Malik (4/4/05)

Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (AKA Ys VI) (PS2)

From Konami

It has been a long time since a Ys game has come out in the US. For those who don't remember this series...well, I'm not surprised. One of the last entries seen in the US, with a major release, was Ys4 for the SNES. One of the first SNES RPGs. 

Ys has followed a similar trait to what Zelda has shown us over the years with balancing between 2D side-scrolling adventure and 2D/3D top-down adventure. The basic gist of this series is that you are a young man who is out to constantly upgrade your weapons, armors, shields, and accessories, while collecting helpful items to overcome some great evil. In other words, this is like a different flavor of the Zelda series. 

However, unlike Zelda, Ys has resisted the call to over-populate itself on the gaming market. There have been 6-ish Ys games, and a couple of anthologies. It has not seen the massive changes to game play that has also hit Zelda games. The first Ys was top-down, and the latest is still top-down. 

I, personally, picked up this game, originally, out of both my need for an RPG, and because I have been a geek for a long time and wanted to relive some simple and enjoyable nostalgia. I knew that Ys would not offer me anything beyond a simple game engine with a fun and addictive quality to it. It has always been simple, and that is one of the greatest gifts this series has given over the years. 


In each Ys game, you play as a red haired man by the name of Adol. Over the years (the games before this latest incarnation), Adol has quested for both personal gains and out of desire to help his fellow man. This has both won him admiration from the downcast and scorn from the powerful tyrants who he's opposed. Also, along the way, he has found several alies to help him and to be helped by him. Most of all is his companion Dogi...who has usually had a quite active part in Adol's adventures (except this time...which is rather sad...Dogi is not going to be seen all that much on the PS2). 

This quest starts shortly after the end of Ys 5...which I actually never had the chance to enjoy, so I was left in the dark on many facts of the back story. Basically, Adol and Dogi (enjoy him while he's the opening) are enjoying a night at the pub. They just finished some evil plot of the Romun empire. However, it only takes a few minutes before the Romans (let's just call them by their Earth names since all the major countries of Ys are named with unique spellings of Earth civilizations...there are a lot of strange terms and names in this game, and it's just easier to think of what they really are to us geeks) come looking for him. So, Adol and Dogi manage to barely escape, with some help from a mysterious young woman. 

The woman reveals herself to be a pirate that was saved a few years ago by Adol (when she was just a child...she grew up a lot in three years, it seems). The pirate ship she hides the two outlaws on soon starts on a quest for treasure. They are setting course for a place in the ocean that is perpetually stormy and has sunk a good number of ships. The pirate captain is convinced that treasure awaits them...and Adol and Dogi have no choice but to enjoy this journey to doom or face the Romans... 

Who show up in time to try to sink the pirate ship. Adol falls overboard (who would've seen that coming?) and washes up on a mysterious beach. There, two beast-like girls (humanoid, but with big pointy ears and tails...and of a more primitive culture) find him and nurse him back to health. 

It seems Adol has somehow made it to a group of three islands in the middle of that perpetual storm; the Canaan Islands. The islands are shared between the beast-like Rehdan on one island, the human survivors of past ship-wrecks on Canaan Island, and a mysterious island of ruins and supposed treasure. The beast-people hate the humans for defiling the ruins, and the humans don't like the beast-people for getting upset when they defile the ruins to find building materials to build their new settlements. So, Adol is naturally in a strange situation by being save by the beast-people and not the humans. 

Adol soon becomes involved in helping to restore peace to the two sides while trying to protect them from unknown sources of evil and looking for a way home. He also encounters a few familiar faces from prior Ys games in his journeys (it seems if you've ever encountered Adol and you get on a ship, you're bound to show up at these three islands...). 

Overall, the plot is pretty simplistic. I don't mean in that good way of how the simplistic game play mechanics have led to some addictive mean it's a little too simple and gives little back to the gamer. It doesn't actually take away from the game, but it won't really add much. Also, besides being confused about who certain people and groups are, there is little to reward the players of prior Ys titles. While it will fill in some blanks at the beginning if you previously played Ys 1-5, you will ultimately find this to be a rather stand-alone title. 

