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Ys Seven (PSP)

Ys (pronounced “ease”) is a little known and often overlooked cult favorite action RPG series that spent most of its time being brushed off as a simple Zelda knockoff. With this latest installment, those days are over. It’s taken a chunk out of the Secret of Mana series as well, and cranked the action up to 11. Don’t let the dated graphics fool you. Ys Seven indeed retains the nostalgic old school gaming spirit, but it’s also modernized away the woes from days long past.

PROS

  • Old school gameplay style
  • Modernized mechanics and gameplay
  • No more grinding thanks to a scaled EXP system
  • Exciting, challenging boss battles
  • Addition of party members to series greatly alleviates repetition problems of other entries in the series (max party of 3)
  • 13 skills of varying effects, unique super attacks, and passive party buff for each of the 7 playable characters adds more variety and combo possibilities
  • Soundtrack generally lives up to Falcom’s reputation for excellency in the area
  • Nearly nonexistent load times

CONS

  • Graphics are about on par with Parasite Eve on PS1, which came out over 12 years ago
  • Pretty bad aliasing issues
  • Simple polygons
  • Missing model animations
  • Many characters have one dimensional personalities. Some have nonsensical sudden personality changes
  • Quite a few key characters are underdeveloped
  • Agonizingly boring, unimaginative, and repetitive dialogue
  • Incredibly cliche plot
  • No extra content at all
  • No reason to play through more than once
  • Dungeons later in the game really start to drag

Regardless of its glaringly obvious and quite severe shortcomings, this has been one of the funnest action RPGs I’ve ever played. It’s not pretty to look at, and in fact, the ugliness actually does cause issues in a few very chaotic boss fights, where you may lose yourself amidst all the aliased effects, but that’s really the biggest issue. The writing is horrible, but it seems they knew this when making this game and have added a built in fast forward feature for cutscenes and dialogue, so that’s not really a problem. Overall, it’s still a very fun ride while it lasts, but there’s absolutely no reason to keep it around once you’re done with it.

VISUAL: 3.5/10

One of the game’s greatest faults. Quite frankly, if it was any uglier, it could pass as a DS game. The polygons are ridiculously simple, as are many textures. Their idea of a shadow effect is a texture with the edges darkened. Many textures are essentially a solid uniform color. And then there’s the model animations. For some bizarre reason, many transitional animations are just outright missing. For example, instead of showing a character crouching, what they’ll do instead is fade out the old character model, then fade in a new one of the character already crouching. Fortunately, this happens primarily in cutscenes, which many of you are most likely going to skip anyways. Battle animations seem to all be intact.

Octagonal moons sure are mystical.

This game also has some of the worst aliasing problems I’ve ever seen on the platform. The jagged edges are so bad, it almost looks as if the 3D render doesn’t even run in the system’s native 480×272 resolution, and is actually upscaled from a lower res. This causes problems in some of the chaotic boss fights (of which there are many) where the screen is littered with so many aliased transparent effects, that everything kinda just blends together in this mess of pixels and you can’t actually see what’s going on anymore.

That said, it isn’t all bad. There are occasionally some pretty advanced blur and lighting effects that look almost out of place. Sadly, they’re far and few in between, and rather hard to appreciate when it’s set onto a backdrop of jagged edges and simplistic polygons. At the very least, the battle special effects are generally much higher quality than the world and character models with much less aliasing, and they will often fill your screen. The artwork also looks quite nice.

Probably the prettiest area of the game, showing off some lush (though non-dynamic) lighting effects on the flowers and a trailing blur effect when the screen moves. It looks pretty out of place in the midst of those octagonal “circles” and low quality models though.

AUDIO: 8.5/10

Although there a few pretty terrible tracks (*cough*Raud’s theme), the music you hear most often are among the best. Many of the town and cutscene tracks are fitting, but forgetable and generally unmoving, though there are a few great ones among them too (I’m particularly fond of Kylos’s music). This is a very action heavy game, and most of your time will be spent in the overworld, dungeons, or a boss battle, and most of these tracks are excellent. They’re bassy, hard rocking, and exciting, greatly adding to the fun of chopping up enemies. You would be doing this game a great disservice to play it without decent headphones, as almost all the bass is lost with the PSP’s pathetic little speakers. This is definitely a game you’d want to have the soundtrack for, if you’re into that.

There’s no voice acting outside of battle grunts, which is actually rather refreshing after the Prinny English VAs made my ears bleed and Lunar ones made me grate a full cm off my teeth in about 5 minutes. Otherwise, the sound effects are rather unremarkable, other than they manage to sound old school but without the low quality of old days.

