so he immediately prepared to journey to Celceta. He leaves Esteria through Minea Port, but is joined by Dr. Flair – the doctor who cured Lilia of her mysterious yet deadly illness with medicine created from the Celcetan flower. He decides to join Adol to further study the flower in its natural habitat. The two arrive in Promalock, a port town near Celceta. There he first encounters some soldiers representing the Romun Empire – a kingdom with aspirations for world domination – who have stationed themselves across Celceta to protect the villagers from the demons that have sprung up. They quickly imprison Adol, having been ordered to lock up anyone suspicious. When locked in his cell, Adol meets Duren, a roguish “information vendor” who helps him make his escape. Fortunately, the Romun Captain meets with Dr. Flair who convinces him that Adol is nothing more than a harmless adventurer. The unnamed captain frees Adol (and Duren), offering him items from their armory as compensation, but warns Adol not to interfere in the Romun Empire’s affairs. Along the way, Adol learns of the legend of Lefance, the hero of Celceta, by stumbling upon the ruins of a temple built in his honor. He also meets various allies: Karna, a warrior from the Wind Village of Komodo searching for people who have gone missing from her village and Leeza, the caretaker of the mysterious Eldeel, the last of the angelic “winged ones”. Likewise, both Dogi and Lilia return to offer what assistance they can. However, in the background, three mysterious figures – the brutish Gadis, the steamy sorceress Bami and the small but sinister Gruda – appear to be working alongside the Romun Empire to unknown ends.

I’ve heard people compare the base gameplay of Mask of the Sun to some of the early computer versions of the first two games in the franchise, with walking controls that were significantly more clunky than the later console versions. The game also only allows players to move in the four cardinal directions. Likewise, the aiming required to properly attack enemies is significantly more sensitive – you need to line up exactly when attacking enemies or you’ll either miss or take damage yourself. Truth be told, I’ve tinkered with a few of the early PC versions of Ys and frankly, a keyboard generally allows for more precise control in this style of game when compared to the D-Pad, likely the reason why earlier console releases tended to fudge the minutiae of the targeting. Unfortunately, this in turn leads to a case of the worst of both worlds. Given the lack of quality control in the previous Ys game on the SNES, it’s not really much of a surprise. Regardless, having to essentially fight with the game’s controls to progress puts a damper on the game’s fun factor. An odd change that I found annoying is that after dying, instead of simply respawning you with your latest save, the game sends you back to the title screen. Seems kind of like an odd decision for a game that lets you save at any point – it just adds tedium to continuing.

It doesn’t help that for whatever reason, they decided to add poison effects to this game. I’m not entirely sure who was behind this addition, but it definitely ended up being a thorn in my side. To make matters even worse, Adol’s ability to heal while stationary outside of dungeons has been severely hampered compared to previous iterations. To be honest, I was well into the game before I even realized he still had this ability. The amount of time Adol needs to stand still to start recovering health is downright ridiculous. Even Wanderers from Ys handled it better than Mask of the Sun did! In the end, all of these small issues I had with the game ended up consolidating in a game I don’t think I’d ever want to replay. Honestly, while I was playing through the game, I essentially had to cheat in order to make progress: if you level up to a certain extent in each area, weaker enemies do minimal damage, no matter how poor your aim. I’m not sure if this was an intentional exploit designed into the game itself, but it still felt like cheating to some extent. I don’t particularly hate breaking a game’s rules, but it feels a little different when it’s the only way to make any progress.

The item and inventory system are essentially functionally the same in this game. This time, however, the “Equip” menu only allows you to equip Adol’s sword, shield and armor – no extra items, rings or magic this time around. Of course, in this game, some of the higher level swords contain special magics of their own. For example, the Flame Wind Sword acts like the Fire Magic from previous games, the Thunder Sword fires off two balls of lightning and the Hero’s Sword allows Adol to heal himself. Of course, all of these abilities come at the cost of MP. The Wing from the original Ys returns as an inexhaustible standard item, though for some reason, it now has the functionality of the Return Magic from Ys II – lacking the MP cost. The items also work like they do in previous games: Adol can only equip one at a time and uses it by hitting a specific button. Overall, this is somewhat simpler than previous games, due to the lack of additional items in the equipment menu – however, due to the fact that there is a total of 8 sets of swords, shields and armor and certain swords offer special abilities, it seems to even out in the end.

The graphics in this game are average for a SNES game: nothing impressive, but at times they represent the capabilities of the system fairly well. There are a few segments in the game that even utilize Mode 7, to my dismay. It’s kind of a mixed bag to compare the two games in this field – due to the Super Famicom being more powerful than the PC Engine, there are some things it does better than the other version. For example, the various character sprites have more detail and better coloring in Mask compared to Dawn. Likewise, the SNES can display a wider color palette than the TG-16, and there are some areas where this is clearly visible. Of course, the fact that Dawn of Ys used CD media gave it some advantages Mask of the Sun simply could not match, but there are some other odd stylistic choices that Tonkin House made when developing their version of Ys IV. For example, while most Ys games up to this point would use a single, static but detailed image to represent specific shops and homes in game, MotS elects instead to maintain the overhead view for the entire game. This decision diminishes the impact of a lot of scenes, given the limited range of expression allowed by the overworld sprites.

Likewise, many in-game areas have dull designs that don’t really utilize the SNES’s graphical capabilities very well: most dungeons are dominated by at least one shade of brown or gray – kind of a let-down given the diverse terrains Adol normally explores. Even the game’s standard border is dominated by a particularly dull shade of gray. I believe their intent was to draw greater attention to the gold trim, but it’s particularly sparse. There was one thing that sort of bothered me about the game in general, but it’s not entirely unique to Mask of the Sun. The way the game handles dialogue is somewhat awkward: during conversations in the game, new dialogue boxes will generally spawn on top of existing ones. It’s another choice that just seems a bit ugly. To make matters worse, this is another game that decides to grant Adol the full power of speech, which definitely negatively affects his character this time around – even more so than Wanderers from Ys did. Maybe this is just my opinion, but at this point particularly, Adol worked better as a silent protagonist.

I’ve got mixed feelings on the sound design as well. Falcom’s soundtrack for Ys IV contains many of my favorite songs in the entire series. Unfortunately, Mask of the Sun uses a relatively small number of these tracks – and consequently, quite a few of my favorite songs don’t appear in this version. However, they do manage to not only use one original track that wasn’t utilized in any other version, a song from a previous game that also didn’t appear anywhere else, and even managed to make an entirely original opening theme, as well as a few other original tracks. Likewise, the instrumentation is a little on the weak side compared to other arrangements of what appears in the game. Now, it’s not fair to compare the SNES’s sound chip to Redbook-quality CD audio, but many of the tracks have also been reproduced on weaker sound chips – hell, Falcom provided a version of the soundtrack that utilized the PC-88’s hardware – to a far better effect. This isn’t to say that Mask of the Sun does a bad job on its soundtrack, I actually enjoyed many of the game’s arrangements while playing. It’s just been outclassed by essentially every other iteration of the Ys IV soundtrack.

Of all the Ys games I’ve played so far, I think I’d have to consider Mask of the Sun to one of the worst games in the franchise, if not the worst. While I can understand the hatred for Wanderers from Ys, the game was at least enjoyable to charge through, even if it didn’t particularly represent the rest of the series. Mask of the Sun is essentially the exact opposite in its design: it tries too hard to represent the previous games in the franchise, at the expensive of creating an enjoyable experience. Tonkin House’s previous work on Wanderers from Ys is generally considered one of the worst of the versions, with two of its major flaws being high difficulty and non-responsive controls. With issues like this in their previous release, why would they consider making a “run-and-bump” style Ys game – a style of game that relies entirely on good controls and proper difficulty balance? I’ve heard some Ys fans claim that without its counterpart on the PC Engine overshadowing it, Mask of the Sun would be considered a far better game – but if I were to be honest, I played this version first, so I think I’m justified when I say that’s an exaggeration, if not an outright lie.

The Dawn of Ys

From what I can tell, The Dawn of Ys is considered the best iteration of the original Ys format – the games that utilized the unique “run-and-bump” system found early on in the franchise – by the majority of the fanbase that has played it. I’m inclined to agree with that assessment: if Hudson deviated from Falcom’s original vision more than Tonkin House did, it was clearly to the game’s benefit. Dawn of Ys was the last game in the franchise to make use of the classic gameplay style from the first two games, effectively perfecting it to the point where it could no longer be improved. Likewise, unlike the other follow-ups to the first two games before it, it pays homage to the first two games in the franchise in a way that would not be surpassed for over a decade. The PC Engine’s take on Ys IV is a love letter addressed to Adol’s original adventure in its entirety, in terms of its gameplay mechanics, its storyline and various other elements of the game. Yet, in spite of this, the game itself also manages to carve out its own niche within the franchise, certainly earning its reputation as one of the best games in the entire series.

Ironically, the game’s storyline is similar to its Super Famicom counterpart in many ways. I’ve read conflicting information about whether or not DoY takes place before or after Wanderers from Ys, but like Mask of the Sun, it takes place two years after the first two Ys games. Likewise, there is a throwaway line where Dogi tells Adol about Felghana – his homeland and the setting of Ys III – which would seem to imply that it predated that game as well. Another major difference is that instead of finding a message in a bottle, Adol is told to go to Celceta by Sara, the fortune teller from the first game who, if you’ll remember, only managed to cheat death in the TurboGrafx-CD port. Furthermore, you start off with all of the Cleria items – the top-level items from Ys II, a nice little continuity nod.  You also end up encountering Karna earlier, as she’s being detained by the Romun Empire. The Romun Empire’s captain also has greater characterization: he is now known as Leo and comes across as both power-hungry and arrogant. Of course, as with Mask of the Sun, the Romuns imprison you, but not before displaying their military strength and stealing your high-level equipment for good measure. Once in prison, you meet up with Duren again – this time, he regales you with the legend of Celceta’s fabled Golden City. Soon after, Karna returns the favor by assisting you in your escape – you’re only able to steal a new sword, shield and set of armor on your way out – only to be surrounded by 6 guards. Durna bails on you, and as a result you and Karna are left to face off with the guards. This time around, Gruda, Bami and Gadis are working independently of the Romun Empire – this time, they take a far more active role in fighting Adol. Another major difference would be the location names: aside from Promalock, Dawn of Ys renames all of the shared locations that appear in both games. An odd quirk, considering most other versions use the names from Mask of the Sun, but I’m not going to judge. Finally, Adol’s ability to speak has been reverted to the same levels as Ys: Book I & II, which makes him significantly more charming: somehow our red-haired swordsman is much more charming when he’s essentially mute.

While Mask of the Sun’s gameplay was more unwieldy than the previous games in the series I’d played, Dawn of Ys goes in the exact opposite direction – essentially taking the responsive controls from Ys: Book I & II and further streamlining them. This is the first game that allows Adol to move (and attack!) in 8 directions – this is the key improvement Alfa Systems made over their previous ports. While this ability would be added into future remakes of the first 2 Ys games, this was the first release in the Ys series that allowed players to move in more than just the standard 4 directions. Even without this new ability, Adol effectively glides around the game world effortlessly, a decided contrast from the somewhat clunky controls from the Super Famicom release. Unfortunately, there are times where this can be detrimental: there have been times where the responsiveness of the controls inadvertently got me trapped right near an enemy, effectively wiping out my health in one shot. On the other hand, the addition of diagonal attacks also proved to be the undoing of the “run-and-bump” system: when walking diagonally, it’s essentially impossible to line up with a standard enemy in such a way where Adol takes damage from the enemy. Of course, bosses are generally immune to this sort of trickery – they’re generally large, so it’s far easier for them to reposition themselves in such a way that ramming into them from any angle will result in a quick suicide – but it does put a bit of a damper on the strategy behind fighting standard-sized enemies. Another unique addition to Dawn of Ys was that, at various points in the adventure, Adol can be joined by a partner character, essentially mirroring Adol’s movements like Tails in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and randomly locking onto and attacking various enemies. This is a double-edged sword: while you gain no experience for demons felled by your partner; they can also effectively act as a shield when Adol’s low on health, providing cover when escaping from a dungeon. Something similar showed up in Ys II Chronicles+, though it was simultaneously simpler and more complex: one escort mission allowed you to attack enemies using your charge, who was even capable of leveling up and getting stronger as he defeated more enemies. I’ll never know whether that optional side-quest was inspired by Dawn of Ys, but I’d like to think it was.

The equipment system once again adheres to the standards of previous games, but this time, the line-up is slightly different. Sword, Shield and Armor all return – but Dawn of Ys also adds in the Rings (acting as they do in the original Ys) with Ys II’s Magic. All other items are essentially shunted over to the inventory, allowing Adol to choose one of each at a time. Most of the Rings and Magic return from previous games, but there are also some new power-ups as well. The Ring of Roda replenishes magic points, similarly to how the Heal Ring allows Adol to recover HP in dungeons; the Magic Ring increases the strength of magic attacks; the Seeker Magic uncovers secret entrances – effectively a less useful version of the already situational Light Magic; and my favorite of the new items: Freeze Magic. Freeze Magic allows Adol to fire ice bolts which, while they do less damage than the Fire Magic’s fireballs, will freeze standard enemies in place, leaving them open to other attacks. Likewise, the Inventory contains a lot of old items, though there are some new ones. One interesting item is the Flute of Wind, which allows Adol to send messages via a messenger bird. This is actually crucial to obtaining an optional but powerful set of weaponry. Aside from that, many of the items are mostly contextual – the usual set of recovery items, various keys and items that are otherwise functionally identical to keys. The Mask of Eyes reappears, and actually factors pretty heavily into the storyline: its true name is the Mask of the Sun and along with its sister relic, the Mask of the Moon, holds the very key to the lost civilization of the winged ones.

I’d argue that the graphical style of Dawn of Ys suffers from the exact opposite issues Mask of the Sun had: Hudson Soft clearly understood the PC Engine’s hardware, but despite its add-ons, it was severely limited when compared to its fourth-generation contemporaries. As such, for the most part the graphics are only marginally better than those of Books I & II and those improvements that were made appear to be more due to being allowed to make an original title, rather than matching the artstyle of a game originally designed for weaker hardware. Having said that, Alfa Systems still managed to create a fairly vibrant game world with loads of variety in its settings. Of course, the true star of game would have to be the animated cutscenes, which have been significantly improved since the previous title in the franchise. I’m still impressed with the video quality the TurboGrafx-CD could achieve, especially when compared to the more powerful Sega CD. Dawn of Ys is perhaps the greatest example of what the system was capable, dwarfing even what was considered the PC Engine CD’s quintessential masterpiece, Dracula X: Rondo of Blood.

Once again, the music takes center stage in Dawn of Ys. In addition to using the most songs from Falcom’s original soundtrack of any iteration of Ys IV, the tracks that managed to utilize the Redbook CD audio have been once again lovingly rearranged by the incomparable Ryo Yoneimitsu. Unfortunately, a significant amount of the soundtrack had to be reproduced on the PC Engine’s built-in sound chip, leading to a less impressive sound. Oddly enough, I’d probably say I preferred even these takes on the songs over the arrangements found in the Super Famicom version. In order to enjoy the game as much as possible, I played the game using a fandub – a unique concept in general, but extremely rare with PC Engine CD games – as opposed to the original Japanese voiceovers. Since then, I’ve listened to snippets from the original audio and I was floored with how good both the voice acting itself and the audio quality was in the game. The fandub, on the other hand, also felt like it was handled perfectly: it was mostly the work of enthusiastic amateurs, but they managed to create a product that truly sound like it could’ve been a commercial dub of a video game from the mid-1990s. In the end, that’s exactly what I would’ve hoped from a labor of love like that.

In the end, perhaps “The Dawn of Ys” was an ironic title: it marked the end of the first stage in the Ys franchise’s development. Even though only 4 games in the franchise – Ys I, II and both versions of IV – utilized a unique method of attack that set it apart from other action RPGs, this was considered the franchise’s trademark in its early days. As such, it was perhaps fitting that Dawn would be the last original (i.e. non-remake) title in the franchise to make use of it, but at the same time pushing the design to its logical conclusion. Hudson’s last Ys game was perhaps its best – ultimately paying homage to the first Ys games, while crafting their own new experiences at the same time. My only real criticism was that by pushing the classic “run and bump” mechanic to its limits, Dawn ultimately exposes the limitations of this system – leading Falcom to essentially reinvent the wheel in future titles. In the end, I feel The Dawn of Ys is really the best ending to the initial era of the Ys series anyone could have asked for. Even today, the game is considered among the best games in the entire series, which is a testament to just how well it was crafted.

Comparison

Considering both the glowing praise I’ve heaped upon Dawn of Ys and the scorn I’ve leveled at Mask of the Sun, one might suggest that attempting to compare and contrast the games would be a fool’s errand. Regardless, I still think it’s worth doing, simply because it’s fascinating to detail the differing paths both games took in the development process. Interesting side note: there are even a few things I thought Mask handled better than Dawn anyway, so those could be fun avenues to explore as well.

It would seem like the best place to start would be cataloging the various references both games made to Ys I & II, their direct predecessors both in terms of gameplay mechanics and timeline placement. Both games contain cameos of varying degrees from Dogi, Lilia and Dr. Flair. As I said, Dr. Flair has a much more important role in Mask of the Sun – acting as Adol’s travelling companion during the first leg of his journey – but he appears as a traveler tending to the wounded in Karna’s village in Dawn of Ys. Likewise, both Dogi and Lilia’s roles are far more limited in MotS compared to DoY: they make various small appearances through the Super Famicom release, while Dogi acts as Adol’s constant companion in the PC Engine version and Lilia ends up as a damsel in distress at one point. Interestingly, both games do send Adol back to locations from his previous adventures during his journey in Celceta. Mask of the Sun sends him back to Rance Village from Ys II, which is accompanied by its classic tune “Too Full with Love”. Dawn of Ys, however, manages to outdo it: not only does Adol return to Minea Town in his adventure, but has to once again scale the dreaded Darm Tower – scored by a new arrangement of “TOWER OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH”. The way both of these games handled these throwback segments were suited to their general developmental approach as well. Mask of the Sun took a far less detailed approach, keeping in line with the game’s basic structure, while many familiar faces reemerged in Minea Town, including the pawn shop owner Pim and the aforementioned Sara.

This brings me to my next point: world-building. Mask of the Sun tended towards a more minimalistic approach – each character, no matter how major or minor, has about the same level of detail to one another. I guess this is somewhat fitting, considering that future games in the Ys series (particularly Ys I & II Chronicles) would take a similar approach, only with more detail applied to even the most minor characters, as opposed to reducing the characterization of every character in the game. Dawn of Ys, on the other hand, had different aspects that fleshed out the various denizens of the game world: voice acting wasn’t strictly limited to major characters, a few minor characters also got some lines of dialogue. Some minor characters even had in-game artwork dedicated to them, particularly the shopkeeps. Both elements helped to flesh out the world, but clearly favored certain characters over others. DoY only chose to highlight specific characters while MotS’s approach led to a far less vivid world but treated each character equally, regardless of their importance to the story.

Of course, essentially building a game’s story from an outline can lead to some weird quirks when portraying various characters in the game, especially with two completely different creative teams working entirely independently of one another. Therefore, we’ve got multiple versions of various characters that appeared in both games, with their own unique traits and storylines. For example, as I mentioned earlier, the villainous trio of Gruda, Bami and Gadis are affiliated with the Romun Empire in Mask, but act independently in Dawn. This actually manages to have an effect on the portrayal of the Romun Empire itself: in MotS, they are an outright evil faction, unwitting pawns to the Clan of Darkness’s true machinations; DoY portrays them as a powerful group as well, but one that’s more greedy than megalomaniacal – searching for the fabled Golden City and its treasures rather than focusing on their usual goals of world domination. Likewise, while the Romun Captain in Mask was essentially just a generic bad guy, Dawn’s General Leo had actual characterization behind him – not to mention a name. Duren’s effectively a source of exposition in the Super Famicom version, but his involvement is a lot more personal in the PC Engine version: he was a former member of the Clan of Darkness.  Karna receives roughly equal characterization in both games – she just manages to show up earlier in Dawn of Ys. Leeza, on the other hand, is much more important in Mask of the Sun: she acts as Eldeel’s caretaker, a responsibility passed on from generation to generation in her village. She also wrote the message that brought Adol to Celceta in the first place. She’s still got the relationship with Eldeel in Dawn of Ys, but aside from finding Adol after a severe injury and nursing him back to health, her involvement is much more limited.