Game Play 

It starts so well. You have the same basic game play engine as Ys1 had...which is about the same as most other Ys (except for 4, with it's side-view adventure engine...think: "Zelda: Adventure of Link"). You have the basic controls of swinging a sword, using a healing item, moving around, and jumping. Also, as the game progresses, you will be able to use offensive magic (there are only three spells in the whole game...not counting their upgrades). It's all quite simple. 

As you start the game, you have access to a single shield, a single suit of armor, a single sword, and not much else. You are then thrown into a confusing situation in which you have little idea of where to go and why you're going there. This may be fun adventuring to most, but the difficulty can become maddening at this point. Especially when you are told how you shouldn't go to a certain location, because of the danger, and then you are left wondering if that's where you should go next (since most RPGs do this type of reverse the way, in Ys, you DO NOT GO THERE). 

However, you soon become accustomed to the lack of direction. This will be annoying for the first hour, but it will become a little less convoluted with time. In fact, the game will start giving clear directions once you get your first real sword (your metal sword you start with is soon broken and you receive a fancy wind infused of three elemental blades). It is also after you get an elemental blade that some new features start to become relevant. 

Magic is something you can only get by wielding the appropriate elemental blade. After you have taken, and given, enough damage, your magic gauge will fill up and then you can unleash one magic attack. These can vary from a whirlwind attack with the wind blade to more traditional explosions, etc. However, you have to fulfill one more step to unleash magic; you must upgrade that sword. 

Each sword has about 10 levels (I know the actual amount, but you can learn by playing) to be upgraded. At the first level, the weapon is just that; a weapon. However, as it become upgraded, you will unlock magic (and upgrades to said magic), special abilities like how the wind sword lets you get an extra attack per combo, and more offensive power. To upgrade these swords, instead of the good old fashioned use of money, you must pay with special elemental crystals. When you kill an enemy, they will automatically give you money and experience, but they may also drop special crystals that you have to make sure to pick up. These crystals are what you use in the upgrades to your weapons. 

Along these lines, you have your special moves in the game. Each weapon gives you one simple one that will usually not pay off to use (beyond the wind sword ability to get extra attacks). However, the most important, and annoying, special move is the dash attack. To do this move, timing of Mortal Kombat Fatalities style is needed. It is a simpler move, but far more sensitive in execution. To do a dash attack, you have to tap a direction, pause for about 0.5 second, and then proceed to hit the attack button. This is a pain to execute when it matters, but less so than the dash jump. The DJ is used to jump extra distances and involves starting a dash attack. However, the instant your attack has begun (not when you press the attack button, but an instant later), you must jump. The timing is critical, and a bitch. This move will drive you to the upper limits of frustration. 

Also, to make the controls worse, there's the simple fact that this game has a bad set of controls for jumping. You will not jump when you want to, but rather a small bit of time after you press the jump button. This is not too much of an issue until you's inevitable that this style of game would have...the jumping puzzles. Yup. You know those lame puzzles where you have to jump from one platform to another, and then about 50 more, in a row, without error, or face repeating the whole damned thing. Well, that's in Ys, but with bad jump controls. 

However, that style of difficulty is one thing. The level of intended difficulty is another. When you enter a dungeon, if the monsters seem like they are giving you a good challenge (good = fun, but it keeps you on your toes), then don't proceed any further. Keep fighting these monsters until you take no damage from them when hit by their best attacks. Once you've killed a few hours becoming this strong, you will be ready for the boss of said dungeon. If you tried to face this boss earlier, then it will kill you, quickly, and you will only deal around 1-2 damage per hit (bosses have HP levels that start around 800...think about it). 

Also, with the one item you can hotkey to a face button (Triangle button to be precise), you cannot change it once you are facing a boss. Not only that, but you cannot access your menus during a boss fight. While you can carry up to 9 of each item (so nine chances to heal during a boss), it doesn't matter if you entered the boss's room with anti-poison items in that hotkey position. However, if the boss kills you, you can always use the retry option to immediately fight it again...with the same initial HP, equipment, and hot keyed item. So, you can keep re-facing the same boss for the same humiliation, over and over again. Or you could just quit to the main menu and hope your last save was recent. Either way, it sucks to be you. 

In the end, this is what will make or break the game to the player. The difficulty will either annoy you to no end (well, until you quit playing), or you'll so enjoy leveling up that you'll not care that you must waste a couple of hours before you face a boss, just to gain enough strength to beat it. 