PLOT/WRITING: 3.2/10

Although 2 or 3 major plot points will drop your jaw, most of it is cliche and boring. You’re a goody two shoes adventurer, Adol, and you randomly stumble upon a quest to save the world. In order to do so, you must visit 5 dragon shrines and gain their power. Along the way, you meet a bunch of people who happen to have problems, so you help out. And that’s about it…for the first half of the game. I won’t spoil the second half for you, since the plot really gets going after a major plot twist halfway through, but I can tell you it does get better. Sadly, due to character underdevelopment issues, it still wasn’t commendable nor memorable, outside of one major twist near the end.

The plot isn’t the worst part though. Probably the single worst thing in this game is the dialogue, especially from NPCs, and it ruins the already unimpressive plot to a point where it actually hurts to keep reading. I kid you not, there are literally dialogues that go:
“We’re looking for the Eldress of Shannoa, Fatima.”
“Is that so…”
“Are you Fatima, the Eldress of Shannoa?”
“Yes, I am Fatima, the Eldress of Shannoa. What can I do for you?”
“We need your help, Fatima.”
“Oh, and what can the Eldress of Shannoa do for you?”
“There are some problems Altago is facing that we hope you could shed some light on, being the Eldress of Shannoa.”
“Oh, what sort of problems? I, Fatima, will see what I can do.”
And that was from a plot cutscene. Talking to NPCs is even worse. Most of them won’t say anything you won’t hear about 5 million times from the main story anyways, and when they don’t, it’s about some mundane, completely irrelevant subject like government politics or fashion. It’s so bad, that the best piece of dialogue in the game is a blatant reference to Aeris from FF7 and the controversy over the spelling of her name (Aeris/Aerith). When the only way they can make dialogue interesting is to refer to a character from another game they had no part in making, that says a lot about the general quality of their writing.

Thanks for the newsflash, captain obvious. Thanks for the great shadow “effects” too, Falcom. At least the art looks good.

I’m normally pretty adamant about talking to everyone in RPGs, but I honestly couldn’t bear to speak with another NPC again after the first town and simply used an FAQ to find quest NPCs. I strongly advise you all to do the same.

GAMEPLAY: 8/10

Finally, there’s the meat of the game. Gone are the stale repetitive mechanics of old Ys, as there are now 7 unique characters to choose from to form a party of 3 of your choice, each with a unique passive party buff (such as increasing damage dealt or EXP gained), and 13 unique skills of various effects. They can do anything from sucking in a mob of enemies, launching them, knocking them down, inflicting status ailments, pushing them away, pulling them towards you, firing projectiles, jumping into the air for safety, and many other properties. You can equip up to 4 skills at a time and use them by holding R and pressing the corresponding face button. Skills in action RPGs are nothing new of course, but what is impressive about Ys Seven’s is the variety and possibilities with them. They’re not just things you spam for damage. There are skills meant for direct damage of course, but generally you use them for special properties. Against normal enemies, it’s much better to launch or knock them down with a low SP skill then wail on them with regular attacks than to waste a high SP damage attack on them, for example. You’ll also find yourself in some situations against bosses where you have to create distance to dodge an attack, then close the distance with a fast traveling skill first before laying down the hurt. It’s not ground breaking, but for what it is, it is exceptionally well done and adds a lot of combo and tactical possibilities so it never feels like you’re just doing the same thing over and over.

The AI is also excellent. While they are excellent at staying alive and only take half damage, they also only deal half damage and will only attack when you do. What it essentially boils down to is that the AI pretty much holds onto 2 characters for you while providing minor support, but the one you’re controlling is always the star of the show. If you want to reap the full benefits of another character, you’re gonna have to control them yourself.

The super meter from Ys 6 is back, now known as the Extra Gauge. It slowly recharges by itself, and also from using skills (more depending on number of hits) and flash guarding (more on that later). Unlike skills, extras aren’t that different from one another that it makes a difference, and quite frankly, there’s no reason not to use the strongest extra every time, seeing as your whole party shares the same meter. Only 2 party members have non-direct damage extras, and one of them is completely useless, since all it does is increase that character’s normal attack damage.

Also new to the series is flashing guarding. Basically, you hold R and press L right before you get hit. You’ll take no damage, gain a large chunk of SP and extra, a short moment of invincibility afterwards, and about 2 seconds where all your attacks automatically crit. However, if you mistime the guard, you in turn, will be critted. A double edged sword (no pun intended) that adds more depth to battles. Although severely overpowered when mastered, it’s wholly unnecessary for completing the game, even on nightmare difficulty. But it does give you more ways of beating a boss than just dodging and hitting back, further alleviating repetition issues of old games. However, attempting to overuse flash guard may lead to occasional frustration, since many bosses momentarily freeze when hit, and your AI party members may still be pummeling the boss while you’re anticipating an attack, causing you to mistime your guard and taking massive damage for it.

PROTIP: To get the most mileage out of your hard earned Extra attack, only use it after a successful flash guard.