As I said before, both games essentially shared the same basic storyline, but the way they handled discussing various aspects of their stories differed greatly. For example, Dawn of Ys essentially has Adol commune with the spirits of Lefance’s disciples: fleshing out various aspects of Celcetan history, including the role of the “winged ones” in building the Golden City as well as the role they played in building the ancient human society, the Clan of Darkness’s war with winged ones and their motivations, as well as some information about the role Adol’s adventures in Esteria and Ys played in his current situation. Even Dark Fact’s true identity was essentially stated in DoY – his original name was Siegue Fact. The Clan of Darkness even attempt to resurrect Dark Fact by using his long-removed relative Keith’s body as a vessel. Feena and Leah resurface when Adol visits Darm Tower, which heavily hints that they too were members of Eldeel’s race. Mask of the Sun essentially implies a lot about the history of Celceta, but doesn’t really state outright nearly as much information as its counterpart.

I also mentioned earlier that the gameplay between both games, while using the same core concept, varied significantly in terms of execution. It may seem like gloating to bring this up again, but in the end, I speculate that both games when taken together were what caused Falcom to depart from their traditional mechanics in future iterations of the series. Mask of the Sun favored a more classic approach to the gameplay, essentially emulating the gameplay schema of the original PC versions of the first two Ys games. While this reliance on more precise controls didn’t quite lend itself well to the twitchier style of gameplay expected of console games, it did manage to make the game more difficult. Conversely, Dawn of Ys took the simplified version of these mechanics and expanded on them, essentially making them even more user-friendly with the addition of diagonal movement. Unfortunately, in turn this broke the balancing of the entire concept: the ability to walk diagonally makes it essentially impossible to not run into an enemy off-center which, in turn, essentially makes Adol invincible throughout most of the game. This would essentially leave Falcom in an awkward position for future titles if they decided to retain this mechanic: either essentially crippling players with an archaic concept while retaining a sense of difficulty or throwing any sense of balance out the window while modernizing the concept. Perhaps playing both versions of Ys IV essentially makes the shift to new gameplay styles feel like less of a betrayal of their trademark concept and more like a pragmatic shift in order to keep the series moving.

One final contrast I feel is a bit of a necessity to explore, though I guess it relies significantly more on spoilers than anything else I’ve mentioned so far. Then again, as this article is a retrospective on a series that’s been around for 30 years now, spoilers had to be expected. Each game approached its climax in very different ways, leading to substantially different final bosses. Mask of the Sun sets Eldeel as the game’s final boss – a choice that is definitely a significant improvement over how they used him in Dawn of Ys. In Dawn of Ys, Eldeel was essentially the pawn of the Clan of Darkness and gets unceremoniously stabbed to death by Gruda. Kind of weird seeing a god-like being get taken out so easily. Dawn of Ys, on the other hand elects to use an original character: Arem, the legendary leader of the Clan of Darkness during their war with the Golden City. Again, this sort of elevates the Clan of Darkness significantly when compared to Mask, where they’re essentially staged in such a way where they’re getting ready to betray Eldeel and steal his powers but never actually manage to pull off their schemes, which just ends up making them look stupid. In both games, the Clan of Darkness are the ones who persuade Eldeel to turn on the people of Celceta, but it is interesting to see how both games took this story prompt in completely different directions.

Personally, I always found it amusing that Falcom would consider Mask of the Sun to be the “canonical” take on Ys IV. I mean, it’s understandable – Tonkin House more closely followed Falcom’s outline than Hudson Soft did, so it’s only fair that their version would earn the title of the “true” Ys IV – but at the same time, it’s a little baffling. Not exactly from a quality standpoint, that’s irrelevant. Rather, a majority of the merchandising surrounding Ys IV in general appeared to favor Dawn of Ys over its Super Famicom counterpart. The “Perfect Collection” albums used the PC Engine’s selection of songs as its basis, but this may have been due to the fact that Ryo Yoneimitsu handled them as usual. Of course, that didn’t explain the fact that the soundtracks that showcased Falcom’s own original PC-88 compositions were also named for DoY. Perhaps the most baffling aspect of this whole affair is the fact that Falcom themselves produced several videos focusing on Dawn, not to mention the fact that their pitch trailer for an anime based on the fourth game was named “The Dawn of Ys” and utilized designs that clearly resembled that version more than those from Mask of the Sun. In the end, the arguments are irrelevant in general, simply because Falcom ended up releasing their own version of Ys IV several years later: Foliage Ocean in Celceta, or “Memories of Celceta” as it’s known in the West.

Ys V: Kefin, Lost City of Sand

While Ys IV would mark the end of the classic Ys formula, Falcom had one last game in the series planned for the fourth generation of video game consoles. Whether Falcom themselves knew that they had reached the logical conclusion of the original “run-and-bump” system present in the previous games or simply believed that the franchise needed to be refreshed, Ys V would take things in an entirely new direction. Of course, it didn’t exactly work out for the best: the game shares a Black Sheep status with Wanderers from Ys. The game was so bad, I even managed to write an entire article on what I feel the best course of action would be if the game were ever remade – and believe me, it desperately needs a remake. Yet, despite all its problems, Ys V would have a profound impact on future entries in the series, albeit not an entirely positive one.

Released at the tail end of 1995, Ys V: Ushinawareta Suna no Miyako Kefin – generally translated as “Kefin, Lost City of Sand” – was the first game in the series developed exclusively for consoles by Falcom themselves. This was may very well have been Falcom’s first attempt at developing directly for the Super Famicom, Tonkin House handled the previous Ys games and Koei would handle the ports of the first two Brandish games on the platform. This simple fact entirely foreshadows the game’s quality. To make matters worse, I’ve heard speculation that Kefin had a particularly short development cycle, leading to the excision of various content, including an appearance from Adol’s constant travel companion Dogi, whose absence was particularly worrying. Apparently, many fans complained that the game was too easy, so Falcom would release “Ys V Expert” the following year: in addition to raising the game’s difficulty level, Expert also included various bug fixes, a hidden dungeon and a brand-new Time Attack mode – essentially a Boss Rush, the first (but not the last) in the series. Surprisingly, the game took a long time to receive a fan translation, due to various technical difficulties found while editing the game itself. Aeon Genesis, the same team that handled the translation for Mask of the Sun, managed to release a fully playable translation in 2013. To put that in perspective, the English fandub project for The Dawn of Ys was completed the previous year. Currently, the fan translation is the only way to play the game in English in any form, which is very telling.

Ys V lives up to its name, in the sense that it takes place after both Ys III and IV. This time around, our hero Adol lands in the Xandria region in the continent of Afroca – don’t ask me, I didn’t name it. Adol has built quite the reputation, earning the attention of a wealthy merchant named Dorman. Dorman hires Adol for the expressed purpose of finding a special set of crystals that are said to be related to the lost civilization of Kefin, a legendary city in Afroca’s desert said to have disappeared over five hundred years ago. In fact, the desert where Kefin was said to reside has been expanding recently, ruining various towns across the continent and displacing their residents. Dorman believes that the secrets of the people of Kefin, who are said to have discovered the magic of alchemy, should be able to revive the land. On his quest to find the crystals, Adol meets various people who help him on his journey. Niena, a young shopkeeper with a mysterious past; Massea, a wise woman who teaches Adol the ways of alchemy, and the Evil gang, a family of thieves consisting of young Terra acting as a decoy, her older brothers Dios and Nortis as the muscle and their mother Alga who acts as their leader. Throughout his journey, Adol also encounters Stoker, a spirit from 500 years in the past, whose motives are unclear. Of course, things may not be as they seem, which seems to be the case with most RPGs. Can Adol discover the secret of Kefin and save Xandria from desolation?

Perhaps the weirdest part of Kefin, Lost City of Sand’s story is the fact that outside of a few character appearances, it doesn’t really relate to anything that came before it or, even more surprisingly, follows it. I’ve heard some Ys fans categorize the fourth, fifth and sixth games in the franchise as a “trilogy”, but the story of Ys V just sort of comes across as a bit of a non-sequitur in a lot of ways. For example, apparently Dogi was originally planned to be involved in the game, with minor character Effy even planned to be his girlfriend at that point in development. Aside from Adol, the only character or story element from this game that even reappears is Terra, who ages 3 years and becomes a pirate in the process. It doesn’t really help that the game’s true villain – the captain of Dorman’s guards: Rizze – doesn’t really do anything of importance after her reveal as the true mastermind. The game’s final boss is a random henchman of hers, who Adol ends up fighting twice in succession. I’ve joked in the past that playing an Ys game strictly for the story entirely misses the point of the series, but even the most threadbare of storylines from previous games were at least coherent.

Just like Wanderers from Ys before it, Ys V departs from the established Ys formula, though not quite to the extent of its predecessor. The game maintains its top-down overhead perspective, as well as various staples of the series such as the ability to regain health by standing still outside of dungeons, as well as the standard inventory system shown in games past. However, Ys V did ditch the classic attack system, going for a more traditional attack button, mimicking games like The Legend of Zelda, Crystalis or Secret of Mana. Adol’s attacks would often vary based on which weapon he has equipped: either a traditional sword slash or a stab, which offer more range sideways and straight forward, respectively. The shield is also given a tangible use in this game, allowing our red-haired adventurer to block oncoming attacks. He also gains the ability to jump, allowing for simple platforming in a slightly isometric style. Jumping would also come into play in several of the game’s boss fights. On the surface, all these changes sound like they would be positive additions to the series – as I said earlier, both iterations of Ys IV showcased the impending limitations of the traditional “run-and-bump” gameplay from previous titles in the series. Unfortunately, they came with a caveat: terrible controls. Ys games are traditionally fast-paced affairs, relying far more on reflexes than thoughtful planning, and Ys V is no exception. Unfortunately, Adol’s new slash and stab attacks both move at a glacial pace, giving players only a short window of opportunity to attack without trading hits. Compared to the original Zelda, which came out nearly a decade prior, the attack speed is abysmal. Likewise, the jumping controls are incredibly clunky, which makes the mercifully few segments that require pixel-perfect platforming a nightmare to complete.

The game’s magic system is also significantly overhauled. While previous games, even Ys III, tied specific effects to specific items, Ys V utilizes a brand-new system it dubs “alchemy”. Throughout the course of his adventure, Adol finds various elemental stones, each representing one of six elements: Fire, Water, Earth, Wind, Light and Dark. Three of these can be combined to form a Fluxstone, which contains the spell itself. These Fluxstones can be attached to Adol’s current weapon, allowing him access to their magic. Unfortunately, once a Fluxstone has been attached to a weapon, it’s no longer usable on any future weapons. Also, due to the addition of various elemental weaknesses and strengths, as well as relying upon specific locations to create Fluxstones in the first place, I just ended up ignoring the magic system throughout the clear majority of the game, only really making use of it when it was first introduced. The fact that Adol levels up both his physical and magical strength separately only served to encourage this decision – for the first time, I was perfectly happy battling through the game with only Adol’s sword. Ys V also dismisses the ability to save anywhere at any time, instead using various locations such as inns to allow for saving. Players can also make quick saves, but these only last for as long as the system is left running. The game’s inventory is also slightly modified: Adol can now hold multiple healing items at one time and pause the game at any point – even during boss battles – to make use of them. I’m not sure if I would consider this a change for the better, because though the game’s poor controls make things difficult, this is a game-breaking feature. Finally, enemies no longer drop money – instead they drop gems, which can be sold, which essentially just adds another step to the process of grinding to buy new items.

Ironically, despite having terrible controls, Kefin, Lost City of Sand is significantly easier than previous Ys games, to the point where it almost makes me wish that translation patch worked on the Expert version instead of the original release. The weirdest part about the game is just how front-loaded the difficulty is. The boss fights I had the most trouble with were among the earliest in the game – particularly the fourth boss, the fire dragon from the Se-Be Ruins.  It only gave me so much trouble because I wasn’t levelled high enough. Of course, boss fights that are nearly impossible without the proper levelling are practically an Ys staple, so I can’t really say that that bothered me quite so much. On the other hand, many of the later bosses were fairly easy by comparison. It’s to the extent where I ended up beating the final boss on my first try. That’s not even the worst part: to this day, I don’t even know how I ended up doing it. I just sort of flailed around and ended up winning. Maybe this is another one of my weird opinions, but the only thing I find more annoying than losing without knowing why is winning for the same reason. I can’t really explain why, it just ticks me off.

The graphics are also an extreme departure from previous games in the series. For starters, the character sprites are significantly less “super deformed” than previous games in the series, going for slightly more realistic proportions. Personally, I’m not a fan – the realism doesn’t really go far enough, so it just ends up coming across as a half-measure in the long run. The game’s setting also suffers in the process. Graphically, everything looks just fine, to the extent where I’d say it has the best-looking in-game graphics of any Ys game up to this point by a wide margin. Some of the magic spells’ special effects are particularly impressive, especially given Falcom’s small team of artists. Unfortunately, in the process, the game loses a lot of its charm: even the traditional border from previous games in the series disappears, expanding the playing field. There is also a distinct lack of even the rudimentary cutscenes seen in the earliest releases in the series. Ys V ends up resembling a knockoff Squaresoft RPG in the worst ways, coming off less as a logical extension of the previous settings in the series and more like a generic fantasy setting, almost bordering on parody with its sheer genericity. I’ve heard various speculation as to why this was the case: some said it was an attempt at attracting a broader audience; others think this was simply Falcom’s attempt at improving the graphics. Regardless, the graphics have definitely improved since Mask of the Sun and Wanderers from Ys on Nintendo’s 16-bit powerhouse – it just happened to come at the cost of the Ys series’ unique charm.

The sound design fares similarly. Many sound effects present in previous Ys games return, effectively recreated using the Super Famicom’s hardware – but this is the only common audible thread this game shares with its predecessors. The music doesn’t really seem to match with that of the rest of the series. The soundtrack’s tone better resembles your standard SNES-era RPG, both in terms of composition but especially in instrumentation. I’ve heard many people compare it to the songs found in most Squaresoft and Enix RPGs released that generation, and I’m inclined to agree. Once again, the music found in this game isn’t necessarily bad, but I’d have to say Ys V may have among the most forgettable soundtracks in the entire franchise, simply because while deviating from the traditional tone found in the Ys series, it does so by creating a far more generic sound. The fact that this was the first game in the franchise not to receive a fully arranged album doesn’t really help matters.  Only two albums – one orchestral, the other an “image album” that contained both original recordings from the SFC version as well as a few arrangements that were standard around this era – even attempted to revisit the game’s compositions. Having said that, I do have a few tracks I enjoy: “Field of Gale”, the first overworld theme; the Evil gang’s theme “Thieves of Brotherhood”; “Turning Death Spiral” and “Bad Species”, two of the game’s boss themes and “Break into Territory”, a theme from one of the game’s later areas. It’s a shame, honestly – even black sheep of the franchise Wanderers from Ys was praised for its soundtrack, while Ys V is woefully misrepresented when even Falcom themselves reflect on the series’ most popular songs. Perhaps more of the game’s soundtrack would be better received if it had been rearranged into the Ys series’ traditional symphonic metal style. I would argue that this is another major reason why it should be remade.

Despite Ys V’s lack of polish – especially egregious given how late into the Super Famicom’s lifespan it was released – I can’t honestly say that I hold any major ill will against it. Even though I would probably consider Kefin, Lost City of Sand to be the black sheep of the entire Ys franchise, I should give it credit for at least attempting to change up the formula. While Mask of the Sun was a terrible effort at recreating the magic of previous games in the series, Ys V failed in entirely brand-new ways for the series. At the very least, one could argue that Falcom was out of their depths on this release: developing an Ys game with completely new gameplay mechanics on a platform they were unfamiliar with. More importantly, in spite of its failings, Kefin would influence later games in the series: games that would definitely handle the changes it introduced in a much more favorable way. If you look back at Ys V less as a fully-formed entry and more of a rough draft for what would follow, the game’s importance becomes clear. A backhanded compliment, I admit, but perhaps the one the game best deserves. Considering the fact that Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo has already expressed interest in making a remake of the sixth game in the series, hopefully Adol will revisit Xandria in the next project from the Ys series.

Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim

Ys V definitely took its toll on the series as a whole. Aside from a few remakes, the franchise laid dormant throughout the entirety of the fifth generation. Meanwhile, Falcom returned to PC development – mostly focusing on porting various older games to Windows with various enhancements. However, the development staff behind the Ys Eternal remakes found themselves with a sudden urge to create an entirely new title in the series. Deciding to build on the concepts present in Ys V and using the same technical knowledge they gained while creating those remakes, Falcom ended up with Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. Ys VI would end up kicking off an entirely new trilogy of Ys games that are generally considered among the best in the series to this day. Surprisingly, it would also be the first game in the series to be released outside of Asia in over a decade.

Made in 2003, nearly 8 years after Kefin, Lost City of Sand, The Ark of Napishtim represented a true return to form for the Ys series. For starters, the original version was developed in-house by Falcom themselves for PC, something that hadn’t occurred since Wanderers from Ys was released in 1989. The game was originally released for the Windows XP OS, though later releases optimized for Vista and Windows 8 would be released in 2007 and 2013 respectively. The game also saw a couple of console releases. First, it came to the PS2 in 2005 with a few additional features, including a new 3D CG opening – which looks horrifying if you ask me – voice acting and replaces the sprite work with 3D models that end up reminding me of various pre-rendered games from the late ‘90s. These models have even more realistic proportions than the sprite work from Ys V, but given the fact that the background elements are retained from the original version, it comes across as a little awkward. This version also adds several new challenges in the form of “Alma’s Trails”, which comes with their own unique music – which doesn’t match up well with the existing tracks. There was also a PSP release in 2006 that more closely resembled the PC version, aside from a zoomed-in playing area and terrible load times, but includes the Sealed Caves, an extra dungeon with various trials. Both of these console ports were handled by Konami and managed to make it to both North America and Europe, receiving full English dubs in the process. Finally, in 2015, XSEED managed to acquire the rights to the original PC version and localized it on both Steam and GOG. They also managed to make a few additions to the game, improving the game’s resolution, adding warp points through the improved “Wing of Alma” item and the new “Catastrophe Mode”, which limits Adol from carrying healing items in his inventory, forcing him to use them as soon as he obtains them. Every version also contains the “Time Attack” Boss Rush mode – returning from Ys V Expert and Ys I & II Complete – which would be cemented as a key feature for future titles.

Taking place roughly 3 years after his previous adventure, Adol Christin has finally reunited with his old friend Dogi and the two plan on exploring more of the continent of Afroca. While planning their new adventure during a brief layover in the port city of Ediz, they encounter the pirate captain Ladoc who makes a counteroffer. The archipelago known as the “Canaan Islands” is an uncharted land shrouded in mystery due in large part to a strange weather pattern similar to the Stormwall that left Adol shipwrecked when he first travelled to Esteria. Dubbed “The Great Vortex”, little is known of it aside from two rumors: that it means certain death for anyone foolish enough to enter it and that it contains an unprecedented treasure at its center. Intrigued by the Vortex of Canaan, Adol and Dogi agree to accompany the pirate’s crew – which just so happens to include young Terra, who has grown since Adol last saw her. The group board Ladoc’s ship, the “Tres Mares” and begin their expedition. Unfortunately, the Romun Empire have also set their sights on Canaan and intend to remove any and all threats – even one as insignificant as a ragtag crew of pirates and adventurers. The Tres Mares is attacked at sea and in the process, Adol is knocked overboard into the Vortex, seemingly left for dead.

Fortunately, Adol manages to survive and washes ashore on Quatera, one of the three Canaan Islands. There, he is rescued and nursed back to health by two natives: Olha, a high priestess, and her younger sister, Isha. The two are the nieces of their tribe’s chief, Ord, who has a massive distrust for “Eresians” – the name he has given to humans. For Canaan is home to the Redha, a race of humanoid creatures with elven ears and fluffy tails. While Olha is rare among her kind in that she doesn’t mistrust humans innately, Isha is frightened by Adol’s presence, mostly due to visions of the future she’s had relating to his arrival. This all changes when Isha sneaks off and encounters Demi-Galba the Wandering Calamity, a giant monster that also happened to the one that killed Olha and Isha’s father. Adol manages to find her just in time, but despite his best efforts, he is unable to kill the monster and he breaks his sword in the process. Fortunately, Chief Ord and the other warriors of his tribe destroy the monster once and for all with one final blow. At this point, the Redha accept Adol as a friend and Ord explains that he is impressed by Adol’s strength and bravery: steel swords were incapable of killing the beast he fought, as it could only be truly destroyed by weaponry forged of Emels, the same material the monster itself was composed. Ord grants Adol Livart – a sword that is a sacred relic of the Redha and capable of utilizing the power of the wind –  and asks the red-haired swordsman a favor as he continues to explore the Canaan Islands. He is tasked with recovering another relic of the Redha, the Mirror of Zeme. The Mirror of Zeme is passed from priestess to priestess, so in addition to being an important artifact, it’s also a keepsake of Olha’s mother, the previous head priestess.

