Hello! Going to try and get back in the swing of writing reviews, so I'm making an effort to have my writing catch up with my gaming. It ain't easy. So here's my review for Ys: The Ark of Napishtim for the PS2.
I've written about my Ys playing career multiple times, as I started the blog in 2011 and didn't put hard time into any Ys game until 2013. So I'll try to be brief, but I am TERRIBLE at being brief. These earlier blog posts illuminate my feelings on Ys pretty well:
Ys: The Oath in Felghana review
Ys Seven review
The review for Oath in Felghana covers my basic background with the Ys games and the review for Ys Seven provides a little more information on how Ys games are structured. If you're curious about my Ys experiences then read those, and maybe the other reviews with the "Why Yes" tag on this blog. Those two posts are the best starting point.
So, now we have The Ark of Napishtim, which is Ys VI in the grand timeline of Adol's adventures. Napishtim is the first game of the "hipster Zelda" trio of Ys games, coming just before The Oath in Felghana, which is a remake of Ys III. I played the Konami-produced PS2 version of the game, which I bought in 2013 when I went on a binge of buying every Ys game available to me. Earlier this year, XSEED released a nicer, cleaner, improved version of Napishtim's PC version on Steam a month or two after I played it. Of course they did. But this is the one I played, so let's talk about it.
Story and Characters
Seven out of the eight Ys games star the adventurer Adol Christin (the exception is Ys: Origin, which takes place 700 years before the first Ys game), and most of the Adol games have him accompanied by his best friend Dogi . In the opening cutscene of Ys VI Adol and Dogi meet up with the pirate captain Ladoc and his daughter Terra; Ladoc and Terra were important characters in Ys V, from what I understand, but I haven't played Ys V. Adol and Dogi join Ladoc and his crew on an expedition to the western ocean, where there are rumors of islands laden with treasure. The ship is shipwrecked and Adol ends up on the beach of one of the islands in the mysterious Canaan Archipelago. This is Adol's third or fourth shipwrecking. He has bad luck with boats.
The Canaan Archipelago has a lot of drama going on at the time of Adol's arrival. One island is home to the Rehda clan, a tribe of shamanistic natives with elfish ears and foxlike tails. Most important among the Rehda are the beautiful priestess Olha, her younger sister Isha, and the Rehda chieftan Ord. The neighboring island, connected by an underground tunnel, is a surprisingly sturdy settlement of shipwrecked Eresians (Eresia is Adol's home continent), with its leader a wealthy merchant from Altago. The Eresians and the Rehda have a strained relationship, and Adol eventually earns the trust of both groups while uncovering the islands' secrets and searching for Dogi, Ladoc, and Terra. On the way, Adol meets Geis, another newcomer to the Canaan islands who distrusts Adol and seems to know more than he lets on. Geis (along with Adol, Dogi, and a few new characters) is a playable character in Ys Seven and Ys vs Sora no Kiseki.
Eventually, Ys VI ties into the larger series storyline when Adol encounters an invasion force from Romn, evidence of the ancient Eldeen civilization, and a few members of the Tribe of Darkness. The story stuff going on here is mostly appealing, and quite illuminating once most of the story cards are on the table. The final conflict has appropriately high stakes, and I did get attached to some of the characters. The main villain is delightfully evil, Olha and Terra become the latest members of the "I am deeply in love with Adol" club, and the homunculus fairy Crevia has a resolution to her story that is surprisingly tragic. Ys VI has a perfectly serviceable Ys story, but it's not my favorite in the series. Or even one of my top three favorite.
Playing the Game
Being in that middle trilogy of Ys games, Ys: The Ark of Napishtim has you control only one character at a time in a fast-paced affair of dashing, jumping, sword fighting, and spell slinging. Adol sprints and cuts his way through field areas and dungeon dense with enemies, and occasionally messes around with platforming elements and precision jumps. Those platforming segments were the most frustrating parts of the game, in part because the long-jump mechanic in Ys VI requires some slightly weird timing. But more on that later.