Speaking of difficulties, there are 4 in this game: easy, normal, hard, nightmare. The differences between them are minor, most important one being that bosses use their full repertoire of moves on hard or nightmare. Due to the nonexistent replay value of this game, I strongly advise you to play on at least hard if you want to experience everything the game has to offer in one go. Nightmare simply isn’t more difficult enough beyond normal to warrant another playthrough, especially since the normal mobs don’t change, other than possibly being more tedious as it takes another hit to take them down. At least it doesn’t just turn battles into a lame grindfest like Crisis Core’s hard mode though. Your kill times across difficulties should be similar (besides easy, where you do so much damage, there’s no point in playing it at all).

Probably the most welcome addition of all is the introduction of a scaled experience system. Basically, you get a huge bonus to exp gain when you’re a lower level than the mob. What this means is that you can basically skip every normal encounter in the game if you want, and just get a few kills right before an obvious boss battle. Although it’s also entirely possible to just not grind at all (with dodging and flash guarding at your disposal, it’s not that difficult to never get hit once you get really good), this isn’t recommended. Level difference is the primary determinant of damage dealt and taken, which I feel is also a good thing. You can pretty much never spend a dime on armor thanks to this, and you can skimp on weapons for your backup characters too and they’ll still be able to do significant damage. To give you an idea of just how great this system is, lemme give you my example. I hate grinding, so I’m always underleveled. After the last boss utterly destroyed my level 51-55 party (the last boss is level 57-59), I grinded the first mob outside the last checkpoint for 5 minutes, and now all 7 of my party members are 58-59. Without bothering to grind for ultimate gear, I went back in and kicked the last boss’s ass.

As with other Ys games, boss battles are challenging and exciting. Unlike most RPGs where you pretty much just duke it out until they die, the high damage/hp nature of Ys bosses forces you to learn their patterns and formulate strategies accordingly. This is enhanced further with the introduction of party members and 3 damage types (of which each character may only use 1 of, besides Adol). A popular strategy is to use the archer to farm for SP, Adol to spam DPS skills, and the hammerer to use the extra gauge. This is just one of the many ways to take down a boss.

That all said, the gameplay isn’t perfect. While the early dungeon designs are decent enough, they quickly descend into tedium due to linearity, length, and forced backtracking to artificially extend the game. Although the below screenshot looks open ended and complex, there’s actually only one path. You just have to go in circles a lot. As you can see, the terrain isn’t exactly interesting to navigate either. Many dungeons fall into this pattern of thin halls followed by a big room with baddies, followed by another thin hall. Although tolerable early on when dungeons are only a few zones long anyways, it won’t be long before you find yourself lamenting every time you zone and find out the dungeon isn’t over yet.

Regardless of how it looks, there is actually only 1 perfectly linear path through this zone. Also, you can see that the aliasing problem is so severe, even this simple map has aliasing.

CONTENT: 5/10

I’ve only played through it once on nightmare mode, which took 33 hours without grinding (though I spent quite a bit of time testing damage multipliers). Most report around 25 hours per playthrough. A healthy manageable length, and just about right for what this game has to offer. In the end, you feel just satisfied, perhaps a little relieved. In my experience, I did feel the game begins to drag by the last 2 dungeons, but I’ve always been allergic to monotony.

There are absolutely no extras at all. No boss rush, no uber optional bosses, no bonus dungeon, not even any sort of gallery or music player option. Because of this, there is absolutely no reason to keep this game once you’re done with it. It’s unlikely you’d want to see more dungeons and more normal mobs after the tedious final dungeons, and the only motivation to keep playing would be for the soundtrack and maybe to see some of the artwork again. You can google the latter, and you’re really just better off buying the soundtrack with the money you get back for this game.

Visual: 3.5
Audio: 8.5
Writing: 3.2
Gameplay: 8
Content: 5

VERDICT: 7.8 (not an average)
VERDICT: 8.5 (not an average)

 

Although moderately lengthy and generally great fun while it lasts, the absolute lack of extras gives you no reason to keep playing and tedious dungeon design deters you from playing it again. It’s a great leap forward for the series, enough to put it out of Zelda’s shadow and warrants a purchase from action RPG fans, but this is by no means a keeper. The abysmal writing will disappoint people who play RPGs for plot, and the graphics are quite an eyesore. None of that matters though, and I still love this game. It’s a gamer’s game that’s all about the playing, like the games of old. I originally grabbed it because Kingdom Hearts wasn’t out yet and I needed something to hold me off until Patapon 3 and the new God of War hits, but what I got was so much more. Flawed it may be, but trust me when I say this, this is a Ys game that you do not want to overlook.

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Before I get the inevitable OMFG ONLY 7.8!??! DIS GAME NOT BELOW AVERAGE DESERVE 9 OR BETTER! comment, please keep in mind I use a 0-10 grading scale, not the industry standard 6-10.

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