Adol also learns that he was not the only one to survive the Great Vortex and that the surviving Eresians have set up their own colony on one of the other islands. The same day the Mirror of Zeme went missing, the suspension bridge connecting the two islands was destroyed. After searching their own island thoroughly, Ord and the Redha assumed that the Eresians on “Canaan Island” had stolen the Mirror of Zeme for their own purposes: they were, after all, destroying temple ruins to gather building materials for their own village. Adol is also told that he can travel between the two islands by a subterranean tunnel unearthed in the battle with the Wandering Calamity. He sets off for Canaan Island at the chief’s behest, but there are questions still left to be asked. What happened to Dogi and Ladoc’s crew? Will he ever be able to escape from the Canaan Islands? Just what is the Great Vortex and can it be overcome?

I could easily describe Ark of Napishtim’s gameplay in a single phrase: “Ys V, done right.” Unfortunately, as the fifth game is perhaps the most obscure of the series’ mainline entries, I will go into greater detail. Ys VI maintains the attack button and the jump introduced in its direct predecessor, but manages to go about using them in far greater ways. For starters, Adol’s attack is much more responsive this time around – effectively allowing for the game’s action to reach the breakneck speeds the series was acclaimed for from its humble beginnings. The game also introduces the controversial “lunge attack” – performed by tapping forward lightly, then pausing briefly before hitting the attack button, to do a single strong thrust attack. The reason it’s controversial is because the in-game instructions detailing how to perform it are confusing at best and misleading at worst. I can confirm that with the English translations, but I can only say that I’ve heard it was merely a direct translation of the information as it was detailed in the original Japanese release. The PC versions also offer players the option to play the game on keyboard, mouse or a combination of the two. Personally, I stuck with my gamepad.

Throughout the game, Adol gains access to three different swords and unlike in previous games in the series, each has their own use throughout the entirety of the adventure. They offer different attack styles and provide Adol with both unique elemental attacks and powerful magical spells. Each sword has its own magic meter, which can be filled by attacking enemies, but can eventually gain the ability to replenish passively when equipped. As these three swords are obtained fairly early in the game, they’re also capable of being upgraded by taking them to a blacksmith and be upgraded in return for Emel, which is collected by defeating enemies and can also be found in treasure chests. The three swords are the aforementioned Livart, a wind-based sword that allows Adol to string together fast combos and allows him to summon a short-range tornado slash attack; Brillante, a heavy fire-based sword that has the strongest individual attacks and allows Adol to fire off a wave of fire, but slows down Adol’s strikes; and Ericcil, a fencing foil with electric attacks, Adol can generate a more powerful thrust attack with consistent strikes and its magic attack is a chain lightning strike that can hit multiple enemies if they’re all close enough. Some enemies are more vulnerable to one sword than the others, but fortunately, Adol can switch swords on the fly with the push of a button.

Adol’s jumping ability, on the other hand, is more of a mixed bag. The jump is far more responsive this time around and it’s easier to gauge exactly where you’re going to land this time around. The game also offers more options for Adol to attack when in the air: if he attacks while ascending he’ll slash upward, but if he attacks on the descent, he’ll do a downward stab which deals multiple hits if aimed properly. This technique ends up being important, as it affords Adol a means of escape if he gets swarmed by enemies and allows him to breach certain enemies’ defenses. Unfortunately, there’s another new technique that is substantially more complex, but fortunately isn’t quite as prominent in the game: the dash-jump. To perform a dash-jump, players must perform a lunge attack while hitting the jump and attack buttons simultaneously. While the lunge attack is easily ignored by most players as an optional technique, mastery of the dash-jump is necessary to complete the game, with one dungeon focusing a great deal on its proper application. Aside from that, the jumping mechanics have not yet entirely been perfected, though the difference from Ys V is essentially night and day and it’s easy to see that a lot of work went into rebuilding this mechanic.

While the swords in Ys VI are far more versatile than those of previous entries in the series, the armor and shields retain their traditional disposability: each can be easily discarded once the next one is found. Likewise, the blocking mechanic from Ys V has been dropped, with the game’s defensive options once again focusing entirely on dodging. The ability to equip accessories also returns from previous games, though this time it works somewhat differently. Near the beginning of the game, Adol can only equip a single accessory at a time, but additional slots can be found during gameplay, allowing multiple accessories to be equipped simultaneously. They all have passive effects that aid Adol in his journey: for example, the Thief’s Glove increased the drop rate for gold, the Starlight Medal increases the amount of experience gained and the Bloody Nail allows Adol to heal by killing enemies. There are four additional slots in total, allowing players to customize Adol’s loadout to best suit their play style. Adol is also able to set a single type of item that he can use in the heat of battle – most of these are items that either replenish HP or curse status effects. There are also three items that permanently increase Adol’s stats: the Seed of Vitality raises his HP by 5 points, the Seed of Power raises his strength by 1 and the Seed of Defense raises his defense by 1. The traditional Inventory of event-related items also returns, with the only truly perpetual item being the Wing of Alma, which allows Adol to escape from dungeons.

As with Ys V, players can no longer save their game at any point during gameplay, but instead of only allowing saves in inns, Ys VI offers a much more agreeable compromise: important areas are littered with monuments to Alma, which allow players to heal and save the game. Fortunately, the game still allows players to load saves at any point. Another difference from previous games is that Adol can no longer heal while standing still anywhere. This was likely changed to properly balance the ability to store healing items and equip them for use at any point in the game. While poison was introduced to the Ys series all the way back in both iterations of Ys IV, new status effects also join the fray: Heavy limits Adol’s speed and jumping, Confusion reverses the game’s controls and Curse drops Adol’s strength and defense significantly. While the Poison, Heavy and Confusion status effects wear off given enough time, the Curse must be cured. The game’s world is relatively small – taking place mostly across two islands – but requires an extreme amount of backtracking. As I mentioned earlier, the most recent release from XSEED gives Adol the ability to warp between any save point he previously used, which makes traversing the Canaan Islands significantly less of a chore. Therefore, I can’t really discuss this problem in-depth, it just didn’t apply to my playthrough.

As I mentioned earlier, the development team used a lot of the knowledge they gained while developing the Ys Eternal remakes when crafting Ys VI and it shows in some ways. In other ways, however, it shows just how far the art team had come. I’ve heard some fans of the series refer to Ark of Napishtim as “the first 3D Ys game”, but that just doesn’t sit well with me. At best, I’d probably consider it more of a “2.5D game”: the character sprites, most of the enemies and many of the smaller in-game objects are rendered as 2D sprites – that loosely resemble the prerendered 3D style generally seen during the transition period between the fourth and fifth generations, but are 2D all the same – while the game’s environments, bosses and larger objects are fully rendered in 3D. Sure, that description doesn’t really make the game’s aesthetic sound all that cohesive, but believe me, it manages to create a look that aged well, even when rendered in high definition for the most recent re-release. As I mentioned earlier, the PS2 replaced all the sprite work into full 3D models, but frankly I prefer the original look. The character sprites all take on a super-deformed appearance – like older games in the series – but for once, this allows the game’s cast to be much more expressive compared to previous games. The 3D models present in the PS2 version make such expressions vaguer, if even visible. Honestly, the graphical changes present in that release end up looking more stilted and pre-rendered than the original 2D sprites they replaced. I do have to give Konami credit for their version though: Adol’s current equipment is represented in his in-game model in their version, which is a nice touch all things considered.

After the admittedly generic sound present in Ys V wasn’t nearly as well received as the soundtracks from previous games, one might expect that Ark of Napishtim would revert to the more traditional symphonic metal sound associated with the Ys franchise. You may also recall that I declared that Ys VI was “Ys V, done right”. This statement also applies to the music: while it does invoke much of the theming present in the more famous soundtracks of the series, it also manages to create its own niche by incorporating a number of other genres. Napishtim’s soundtrack is the furthest thing from “generic”. The instrumentation is synthesized, but the music combines elements of techno, rock ballads, drum and bass, as well as the traditional blend of classical, metal and video game music present in the most memorable of Ys soundtracks. Even new arrangements of classic themes like “SO MUCH FOR TODAY” and the Romun Empire’s theme make their way into the game. My favorite tracks in this game would have to be the main boss theme, “MIGHTY OBSTACLE”; “WINDSLASH STEPS”, one of the overworld themes; “MOUNTAIN ZONE”, the song associated with the Grana-Vallis Mountains; “DEFEND! AND ESCAPE!” which plays while Adol in fighting with the Romun Empire and “SPREAD BLUE VIEW” which plays over the credits. Of course, my favorite song in the entire game – maybe even the entire franchise – would have to be the final dungeon’s theme: THE RUINED CITY “KISHGAL”, a song that blends genres to perfectly represent the ancient yet futuristic technology found within the game’s final area, while presenting a theme that’s upbeat, yet represents the danger found in the area. The original PC version utilized the OGG Vorbis file format, an open source audio file format. As such, both the game’s music and sound designs were far more advanced than previous games in the series, as they could utilize actual recordings as opposed to relying on on-board sound chips for anything. As such, while the sound effects do resemble those found in previous games, they also sound more realistic, a nice touch in my opinion.

What I personally find so impressive about Ys VI is just how much it manages to tie things together. While clearly not the beginning or end of Falcom’s attempts at consolidating the Ys canon, Ark of Napishtim does more than its fair share of heavy lifting – fitting given the fact that it also had to pick up the slack from the fifth game. For starters, the game expands on a lot of the mythology of the series. For example, Alma is one of the “winged ones”, properly known as the “Eldeen” – not to be confused with Eldeel, who happens to be an Eldeen. The Clan of Darkness also gets some more exposure – fully detailing just how they led to the fall of the Eldeen. Geis and Ernst also represent two different sides of the Clan, effectively cementing the dichotomy in motivations – redemption and megalomania – that Falcom still explores when portraying the tribe to this day. Even the Romun Empire gets involved in the action, effectively implying that the members of the empire we’ve seen thus far have their own motivations and don’t necessarily represent their true values. Ernst is merely using the Romuns for his own purposes, while Admiral Agares is a hedonistic moron who cares for little more than his pet, a giant frog monster. Furthermore, other elements from Ys games make subtle appearances. I already mentioned the inclusion of Terra, providing a clear reference to Ys V. The Pikkards that were first introduced in Ys Eternal make a significant appearance in a major sidequest, effectively cementing their place as a replacement to the Roos as Ys’ official cutesy animal mascot. Even more significant would be the naming conventions of two of the game’s bosses: Demi-Galba and Galba-Roa. Galba-Roa is even given the title of “The Original Galbalan”, outright referencing the final boss of Wanderers from Ys and implying that perhaps the franchise’s infamous prodigal game isn’t as far removed from the rest of the series as people were led to believe.

Some people may think that I’m being easy when looking back at Ark of Napishtim. I can completely understand why: it’s all just a matter of context. Ys VI wasn’t particularly popular during its first Western run on PS2 – the series didn’t really gain any traction in the West until XSEED began localizing games on the PSP. As such, most people played later games before getting around to Napishtim. Meanwhile, I didn’t get into the series until later than that and after getting into the series, I decided to play the rest of the games in something resembling chronological order. In retrospect, the game is obviously a step down from its follow-ups in what’s referred to as the “Felghana Trilogy” – for reasons that will be made clear later – but everything has to start somewhere. That’s the only bit of advice I would have to give to anyone looking to play it: keep the original release order in mind, even if the latest release came out in 2015.

I think that regardless of how the game’s overall quality is perceived – whether it’s compared to its predecessors or sequels – Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim is among the most important games in the entire series, perhaps even on par with the first two games. Not only did it revive the franchise, feared dead after Ys V, it also represented a shift in gameplay that would influence the series for quite some time. Having said that, the game isn’t really all that bad even if it is objectively outshone by its successors. I’m actually a little offended that Falcom’s considering remaking it: I would personally argue that Napishtim is the first game in the series that doesn’t really need one, especially given the improvements XSEED made in their most recent release. The game deviated from the original conventions of its most popular forbearers, but did manage to bring the series into modernity, eschewing the conventions that gaming itself had outgrown, but maintaining the very spirit behind these decisions. In the end, that’s what a good sequel and any good revival should do and as such, Ys VI is most certainly both.

Interlude: The Taito Remakes

These next few games aren’t exactly “canon” in any sense – Falcom doesn’t even appear to recognize them in any real capacity. Still, they’re interesting little curiosities that seemed like they were worth exploring. Now for full disclosure’s sake, I must warn you: I didn’t complete any of these versions of the games. I managed to beat the first boss in each one before calling it quits. I figured it was at least giving them a chance just to get a feel for their respective gameplay styles, but lacking any complete translation – hack or even a text file – it just doesn’t seem worth the headache of trying to play through it, since I wouldn’t be able to understand any of the game’s stories and navigating the menus by memory can be something of a chore at times. Having said that, these games were, in fact, the latest games in the series I’ve actually tried out as I’m writing this – but considering that I didn’t even bother completing them and they were never even considered official releases in the first place, they were worth just covering as a curiosity.

If you’ll recall, I mentioned that back in 2003, Falcom had Ys I & II Complete ported to the PS2 as “Ys I & II Eternal Story”, which was published by DigiCube. You’ll also recall that Konami ported Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim to the same console in 2005. This left a pretty significant gap that Taito was more than willing to bridge. As such, they licensed the rights to remake Ys III, Mask of the Sun and Ys V for PS2, which I assume Falcom was more than happy to accept because it essentially earned them money and allowed them to release games on the most popular console at the time without any effort on their part. The interesting thing is that Taito’s remake of Wanderers from Ys actually came out the same month as Konami’s Ys VI port: March 2005. Taito’s take on Ys IV, rechristened “Mask of the Sun – a new theory –“ came out two months later and the remake of Ys V, now subtitled in English as “Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand” came out in March of the following year. These releases, while essentially ignored now, are at least interesting to discuss as a curiosity – for a brief period in 2006 in Japan, the PlayStation 2 had access to every single Ys game in some form or another.

Ys III: Wanderers from Ys

Fittingly enough as the first of their three remakes, Taito’s take on Wanderers from Ys is the one that most closely resembles its source material. Ys III retains its odd gameplay, better resembling Zelda II than any previous game in the series. However, there are some changes made as well. For starters, the original town layout – which was just one straight line – has been replaced with a map. This does make navigating the area a lot easier, but also kind of cuts down the game’s immersion as now travel is essentially handled entirely by menu, which kind of takes away from any sense of exploration in a game that was already lacking in this respect.

Taito does manage to make some changes to the gameplay mechanics. For starters, the enemies can get stunned when attacked and Adol gains a brief flicker period – a short burst of invincibility after taking damage – that makes the quick deaths of the previous versions a thing of the past. The rapid-fire slash attack has been removed. In its place, Adol can now perform up to a five-slash combo, which is almost just as fun to perform. He also gains a new upward slash attack by holding up and attacking at the same time. His jumping slash is also significantly improved from the original game. Aside from that, the game’s control is roughly unchanged. The level layouts are also essentially identical to previous iterations of the game, which is a bit disappointing in retrospect: given the fact that the original game came out back in 1989 – more than a decade prior – one would expect that a full-on remake would attempt to iron out any of the flaws from the original game.

The game’s graphics are interesting to put it mildly. The in-game sprite work reminds me of various independent “doujin” PC games for some reason. That’s not meant to be an insult, but it is kind of an interesting look for the game, effectively going for something contemporary yet familiar. One flaw I do have to point out is that the game lacks the scrolling present in every other version of the game: even the original PC-88 version was capable of it to some extent. It just seems like a weird omission, especially given the fact that the PlayStation 2 is the most powerful platform the game appeared on. Many of the more ornate details in various stage’s backgrounds – particularly the parallax scrolling – are also absent in this version. A significant majority of characters are given character portraits during dialogue scenes in this game. This doesn’t add much in the grand scheme of things, but it is a nice touch that helps to differentiate the various personalities that appear throughout the game. They’re drawn with a somewhat generic anime aesthetic in mind – it’s nothing particularly special, but it does its job. Most of the game’s dialogue is also voice acting, even Adol’s. Now the oddity of Adol speaking in Wanderers from Ys is further compounded with actual voice work behind it. The soundtrack has also been rearranged, but unfortunately, they only seem to use the tracks found in the earliest versions of Ys III. The arrangements themselves are passable – nothing that impressive, but they represent the original compositions well enough.

Before playing this version of the game, I had heard some relatively positive things about this game, essentially comparing it to the Ys Eternal releases in terms of modernizing the original game. I must admit, Taito’s remake does its best to recreate the original game in an aesthetic more pleasing for modern audiences, for better or worse. If you’ve yet to play any iteration of Ys III, can understand Japanese and can obtain this version more easily than any other, I’d recommend it. Ironically, this licensed remake of Ys III would end up being blatantly overshadowed for reasons I’ll explain later.

Ys IV: Mask of the Sun – a new theory –

Even before I popped this one in, I knew I was in for a wild ride. Up to this point in time, I considered Mask of the Sun to be among the worst that the Ys series had to offer and all the things I had heard about this game seemed to imply that this was even worse. I’d even heard jokes that the only reason this game was even made was so that the Super Famicom version would no longer be considered the worst version of Ys IV. Of course, given the awkward history of Ys IV in general, it’s only fitting that Taito’s attempt at recreating it would suffer from a lot of problems.

Unlike the Wanderers from Ys remake, Taito’s take on Ys IV is more of an original product that mostly takes the source material from the Super Famicom version and does its own thing with it. As I mentioned before, I didn’t really play all that far into this one, but there are a few changes I can address. Duren, the informant that frees Adol from the Romun Prison near the start of both 16-bit versions of the game has been completely excised from this version. In fact, the beginning of the game is entirely different. The game starts with Adol travelling by ship, when he spots a message in a bottle – an action the player must take, and believe me, it’s hard to register properly. From there, the ship docks in what I assume is Promalock – the port city where the game truly begins in previous versions of Ys IV – where Dr. Flair appears to make the acquaintance of some random NPC who is willing to lead a search party: again, my inability to read Japanese sort of thwarts any attempt at understanding anything more than broad strokes. After purchasing supplies for the upcoming journey – the usual sword, shield and armor – the two set off with a search party, when they are robbed by bandits. Adol goes after them and manages to track them down to their hideout, an abandoned mine.

Upon encountering the bandit’s leader, soldiers from the Romun Empire show up to arrest them and assume that Adol is working alongside them, so he’s thrown in the stockades as well. It doesn’t take long for Dr. Flair to explain Adol’s innocence and he is freed …directly into the first boss fight. Yeah, I’m certain that even if I was fluent in Japanese, this game’s story would still be incomprehensible. After defeating the boss – a giant creature with one long hand-like claw and a giant bloodshot eye acting as its weak point – Adol meets with the Romun captain, a man by the name of Brutus – acting as a paper-thin replacement for Leo and expansion on the original Mask of the Sun’s unnamed captain – who appears to apologize for the confusion and offers Adol a new shield, some money and a healing herb as a peace offering. From there, Adol and Dr. Flair end up in an entirely new town. It was at this point that I essentially gave up on the game: I’d played enough to understand the gameplay mechanics and it didn’t enamor me enough to ignore both the language barrier and weird narrative. “a new theory” was a fitting subtitle for this game, but from what I’ve read, many of this game’s attempts at changing the Super Famicom version were ill-conceived at best.

The changes Taito made to the gameplay weren’t much better. Now, I’m not exactly going to defend the original Mask of the Sun’s mechanics, but all things considered, they worked given their environment. Taito was clearly inspired by Ys VI while making this game, so they decided to ditch the traditional “run-and-bump” for the hack-and-slash mechanics found in both Ys V and VI. As such, they decided to give Adol three different attacks: pressing square allows Adol to slash, a quick but weak attack; the X button allows Adol to stab forward, an attack that’s slightly stronger but also slightly slower than the slash; and finally hitting circle allows Adol to perform an overhead lunge with his sword, his strongest but slowest attack. Each of these attacks can be strung together into a combo in any order, but the fact that weaker and faster attacks are able to string follow-ups more easily limits what can be considered a viable combo. Having said that, the controls manage to feel less responsive than either 16-bit version of Ys IV. The other controls are somewhat odd as well. Adol walks at a snail’s pace when using the D-Pad, but is only capable of running when using the left analog stick. A single item can be set to an item slot, which can be activated by pressing the triangle button. Speaking of slow, for some reason, Adol’s ability to heal on the overworld manages to be slower in this game than even the SFC version. Also, Adol can equip three swords at a time, which he can swap between by using the L1 and R1 buttons. These last two additions are clearly an attempt to emulate Napishtim, but when juxtaposed against the more traditional menus from earlier Ys games, they come across far more awkwardly. This problem is only compounded by the game’s ridiculous load times: they appear at an alarming rate and are nearly the same length as those of many late-era PS1 games. I guess the addition of Adol doing things to pass the time is a cute touch, but I wish they’d used that effort on cutting down the load times instead. Perhaps the oddest change is the number of save slots – the game only allows for 3 in total, as opposed to the 5 found in Taito’s other two remakes. I know that’s a minor nitpick, but it just struck me as odd.

