Friday, November 29, 2013

GOT 'IM - Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga

My obsession for the first half of 2013 was Persona.  Well, in the latter half of 2013 it's probably Ys.  Six months ago I owned zero Ys games.  Now I own seven.  This is the first one I finished: Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga.  Wow.  Totally not-awkward title. 

Hopefully this review is on the short side, since this is a fanservice fighting game with everything except most of the menu names in Japanese.  Yes, I stupidly imported a game.  No, it was not expensive (under $20 after shipping costs).  Yes, it was pretty fun.  And yes, it makes me want to play more Ys and more Sora no Kiseki (Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky).  That will happen very soon.

Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga (henceforth known as "Ys vs Sora") is a customizable fighting game in a 3D arena, starring characters from the Ys series and the Sora no Kiseki branch of the Legend of Heroes series; Ys and Legend of Heroes are the action RPG and traditional RPG signature franchises (respectively) of Nihon Falcom, a Japanese developer with a significant cult following, but lacking the resources of an RPG powerhouse like Square-Enix or even Atlus.  North America has gotten several Ys games over the years, but only the first Sora no Kiseki game, called Trails in the Sky in the official localization.

Now, you might be wondering why I went through the trouble of importing a niche-within-a-niche Japanese arena fighter when there have been zero Ys or Legend of Heroes reviews on this blog.  That's reasonable.  I did play Trails in the Sky in early 2011 and enjoyed it tremendously, but that was before I started writing full reviews here (summer of 2011).  North America is at long last getting the second part of the TitS saga (heh) in 2014.  That's something I'll be playing.  I wasn't into Ys much at all until earlier this year, but that's a story for another day; Ys is my most recent game obsession and you'll be hearing all about it a few Got 'ims from now. 

The bottom line: these are two series I enjoy quite a bit, but they're both recent pickups.  I imported Ys vs Sora on an impulse in early October, because I saw an inexpensive Ebay auction (under $20 after shipping) and figured that an arena fighting game would be easy to play and understand despite my lack of knowledge of the Japanese language.  Fortunately, I was right. All of the Ys vs. Sora menus are in English until you get into character skills and equipment, at which point I needed to consult The Internet.  Fortunately, there are online lists of every skill and accessory in the game, so I was able to outfit characters with some level of insight.  Skills required some additional experimentation, but that's fine.  I would probably have done that anyway were the skill names in English.  Dialog and story details were 100% lost on me, but whatever.  That hardly matters in a fighting game.  Ys vs Sora is relatively import-friendly, and thank goodness for that. 

Right, back to the actual game.  Sorry about that little diversion.  As I mentioned earlier, Ys vs Sora is an arena fighter starring characters from the two flagship series of Nihon Falcom.  The two obvious comparisons to make here are Dissidia: Final Fantasy or Super Smash Brothers: two crossover franchises that bring together characters from seperate universes. Like Dissidia, Ys vs Sora's story mode concerns a vague godlike figure gathering heroes together from different worlds to defeat a similarly godlike evil, in this case a dragon that is sort of similar to the dragon boss in Ys: The Oath in Felghana.  In the Ys vs Sora's story, you select a main character (one of five characters from the game's cast of 17), and that character defeats every other character in the cast, allying with each one after defeating him or her and eventually standing up to the dragon with the full cadre of seventeen. 

Now, the characters are a pretty interesting, diverse bunch that are much more appealing if you've played some Ys or TitS games.  The full cast of 17 are the seven playable characters of Ys Seven, Chester from Ys III, six of the eight playable characters from the first TitS (Scherazard and Zane aren't included), Loewe and Renne from the TitS trilogy (they're villains, but I think Renne is playable eventually), and Lloyd from the more recent Zero no Kiseki (which is a long way from a release outside of Japan, if it ever gets one).  Woo, parentheses!  That's a pretty robust cast, and absolutely great as fanservice.  In addition, there are 20+ more characters available as "support", which are once-per-battle summons that give your fighter a temporary boost.  The aforementioned Schera and Zane are both available as support.  I wouldn't have minded more playable characters, but 17 is a pretty good number.  

So, how much appeal does that cast hold for me?  A decent amount.  I haven't played Ys Seven yet, but I really like the cast of TitS and love seeing Adol, Dogi, and Chester again (you'll see a review of Ys: The Oath in Felghana hopefully in the next week or two).  In fact, that Felghana trio are three of the four characters I put some work into and have at above level 50.  So anyway, story mode only has five available main characters: Adol (Ys main character), Estelle (TitS main character), Kloe (TitS party member), Tita (TitS party member), and Geis (Ys party member).  That's right, you only get five. 

