Ys: The Oath in FelghanaESRB:
Downloadable from PSN
The Ys legacy spans all the way back to the 16-bit days, when the original Ys Book I & II were released for the Turbo Grafx 16 (still my most favourite system ever) and the Sega Mega Drive. Since that time, we’ve been treated to a number of adventures in the Falcom series, continuing onto the Genesis and SNES and eventually working its way to the Playstation 2. Now the most current releases can be found on the PSP, with this year’s release of the epic Ys Seven and now The Oath In Felghana.
In terms of visuals, the game's characters retain a 16-bit look that includes over-sized heads and other minor touches giving the game a throwback feel. I really like the look, but others may think it‘s a bit too retro. The environments are well designed with a lot of variety, and some fantastic texturing and colour schemes. Everything in the game animates nicely, but there are a few areas of clipping and frame rate issues. Overall the issues aren’t anything to complain about though, just a minor annoyance. The PSP is still quite a powerful system and in certain areas of the game it shows its muscle. There are some locations in your travels you’ll visit more than a few times, but thanks to the bracelets you obtain, each successive visit has you opening new sections to discover. The only downside is the lack of dungeon maps. There are a few areas where you can easily get lost and it would have been nice to have a map of where you’ve already been. This can be frustrating as you can spend huge amounts of time in the dungeons running around in circles. Some things just don’t change.
To my surprise, most of the game is voiced. Never have I heard such huge amounts of spoken dialogue in a Ys game. The scenes aren’t incredibly memorable, but they certainly have some thought and work put into them. Adol is still the silent protagonist but his actions are described by a narrator and Dogi’s voice-actor does a fine job. To be honest it is a bit of a treat for me to hear the characters. Overall the voicing adds to the game's fun factor.
The musical score is fantastic with great cues kicking in at the right moments that add to each area’s atmosphere. The mostly orchestral score is very nice and bears repeated listening. The game's many sounds are all clear and crisp, although I did hear a few areas of hiss and compression issues. Gamers must listen through the PSP’s headphone jack since this is the best way to enjoy Ys.
It wasn’t very long ago that Falcom and XSEED released the re-done and very cool Ys Seven. It was a pretty fun game that allowed veterans of the series to reminisce about the old days, and allowed newcomers into the world of Ys without needing to know anything about the series' roots. The first three games in the most popular franchise are being ported to the PSP with Ys the Oath in Felghana. This game is essentially a remake of Ys III. While it does carry similar gaming elements of Ys Seven, it does play out quite differently than the aforementioned Ys Seven. My initial thoughts were that it is still a game most RPG fans will enjoy.
The Oath in Felghana sees our heroes Adol and Dogi make their way home for the first time in nearly a decade. Adol’s return is welcomed by the towns’ folk, but it is apparent that things are not as good as they could be. Dogi’s childhood friend has disappeared and monsters have begun to ravage the land. Dogi goes out on his own to inquire about what has happened while Adol helps a group of people, including the Mayor, who are trapped in a nearby mine. This begins the uncovering of an evil plot from many years ago and hopefully the prevention of more harm being brought upon the land. This may be the third game in the series, but like Ys Seven, it is another self-containing story. Gamers will find no need for back story about the series' history, but of course fans of the series may have a bit of an added advantage by knowing odd Ys facts.
This edition of Ys is a different experience from what we had in Ys Seven, but at its core it is still what makes Ys so popular in RPG circles. Some examples of the differences can be varied and subtle. For starters, the aspect of switching characters is gone as you only control Adol and he will always fight solo. On top of that, Adol will obtain three magical bracelets that enable him to do various attacks, required to progress through the story. While the magic is necessary to progress, a weird design choice is the heavy use of platform jumping to progress from area to area. When originally released, the use of platforms and jumping made sense with its 2D design. In fact the older games really did not have you jumping from walkways and platforms very often, but in this 3D version the jumping does pose a few problems. There are a lot of sections where an enemy’s attack or a mistimed jump will see Adol easily plummet to the ground below. I remember one section in particular closer to the end of the game. This section contains a lot of moving gears and more than a few times the 3D level design led to Adol unnecessarily missing ledges and levers. I suppose the camera angle could have something to do with the depth perception; I came to the conclusion it was in the mechanics.
The game controls quite well for a PSP title. I have never been a fan of Sony’s analogue nub, I find the sensitivity is not conducive to a great many games on the PSP. In this Ys game you will have a bit of a learning curve, but it is tolerable overall.
This brings me to another point - be prepared to die often enough to get frustrated. It wouldn’t be so terrible having to repeat certain sections again, but it does point out some of the other minor issues in the game. These include the inability to store health items, the few and far between save points, and the punishing difficulty really amps up the frustration. I found this to be most annoying feature in my time with the game. Rather than being able to store or even purchase health potions, enemies will randomly drop them once fallen. While this works in principal, even on normal difficulty enemies can and will dish out a lot of damage and some are quite relentless. Even with levelling up through grinding fights, you will still face situations where you will quickly lose health and not be able to use any type of health upgrade.
Save points are a great way of replenishing your health, but there are so very few of them and with their spacing having huge gaps between them you will often die before reaching any. The only saving grace to this is that when Adol perishes he restarts in the last section entered, so you are not too far behind where you left off.
Even with the game's punishing difficulty, the boss battles are some of the most interesting situations in the story. Each one is a challenge, but the right strategy will always lead to success. The battles often rely upon using the correct types of magic along with proper timing. If you happen to repeatedly perish after attempting a boss a few times, there is the option of lowering the difficulty during the fight to help you out. I like the option, but not as an escape plan. It makes me want to finish off the boss in the mode I’m in. I guess the motivation is not to use a cheat, in my opinion, but it can help those gamers not so used to the game. The option to decrease difficulty doesn’t ruin the experience but it definitely helps out those who may get frustrated.
Strangely the few side quests available are only found if you look for them by talking to the right person. You could talk to a great many people, and never open up other areas of the game. This forces you to be diligent about talking to everyone you see. The game spans a good 12 to 15 hours in Felghana. The length is perfect as there are very few lull moments; you will constantly crave more action to see how the story unfolds.
The game is available in 3 different forms, a download from the PSN (which is what I used), a regular UMD game, and a special edition UMD package. The special edition package contains the new re-arranged soundtrack CD featuring more than 20 songs and a 4" by 6" 2011 calendar featuring art from the game. I’m a sucker for special editions and will be looking for it.
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