The game’s artstyle also appears to have taken inspiration from Ys VI, blending 2D sprites with 3D backgrounds and bosses. I’d argue that this didn’t quite work as well as Falcom’s take on it, but considering that this was a budget remake, I feel uncomfortable comparing the two directly. The sprites in this game take on a far more 2D appearance, rather than the pre-rendered “faux-3D” look present in Ark of Napishtim, which may have caused a bit of a clash of styles when set against the 3D backgrounds. Having said that, most of the 3D models I’ve seen in the game aren’t exactly eye-catching themselves: perhaps this game would’ve been better served if it were entirely rendered in 2D. The character portraits from Wanderers from Ys also return with the same vaguely anime art style. Likewise, this game also has voice acting, which is still a nice touch. The game’s soundtrack has also been rearranged again. The interesting part about all of this is that the PS2 takes a different assortment of tracks from the Ys IV soundtrack compared to the original Mask of the Sun, with some of my favorite omitted tracks reappearing. Not quite as good as the PC Engine version, but an objective improvement over the Super Famicom’s.

While I’m not particularly a fan of what I played from this game, it does represent something interesting regarding Falcom’s take on Ys IV in general. As I mentioned earlier, it appeared that The Dawn of Ys was generally considered the canonical version of Ys IV, simply due to the merchandising blitz it had when compared to Mask of the Sun, which made it all the more surprising when Falcom declared the latter as the version they acknowledged as canon. As such, considering they chose Mask of the Sun as the version they would allow Taito to remake for the PS2, this offers concrete evidence of their opinion.  While in most cases, official timelines and retcons are generally offered without any tangible evidence, while Falcom used a set of remakes created by an entirely different company to cement which outsourced game they held as canon. Of course, that choice would be moot in the long run. as they went and made their own iteration of Ys IV, but that’s a story for another time.

Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand

Finally, we come to the last of Taito’s remakes. I said earlier that if any Ys game needed a remake, it was the fifth in the series, so it’s kind of fitting that this one is generally considered the best of the trilogy. Unfortunately, this is essentially nothing more than a back-handed compliment: while Taito managed to fix many of the problems present in the original game, they would end up replacing them with entirely new problems that would plague the game. It’s almost like this entire remake was only developed as the result of a wish on a monkey’s paw.

Kingdom of Sand’s story seems to have found a happy medium between being an exact replica of its source material like Wanderers of Ys and completely going in its out direction like – a new theory – did. The game begins with Adol and Dogi – yes, Dogi manages to make it in this time – entering Xandria by ship. From there, the game ends up skipping Foresta Village and Foresta Cave, with Adol going to Dorman from the start and happening upon Massea’s cabin to learn magic fairly early on, before encountering Terra, pulling a scam on Adol with her two brothers. From there, the story continues almost as normal, with Adol fighting a beast in an arena. This time, however, instead of fighting a small boar, Adol ends up fighting Valtemos, the first boss from the Super Famicom version – who originally resided in the excised Foresta Cave – as opposed to the boar-like “Desert Wolf” originally found in this section. After defeating that first boss, I gave up on the game – once again, due to the language barrier. I must admit, of the three first bosses, Valtemos was definitely the most difficult to defeat, even after I understood its pattern. From what I can tell, Taito’s version of Ys V seems to excise just as much as it adds to the original game’s story. Stoker is completely absent from the game, which takes away one of the interesting plotlines from the original game. Dogi appears at the beginning of the game, but apparently for the most part, he mainly appears through letters – apparently, he decided to go off on his own adventure. While a significant amount of the material added to the game was taken from Falcom’s original design documents, it also appears that Taito also added their own spin on various story elements. The most damning information I’ve heard about this version is that Taito manages to cut so many areas and plot points that it manages to be shorter than the original SFC version, which is disappointing, all things considered.

Fortunately, the gameplay has been significantly improved in this version of the game.  Taito apparently decided to emulate Ys VI even further in this regard: a good choice given the fact that Ark of Napishtim owes a lot of its pedigree to the Super Famicom version of Ys V. The game reverts to a single attack button, which simplifies combat compared to the remake of Ys IV, but is a fair trade given how much more responsive the controls are. This game also manages to retain the somewhat awkward d-pad/analog stick dichotomy for movement. Jumping returns from the Super Famicom version, though the responsiveness of this mechanic lies somewhere between that of the SFC version of Ys V and Ys VI. The jump attacks from Ys VI have also been implemented into the game for good measure. Adol also retains his ability to block with his shield – though this time it’s mapped to the L1 button, the Triangle button brings up the equipment menu.

The magic system has been overhauled from the previous game. There are only four common elements for crafting spells this time around – fire, water, wind and earth – as well as a fifth element strictly used for upgrading Adol’s sword at a blacksmith. You can still install multiple spell orbs per weapon, but each one has their own individual meter this time around, so you can use each attack consecutively. Likewise, you can also equip far more spells to a sword, which incentivizes using the spells more often in general. Unfortunately, while the original game had multiple alchemists throughout the game map willing to craft new orbs for you, only Massea exists in this game – though there are many one-way warps that make travelling back to her easy enough, albeit at the cost of any progress you’ve made in the game. One more improvement made to this game over the original is that now, in addition to being able to save at inns, there are various save statues scattered across the land – clearly inspired by those found in Ys VI. In addition, quick saving is still an option.

Unfortunately, these improvements come at a price: the map design in this game is both generic and confusing at times. It is incredibly easy to get lost, even early in the game. When a game’s overworld is difficult to navigate, there are clearly some major design issues at work. The fact that the camera will often reorient itself at random times only manages to make matters worse when it comes to navigation, due to the lack of any distinguishing landmarks within the game. Worst of all, there’s no map – so at times, finding one’s way through the game relies upon trial and error at best or dumb luck at worst.

The graphics have also improved since the previous game – what a difference a year makes. While most of the 2D sprite work is essentially identical – literally in a few cases – to the previous game, the 3D models have improved significantly from Taito’s take on Mask of the Sun. The portrait work from the previous two games also return with the same art style. The same can be said for the voice acting, as well as the rearranged soundtrack. In fact, the soundtrack for this game is generally held in higher regard compared to the other remakes, likely due to the lack of existing arrangements for Ys V in general. The interesting thing is that the adjustments made to both the game’s artstyle and soundtrack actually end up meaning that the licensed remake actually better resembles an Ys game than the original game made by Falcom themselves.

The funny thing about Taito’s Ys V remake is that if you managed to mix its improvements with the things that the original did well, you would have a suitable game. In the end, while this remake is generally considered the best of the three, it’s more of a lateral move than an actual improvement on its predecessor. That says more about these remakes than anything else ever could. In the end, I’d only moderately recommend III and V, but only in the case where you’re unable to find any other version and are fully fluent in Japanese. Since Wanderers from Ys is available in English in several official capacities, while the Super Famicom version of Ys V has a fan-made translation, it’s hard for me to recommend either of these remakes as anything more than a curiosity. Steer clear of the Ys IV remake though – literally every other version available is superior.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Wanderers from Ys had always been considered the misfit of the Ys series. Despite not being the worst game in the franchise in terms of quality, its sin was absolute: it deviated too far from the series’ established formula – with two games under its belt, the style of the Ys franchise had been forever set in stone – and therefore was considered an abomination in the eyes of the fanbase. Of course, in their infinite wisdom, Falcom decided to rectify this mistake of theirs several years later – essentially transforming the pariah of the franchise into one of its most popular games – with the creation of Ys: The Oath in Felghana. Utilizing an improved version of The Ark of Napishtim’s engine, Oath in Felghana was the first Ys game of its kind: a true remake. While previous remakes – both those made by Falcom themselves and ones developed by other companies – would often try to maintain the basic framework of the original game, Felghana outright overhauled the entire concept, while somehow maintaining its spirit. Combined with the game’s relative pervasiveness – at least compared to other games in the Ys series – this led Felghana to be considered among the best games in the entire series, if not the best.

The Oath in Felghana was first released on Windows PC in Japan in early July 2005. Yes, just over 3 months after Taito’s more traditional remake of the very same game hit the PlayStation 2, Falcom blew them out of the water with their more modernized take. Originally, the game was released with a limited edition that included an 8-CD boxset dubbed Ys Premium Music CD Box in Felghana, a behemoth that included nearly every version of the Ys III soundtrack – including the prototype “pre-arrange” music used during the development of Felghana itself. A standard version that only included the game was also available. In 2007, a version updated to run on Windows Vista was released. In 2010, however, Falcom took it upon themselves to port it to Sony’s PlayStation Portable. This version added new features including voice acting, additional versions of the soundtrack – specifically the PC-88 and Sharp X68000 versions – easier difficulty options and rebalanced gameplay. Better still, later the same year, the localization firm XSEED released the game in North America, using an existing English fan translation – written by a future employee – as a base and even redubbing the dialogue for good measure. Falcom also released a new PC version of the game, this time optimized for the then-current Windows 7 operating system. In 2012, XSEED obtained the rights to release Falcom’s original PC version worldwide, utilizing their existing translation and incorporating widescreen resolutions into the game and sold it on a variety of digital storefronts, their first release on Windows PC. The following year, Falcom would release updated versions of some of their older PC games, now optimized for Windows 8: Oath in Felghana was among them.

The story essentially takes on the same framework as Wanderers. Adol and Dogi venture to his hometown of Redmont in the land of Felghana, where demons have somehow started to rampage. However, this game’s take on the story both expands and alters various plot points. For example, in Wanderers, Adol and Dogi stroll into Redmont after an uneventful voyage. In Felghana, Adol finds Elena surrounded by a pack of wolves and protects her. The game also expands on multiple characters, differentiating and fleshing out various background characters and refining the motivations of some of the more important characters. For example, Elena came across as somewhat cold in Wanderers – I’m still not sure if that was bad writing in the source material or just bad translations – but in Felghana, she clearly cares very deeply for her older brother, Chester. Likewise, the game’s first boss, Dularn, gets heavily expanded on, essentially promoted to a primary antagonist and becoming Garland’s second-in-command, challenging Adol on multiple occasions. Chester’s motivations become fleshed out, but in turn, his actions become far more villainous. Count McGuire – demoted from King – is also significantly humanized, given motivations for his actions in the form of his beloved wife and children. Meanwhile, various new characters – like Margo, the innkeeper who raised Dogi when he was an orphan; Fran, a maid from Valestein Castle and Sister Nell, a nun who has known Elena and Chester since they were young – help to flesh out the world in the same way that many of the minor characters in Ys I & II Eternal (et al.) made both Esteria and the lost continent of Ys themselves feel organic.

In addition to expanding the original story, Oath in Felghana also attempts to connect the game to the Ys mythology and setting as a whole, making various references to games that take place earlier and later in the game’s timeline. For example, now Count McGuire, his family and new character Antonio – a merchant with more ambition than common sense – hail from the Romun Empire. As an additional bonus, this continues the trend that started back in Ark of Napishtim: Falcom would begin humanizing individual members of the Empire, while still treating the Empire itself as a megalomaniacal threat. Originally, Genos’ backstory was essentially veiled in mystery in Wanderers – he was merely the legendary hero who stopped Galbalan the first time – but in Felghana, we discover that he too was chosen by the Eldeen as their champion, just like Adol was in the first two games. Likewise, the reference implied in Ark of Napishtim comes full circle, as Galbalan is confirmed as a creation of the Clan of Darkness, their ultimate weapon during their war with the Eldeen. Some weren’t particularly enamored with these attempts at integrating the game’s plot into the franchise’s wider storyline. Personally? I loved it: Ys IV’s status as a prequel and reliance on references to the first two games seemed to be a response to how poorly received Wanderers from Ys was. By extension, trying to wedge it back into the greater continuity was the only logical decision to redeem the game in the eyes of the fanbase.

Oath in Felghana used an improved version of the engine Falcom pioneered for Ys VI. The chief improvement in this game over its predecessor would have to be the jumping controls: they’re now as tight and responsive as possible given the game’s overhead/isometric perspective. The game’s combat also feels tighter, though considering how well it worked in the first place, it appears to have received only minor tweaks. The lunge attack returns – awkward instructions and all – but is entirely optional this time around. The ironic thing about choosing to work with the Napishtim engine is that it allowed Falcom to create a remake that was both faithful to Wanderers from Ys and the Ys series in general. While Wanderers was originally criticized for being effectively linear in its stage design – a definite step down from the previous game’s more labyrinthine dungeon layouts – it did offer unique obstacles for Adol to overcome, fitting with its new gameplay style. Considering Ark of Napishtim’s platforming capabilities, this allowed Oath in Felghana to recreate many of those obstacles seen in the original source material, yet incorporate them into a more complex setting. Better still, the game ditches the map found in Ys III, opting for an (admittedly small) overworld, that even manages to use the stage intro music “The Boy’s Got Wings” to a much more prominent extent than in previous versions. Likewise, the town of Redmont has been expanded beyond its incredibly linear design, feeling far more alive and expansive than any previous iteration.

Keeping with the theme of blending new and old elements into something greater than the sum of its parts, the map does still play a role in Felghana. At one point in the game, Adol acquires the Wing Talisman, an item that allows him to teleport to any save point he’s previously visited, making backtracking to previous locations less of a chore – which happens far more often than one might suspect. The game also returns to the previous method of finding new stronger equipment to replace Adol’s current sword, shield and armor – but this time around, you’re capable of upgrading your existing equipment to make it more powerful, by paying Adonis, Redmont’s blacksmith, in gold and supplying him with precious Raval Ore, which can be found by defeating enemies and mass quantities are hidden in treasure chests. Of course, the next new set of items are always more powerful than even the previous ones – even at their highest level – but it can be quite helpful when fighting strong enemies. Due to the disposability of swords in this game, magic is now contained within three bracelets: the Ignis Bracelet allows Adol to shoot fireballs from his sword; the Ventus Bracelet allows him to spin like a tornado and the Terra Bracelet, which allows him to charge into opponents at high speeds. These bracelets can be enhanced by finding gems – Rubies, Emeralds and Topazes respectively – which improve their attacks strength and allow Adol access to more powerful attacks The game also ditches the dash-jump in favor of two new power-ups: the Brocia Serum allows Adol to run at high speeds – which can be set to either be permanently on (my preference) or activated by holding a button – and the double-jump, which is exactly what it sounds like. Both of these new abilities definitely add to the overall improved movement in this game. Adol also gains the ability to charge a Boost meter by attacking enemies. Once full, it can be activated at the push of a button to increase Adol’s speed and attack power. Felghana also does away with Adol’s ability to hold healing items: while herbs and other healing items can be found throughout the game world, they’re used up immediately. In addition, enemies often drop items that improve Adol’s attack, defense, or MP regeneration for a brief period. Long combos also multiply the amount of experience points Adol receives by defeating enemies, allowing for a maximum of 199% the normal rate.

The tweaks made to Wanderers from Ys’ story also find their way into the gameplay as well. The addition of the overworld, allows Adol to perform various sidequests – including a couple (mercifully short) escort missions – adding to the depth of the game’s overworld. My favorite addition to Felghana compared to previous versions is the fact that there are boss fights against Chester in this version – not one, but two! This change rectifies a problem that always struck me as weird: in Wanderers, Chester acted as the main antagonist for most of the game and was clearly built up as Adol’s rival, yet he only really seemed to fight Adol in cutscenes, making quick work of him. I’d say that the lack of a legitimate boss fight with Chester was perhaps Wanderers from Ys’ biggest flaw – even moreso than anything else Ys III “did wrong” – so it’s great to see the new version rectify this mistake.

Meanwhile, the graphics haven’t really improved all that much from The Ark of Napishtim. Which is expected, considering the fact that this game was originally designed by a niche Japanese developer on a platform that is famously unpopular in its region of origin. The 2D sprites maintain their pre-rendered look and some of the graphics reappear from Ys VI. Surprisingly, Adol’s graphics get redesigned – most notably adding a blue scarf that becomes a common design element in later games. Even more impressive is the fact that if Adol has a matching set of equipment equipped, his in-game appearance changes to reflect his loadout – a feature previously seen in the PS2 version of Ark of Napishtim. The 3D models do seem have improved slightly, likely owed to Falcom having greater experience with the medium by this point. Overall, things haven’t really changed much since the last game.

As I mentioned earlier, the music from Wanderers from Ys was not only considered the best part of the game, but among the best soundtracks in the entire series. Likewise, the TurboGrafx-16 version was generally accepted as having the best arrangements of these songs. However, The Oath in Felghana’s music managed to at least match, if not exceed, the quality of that incarnation. It was arranged by Yukihiro Jindo, the man who previously arranged the Ys I & II Chronicles soundtrack. As such, the game combines both synth with actual instruments to bring forth a much more organic sound than is generally associated with these compositions. Better still is the fact that many tracks that were extremely situational in the original versions of Wanderers from Ys have greater presence in this version. I already mentioned how “The Boy’s Got Wings” became Felghana’s overworld theme, but “The Theme of Chester” finally lives up to its name – no longer relegated to a secret song found in only a handful of versions of the game, it instead plays when Chester appears in various cutscenes. “Behold!”, originally used in the cutscene that introduced Galbalan, also received a significant promotion: it’s now a boss theme in its own right, accompanying the fight with Garland, the game’s penultimate boss. The sound effects in general are about on par with those found in The Ark of Napishtim, which makes sense given the fact that it was developed on the same hardware. They still work within the game’s context, so this was likely a case of decided not to fix what wasn’t broken.

Of the three games that comprise what many Ys fans refer to as the “Felghana Trilogy”, it’s obvious that Oath in Felghana was the most popular. The reasons behind this are a lot more obvious than one might expect. Felghana represents the final step in the evolution the series began undertaking with Ys V. While Ark of Napishtim played a huge part in refining the gameplay to a respectable level, Felghana would take things even further, essentially perfecting this playstyle. Oath in Felghana also owes a great deal of its popularity to its Western release. While the North American release of the PS2 version of Ys VI managed to release before even the original Japanese version and the PSP release wasn’t far behind, both localizations were handled by Konami. As such, they weren’t particularly well advertised and given the state of both systems when it was released – respectively, the most popular console with an onslaught of titles and Sony’s struggling experimental handheld – it’s easy to see how games like this could’ve been lost in the shuffle. Conversely, while XSEED is a much smaller company than Konami, they put a lot more effort into advertising even their most niche releases. Furthermore, The Oath in Felghana was the second Ys game they published – allowing them to build on their previous work with the brand in their target regions. Likewise, by 2010, the PSP had finally found its footing as a home for lower-budget niche titles, especially those from smaller Japanese developers. Meanwhile, the third and final game in this trilogy – which remained a PC exclusive for many years – wasn’t released outside of Japan until after XSEED released Felghana on PC – again, two years after the international PSP release. As such, for many fans that weren’t already familiar with the classic TG-CD releases or the various fan translations, Oath in Felghana may very well have been the first Ys game they were even aware of.

The Oath in Felghana certainly earns its reputation as one of the best games in the Ys series. It redeemed one of the least popular games in the entire franchise, making it one of the best video game remakes of all-time in my opinion. It also cemented a brand-new gameplay approach for the series, effectively perfecting a concept that was first pioneered in Ys V and substantially refined in Ys VI. Finally, it was among the first Ys games to be released in any official capacity outside of Japan since the original Wanderers from Ys. While that last point didn’t have much to do with the game itself, it did give the series some well-deserved recognition outside its native region and ended up creating an entirely new generation of western fans for the series. Yet, by my own measure, the best game in the “Felghana Trilogy” was still to come.