Adol and Estelle are both logical choices for story heroes.  Kloe and Tita are two of Estelle's friends, but neither of them is a favorite of mine from their game. I don't know ANYTHING about Geis (quick research tells me he's in both the 6th and 7th Ys games), but he has a halberd and three elemental fairy companions, so he seems cool.  I guess I would have preferred Joshua and Dogi as story main characters over Kloe, Tita, or Geis, but they're implemented as sidekicks to Estelle and Adol, which I suppse makes sense.  Whatever. Apparently it was too much effort to record dialog for more than five story MCs. 

So whatever.  17 characters, story mode, arcade mode.  Yes, there's an arcade mode and it's about what you'd expect; you fight most of the cast, plus a big ogre mid-boss and the big dragon final boss without any bothersome dialog or exposition.  So how does this game play?  Took me long enough to get there, right?  I mentioned that Ys vs Sora is similar to Dissidia, but in gameplay it's much more like Power Stone.  Characters can jump, dash, attack, and block with the four basic face buttons.  Holding down R and pressing a face button uses one of your four equipped skills.  The L button unleashes a character's super ("EXTRA" skill) when they've built up enough meter from sustaining damage and blocking, and tapping the L and R buttons together summons your equipped support. 

Movement around the board is a lot of running, dashing, and jumping.  You can't performed targeted dashes like in Dissidia, and in general the quasi-platforming takes a backseat to the mechanics of attack and defense.  Your regular attack differs for each character, but generally it's a combo between 3 and 5 hits.  All attacks can be blocked with proper timing, but there's a stamina meter that drains with successful blocks and running out means lots of damage and stun. Each character has six skills, of which four can be equipped at once.  Skills take SP to cast, and SP is gained over the course of the battle by attacking and blocking successfully.  Do you want to cast low-SP skills frequently, or powerful high-SP skills less frequently?  Decisions, decisions. 

The special attacks available to each character run the gamut of combos to projectiles to area of effect attacks.  Since battles can be 1v2, 2v2, or even 1v3, those big AoEs can be very important indeed. A typical Ys vs Sora battle is frantic jumping and dashing, building up SP with combos and charged attacks (which take time to execute, but build SP quickly), and then landing powerful skills and more combos.  The action can get pretty frantic, especially if 3 or 4 characters are active at the same time.  My favorite characters to use are Adol, who has great options for multiple situations and the best blocking in the game, and Chester, who has less HP, defense, and air prowess than Adol but faster combos, more straightforward high-SP attacks, and better options at range. 

As I hinted at earlier, characters level up just like in an RPG, with basic stats (including HP and SP) increasing at each level.  Characters can equip new weapons, a wide variety of accessories, and set their skills in a CUSTOMIZE menu, and buy skill upgrades, weapons, and accessories at a shop.  Characters gain EXP and gold (or whatever money's called in this game) by fighting more battles.  You also earn BP, which is a sort of persistent "overall score" value that increases by fighting more battles and completing achievements (beat arcade mode with all characters, land 5 supers in one battle, etc.).  At higher BP levels, you unlock more characters, stages, and gallery items.  Lots and lots of unlockables and score incentives.

Those gallery items and unlockables are pretty diverse, with hundreds of music tracks, artworks, and even PSP backgrounds and themes that you can upload to your machine's memory card.  Plenty of carrots-on-sticks to get you to keep playing and unlock more stuff.  And hey, I bit.  I have Adol at level 99, Dogi, Chester, and Estelle above level 55, all five Story Modes beaten, and Arcade Mode beaten by 9 characters total.  This wasn't exactly a game I *needed* to play, but it's feeding my recent Falcom obsession beautifully and it's a fun fighter in its own right.  Even as I'm playing multiple single-player games on my menu, I keep going back to Ys vs Sora in hopes of eventually unlocking Loewe and Lloyd.  I'm not saying this is a must-buy import game, but you could do a lot worse. 

Games Beaten: 2013 Edition
1. Persona 4
2. Pokemon White Version 2
3. 10,000,000
4. Persona 4 Arena
5. Persona 3 FES: The Journey (NG+)
6. Hexyz Force
7. Persona 4 (NG+)
8. Psychonauts
9. Tales of Vesperia
10. Guacamelee!
11. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
12. Final Fantasy VI Advance
13. Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4
14. inFamous 2 Evil Finish
15. Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis
16. Torchlight II (Classist)
17. Donkey Kong Country Returns
18. DuckTales Remastered
19. Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga
20. Diablo III
21. Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Targets: 6/13


Well, it's official.  I'm beating games faster than I can write about them.  I beat Ys: The Oath in Felghana last weekend (right around the time I was finishing the DuckTales review, actually) and that's another review in the pipeline.  Diablo III's review is next, and it's a doozy. 

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