Old school all the way. While there is a CG opening movie, that is about all of the semi-modern elements you'll see in the visuals of Ys. The game, itself, uses some rather old-school looking sprites (maybe they are polygon derived, but they are small and don't look that way), simple non-moving profile shots of people who you are talking with, and larger full body profile shots of certain people in certain scenes. In other words, it's all simple and clean in appearance. 

While some would see this as a bad thing, it's actually pretty refreshing. The visuals may be simple in many aspects, but they are also very clean. You will never have trouble telling if a given object is what it looks like or if it was just poorly designed. You will always see the exits to an area. You will always know whatever you want from the visuals. Also, by using such simplistic images, the game appeals strongly to those who will have remembered the old Ys games from decades past. Let's face it, this is a game for nostalgic geeks...and there's not a damned problem with that. 


The music, on the other hand, is simplistic and nostalgic, and horrible. You will be quite glad that you have individual audio volume controls for sound effects, music, and voices. The initial settings will have music blaring while voices are drowned out. It's not even semi-good music. It is the worst of an age now best left to the past. It's a lot like a cross between midi SNES music and the first generation of PSX games. It will drive you insane. I personally had to drop the volume of the music to a level that was barely audible (enough that I knew music was present, but low enough to not realize how bad it was...think of it as white noise). 

The voices are also on the same line. They are bad. A couple voice actors seemed to have tried, but the rest just phoned in the squeakiest voices possible with no depth of emotion to their acting. It is that bad. To make things worse, every line of dialogue in Ys is voiced. Maybe that volume control, while you're changing the music volume, should be used on the voices too. 

The sound effects comprise the final real part of the audio...and they are nothing special. They don't get on your nerves like the voices and the music will, but they do nothing ground-breaking. In fact, I didn't even notice them all that much as I played since they are just standard issue effects. 

So, to conclude, with the you have a radio or CD player in the same room as your PS2? If yes, then turn on that bad-boy, and if to be you. 


I came into this game wanting and expecting nothing short of wonderful entertainment and nostalgia. In a sense, I did get just that. Well, the nostalgia part, at least. The plot is simplistic and vague like an old-school adventure/RPG, but not obstructive to the enjoyment of the game. That's cool. The game play is simple and relatively fun. That's cool. The visuals are old-school, but refined enough to keep it fresh and fun in a new generation. That's cool. Even the crappy sounds don't get too much in the way of the game being fun (especially with the help of some external sound system to bring in some real a good old CD/MP3 player). However, as I posted about while I was playing this game, there are a few issues with the game play mechanics that just destroy the fun factor. 

The difficulty is very unbalanced. Instead of facing constant challenges, you are faced with unreasonable difficulty...unless you spend far too much time leveling up. I mean, a boss should be strong, but not impossible when you are just strong enough to take on the dungeon leading to the boss with a reasonable level of challenge. Literally, these bosses will take so little damage at these levels that you will not be able to beat them until the dungeon consists of no challenge to speak of. 

However, the worst part is the difficulty that should not have been present. The controls. While the controls are great for a majority of the game, the dash jump and dash attack are both ridiculously complex in timing. This ruins any fun behind using these "special abilities". However, to worsen the timing, you have poorly controlled jumping with a good deal of jumping puzzles. Jumping puzzles have been a staple of games for a long time (hell, Super Mario Bros is a giant jumping puzzle). However, these elements should be restricted in games that use such perspectives as to distort you ability to gauge a jump (like this game with it's top-down view). Also, the controls for jumping are a little too insensitive to be accurately used for more than a single jump at a time.

So, while this game has many great points, at least for Ys fans and for nostalgia fans, there are a few bad features that could ruin the experience. I personally couldn't finish the game due to the above issues. So, while ignoring my bias (caused by great disappointment), I will try to judge this game. I would give Ys a 7.0/10 (if you hate jumping puzzles and wasted time leveling up, change it to a 4.5/10). Here's to hoping in 10 years we'll get a good sequel to this game.



Our Brave Hero: Adol (Sans Dogi)



Just imagine how squeaky her voice can be with a look like this...

...and her voice...

Old school visuals...but they work nicely








...and this is what passes for magic...