Ys Origin

So, we come to the latest Ys game I’ve played so far. Ys Origin is more obscure than it deserves to be. The last game in the what many fans dub the “Felghana Trilogy”, Origin doesn’t particularly “improve” on its predecessor in the same way Oath in Felghana improved on Ys VI. In fact, it’s hard to truly describe what the game does better than the previous game: it’s less of a refinement of the existing engine, more taking it well beyond its logical conclusion. Imagine, if you will, if Nintendo had made Ocarina of Time using the base gameplay of A Link to the Past – but instead of creating a game that goes well beyond the technical limitations of the SNES, it instead exceeds the concept of the original game in even the most fundamental ways.

Ys Origin was originally released on Windows PCs in Japan on December 21, 2006. Likely developed as a budget title to hold over audiences until the next major release in the series, Origin was developed using the same engine as The Ark of Napishtim and Oath in Felghana. Shortly after the game was released, Falcom released a patch with a great deal of additional content: new characters, new versions of existing characters, additional difficulty levels, an entirely new game mode and various other secrets. It was so expansive that Falcom had to ship a separate expansion disc to owners of the original version – free if they provided the serial number on their original copy. The game would be optimized and re-released for both Windows Vista and 7 in 2007 and 2010, respectively. On May 31, 2012, XSEED released a localized version of the game on digital storefronts, adding widescreen support, achievements to the Steam version, improving the gamepad support and adding cloud save functionality. This would be the second game they released on the platform and the first that required its own localization effort – once again, working from an existing fan translation. The following year, Falcom released one more version of the game – optimized for Windows 8 this time. The game was unique in the sense that it was the only Ys game that was essentially totally exclusive to the PC platform, until late 2016, when it was announced that DotEmu would be porting the game to both PlayStation 4 and Vita in 2017. While both versions were originally intended to be released simultaneously on February 21, 2017, the Vita version was pushed back to May 30 of the same year. The PlayStation versions both add additional languages and revamp the game’s UI, making it more readable on consoles.

I generally like to refer to Ys Origin as “Ys 0” – or if I’m feeling particularly clever, “Ys 0rigin” – because it’s a far-flung prequel to even the first Ys game. Taking place roughly 700 years before Adol’s first adventure, Origin documents the events that took place soon after the kingdom of Ys was first launched into the sky. After escaping a continent scourged by demons, the people of Ys live peacefully, ruled by the twin goddesses Reah and Feena and the six priests of Ys. However, one day, the twin goddesses disappeared suddenly and without warning. Worried for the safety of their deities, the six priests decided in to send a group of their strongest knights and most powerful magicians in secret to search the ground, fearing the worst. On their way down, a mysterious force sabotages the magical spell meant to teleport them safely to the surface, scattering the party across the now broken and desolate land. There they converge at Darm Tower, a colossal ziggurat seemingly built by the demons themselves with the sole purpose of invading Ys. To make matters worse, the Twin Roda trees – the sole surviving remnants of the land’s once-lush woods – inform the members of the search party that find them that the goddesses are currently within the demonic structure. As the party begins to regroup, their mission becomes clear: recover the goddesses at all costs to keep their power out of the hands of these demons. But is there more to their disappearance than meets the eye?

Ys Origin is unique in the sense that it’s the first mainline game in the series where players don’t play as Adol Christin. To make up for this shortcoming, the game gives you a whopping 3 characters to play with in the main story – though only two of them are available from the start. Yunica Tovah is a young knight and the granddaughter of one of the six priests. Yunica’s father was also one of the two knights that sacrificed themselves to cover Ys’ ascent from the hordes of demons assaulting the land. Lacking any magical ability – a sad irony given the prowess of her family – Yunica instead decided she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a knight to protect the goddesses after a chance encounter with them when she was a child which led to a life-long friendship. Wielding a small axe, what Yunica lacks in combat experience, she more than makes up for in zeal. Yunica’s got average speed and attack range, effectively making her Adol’s equivalent in this game. Hugo Fact, on the other hand, lives up to his family’s legacy: he’s a powerful magician, but fairly cold. He wields both a magic staff and the Eyes of Fact: two magical orbs that triple his spellcasting ability and were passed down through his family. Unbeknownst to his comrades, Hugo was specifically chosen to determine the whereabouts of his older brother, the other knight who covered Ys’ escape into the sky and seemingly died alongside his comrade. Hugo’s playstyle is actually fairly unique for an Ys game: his long-range projectile attacks allow him to play more like a character out of a shoot-‘em-up like Ikari Warriors than the traditional melee style associated with the Ys franchise in general. To compensate for his wider range, Hugo moves slower than Yunica. Complete the game’s story with one or both characters – it depends on which version you have – and you unlock “The Claw”. The Claw is a figure mired in mystery, a former denizen of Ys who gave up everything in return for demonic powers. Working with the Darklings – the group manipulating the demonic horde into building Darm Tower – The Claw has an untold history with both of the game’s protagonists, as well as veiled motivations behind his actions. The Claw manages to be even more melee-focused than Yunica, sacrificing range for increased speed.

Aside from the new playstyles, the gameplay in Origin is mostly unchanged from Oath in Felghana. It’s to the extent where if you’re playing the game as Yunica, the game comes across as a simple graphic and level mod for Felghana, not unlike video game sequels from earlier generations. One major change made to the game is the fact that there is no overworld: after the game’s opening sequences, the entire game takes place within Darm Tower. The first floor, once cleared of the enemies that act as a tutorial, acts as the search party’s base of operations. The most impressive part about Darm Tower in this game is just how diverse the various segments of it are. While in the original Ys, most of the tower had similar theming, Origin’s reimagining includes an underwater segment, allowing swimming (which is representing by the ability to jump in mid-air perpetually) but also implementing a limited air meter; a desert temple characterized by solid gold platforms with as little traction as an ice floe and even the now-traditional lava area, now supplemented with spinning blades and other death traps. Various corrupted statues of the goddesses litter the tower, but using a Crystal given to the character near the beginning of the game, they can be purified and used as save points. These statues also allow the characters to upgrade their armor and leggings and buy other stat boosts that permanently power-up their characters by using SP, the game’s stand-in for traditional currency. Finally, as with Felghana before it, these statues can also be used as warp points from anywhere on the map by using the crystal.

That’s not to say there are no changes from the previous game. For starters, armor and leggings – replacing Adol’s traditional shield – can only be upgraded once per item. However, the weapons wielded by each character remain a constant throughout the entire game. They can be upgraded by finding Cleria ore and having their weapons tempered by Rico Gemma, a magician who resides at base camp. Likewise, the Boost system returns but acts differently depending on the character: Yunica gets a more traditional stat boost, while Hugo’s Eyes of Fact double, giving him five shots as opposed to his standard three. Three magical relics are also found throughout the Tower, granting Yunica and Hugo new magic attacks. However, the attacks differ between characters. For example, the Levinstrike Warhammer grants its user lightning magic, but while Yunica gains a powerful smash attack, Hugo gains the ability to place remote mines that he can detonate manually or automatically after a brief period. These different approaches to magical attacks generally suit their character’s playstyle, which leads to much wider diversity in gameplay. These relics can be upgraded by various gems once again – the same Emeralds, Topazes and Rubies return from Felghana to achieve this goal. There are also Roos hidden throughout the Tower, each of which offers a power-up as a reward, if you find the area’s corresponding Roda Fruit and feed it to them.

Each character has their own unique storyline, though this has little effect on the Tower’s layout. This does mean that unique bosses are fought in each story mode – not to mention bosses fought at different points – which means that there’s enough of a reason to replay the game multiple times to see how the different scenarios play out. Speaking of which, I love how Falcom handled the bosses in this game, I think they’re among the best in the entire series. Most Ys games’ bosses rely entirely on reflexes, but many of the bosses in Origin require a mild amount of strategy to damage. They’re not quite puzzles, but I’ll give an example: when fighting Nygtilger, one must first remove his entire protective shell, plate by plate, before dealing damage as the giant arthropod erratically fires off thunderbolts and poisonous orbs, requiring planning and spontaneity in equal measure to overcome. There are also additional modes that can be unlocked by completing the game. Time Attack – the Ys series’ now-traditional boss rush mode – is unlocked character-by-character upon completing the game. Beat the game with all 3 characters unlocks both the new Arena mode and a Bonus shop. The arena mode consists of arena-based combat in levels themed after areas in the main campaign, fighting against waves of enemies constantly increasing in strength and number. The Bonus Shop allows you to spend the SP you win by beating stages in Arena mode on additional content. New stages in the arena, powered up versions of the three playable characters and even unlocking Adol Christin as a playable character – albeit only in Time Attack and Arena mode. All of this additional content gives Ys Origin a level of replay value no previous game in the series could even hope to match.

As with Felghana before it, the graphics still haven’t really changed much since The Ark of Napishtim. Considering the increased amount of characters, Falcom has decided to ditch changing the graphics depending on the character’s equipment for the most part this time. There is one minor example of graphics changing based on loadout, however: when Yunica obtains the final magical relic, she’s able to switch out her axe for the Crimson Lotusblade, which changes both her appearance and fighting style in equal measure. Once again, the sprites are essentially identical in style, but the 3D models show minor improvement over even those found in Felghana. You really get the feeling that Falcom was using these games to improve their 3D modelling skills for future projects that relied entirely on them, as opposed to the mixed-media approach seen in this game and its predecessors. I think this game uses full-motion video cutscenes more often than previous games in this style, which doesn’t necessarily improve Origin’s graphical prowess, but does help to better convey the game’s environment and narrative in ways that the overhead and isometric perspectives are often limited.

Given the fact that the game takes place in the familiar Darm Tower, it’s only fitting that much of the music are new arrangements of songs that originated in both Ys I and II. For example, “TOWER OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH” appears as the first section’s theme – this time around however, it’s a much lighter theme, representing the beginning of the adventure within Darm Tower, as opposed to the conclusion of Ys I. There are also several new compositions as well, so there’s a good mixture of old and new in Origin’s soundtrack, which works out perfectly fine for me. Adding to the speculation that this game was a budget title, the game’s soundtrack generally consists of synthetic instruments, and as such, most compositions are credited to the Falcom Sound Team jdk. A few tracks do manage to see some real instruments mixed in there – most credited to Yukihiro Jindo – but honestly, at this point, Falcom’s synths are of high enough quality and it’s not really that detrimental to the compositions. My favorite returning tracks from this game are “TENSION”, “OVER DRIVE” and “SO MUCH FOR TODAY”. “PRELUDE TO THE OMEN”, the sixth section’s theme; the major boss theme “SCARS OF THE DIVINE WING” and the Darklings’ theme “THE ROOT OF DARKNESS” are my favorite original tracks from this game. As with the base gameplay and graphics, the sound effects are about on par with those from the last two games. The really interesting thing is that there isn’t a single version of Origin that had voice acting, which I was honestly fine with – listening to the voice acting from the PlayStation versions of both Ys VI and Felghana made it seem like it would have ended up distracting me in the long run.

Ys Origin’s relative obscurity is ill-deserved, but understandable. Considering that it spent 6 years as a PC exclusive game tied to a region where the platform’s gaming audience is incredibly niche, I’m surprised that the game wasn’t completely forgotten. Fortunately, as with the Ys Eternal/Complete games and Oath in Felghana, Origin was given a fan-made translation, which significantly increased the game’s profile among the niche Japanese PC gaming community in the West. Given the fact that most Japanese games are generally more popular on consoles – in both their native land and internationally – it is surprising that it took so long for Origin to hit consoles, even more amazing that Falcom had to rely on a Western company to handle this port in the first place: I would’ve expected this to have come out on the PSP around the time Oath in Felghana hit it. Better late than never though, right?

As of right now, Ys Origin is the latest game in the series I’ve played. Fitting, considering it’s a perfect place to end this retrospective: I’ve managed to cover the entire lineage of the first two styles of Ys gameplay – as well as a few curiosities worth mentioning. I hope that I’ve been able to provide an overview of the series’ history to those unfamiliar with the series and reminded long-time fans of their favorite moments in the series. As with the Zelda retrospective, I do plan on doing a follow-up in the future, likely involving everything from Ys Seven to the upcoming – at least outside of Japan – Lacrimosa of Dana, the first game in the series since Ys Seven to be localized in English by any company besides XSEED. NIS America is handling the English translation this time and while the fanbase is worried, I’m cautiously optimistic: their involvement is likely how we managed to establish a PC release – and a simultaneous one at that! – in the first place. While Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta are still exclusively available on the PlayStation Portable and Vita respectively, I’m still hoping against all logic that they’ll manage to receive PC ports before Ys VIII releases in North America. Regardless, I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

Rising Fun: Dawn for Japanese Games

The second half of the 80s and entirety of the 90s were a golden age for Japanese games.  From the moment Super Mario Bros. revived the American console industry, Japanese games absolutely dominated consoles.  While there were some exceptions, the vast, vast majority of good console games came from Japan during the third, fourth, and fifth generations.  Even the most prominent exceptions were made by western developers that were working with Japanese companies: Naughty Dog, Insomniac, and of course Rare.  Things started to change in the sixth generation, games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto 3, and the rising Tony Hawk series were critical and commercial successes, something very few western console games had achieved before that point.  Japanese games were probably still bigger or at least equal at that point, but it definitely wasn’t the absurd level of domination they previously held.  This was, of course, a good thing: there’s no reason for one country to dominate the way Japan did at one point.

 

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And thus Japan conquered console gaming overnight.

 

In the seventh and eighth generations, however, things started to become unbalanced in the other direction.  Several Japanese companies went into slumps at the same time, while western mega-publishers increased their dominance.  This led to an attitude in the 2010s that Japan was becoming irrelevant to the gaming industry.  I was not happy about this, but it would be fair to ask why when I was fine with how things were in the 90s.  Well, I have a few reasons.  For one, there was a fair amount of nationalistic gloating, treating this as “revenge” and calling the Japanese gaming industry a failure for not being able to match the combined output of two continents.  There’s also the fact that the fading Japanese companies had made so many great games in the past, and losing something is a lot more painful than never having it to begin with.  And while this may be too subjective and in the moment to use as a reason, I would much rather have 90s Capcom, Konami, and Squaresoft as the dominant publishers instead of companies like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision.  I’m not saying we need to go back to Japanese dominance, but all game producing regions making great games is the optimal situation and always will be.  I just want Japanese games to make a comeback for their own sake.

 

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Market Combat Evolving.

 

That seems to be what’s happening.  After many years of turmoil, Japanese-developed games are making a substantial comeback in 2017, in both the released and upcoming categories.  This year we’ve already seen Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, Gravity Rush 2, Nier Automata, Nioh, and Persona 5; quality releases that have mostly seen a good deal of commercial success and attention from the gaming community.  Looking ahead, we have Sonic Forces, Tekken 7, Tokyo Xanadu, Ys VIII, and Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite as some promising 2017 releases.   Compared to the past few years, this is a huge upturn in quality Japanese games.

Going beyond a simple games list, many of these games represent once mighty Japanese publishers and developers showing signs of recovering from their slumps.  Capcom finally made a Resident Evil that was well received, Team Ninja made their first well liked game in who knows how long with Nioh, Sega has two promising Sonic games coming out this year (although one is technically by western developers) – there are decades that would kill for that amount – and Square Enix has brought an underrated series into mainstream success while giving Platinum a chance to shine simultaneously with Nier: Automata.  Series that never had a huge western presence, such as Persona, Ys, Yakuza, and the aforementioned Nier/Drakengard also seem to be getting more attention than they previously did, which is great for the Japanese gaming industry.  The light of dawn may be starting to break through the cynicism that has clouded the concept of Japanese games in recent years.

 

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Looks like JRPGs don’t have cooties anymore.

 

There are two major Japanese publishers I consciously avoided mentioning up until this point.  One of them is a hugely conspicuous absence considering who is writing this article.  Why have I waited until now to say anything about Nintendo?  Because I like building things up before playing my strongest card.  Nintendo is in their own league among developers, and I’m don’t mean because they’re my favorite, their situation as the primary developer for their systems puts them in a very different position than the third parties I’ve covered.  Nintendo has always been prominent as a software publisher, even during the Wii U days their games sold millions with absurdly high attach rates that annihilated the best selling games of other systems with a low userbase.  However, Nintendo’s health is often measured by their console’s sales, and that has certainly not been going well in recent years.

Then it was like someone simply flipped a Switch.  Seeing what happened when they tried to copy their competitors with the Wii U, the Nintendo Switch is showing all indications that it recaptured the lightning bottled by the original Wii.  With the system selling out every shipment it makes almost instantly (and this is in March and April) and a non-pack in game managing to attain an unprecedented over 100% attach rate in at least one region, we have plenty of reason to believe that Nintendo’s console division is back on track.  And they’re definitely contributing to Japanese games making a resurgence in 2017.  This year we have or are scheduled to get The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, ARMS, Splatoon 2, Xenoblade 2, Fire Emblem Warriors and the game that means so much to me it was my most anticipated game of 2017 based on a six second “tech demo”, Super Mario Odyssey.  Breath of the Wild, the only one released so far, is one of the highest rated games of all time and would single handedly make this a better year for Japanese game reception than some of the last few.  Nintendo is back, and they’re ready to lead the charge in the Japanese game resurgence.

 

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Mario is back, and he’s not alone.

 

And what was that other company I avoided mentioning?  Well, it’s one that’s pretty easy to ignore, if the bitterness doesn’t get you, at least.  Konami, tormentor of employees, bane of Kojima, the Japanese EA.  No other Japanese publisher fell as far as Konami, but even with them, there is a glimmer of light this year.  Super Bomberman R is one of the more prominent Switch launch games that isn’t Zelda, and has been selling amazingly well for such a niche game.  Konami has publicly announced plans to revive more dormant franchises, as opposed to fleeing video games to make pachinko machines.  The slightest bit of hope for Konami is a miraculous step forward at this point.

 

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This game existing at all is a frigging miracle.

 

So, with the games released and announced in 2017, I think it’s safe to say that the sun is rising again for Japanese games.  Again, I’m not asking for western console games to go back to their dark age.  While I generally prefer Japanese design philosophy, western developers (many of whom grew up with games from Japan’s golden age) are perfectly capable of using it, and both sides can learn things from the other’s games.  Gamers benefit from as many developers as possible making great games, no matter what region they’re from.  With E3 fast approaching, we will hopefully soon have even more games to look forward to from Japanese developers and proof that the revival trend will continue in 2018 and beyond.

The Year Without a PC Port Wishlist

Christmas has pretty much always been my favorite holiday, especially when I was a child. I was a greedy little boy while I was growing up: one of my favorite holiday traditions was always writing up my list to Santa on my computer. Sure, some years I’d get overzealous and start thinking about it as early as August, but I’d always have a lot of fun just writing the list itself. I’d always try to sort things in the order I wanted them, but that was actually part of the fun for me: one week I’d really want some action figures, the next some new video game caught my eye. The downside to starting a list that early is that as time goes on, new items catch your eye. Even the greed of a child has its limits, so I would often have to pare down my list, trimming the items I could “do without”. (Gotta love child logic, am I right?) In a sense, I think those PC ports lists I wrote for a long time were the evolution of that favored Yule tradition, but eventually I got tired of doing them. Too much wishing, not enough getting. I’ve taken a hiatus on them and now, it’s been over a year. Instead of making an entirely new one, why not look over my previous works and analyze them a little? This year, I’ll be recounting my 5 favorite success stories, my top 10 most wanted and the game on each list I’d consider the most important (excluding those on the aforementioned lists) plus a brand-new one for good measure!

Before we get started (fittingly enough, with my favorite success stories), I’d like to start with some recent successes as well. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was released on PS4 earlier this month and it will also be hitting both the Xbox One and Steam in March. Meanwhile, Garou: Mark of the Wolves was also recently released on PlayStation consoles via CodeMystics, but surprise, surprise: an entirely different port hit Steam soon after, from the good folks at DotEmu. In fact, it was such a surprise, I actually had to change a list entry because of it. The DotEmu port is less fancy than the CodeMystics port, but apparently, not only does the Steam version have a more solid netcode, but it’s also getting immediate bugfixes to iron out some of its bizarre glitches. Funny how that works. I expected that to be the last bit of news I got on the PC end of things, but I was wrong: The Legend of Dark Witch 2, another game I’d been salivating over the prospect of seeing a PC port is announced to be hitting Steam sometime during “Q4 2016”. One last big surprise for me.