Adol starts the game with a simple iron sword, but finds three magic swords over the course of the game that eventually become the crux of his basic gameplay mechanics. These three swords are made of Emelas, a special metal that comes in five colors (red, blue, gold, white, and black) and is key to the story of Ys VI. Each sword is a different color, has a different basic combo and attack speed, and a different set of magic attacks that use a gradually-increasing magic meter. Upgrading those swords and mastering those combos (which occasionally require some tricky pause-timing, Devil May Cry-style) is what fighting in Ys VI is all about.
You can upgrade the swords by finding emelas fragments dropped from enemies and passing them on to a craftsman in town, and those swords are important. Obtaining these emelas pieces are the key grind to Ys VI (along with regular levels); I managed to max out all three swords' levels around when I was in the final dungeon, and having done so was key to defeating endgame bosses. The most powerful spells of those three swords are screen-clearing supermoves and upgrading your swords lets you cast them more often and with more power. For real.
So that's how the game plays, and for the most part it's pretty rad. The biggest problem with Ys VI isn't about combat or even platforming, but navigation. All of Ys VI is connected over a small number of field areas, with six or seven more contained areas that serve as the game's dungeons. That's all well and good, but traversing these fields becomes a pain in the ass quickly. Ys VI has a smaller world than The Oath in Felghana, but it feels much more cumbersome because there is no mechanic for teleporting between save points or even town hubs. You often have to travel from one end of the map to the very other just to trigger plot points, and it turns a game that should be straightforward and fun into an experience with too much tedium.
Visuals and Audio
Ys VI has an odd history of its visual style. The original PC version used sprites exclusively, the PS2 version (which is what I played) used the same artwork as the PC for story segments, but polygonal character models in maps. They also had totally different openings, with the PC version having an anime music video and the PS2 version having a lengthy CGI cutscene. Both opening videos look great (and the anime one is unlockable content in the PS2 version), but I think I would have preferred more traditional sprites in combat. Just my preference.
The character artwork is shiny and detailed, but the enemies and dungeons are... a little rough. Compared to the better-rendered stuff in Oath in Felghana or Ys Origin, most of the visuals in Ys VI look a little weak. These are polygons from the mid-PS2 era, and get a little jaggy, and also occasionally make jump timing and spatial awareness difficult, with the static camera and difficult-to-recognize platform placements. I had to go through certain platforming segments multiple times, way too often. Usually it was in a optional segments, but still unnecessarily frustrating.
All of the Ys games have good soundtracks, and Ys VI isn't an exception. The opening video track, the final boss track, and certain field tracks are really good, but maybe not at the level of the best Ys music. The only song from Ys VI I have in my regular rotation of game music is the final boss track, which is less of an endorsement than usual for an Ys game. The music was always at least adequate, but occasionally excellent.
The Final Word
Ys: The Ark of Napishtim isn't a disappointing game on its own, but it's inferior in a lot of ways to Ys: The Oath in Felghana and Ys: Origin. The combat isn't as smooth (but still pretty good), the progression systems aren't as fine-tuned, and the limited ability to fast travel is quite annoying. But the best parts of every Ys game - satisfying combat and skill systems, great boss battles, fun characters - are well represented here. Ys: The Ark of Napishtim isn't as crucial to play as The Oath in Felghana or Ys Seven, but it's a perfectly okay chapter in the saga of Adol Christin.
Games Beaten: 2015 Edition
1. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies
2. Ys: The Ark of Napishtim
3. Fire Emblem: Awakening
4. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
5. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (NG+)
6. Persona 4 Golden
7. Ys: Memories of Celceta
8. Her Story
9. Final Fantasy X HD Remaster
10. Persona 4 Golden (Platinum)
11. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
12. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
13. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
14. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
I'm making progress! See that list of finished games above? I'll be writing reviews for all of them EXCEPT for #10, which doesn't count because it's just a repeated earlier entry. That means Fire Emblem: Awakening is up next, which is terrifying because I'll have to confine my thoughts to fourteen paragraphs. Eep!