Despite enjoying many JRPGs and Action-RPGs (especially Zelda!), the Ys series of videogames has been something that had quietly passed me by over the years; indeed until I picked up my PSVita last year I’d never even really heard of these games, which probably lowers my “hardcore gamer” credentials significantly. Filthy casual I know. Anyhoo, since I’ve been mining the PSVita’s back catalogue I obviously came across Ys: Memories of Celceta and snaffled it up in a PSN sale over Xmas, but I also took it upon myself to bag a few of the older PSP games, such as Ys: Seven and Ys: The Oath in Felghana. I’m still not entirely sure which games fit where chronologically (not that it really matters as each one is pretty standalone from what I gather) but since Felghana is a remake of Ys III and Celceta is a remake of Ys IV, I thought I’d dive into the older PSP title first. This also meant that I’d have a cleaner appreciation for the PSP title, unclouded by shinier new PSVita graphics or improved controls. Well, this morning I have finished the game, plunged my sword deep into the last boss’s boogly eyeball and now have a much greater appreciation for one of the most over-looked (in the west) ARPG videogame series of all time.
Ys: The Oath in Felghana (pronounced “Iss” by the way - from the Japanese “Isu”) has a very typical ARPG plotline involving an ancient race that was wiped out by an evil guy, who’s trying to summon an ancient evil, which was sealed away but not killed, etc. etc. Very much the kind of thing you get from a Zelda game. Similar to Nintendo’s series, the story here is also just to get you from dungeon to dungeon killing monsters, and while there are some good characters, you’re not really going to be playing this game for a Final Fantasy style story-driven experience. As the player you take on the role of Adol Christin, who is similar to Link in that he is the protagonist of all the games in his respective series, an adventurer searching the world for treasure and excitement. Adol is an accomplished swordfighter and an all-round heroic kind of guy, who is dragged into these events whilst visiting the small-town of his adventuring partner Dogi. It’s a decent setup, and the twists and turns in the story keep it all going at a decent pace, with lots and lots of voice acting (on the PSP version of the game – lacking in PC version) that ranges from excellent to pretty bad, but always entertaining nonetheless.
The true core of the game lies in the constant and frantic combat, as you go about in a ‘roguelike’ fashion slaughtering hundreds of enemies; there are no trophies on the PSP but I could imagine ones for killing upwards of 500 or 1000 monsters! However, despite this emphasis on carnage, there is only a single attack button, which makes Adol swing his equipped sword and can be mashed repeatedly for a six-swing combo. Complimenting this singular offense option is a button to jump, one to use an equipped magical bangle and another to activate a special boost to offensive and defensive capabilities, which recharges over time and upon taking damage. This simplicity in control does not mean that the gameplay is a push-over however, and you will find here a game tweaked and honed to perfection, and one that offers a massive Dark Souls level of challenge. The PSP version of the game has some tweaks designed to give the player more of a fighting chance, such as a second mode of boost that recharges some health, or the constant drops from defeated foes that temporarily raise your damage, mana, defences, etc. But this doesn’t mean the difficulty is significantly lowered, and most players will still find this game a real test of your skills and reaction time.
Special mention must go to the end-of-dungeon boss fights, which feel like proper videogame throwbacks to the challenging ARPGs of the 16-Bit era, each requiring you to learn their attack patterns and then administer lighting quick counterattacks of your own before they move to the next phase of their attack. They’re difficult, will make you want to rage-quit sometimes, but definitely remain some of the standout parts of Ys: The Oath in Felghana. They also look spectacular, as does much of the game, especially for a PSP title! The characters and most of the monsters are 2D rendered sprites, while the dungeons and overworld are 3D, and this works perfectly at a full 30fps looking particularly sharp on the PSVita’s OLED screen; as a tip you should turn off bilinear filtering for this game and enjoy the sharp visual design, jaggies be damned!! There are also some well rendered CGI cutscenes towards the beginning and end of the game that wouldn’t look out of place in an older Final Fantasy, and have a fantastic 90’s charm.
Lastly, the music, oh the music! Ys is a videogame series renowned for its music and Ys: The Oath in Felghana is supposedly one of the best, which I can totally believe as the music in this game is amazing. Jumping from faux-orchestral swelling scores that underline key parts of the dramatic story, and then crashing into shredding guitars and fantasy metal while chopping up baddies in dungeons; this game’s soundtrack makes you feel like a badass whilst playing and I love it.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing Ys: The Oath in Felghana and would recommend it to anyone with a PSVita or PSP who likes ARPGs and substantial challenge. Add half an additional point onto this review score if you *really* love 16-bit RPGs, 90’s vibes and shredding rock soundtracks. I'm now going to check out the rest of the Ys series.