You’ll also remember that this past April, I did an “April Fools’ Day” article, revolving around 10 PC games I’d like to see receive console ports. Well, like many of my jokes, this one ended up biting me in the ass. During the PlayStation Experience, Ys Origin (the only PC-exclusive Ys game) was announced to be hitting both PlayStation 4 and, amazingly enough, the Vita on February 21, 2017 with the port being handled by the good people over at DotEmu who are utilizing XSEED’s English translation and coming up with original French, Italian, German and Spanish translations as well. (As an aside, DotEmu’s also bringing a favorite of mine – the NeoGeo classic Windjammers – to the same platforms. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a PC port down the line!) You’d think that would be enough, but the world wasn’t done having fun at my expense: soon after, it was revealed that the indie platformer Kero Blaster would also be coming to the PS4, thanks to its publisher Playism. They’ll also be bringing Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight to PS4, though release windows for both titles have not been announced. Continue reading

10 Games I’d Like To See Re-Released #06: Konami

After a long stint of writing longer articles, I always like coming back to these wishlists. Sure, it’s little more than an exercise in greed, but they’re cathartic for me: it’s always nice to remember old games that I wish we could access in these modern times. For whatever reason, I’ve got a certain intuition that making these lists increases the chances of these games seeing the light of day once again.

As with last time, I’ve decided to moon over recent PC ports and announcements in these re-release articles, since my PC ports wishlist series has been put on hiatus for the time being. First off, we’ve seen two more Steam iterations of classic NeoGeo games readily available on Humble Store: The Last Blade came out at the end of August, while Shock Troopers 2nd Squad came out at the end of September. Both versions have added online multiplayer, as has become common with these re-releases. We’ve also seen the release of Cave’s classic shmup Dodonpachi Resurrection (which I mentioned in a previous list) on Steam this past month, courtesy of the good people at Degica. Nippon Ichi Software announced that it will be bringing the second Disgaea game (rechristened Disgaea 2 PC) to Steam early next year, with all the additional content available on the PSP – including some characters that were exclusive to the Japanese version. Finally, we’ve got some news from the good people at XSEED. Xanadu Next, a Falcom action-RPG, which was originally announced for Summer 2016 will finally be releasing on November 3rd. They also announced two new PC ports: Senran Kagura: Bon Appétit! – a music-rhythm spinoff to the fanservice-laden brawler – will be hitting Windows PC on November 10th, while Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel, a fighting game crossovers starring female characters from various visual novels, will be hitting PC “this Winter” with additional features like additional victory animations, animated backgrounds and the ability to save Training Mode menu settings between sessions.

Once again, let’s go over my constraints for this series of articles. I’m going to be looking at games from the 6th generation of video games (Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox) and earlier, as games from later generations are still easy to get a hold of. To maintain focus, I’ll be looking at one company for each article and considering the fact that I live in North America, I’ll be focusing on games that haven’t seen a legitimate re-release in my own region – I’ll just ignore any talk of importing these games from Japan and Europe. Unfortunately, this means that games that have seen re-releases on services like Nintendo’s Virtual Console and Sony’s PlayStation Classics have technically already been re-released, regardless of their quality (or lack thereof) compared to a full-on remaster. The important thing is that they can be accessed by modern audiences, no matter the quality – sorry, Zone of the Enders. I’ll also discuss any possible improvements that could be made to the games with re-releases.

This time, we’ll be looking at Konami – a fitting choice, considering they made the Castlevania series, considering the time of year. Of course, these days I guess the truly terrifying thing about Konami is their status within the video game market. These days, they seem to be focusing more on farming out their intellectual properties to make Pachi-Slot machines. What few video games they’re still making are…at best, misguided. Things weren’t always this way though, and it’s safe to say that Konami still has plenty of games trapped in their vault that should be re-released. These are but merely 10 of them.

Castlevania Bloodlines (GEN)

This would have to be my number one choice, the game that I figured was the biggest missed opportunity for the original iteration of the Virtual Console. We saw the other two major 16-bit era Castlevanias hit the Wii’s Virtual Console: Super Castlevania IV for the SNES and Dracula X: Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine-CD, as well as the SNES’s inferior copy of the latter. Of those three games, Bloodlines was always my favorite: Eric LeCarde’s unique playstyle was a fun contrast to the traditional Belmont style of John Morris. The gameplay was akin to those of the NES games, albeit with improvements. I think one of my favorite parts was the fact that this Castlevania managed to take place outside of Castlevania’s general setting of Transylvania, with Morris and LeCarde travelling to Greece, France, Italy, Germany and England.

I personally feel like each of those three major 16-bit Castlevanias had a strength unique to itself: Super Castlevania IV dropped the stiff controls of the older games and had the best control of the series. Rondo of Blood focused on secrets, with multiple paths, alternate stages and even a hidden character. Bloodlines, however, I felt had the best level design: long sprawling stages, with deviating paths suited for each of its playable characters and unique design gimmicks for each stage. Hopefully, we’ll see it return someday.

Potential Improvements: I’d honestly be fine with just a straight port on this one, though at this point, it will probably be difficult. The modern iterations of the Virtual Console no longer support Sega Genesis and the only platform capable of doing straight emulations of Genesis games is SEGA MegaDrive & Genesis Classics on Steam, which currently has no officially supported third-party titles.

If we did get an enhanced port, I’d love to hear a rearranged version of the classic Bloodlines soundtrack, so long as the classic Genesis FM synth returns as an option. Likewise, the ability to choose between the Japanese and Western balancing would be appreciated.

Rocket Knight Adventures/Sparkster/Rocket Knight Adventures 2 (GEN/SNES)

Despite being considered a cult classic these days, the Rocket Knight franchise was a victim of its times. Released at that point in time where Sonic the Hedgehog had kicked off the “platformer starring an animal mascot with attitude” trend, the original Rocket Knight Adventures was generally considered to have been cut from the same cloth as such gaming losers as Bubsy Bobcat, Awesome Possum and Aero the Acro-Bat. Anyone who looked past the superficial similarities, however, was rewarded with one of the best games the Genesis had to offer. While the original was my personal favorite, the other two games were also great – better than the mediocre 2010 reboot on 7th generation consoles.

Potential Improvements: Once again, I’d be perfectly fine with a straight re-release in this game’s case, especially given the aforementioned reboot, which rubbed me the wrong way. While Sparkster for the SNES is still within the realm of possibility for re-release via the Virtual Console, the Genesis games have less readily available means for legal emulation.

Contra: Hard Corps (GEN)

Last Genesis game, I swear. While most people are fond of the Super Nintendo’s Contra III: The Alien Wars, I had more of a soft spot for the Genesis’s Hard Corps. Taking place in a futuristic dystopia, with robotic soldiers and gun-toting werewolves, Hard Corps ditched the more contemporary setting and in my opinion, it benefitted from it. I’m still surprised that a few years back, it managed to get a sequel: Hard Corps Uprising, developed by the good people at Arc System Works, no less!

Potential Improvements: I was generally more of a fan of the Japanese version of this game, which allowed the characters to take multiple hits before dying, as opposed to being one-hit wonders like the Western versions and earlier games in the series, so the ability to choose between those two versions would be great. Likewise, as with all Contra games of that era, the European version was rebranded as Probotector, replacing the organic protagonists with robotic counterparts, so it would awesome to see both themes in the same release – albeit with the proper framerate, as opposed to the slower one associated with European releases of that era.

Sunset Riders (Arcade)

One part Rush’n Attack, two parts Contra – Sunset Riders is one of those games that were so popular, you would have guessed that they would have gotten a sequel, but somehow they just didn’t. Utilizing the same style of two-plane stages seen in games like Shinobi and Rolling Thunder, Sunset Riders was effectively one of the more interesting games Konami released in the arcades. Since we’ve already seen a re-release of the SNES version, I thought it would be interesting to see the original Arcade version make a comeback as well.

Potential Improvements: Online multiplayer, the usual round of graphical filters and an adjustable amount of credits, leading to multiple “difficulty settings”. Basically, a similar release as the old Simpsons and X-Men arcade games from last-gen.

Kid Dracula (FC/GB)

Kid Dracula’s an interesting concept. Effectively a more comedic take on the Castlevania franchise, the Kid Dracula duology puts players in the role of Kid Dracula, Dracula’s child (who may or may not grow up to be Alucard of Symphony of the Night fame), as he tries to retake his rightful throne from the demon Galamoth. We only saw the release of the second game for Game Boy outside of Japan, but having both games re-released would be great.

Potential Improvements: If they manage to get the first game re-released, I’d love it if Konami were to completely translate the game – sure, the story’s not important, but small details like that are important to me. Other than that, straight emulations would be appreciated.

Contra (NES)

I’m still in shock that this game hasn’t seen a straight re-release (outside of course as a bonus in Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS), but considering that game’s long out of print, I think it fits with this list. Like I’ve said in previous articles, the original Contra is probably one of the three games that most shaped my gaming tastes overall. I just find it weird that Super C got re-releases on both Wii and Wii U, while the original – the more famous of the two NES releases – hasn’t seen anything in a long time.

Potential Improvements: I guess it would be interesting if they included both the NES and the arcade versions of the original Contra together: that would be an interesting contrast. Both arcade Contras were re-released last generation via Konami Classics on Xbox 360, but aren’t available on modern platforms. Likewise, it’d be cool to see a release with the previously mentioned Probotector reskin released in Europe – again, at the proper framerate.

Vampire Killer (MSX)

I’ve always been somewhat interested in this game, despite never having the opportunity to do so. This was the very first revamp of the original Castlevania – but while most of the future versions maintained the same basic gameplay concept while rearranging the stage designs and locales, Vampire Killer totally reimagined it. Many people consider Simon’s Quest to be the original prototype for what would eventually be called the “Metroidvanias”, but Vampire Killer for the MSX has it beat. In this iteration of Simon Belmont’s first adventure, players are tasked with exploring Castlevania, looking for various keys and items to progress, allowing the stages to progress in far less linear fashions.

Potential Improvements: Just a straight port would be fine, though honestly if they decided to give it the “Castlevania Chronicles” treatment with revamped graphics and a remade soundtrack, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

Snatcher (Sega CD)

Possibly the second most famous game associated with Hideo Kojima – sorry again, Zone of the Enders – Snatcher was an early example of a visual novel more than a standard point-and-click adventure game of its era. However, its storyline was so engrossing to many that it would eventually become a cult classic. There have been multiple releases of this game across various platforms, starting with Japanese computers PC-88 and the MSX2 and later released on the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn. However, the only official English release of the game was the Sega CD version.

Potential Improvements: Once again, the main concept that comes to mind would be to include every iteration of Snatcher – preferably with brand new translations, just like Rondo of Blood had in Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. It would also be great if the MSX2 game SD Snatcher – meant to be both a slight reboot and conclusion to the original release of the game (which ended on an annoying cliffhanger) – were also included. SD Snatcher reimagined the visual novel as a cutesy RPG, with variations on the original game’s plot, a welcome lack of random battles and a unique battle system.

Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon/Goemon’s Great Adventure (N64)

I’m still kind of baffled by the Goemon series. Referred to as “Ganbare Goemon” in Japan and “Mystical Ninja” elsewhere, there have been a literal truckload of releases due to its extreme popularity but very few have seen released outside of Japan. North America got a game for the Super Nintendo, one for the Game Boy (Europe lucked out with a second!) and two N64 games. Considering we’ve already seen re-releases for the other games in the series via the Virtual Console, it’s only fair that we also receive the remaining games already available in English, right?

Potential Improvements: Straight ports seem like the best way to go on this one. I can’t think of anything to add, unless Konami decides to do a massive Goemon collection with all new translations of the Japan-exclusive titles. That seems outside the scope of something they’d be willing to do though, so let’s just stick to hoping for straight-up Virtual Console releases.

Getsu Fuuma Den (FC)

Another game of interest to me, Getsu Fuuma Den is effectively the Murasame no Nazo to Castlevania’s Legend of Zelda: a similar game concept that looked like a great deal of fun but was strictly released in Japan due to fears that cultural differences would lead to poor sales. The game thrust players into the role of warrior Getsu Fuma on his quest to recover the three Pulse Blades to avenge the death of his brothers and defeat the evil demon lord Ryuukotsuki, who escaped hell and took over the Earth. The game relies on an overhead map system, not unlike Super Mario Bros. 3, but the action stages themselves effectively play like a more action-packed NES Castlevania game. They’re short, but there are many more of them and a certain level of exploration on the overworld is necessary to beat this game.

Potential Improvements: Bare minimum, I’d want just a full English translation. Of course, if Konami wanted to get on my good side, they would do a full-on remaster, like Castlevania Chronicles or The Dracula X Chronicles. Best of all, they could still include the original Famicom version (with that aforementioned translation) as a bonus unlockable.

As usual, before I wrap this up, I’d like to mention some honorable mentions. First, there’s the Parodius series – as much as I would have loved to have put these on the main list, there are just too many of them to choose from, so I’d probably just want a full-on collection of every game in the series. Next, Castlevania Legends for the original Game Boy. Most people tend to prefer Belmont’s Revenge when talking about early portable CVs, but I think we can all agree that Legends deserved a re-release way before the abysmal Adventure. Finally, there’s Pop’n Twinbee: Rainbow Bell Adventures for the Super Nintendo. A fairly standard Konami platformer, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – just not good enough to make the main list. Likewise, I’d like to give a shout-out to the Bonk’s Adventure, Bomberman and Bloody Roar series: while they’re technically Hudson Soft properties, Konami owns their vast library of IPs, which is a crying shame.

I guess in the end, this was probably the most bittersweet of these lists I’ve had to write. Konami’s currently in a bad place right now: if not in terms of finances (they still seem to be in a good place there, at least for the moment), then definitely in terms of corporate climate. Proclaiming that they were ditching the video game market in favor of pachinko machines and mobile games (before immediately backpedaling), abusing their employees and effectively becoming so much of a super-villain, I’m sure it would make the heads of Activision, EA and Ubisoft blush like schoolgirls. Konami still holds the rights to many series I like, so their recovery would be in my best interest. Unfortunately, at this point it just feels like the only way for these old games to survive is by burning Konami to the ground.

Last Splatterhouse on the Left

Well, Halloween is upon us and this is a video game blog, so why not talk about horror video games? Of course, the concept of horror games is itself loose: some people associate it with any sort of game that utilizes themes or elements of other horror media, while others assert that only games that truly cause fear can be considered a part of the genre. Of course, those two are merely the extreme opinions and whether or not a game can be considered horror is usually up for debate. We see it when people have arguments regarding when Resident Evil left the survival horror genre and became a third-person shooter action game. We see it when people debate whether or not Five Nights at Freddy’s should be considered a horror game, due to its mechanics. Needless to say, the horror “genre” runs into the same pitfalls one encounters with the “action” and “adventure” genres.

I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t think I’ve ever really been a fan of “true” horror games. You know, the old-school Resident Evils, the Silent Hills, the Alone in the Dark games, that sort of thing. I can’t explain it but I’ve just never really felt myself drawn to them. On the other hand, I do have a preference to horror-themed video games. I loved the Splatterhouse series, even the 2010 reboot which got mixed reactions for the most part. Darkstalkers is probably my favorite Capcom fighting game series of all time (and I think it’s a crime that we still haven’t seen a sequel, but that’s a rant for another time). I love the House of the Dead series, especially the Typing of the Dead spinoffs.

But why? Why do I love games that use horror themes, but not their implementation into core gameplay mechanics? Hell, I love horror movies, horror stories, even some horror TV shows. The fact that I just can’t enjoy video games as a horror experience baffles me. It’s not like I haven’t tried though. Hell, I even had Code Veronica on the Dreamcast. I just could never get into games like that, especially those deemed “survival horror”. However, there have been some cases where I’ve liked games that were arguably considered horror to some extent.

The Dead Rising games are a good example of what I’m talking about. In terms of games I actually thoroughly enjoy, they’re among the closest to actually being considered “true horror”, mainly due to their storyline being based on a horror movie cliché: fighting off a zombie apocalypse in a once-densely populated area. Of course, the Dead Rising games’ silliness and action-oriented gameplay (relying more on an active survival approach by murdering zombies as opposed to the passive approach commonly seen in survival horror games) makes it a very poor example of a true horror game.

The Left 4 Dead series comes significantly closer and is perhaps the closest thing to a “true horror game” that I actually enjoy. Although the games share the same zombie apocalypse theme as Dead Rising, they take a different approach to combat, generally acting as a detriment to the player’s survival and generally considered a last resort from a gameplay design perspective. A poorly-run multiplayer campaign often provokes more panic than anger from me, which is definitely a step in the right direction in terms of the emotions horror games are intended to provoke. However, both Left 4 Dead games seem to play more like first-person shooters and the game’s versus mode (which allows one team to take control of Infected) tends to undermine the attempts at achieving a tone of true horror.

So what are my main problems with most “true horror” games? Well, I can think of 4 main issues that come to mind. They may not apply to all games from the genre, but enough of them to become pressing concerns for me. First, many games that are considered “true horror” (especially survival horror games) tend to have really stiff or otherwise poor controls. Looking at you, old-school Resident Evil. Now I understand that this is an attempt to immerse the player into their character’s perspective of utter helplessness. Unfortunately, I don’t think most people running for their lives are stuck with things like tank controls or the ability to only aim their gun at three very distinct heights, especially not elite members of a paramilitary organization. There are probably better ways to achieve the same feeling of vulnerability. Maybe give the character a stamina meter that can be drained both by physical exertion and direct confrontations with whatever fiends they encounter. Maybe apply kickback to firearms that either damages the player character or at the very least stuns them, leaving them open for attack if they waste a shot. Hell, some kind of an injury mechanic could be interesting.

Number two: jump scares. I’m going to be honest, I just think they’re a really cheap tactic. Pretty much every horror game I’ve seen has relied on them to at least some extent. I’m not saying that they should be removed, not at all. Regardless, games shouldn’t rely on them entirely for their scare factor. It just ends up coming off as hokey. There are other types of horror that one can exploit: paranoia, revulsion, the fear of the unknown, helplessness and even the loss of sanity itself. All of these topics have been explored in games in the past, the problem is there just hasn’t been enough of it. Jump scares are far too common and we could all probably benefit from a more cerebral style of horror showing up in the genre at large.

That brings me to my next point: sometimes, when horror games attempt a more involved storyline, it usually comes at the cost of the player’s immersion in both the game itself and as a horror experience. The main culprit would probably be cutscenes. In the past, cutscenes had a tendency to look very different from the game’s usual artstyle. I can understand that they were generally used to animate something that would either be impossible to achieve or at least done significantly inferior with the in-game engine. Even today, however, there is still at least a slight difference between cutscenes and in-game events that just throws me off, not unlike comparing watching a live-action film to a live-action TV show. Maybe it has something to do with the framerate? I can’t really say.

Unfortunately, no matter how insignificant the difference between the two artstyles, it definitely has a detrimental effect on the player’s absorption with the game’s setting. It’s to the point where, unless you’re trying to recreate the FMV horror games of old on a modern platform, you’d be better off leaving out cutscenes entirely. It would likely be better to focus on in-game event, where players maintain the same sense of atmosphere. Of course, there are some cases where you may want the players to lose their autonomy. This would still be better achieved through some kind of an in-engine event, as opposed to a cutscene, just due to a more seamless transition.

My last problem is one where I have seen actual solutions, but at the same time, I also understand cannot really be fixed without a major paradigm shift in terms of how modern games are designed in general. It’s the lack of a sense of pressing danger. You die in a game and…well, then you go back to a previous save. In the early days, Resident Evil tried to work its way around this setback, by tying the player’s ability to save with a specific item, the ink ribbon, which could be used at typewriters in order to save. This did add a sense of choosing one’s saves in the game, but I feel that the saves themselves are the problem. Of course, then you’ve got ZombiU (recently re-released as “Zombi” on Xbox One, PS4 and PC), which I felt handled it better. If your character died in Zombi, that was it. That character became one of the undead. End of story. If you decided to continue on, you’d use an entirely new, randomly generated character and the only way you’d be able to get any items you had earlier back would be to take out your former character’s reanimated corpse. It was sort of like Dark Souls or a rogue-like game in that sense. However, I feel like the fact that the loss of a life came with some sort of permanence made survival more urgent. Now I get that this wouldn’t work out properly in a more narrative-based horror game, but maybe the implementation of a “bad ending” upon failure state, plus a way of making saves unusable upon a failure state would be a good compromise.

Are the solutions I pitched for my problems with “true horror” games actually viable, especially with regards to existing fans of the genre? Probably not, there are just some genres I don’t like. Survival horror may just be one, though I still feel sympathy for the fans who tend to think of the genre as dead, at least outside of indie games. I think I’ll stick to hybrid experiences like Dead Space and Left 4 Dead, those that only use the themes of horror like Splatterhouse and Darkstalkers (seriously Capcom, at least put Resurrection out on Steam!) and those games that aren’t considered horror, but still draw from some of the same tricks (you can’t tell me the Splicers in Bioshock weren’t scary as hell – Vita-Chamber or no).

