Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ys III: Wanderers from Ys

Falcom / Hudson Soft / NEC

I bought a TG-16 as soon as the console hit the market in 1989, but it wasn't until early '92 that I finally acquired a Turbo CD unit. By that point, it was darn near impossible to find a copy of Ys Book I & II on store shelves, so III was the first episode of the series that I purchased and played through (though I did manage to obtain I & II a couple of months later). I'm glad it worked out that way. The rap on III at the time was that it was a pretty solid sidescrolling adventure title but a hefty disappointment in the wake of its predecessor's magnificence. Since it was my first Ys game, I didn't have to worry about it letting me down in that respect, and I was able to derive enjoyment from it based on its own mettle. And enjoy it I did (and still do).

These days, people don't complain nearly as much about its "inadequacy" as a sequel as they do about its atrociously rough multilayer scrolling. I did indeed find the first town's choppiness-afflicted backdrop disconcerting when my adventure commenced, and perhaps due to unpleasant memories of that initial experience, I still note the unattractiveness of the strip each time I start up a new game. But the faulty scrolling isn't something I pay any mind to as I proceed with my quest. In fact, I think the game looks pretty darn good, as it features lots of very cool, very nice-looking backdrops.

Some of the visual highlights come towards the end of the adventure. I've always dug the view of the climb up the circular stairway that Adol takes to Demonicus' den and the theatrics of the wall-bursting, stone-busting final confrontation.

And the music rocks, plain and simple. It doesn't offer the sort of variety that can be found in I & II's soundtrack, but if you dig exciting, up-tempo tunes that feature some good, crunchy riffs, you'll like what what III delivers. I especially love the dark, dirty breakdown that follows the awesome guitar solo in the Tigre Mines track. But one of the best tunes in the game actually isn't a rock number; it's the enchanting melody that plays at the "Beginning/Continue" screen.

The great music augments solid, fast-paced gameplay. Many adventure games that are viewed from the side for their durations or feature sidescrolling action portions get away with combat that's merely passable thanks to their overall packages including sweet visuals and/or well-conceived questing elements. But Ys III actually gives us hack-and-slash action that would be satisfying even if evaluated on its own. It's a blast to hold down button II and have Adol charge forward and tear apart everything in his path like some vicious madman.

The cool music, cool combat, and, yes, cool visuals make Ys III a definite winner, but I do have some complaints to make about it. I'll get the "short and easy" spiel out of the way first. Actually, I don't really mind the easiness all that much, but while some of the bosses (such as the volcano dragon) are fairly cool...

...others are just lame, especially the anomalous thing that's stuck to a cave wall...

...and then there are a few who don't do much of anything at all.

As for the lack of length, I didn't expect an epic adventure coming in, but a single evening is about all it takes to get through the whole thing, and that's just not enough for a quest game that's devoid of challenge to begin with. Levels that are less straightforward would've been nice and might've offset the issue of brevity. As it is, even when some "tricky" elements are included in the stage design, it's always quite clear where you must go and what you have to do to get there.

And I think people should complain more about the horrid voice acting than about the scrolling. NEC recruited an all-star cast of voice actors for Book I & II but opted not to go that route for III, and the actors they did go with delivered horrible performances. The only one I don't mind is Chester's, but that's because tragic antagonist Chester is an extremely goofy and awkward fellow and the VA who voiced the lad has goofy and awkward down pat--seemingly thanks to his own real-life aspects. Elena is supposed to be a sweet, endearing, "eyes closed as she prays for Adol's safe return" type...

...but her VA did such a terrible job that I don't find her to be an appealing character in the slightest. And I have to cringe when the Dogi VA administers a lecture on being a true warrior.

Dogi's downfall is attributable in part to mediocre writing, which brings us to another thing I don't particularly like about this episode: the rampant silliness of the script. A few of the dumbest bits are amusing, but such material never would've snuck its way into the dramatic context of I & II. It's not that I don't like it when sequels change things up by moving in a less-serious direction--hell, I dig Final Fantasy X-2--but dopey scripting has no place in an Ys game if you ask me. At the very least, the writers could've spared Adol his part in the foolishness. I much prefer the cool, aloof man-of-few-words in I & II to the garrulous, insecure dumbass featured here.

But the action and the aesthetics are the reasons to play this game, and my complaints are minor when viewed in light of the title's virtues.