Third-Party Crasher

(Full disclosure: I paid into the Kickstarters for Mighty No. 9, Yooka-Laylee and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night)

With Mighty No. 9’s release date fast approaching, it’s only fitting that we’ve seen two similar Kickstarter success stories this past month: Yooka-Laylee and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The former being developed by Playtonic Games, which is staffed by several ex-Rare members. The latter being produced by Koji “IGA” Igarashi, the man best associated with the Castlevania franchise, with music by Michiru Yamane and development being handled by one of my favorite Japanese independent developers, Inti Creates. Of course, both of these games are shaping up to be fitting spiritual successors to their developers’ most popular titles, the first two Banjo-Kazooie games and the Metroidvanias respectively. As such, both were fully-funded within the first day each campaign launched, which is especially impressive since they were running concurrently. More importantly, these two high-profile indie games are utilizing crowdfunding in a unique way: while Mighty No. 9’s crowdfunding campaign was publicized as entirely relying upon fan donations to make the game itself (which ended up not being the case, as Deep Silver has signed on as the game’s publisher and paid for extra content), Playtonic and Igarashi both disclosed from the beginning that they weren’t planning to fund their projects entirely through Kickstarter. Playtonic had enough funds to create a smaller, PC-exclusive title and resorted to Kickstarter to draw in the funds to both expand the game’s scope and increase the number of platforms it was set to release on, utilizing further stretch goals to enhance the game even further. How Igarashi utilized Kickstarter, on the other hand, was perhaps the most interesting: instead of intending to fund the entire game through donations, IGA planned to use his crowdfunding campaign to show potential investors that there was a market for his game. His plan worked perfectly, Deep Silver picked up publishing rights for Bloodstained before the campaign concluded.

Of course, that’s only half the story. Lately, big publishers, especially Japanese ones, have been effectively abandoning the direction which allowed them to make their fortunes in the first place. Square Enix, until just recently, had been focusing more on mobile games, aside from the usual Final Fantasy games and Eidos’ offerings. Of course, that was all put to rest during their E3 conference this year, where they confirmed the long sought-after remake of Final Fantasy VII; a sequel to sleeper hit NieR, developed by Platinum Games no less; Square Enix Collective, a Steam Greenlight-esque program where users can vote on upcoming project ideas that interest them; and Tokyo RPG Factory, a brand new studio dedicated to building the kinds of JRPGs that put Square and Enix on the map, as well as their first project: a brand-new IP currently codenamed “Project Setsuna”.  Capcom…hasn’t really been doing much lately. Sure, Street Fighter V and Monster Hunter X are in the works, but aside from that, it’s mostly just HD remasters coming out of them these days. Worst of all, however, would be Konami. Recently, they said that they were going to focus more on mobile development in the future. Sure, they backpedalled after they caught wind of the internet backdraft, but the writing’s on the wall.

How did it come to this? In the end, it was pretty much inevitable. Even back in video gaming’s humble beginnings, the symptoms were there. It’s little more than just a long-running game of “follow the leader”. Even in what I considered gaming’s golden age (the 16-bit generation), it was there. It was there in every fighting game, Doom clone and anthropomorphic mascot with attitude we saw throughout the ‘90s. It’s stuck around with the onslaught of MMORPGs, sandbox games and console-optimized FPS games. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost with the mobile industry and that’s where the backlash has finally begun.

Mobile games have been built up into some sort of ultimate evil in the eyes of many hardcore gamers. That isn’t really hard to understand though: they pretty much are the antithesis of what the hardcore want, bite-sized experiences with simple gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, due to their earning power, their overall popularity compared to other forms of gaming and their simplicity making it child’s play to churn out, mobile games have been considered a boon to the industry. Flappy Bird was literally making $50,000 a day at the height of its popularity. Clash of Clans is estimated to make over $1.5 million a day. You can’t argue with numbers like that. Like it or not, mobile games are the next big thing. It’s the same thing that happened when Street Fighter II, Sonic the Hedgehog, Halo, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto III all hit the scene.

Unfortunately for the several publishers investing money into these titles, following the leader way back when and today have the same issue: the audiences that are playing the big titles are generally happy with that they’ve got and are unlikely to move to a new game, especially if it’s just a simple knockoff of the game they’re already playing. We’ve seen this happen countless times as well: all the sandbox open-world crime games that aped Grand Theft Auto III bombed, the glut of 2D fighting games from Japan and the West caused the market to bloat and die for an entire generation and EA failed to take over the Call of Duty fanbase with Battlefield AND Medal of Honor, while alienating fans of the latter due to changing the franchise to grab an entirely new audience. Mobile games are dealing with the same kind of issue: for years, we’ve been hearing that only a statistically insignificant number of mobile apps in general end up being profitable. Even a popular game doesn’t equate to financial success, last year it was found that a mere 2.2% of free-to-play users actually pay any money into the games they’re playing.

To make matters even worse for the mobile scene, there’s an added weakness we’ve only seen in massively multiplayer online games in the past: the games themselves are open-ended. They’re constantly being updated, expanded and multiplied, either through spinoffs or sequels. This just adds to the lifespan of games in ways traditional console/PC games don’t. I know that sounds like a good thing, but given the flooded marketplace, it’s to the extent where it’s possible that a big hit with developers could become their own downfall when it comes to finding an audience for any future titles. After all, not everyone just wants to make one big game and live off of that one big success for the rest of their days, especially if said big game gets overshadowed by something new from another developer.

It’s kind of fascinating in a way, you’d think I’d be angry about the runaway success of the mobile games scene, and at one point, I totally would’ve been onboard with hardcore gamers’ witch hunt against the scourge of mobile games. These days, I’ve chilled out – I regularly play WWE Immortals, the Mortal Kombat X mobile game, Sonic Dash and even Cut the Rope on my train rides home from work – so I really can’t wish any ill will on the market as a whole. Still, it is somewhat disheartening to see big gaming companies from the past effectively throw out everything that made them industry leaders in the first place in order to chase mobile like it’s some kind of infinite source of revenue, when the reality is that mobile development comes with its own share of problems and pitfalls. Worse still, a lot of the time, these big developers try to cash in on some of their old IPs (looking at you especially, Capcom) in order to make a buck in mobile development, when it ends up being worthless. Honestly, Breath of Fire 6 on mobile devices and PC browsers? Do you think casual audiences know what the hell Breath of Fire is? Capcom didn’t just crap the bed with that one, it crapped two entirely separate beds: trying to cash in on an obscure title with a mobile game that mobile gamers probably don’t even care about and causing even more nerd rage in the existing BoF fanbase.

Of course, perhaps the best place to learn how to avoid these pitfalls in to look back to the past. I mentioned before that the eventual glut of clones for every one big success ended up ruining the whole thing. I was, of course, simplifying what had happened there. For all there were hundreds of terrible lazy cash-ins of every major hit, there were a few diamonds in the rough that carved out their own niches. Perhaps the best example is how those “Doom clones” I mentioned led to the birth of an entirely new genre: the first-person shooter. Street Fighter II’s success led to SNK hits like Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown and eventually King of Fighters, not to mention the Mortal Kombat series, which won over fans through digitized graphics and over-the-top violence to the extent where it’s actually been more popular than Street Fighter itself. Then you’ve got Saints Row, which went from a straight GTA-knockoff in its first game to a full-blown ridiculous parody of it in the second, with the craziness ramping up with each new iteration. No, simply using a successful title as a template is not what dooms a game to mediocrity, it’s failing to put one’s own spin on the formula and just churning out a (excuse the term) soul-less knockoff that’s just going through the motions.

Of course, all that really proves is that attempting to appeal to a niche audience is a better way for a company to remain profitable as opposed to simply chasing trends and playing follow-the-leader with whatever the industry leader is at that moment at time. You’d think it’d be obvious, but this bears repeating: the best way to make an impact on any industry is to fill a demand. We’ve seen various genres get revived to at least modest success. After spending a generation dead, the 2D fighting game made a big mainstream return with titles like Street Fighter 4 and the recent reboot of Mortal Kombat, X-COM: Enemy Unknown brought back the western turn-based strategy game back from the dead, won multiple awards and made enough money to warrant a direct sequel (due out later this year). And don’t even get me started on the wave of point-and-click adventure games we’ve seen in the past generation. In spite of the fact that these genres were written off as dead by major publishers, the audiences for them still existed. They were hungry for new content and appealing to them paid off well.

Which brings us full circle. Capcom thought MegaMan wasn’t a draw anymore, so Keiji Inafune did his own spiritual successor. Microsoft thought the 3D platformer was a non-starter, so some ex-Rare staff members banded together in their own studio and did their own spiritual successor. Konami had lost faith in the Castlevania games of old and tried to make it into a AAA-title, so Koji Igarashi left and did his own spiritual successor to the games he produced. Even now, Yu Suzuki is doing the same thing with Shenmue III, a true sequel authorized by Sega themselves. Every single one of those games made their crowdfunding goals, day one. Even Shenmue III, which asked for a whopping $2 million do get off the ground. I just finished saying this, but I think it needs to be restated: the audiences for these old games all still exist and they all still hunger for new content. In the end, publishers’ conservative nature and reliance on “playing it safe” didn’t help last generation and it certainly won’t this gen. In the end, playing “follow the leader” in order to find the next big thing is effectively going to lead to publishers walking off a cliff.

(Off-topic: how awesome is it that Killer Instinct 2013 is coming to PC next year? I can’t wait! Feels like ever since I killed off the PC ports series, more of my picks have been coming true. Here’s hoping we see even more.)

10 Games I Want Ported to PC Takes Manhattan

I’ll be honest: I lamed out on writing another article last month. I wish I could say that it was due to an increased workload at my day job. It wasn’t: I just came down with a bad case of writer’s block. On the plus side, I’ve finally come up with an idea for another non-list article, which you should be seeing sometime next month, but until then, you’ll just have to deal with another one of my crazy PC port begging lists. Perhaps, to be more accurate, you’ll be dealing with what may well be the last of my crazy PC port begging lists.

Before we get on with the bulk of the article, there have been a lot of recent developments in the PC port scene that have made me incredibly happy, especially considering how dead it was back in March when I wrote my last article. Axiom Verge finally hit Steam this month, but that had always had a PC version announced, so it doesn’t really count. In terms of actual news, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, one of my early requests, had a PC port announced and hit Steam last month. XSEED released Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim on Steam last month as well. Granted, that’s not really a PC port: the game actually originated on PC in Japan, that version had just never been released in the West before. Related to that bit of news (and objectively more important), Nihon Falcom company president Toshihiro Kondo recently stated in an interview with Windows Central that they were “especially happy with the situation on Steam” and that many of their titles “enjoyed better sales volume on Steam than Playstation”. Considering he also brought up Falcom’s origins as a PC developer, we could be seeing a shift in the company’s resources from console exclusive releases and some more substantial PC releases in the future.

Speaking of substantial releases, the third Shantae wasn’t the only game on a prior list to get confirmed since last time. Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R was recently listed on Steam. The turn of events was amazing: within a week, the title was leaked through a listing on the Korean Game Rating Board and officially listed on Steam. More impressive is the fact that the game is being developed AND published by Arc System Works themselves, as opposed to H2 Interactive, who handled the PC ports of the Blazblue games. Even more exciting is the fact that a developer from Arc System Works recently stated that they “have lots of games queued up for Steam! Some of them might even be out of your imagination, I can assure you that!“ Needless to say, I was absolutely excited to see that news and I’m already speculating what could be next (keeping my fingers crossed for Chronophantasma EXTEND and Xrd).

Before we start, let’s go over the rules for the umpteen-billionth time. My lists stick mostly to third-party companies (aside from Microsoft) with a general focus on companies that have recently released games on PC. Games will be taken from the seventh (360/Wii/PS3) and eighth (WiiU/PS4/XBO) generations of video games, as well as handhelds from those eras and mobile games. Games that weren’t system exclusives are preferred. Finally, games from the same series released on the same console can be packaged together on a single list entry. With that out of the way, let’s get down to the real meat of this article.

Devil May Cry HD Collection – Capcom (PS3/360)

This one only seems fitting. The fourth DMC received a decent port when it was initially released on PC, and that’s only been improved further with the upcoming Special Edition release. The third game, on the other hand, was one of Capcom’s early attempts at porting and ended up almost as bad as the infamous Resident Evil 4 PC port. Capcom later rectified that screw-up with a release of the HD version on PC, but DMC3 was never redeemed. In fact, Capcom still currently sells this mediocre release on the Steam storefront. And that’s not even covering the fact that the first 2 games were never actually released on PC in the first place. Capcom has the resources to rectify both of these mistakes, and considering the fact they are apparently focusing more on re-releases these days anyway, this just seems like a perfect solution.

Banjo-Kazooie/Banjo-Tooie – Microsoft/Rare (360)

Okay, let’s be honest. The recent Kickstarter success of Yooka-Laylee has already assured that we’re going to be seeing some Banjo-Kazooie-esque 3D collect-a-thon platforming action hit PC (and Wii U, and Xbox One, and PS4…) in the foreseeable future. That still doesn’t make the games that inspired it any less essential in my opinion. Considering the fact that Microsoft put some resources into upscaling the games for the 360, it would only make sense to re-release these enhanced ports to other platforms instead of just allowing them to die with the 360. We’ve already seen Microsoft utilize Rare’s old IPs well with their recent reinvention of Killer Instinct, I say they should keep exploiting that nostalgia.

Zone of the Enders HD Collection – Konami (PS3/360)

Speaking of exploiting nostalgia, I’ve always been a sucker for the original Zone of the Enders. I rented the game from Blockbuster when I was young and had a blast playing through it. I never actually got a chance to play the second game or the GBA spinoff (though I’ve been told I dodged a bullet on the latter). So I was excited to hear that the games were getting an HD remaster on the PS3 and 360 a few years back. Unfortunately, it was handled pretty poorly, with both games initially running horribly and a fix coming out farther down the line…but for only one of the games and on one platform. What a bummer. Considering what I’ve seen with buggy releases on PC games, I can only wonder if such a crisis could have been averted if the game had received a PC port. Considering the game’s poor reputation and the fact that Konami has recently stated that they’re focusing more on mobile releases these days, this is probably a long shot, but it’s one worth mentioning.

Puyo Puyo Tetris – Sega (3DS/Wii U/PSVita/PS3/PS4/XBO)

I love Puyo Puyo. I love Tetris. What else do I have to say? This is pretty much a match made in heaven we’ve not seen the likes of since Dr. Mario and…well, Tetris. Sure, the game’s available on pretty much every system under the sun, with the exceptions of the Xbox 360 and PC. Even more unfortunate, the games have yet to be released outside of Japan. Needless to say, a PC release would probably make an international release of every other version far more likely. So that’s a bonus for my fellow puzzle aficionados.

SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1/0 – SNK Playmore (PSP/Wii)

SNK Playmore’s been doing a pretty good job when it comes to releasing older titles on Steam. Sure, their latest game is a buggy port of one of their recent mobile-original free-to-play titles (Metal Slug Defense, which, ironically enough, I actually liked on Android), but aside from that, they have been doing stellar work on their PC ports: early access betas to start ironing out any issues with the online and quick responses to most legitimate bug concerns. The only real problem I have is that most of their releases have focused on their more high-profile franchises: the King of Fighters and Metal Slug games. One easy way to rectify that would be to do a simple, barebones collection of some of their old less-notable titles. Fortunately, two such collections already exist. Volume 1 has games for the NeoGeo, such as the original Fatal Fury, Sengoku and Last Resort, among others. Volume 0, on the other hand, is a collection of their pre-NeoGeo games, like Psycho Soldier, Ikari Warriors and Athena. An original, more substantial collection would probably be better, but if we can get these, it would be something.

Mamorukun Curse! – g.rev/UFO Interactive (AC/360/PS3)

As I pretty much always say during these lists, I love me some shmups. So here’s another one for the list. Mamorukun Curse, better known in Japan as Mamoru Has Been Cursed! (don’t ask me why they decided to change the name). It’s a pretty typical vertical shmup, with a few unique aspects. First of all, movement is freer than in most shmups, though most of the game does move as you’d expect. There’s also the unique “Curse” bomb mechanic, which destroys enemy bullets but also strengthens enemies, allowing players to rack up a high score.

Guwange – Cave (360)

One good shmup deserves another. Guwange is a vertical-oriented bullet-hell from Cave. It does differ from many of their shmups in a few specific ways. First of all, you are given the choice between three characters, each with their own unique weapon: Hiiragi with her concentrated arrows, Kamono and his spread-shot swords and Shishin who is able to aim kunai in 6 different directions. The characters walk along the ground, forcing them to dodge buildings and other obstacles in addition to the billions of bullets headed their way. The traditional one-hit kill system present in most shmups has been replaced with a life meter that allows for two or three hits. Unfortunately, players are limited to only three of these in the entire game and health power-ups are scarce, especially compared to the scoring bonuses afforded to players by more traditional lives systems in the genre. Fortunately, by holding down the attack button, each character can summon a shikigami, an invincible protector that can phase through enemy fire and obstacles. Of course, the character still remains on-screen and vulnerable (and a little less mobile), but this sheer power of the shikigami is crucial to both survival and racking up high scores.

Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match – Examu/Atlus USA (AC/PS3)

Aquapazza is…an odd choice, I must admit. It’s almost like Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, in the sense that it’s a fighting game crossover involving a lot of obscure Japanese video game and anime characters who don’t originate in the fighting genre itself. However, instead of being a crossover between various companies, Aquapazza’s roster entirely consists of characters from Aquaplus franchises, including To Heart, Comic Party and Tears to Tiara. So, basically, it’s a bunch of visual novel characters duking it out in a fighting game. Yeah, it’s basically just an animu fighter, and while I’m not familiar with most of the roster, I’m more concerned about the gameplay. Players choose from 13 characters and 13 partners, sort of like a faster-paced Vanguard Princess. Sure, this game’s a total longshot for PC, but I still think it’s worth asking for.

Chaos Code – FK Digital/Arc System Works (AC/PS3)

Remember how I mentioned earlier that Arc System Works was teasing some big upcoming releases for Steam in the future? Releases that go beyond the common demands for the latest incarnations of the Guilty Gear and Blazblue series? Well, I’ve already mentioned a few of my big picks from them in the past: Persona 4 Ultimax, Under Night: In-Birth Late[st] and Hard Corps: Uprising. This time, I’m going to add another one to that list: Chaos Code. Developed by Taiwanese developer FK Digital, Chaos Code is another anime fighter, but it’s got some unique features all its own. Characters’ movesets can be customized with an additional two out of four possible “edit special moves” chosen prior to the fight. There are also two different modes for characters: “run” which focuses on speed and “step” which focuses more on technical play, sort of like the “Power”/”Speed” system from The Last Blade games. All-in-all, if Arc System Works considered this game worth publishing, then that’s a testament to the game’s quality.

Nier – Square Enix (360/PS3)

Lately, the offerings from Square Enix’s Japanese branch have been pretty one-track: nothing but Final Fantasy games. Some from last-gen’s consoles, some that are ports of smartphone ports of DS games. Of course, they’ve got more than just Final Fantasy games, and I’m not talking about Kingdom Hearts or Dragon Quest, though I won’t be surprised if we get some mobile ports of the latter. Let’s take Nier, for example. Generally classified as an action RPG, Nier also borrows from several other genres, like shmups, survival horror and even text-based adventure games. I’m not too sure about the game’s quality, but I’ve heard good things about both Nier and its predecessors, the Drakengard games. So I’m willing to give it a shot.

Usually, by the time I wrap up these articles, I’ve got another list entirely set up, from start to finish. This time, unfortunately, I just don’t have enough to do another list in July. So, I’ll be going on a hiatus with this series for quite some time. Hopefully, I won’t ever have to revive it. This isn’t exactly goodbye though. While PC port lists may have gone by the wayside, I’ve got a whole bunch of other ideas for future lists. You’ll just have to wait until July to see.

10 Games I Want Ported To PC: Dream Match Never Ends

So this is a little one-off, based on the usual PC ports series I’ve been doing. Before we get started, let’s recap what happened this month. For the first time since I’ve started writing these articles, my streak has broken. No new games on any prior or future lists got PC port announcements. On the plus side, Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition was announced for PC. Capcom also released the Gold Edition content from Resident Evil 5 on Steam recently. Finally, Ys: The Ark of Napishtim was recently announced for release outside of Japan on PC, it’s not technically anything on one of my lists (it was also on both PS2 and PSP in North America, but originated on Japanese PCs), but hey, Ys is Ys. It seems like this time around, more PC games were announced to be getting console ports than anything: Freedom Planet was announced for Wii U and the long-awaited Wii U port of Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures was finally given a release date (in North America, along with a confirmation for a release in Europe and a reconfirmation that the 3DS version is still being developed). Meanwhile, Shovel Knight was announced for Playstation consoles and Xbox One, with special bonus features on both platforms. Hopefully, by the time I write the next actual entry in this series, there will be something worth celebrating.

So what’s different this time around? Well, we’ll be ignoring many of the rules that are traditionally seen in this series. First off, I’ll be focusing entirely on licensed games. Generally, I’ve ignored them up to this point, due to the difficulties of renegotiating lapsed licenses (not to mention the fact that it’d be considered a waste by most companies for nothing more than a PC port). Hey, I called this article a “dream match” for a reason. Aside from that, I’ll be sticking to the seventh and eighth generations as per usual, just because porting anything earlier than that would just be ridiculous. Once again, I’ll be grouping together games, but given the list’s subject matter, I’ll be grouping games that share both licenses and publishers. Finally, just for laughs, I’ll predict how likely any of these ports are at the moment, on a scale of 1-10. So, without further ado, let’s get this show on the road.

Marvel vs. Capcom: Origins/Marvel vs. Capcom 2/ Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3  – Capcom (360/PS3)

This is pretty much the main reason I wanted to write this spinoff list in the first place. It’s a shame that PC missed out on both UMvC3 and Origins, especially considering the fact that Capcom was getting pretty good about PC versions of their major releases around the time both of these games were released. I’ve always been pretty big on the original Marvel vs. Capcom and it’s a crying shame that UMvC3 is dead in the water these days, due to Capcom losing the license.

Rating: 3/10 – Disney’s got control of the Marvel license and the last I heard, they were trying to build a unified video game universe, not unlike their films. If that doesn’t pan out, I could see Capcom getting a chance to re-release some of these old games. I just hope that this time they don’t use that lame “Marvel doesn’t allow PC games” excuse. At this point, we all know it’s a load of crap.

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars – Capcom (Wii)

Speaking of Capcom, this is probably tied with Street Fighter x Tekken for my favorite Capcom fighter last generation. Yes, I have incredibly weird tastes, deal with it. The point is, I definitely liked Tatsunoko vs. Capcom more than either version of MvC3. It was a stroke of luck that we got this game outside of Japan in the first place, and even though we lost one character, we got five new ones, including Frank West and Tekkaman Blade.

Rating: 1/10 – Capcom USA barely got the rights the first time around. When Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was first announced, it killed any and all interest in the game almost immediately. Even if Capcom had the chance to buy back the rights, it’s unlikely they would. The game exceeded expectations, but it wasn’t exactly the megahit Capcom always strives for.

The Simpsons – Konami (360/PS3)

Easily one of my favorite arcade beat-‘em-ups of all time, even if it’s just due to nostalgia. I was surprised to see this game show up on consoles a few years back, and frankly, I think it was the best possible port. Good online, 4-player co-op, achievements, there wasn’t really that much that could’ve been added but Backbone Entertainment did a stellar job regardless.

Rating: 3/10 – EA currently holds the rights to make video games based on The Simpsons and they seem to be doing pretty well with their latest mobile tie-in, Tapped Out. EA also attempted to make a mobile remake of The Simpsons Arcade game prior to the re-release on consoles, which was far less well received. Considering Konami was able to get the rights back for a port while EA still held the license, I think there’s a chance that this could come back. All it should require is some effort on Konami’s part. Having said that, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

X-Men – Konami (360/PS3/iOS/Android)

Another classic Konami beat-‘em-up, X-Men was another one of those arcade classics I loved as a kid. X-Men and The Simpsons were fairly interchangeable with regards to their base gameplay, but X-Men had an ace up their sleeve: instead of 4 players, you could have as many as 6 players in a single game at a time. At the time, such a thing was unheard of. The XBLA and PSN re-release recreated this gimmick through online play, which was pretty awesome if you ask me.

Rating: 1/10 – Take Disney’s reluctance to veer from a unified game universe and couple it with Konami’s sheer apathy for anything not related to Metal Gear and you’ve got a perfect storm. I really doubt we’ll ever see this re-released again, which is depressing considering the fact that, like every other game I’ve discussed so far, X-Men’s been discontinued.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles [1989] – Konami (360)

One final Konami licensed beat-‘em-up, and it’s the granddaddy of ‘em all. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a fairly early release on the Xbox Live Arcade back in 2007. In spite of that, it also managed to have online co-op for up to 4 players, just like the later releases of Simpsons and X-Men. It’s just a shame that we never got the original version of Turtles in Time as a re-release and had to settle for a half-baked remake by Ubisoft instead.

Rating: 2/10 – Activision currently holds the rights to the TMNT franchise. However, they’ve also been willing to put the franchise in the hands of competent developers, like WayForward for example. If there’s enough of a demand for this specific game (as well as Turtles in Time), I could see Activision trying to pull some strings to take care of a new re-release. Of course, there’s also a pretty good chance that they’d consider just hiring a new team to make a new game based on these arcade classics and a more contemporary incarnation of the Turtles. It’s hard to say, honestly.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze – Activision (360/PS3/3DS)

Speaking of Activision and TMNT, there’s a recent game that I’d actually like to see hit PC at some point. Danger of the Ooze was developed by WayForward (one of my favorite devs of all time), and it’s a Metroid-like where you’re allowed to switch between all 4 Turtles at will. Needless to say, this is probably the one TMNT licensed game that’s drawn my interest since Konami’s old beat-‘em-ups.

Rating: 7/10 – You know, I’m actually surprised that this didn’t come out on PC in the first place. Activision’s released TMNT games on PC since getting the license, so this just felt like a weird omission. Hopefully, we see this hit more platforms in the future.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure HD Ver. – Capcom (360/PS3)

So we go from licensed beat-‘em-ups back to Capcom licensed fighters. I’m a simple man with simple tastes. I’ll be honest, I skipped this one on consoles after playing the demo: it just seems like the Western-produced re-releases of old Capcom games put more effort into everything. Regardless, the base game was still pretty fun, it was just a bit pricey given the package ($20 for one game, compared to $15 for MvC Origins and Darkstalkers Resurrection, which both come with 2 games). Still, a solid Capcom fighter is a solid fighter in general, plus it’s one of the few titles made for the CPS-3, Capcom’s most advanced arcade hardware.

Rating: 2/10 – Bandai Namco’s got the rights to this franchise locked up at this point. Then again, they let Capcom use it the last time for a re-release, at least until the rights lapsed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bandai Namco would let them do it again if Capcom’s really interested. As with all those Konami beat-‘em-ups, I kinda doubt it though.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle – Namco Bandai (PS3)

Speaking of Jojo, there was another more recent fighter based on that particular iP. It’s a 2.5D fighter, but still manages to maintain the manga’s style. It’s a truly beautiful game, and while it may not be the most advanced fighting game ever, it’s still an interesting take on that particular sub-genre.

Rating: 5/10 – Unlike every other game I’ve talked about so far, Namco Bandai still holds the JJBA license and are even working on another licensed fighting game (JJBA: Eyes of Heaven – this time, for PS3 and PS4), so there’s a way better chance that we could see a re-release compared to everything else I’ve discussed so far. Plus there’s the fact that more anime-themed Bandai Namco games have been heading to Steam lately (particularly the most recent Naruto and Dragon Ball Z games). Unfortunately, considering that they’re focusing on Eyes of Heaven at the moment, chances for a re-release are still fairly low.

WWE All-Stars – THQ/2K Games(?) (PS3/360)

When it comes to sports games in general, I’ve always preferred arcade-style games over sims. While no wrestling game has ever topped THQ’s first attempts at WWE games (No Mercy and Wrestlemania 2000 for the Nintendo 64) in my heart of hearts, one of THQ’s last attempts came pretty close, while delivering its own unique arcade-flavored take on the medium. Compiling a roster of long-retired greats and then-current WWE Superstars, All Stars was truly an underrated gem. Hopefully, if we ever see a re-release, they’ll manage to include all of the DLC in the base package.

Rating: 3/10 – On one hand, THQ’s dead and it seems like the rights to all of their WWE games reverted to the new license holder 2K Games, so that in and of itself would make the game an easy slam dunk. On the other hand, some of the wrestlers included in the game’s roster aren’t on the best of terms with WWE, so that in and of itself would cause some problems. I think our best bet would be a sequel/successor, but considering even modern WWE games don’t hit PC, I’m sure even that wouldn’t hit PCs. Oh well, I’ve still got WWE Immortals…even if that’s just a mobile game.

Goldeneye 007 Reloaded – Activision (360/PS3)

Speaking of N64, Goldeneye was probably the first console FPS I ever enjoyed. I was never really that big on its spiritual successor Perfect Dark, but the original was a classic in my book. As such, I was fairly excited when Activision announced that it was remaking the game for the Wii, and somewhat moreso once it was announced that it was getting refined further and released on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Just a shame it never hit PC.

Rating: 4/10 – Activision lost the rights to the James Bond license back in 2013. Oddly enough, the license has yet to resurface elsewhere, at least with regards to console releases. MGM is apparently working on a game for smartphones and tablets, but aside from that, there’s really no information. Hopefully, Activision can broker a new deal and get Goldeneye 007 Reloaded out on modern platforms.

Well, that was a pretty fun take on the usual list. While no new ports from my official lists have been announced, I’m still ahead. Hopefully the next two months will give me some other games. On the other hand, I’ve been inspired to do an entire spin-off series for these PC port lists at some point down the line. Don’t worry, it’s not related to the subject matter of this list. You’ll just have to wait and see.

10 Games I Want Ported to PC: Mission to Moscow

Hello again and welcome to another list of games I want ported to PC, the first of 2015 no less. Let’s start with another recap of PC gaming news from the past couple of months. First off, the streak continues: Dead or Alive 5: Last Round was actually rumored to be coming to PC when I put out my last article and it was later confirmed. Street Fighter V was recently announced as a PS4 “exclusive”, despite the fact that it’s also going to appear on PC (with cross-play), but that’s probably not going to be released until sometime next year. Still, despite being showcased with an early build that’s only 20% complete, it’s already looking pretty good. Bandai Namco finally responded to rumors that Tekken 7 would be hitting PC (after a short-lived listing on Amazon UK). In a recent interview with Korean site Inven, series producer Katsuhiro Harada stated that a PC release is currently under consideration “for certain countries that prefer or need to play on PC”. He made it clear that this wasn’t a confirmation, but the fact that the game’s running Unreal Engine 4 would probably make a PC port fairly easy. Finally, there’s one last bit of PC fighting game news: Microsoft may be considering porting Killer Instinct for the Xbox One to PC. On the official Killer Instinct forums, a thread was started to gauge interest in a PC port of the title, and instead of closing the thread, it was pinned by the site’s adminstrators. The poll ran until January 9th and the results showed that more than 50% of the participants didn’t have an Xbox One, but would buy KI if it were available on PC. Nearly 25% said that they did own KI for XBO but thought it was a bad idea to port, but almost 20% were XBO owners that wanted the option to play on PC. If this thread is being scrutinized by Microsoft and KI Season 2 developer Iron Galaxy Studios, then a PC port is probably almost assured by now.

Oh, but wait, there’s more. After the rumors and the ESRB leaks, Idea Factory finally confirmed that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 & 2, remakes of the first two Neptunia games, will be hitting Steam at some point in the future. In addition to that, Fairy Fencer F, another Idea Factory RPG, is also hitting Steam. Speaking of JRPGs, Kemco has partnered with Marvelous to bring their Wii U RPG Alphadia Genesis to Steam this month, marking another long-time Japanese developer making the jump to PC. Finally, I’d like to leave you with a rumor: according to NeoGAF user Verendus, the man who leaked Final Fantasy XV’s name and platform change right before it was announced has revealed, among other things, that Konami is planning to bring the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection to PC in the near future. That should be exciting news for anyone who saw me stumble through the original MGS on Youtube. Of course, Verendus’s track record isn’t perfect, so this may not come to pass. If it does though, hopefully it does well enough to get Konami to consider porting over some of their other HD collections. Like, Zone of the Enders, perhaps?

But first, it’s rule time. You probably know the drill by now, I’ve been using these rules from the get-go (and if you’re not familiar with these lists, take a look at some of my old ones. There’s some good stuff on there.) My lists stick mostly to third-party companies (aside from Microsoft) with a general focus on companies that have recently released games on PC. Games will be taken from the seventh (360/Wii/PS3) and eighth (WiiU/PS4/XBO) generations of video games, as well as handhelds from those eras and mobile games. Games that weren’t system exclusives are preferred. Finally, games from the same series released on the same console can be packaged together on a single list entry. Well, that was relatively painless, now to hit you with some games.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 – Capcom (360/PS3)

This one’s been a long time coming. Sure, Bionic Commando was never really my favorite Capcom franchise, but this game’s omission from PC just seems weird. Mainly because the original Rearmed (as well as the 2009 reboot it was made to promote) actually did receive PC ports around their initial releases. Granted, lately Capcom has been on a bit of a re-release spree with some of their older titles (specifically Resident Evil 4, the GameCube remake and there are rumors that even RE0 will be hitting PC, current and last-gen consoles). So maybe there’s still a chance for this wrong to be righted.

‘Splosion Man – Microsoft Studios/Twisted Pixel Games (360)

Then there’s ‘Splosion Man, which has the opposite issue: its sequel got a late port to PC (as well as iOS and Windows Phone) back in 2013, but the original has yet to appear on the platform. I guess I can kind of understand why, but it just seems like a missed opportunity here. Though the gameplay mechanics in both games are pretty much identical, that basically means that Ms. ‘Splosion Man was, more or less, a level pack for the original. So, by that logic, releasing the original game would just mean more levels, right? Maybe throw in Comic Jumper and make it a two-pack or something.

Guardian Heroes – Sega/Treasure (360)

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of beat-‘em-ups: those side-scrolling fighting games where you whale countless goons that saw their heyday in the Arcade and during the 16-bit era of gaming. I’m also a pretty big fan of action-RPGs, to the point where there are times that I argue they’re the only kind of RPG worth making. So it’s kind of a shame that I never got to play 1996’s Guardian Heroes during its original release on the Sega Saturn. Fortunately, 15 years later, it got a high-definition re-release on Xbox Live Arcade, with the addition of online multiplayer, an expanded competitive mode (12 players instead of 6), Arcade Mode (a new mode, where you fight a never-ending barrage of enemies) and the option to use the original Sega Saturn gameplay or an updated “remix” version that adds many new gameplay mechanics. Too bad it’s going to be lost to the ages, once the Xbox 360 is discontinued. Of course, it doesn’t have to end like that: just port that sucker to the PC, maybe beef up the netcode and let gamers enjoy the game for the foreseeable future.

…what? It’s worth a shot. Considering how well Valkyria Chronicles sold, anything’s possible.

Double Dragon Trilogy – Million/DotEmu (iOS/Android)

Speaking of beat-‘em-ups, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the Double Dragon Trilogy. I was recently able to pick it up on my Android phone, due to some bonus Amazon coins I had lying around. I’ve got to be honest with you, the ports of these arcade classics were definitely worth the $3 they were charging for it on Amazon. They functioned about as well as the original arcade versions (granted, touch controls kinda suck) and managed to include an additional “story mode”, which I believe simply added a stage select which allows you to go to stages that you were able to previously reach. They also added in remixed music for the first two games. Considering their work on the PC versions of Metal Slug X and 3, I’m sure DotEmu could even easily throw in online multi-player: the one major thing the mobile version lacked in my opinion.

(Ha! Looks like history does repeat itself sometimes. Just like how Double Dragon Neon was officially announced for PC, this was actually announced for release before the article even posted. At first it was announced for GOG.com, but it was confirmed for Steam yesterday.)

KoF Sky Stage/Neo Geo Heroes: Ultimate Shooting – SNK Playmore (AC/360)/(PSP)

These are two odd games, but they still sound worth playing all over again. They’re both shmups where you play as various SNK characters, most of which come from the King of Fighters series. So basically, you play as Kyo Kusanagi, Kula Diamond, Terry Bogard or some other KoF character, flying around and shooting bullets at various enemies. On the surface, it sounds ridiculous (and it is), but it also looks incredibly damn fun.

Tekken Revolution – Bandai Namco (PS3/PS4)

So, as I said earlier, Katsuhiro Harada has been teasing the potential of Tekken 7 hitting PC when it’s released on home consoles. Of course, there’s also speculation that the port’s existence will be determined by how well other fighting games on the platform sell. Perhaps the best way to gauge interest in Tekken 7 on PC would be to release some other Tekken game on there. I mentioned Tekken Tag Tournament 2 back in my first list and that would still be my first choice for another Tekken game on PC. However, that’s not our only choice: the free-to-play title Tekken Revolution is not only more recent than Tag 2, but its gameplay is also speculated to be incredibly close to Tekken 7’s. Of course, the game’s got a strike against it, as it is free-to-play, but that could also work to its advantage. After all, the price is right, especially if Bandai Namco outright admits that the statistics will impact future releases.

Disgaea series – Nippon Ichi (PSP/PS3/PSV)

I was recently able to complete the first Disgaea on PS2 in a web stream a couple of months ago. Frankly, I enjoyed it, except for one thing: streaming a PS2 game from my PS3 was a colossal pain in the ass. Recently, Nippon Ichi announced that they were releasing Disgaea 5 exclusively for PlayStation 4 and if it doesn’t meet their sales targets, Nippon Ichi Software may close down. Needless to say, this isn’t a sound strategy, especially given PS4’s sales penetration in Nippon Ichi’s major market.

Of course, Nippon Ichi’s North American branch has published a few games on Steam, but these aren’t internally developed. However, given the fact that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 & 2 and Fairy Fencer F (all of which were published by NIS America in North America) are all headed to Steam in the near future, this may be an indication that NIS America may be taking a larger role in expanding Nippon Ichi’s audience, not unlike how XSEED handled development for the various Ys ports that have appeared on Steam.

Of course, if any of this happens, I’d personally prefer it if they based any PC ports of Disgaea games on the portable incarnations, the PSP/Vita versions. I’d prefer these versions because they include a great deal of additional content and all of the DLC from the earlier, console versions in the base game. I’m sure I’m not alone on that one.

Black Knight Sword – Grasshopper Manufacture (360/PS3)

My quest to get every single Suda51 game on PC continues. It’s a crying shame that Shadows of the Damned was an EA game, so showing up on Steam is an impossibility at this point. Diabolical Pitch is a Kinect game, so that would be a somewhat pointless port. Let It Die isn’t even out yet, and it’s a free-to-play title. So our best contender for another Grasshopper Manufacture game to be ported to Steam is Black Knight Sword: a 2D platformer with a graphical style reminiscent of medieval European tapestries. Apparently, it’s a bit clunky, but supposedly that just sort of fits with the gameplay. If it’s as “clunky” as other Suda51 games like No More Heroes, Killer is Dead and Lollipop Chainsaw, then I’d totally be alright with that.

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair – Konami (360/PS3)

Harmony of Despair isn’t your typical Castlevania game. It was an interesting little experiment: a multiplayer Metroidvania where a group of up to six players (or 4, in the PS3-exclusive local multiplayer mode) join forces to topple a short stage, followed by a massive boss. The really unique thing about it is that you get to choose from a variety of characters from older Metroidvanias: Jonathan and Charlotte from Portrait of Ruin, Shanoa from Order of Ecclesia, Soma Cruz from the Sorrow games and even Alucard from Symphony of the Night. Better still, each character had palette swaps in case multiple people in your group wanted to use the same character. Porting this sucker to PC (with all the additional DLC content included in the base package) would be pretty awesome.

Deathsmiles – Cave (AC/360/iOS/Android)

How about we finish this list with another Cave shmup, for old times’ sake? Deathsmiles was actually the first Cave shoot-‘em-up released on North American consoles back in 2010 and unlike many of their famous games, this is a horizontal-oriented game. Story’s not important, but if you’re put off by little anime girls in skimpy outfits, you may want to skip this one. The gameplay, however, is solid and that’s what really matters with this genre of games. Steam’s got a pretty good shmup line-up at this point, but there’s always room for improvement.

Another two months, another list of 10 games. Seems a little old hat at this point, doesn’t it? Well, don’t worry, this March I’m going to be doing something a little more unconventional when it comes to this list, breaking some rules and all that noise. Aside from that, I’ve only got one traditional list left in the pipeline. After that, who knows?  I mean, SNES Master KI has joked that these lists are cursed: that only 10% of the games I list on here will ever make it on. He’s not exactly wrong, but hell, that just makes me want to go on forever.