In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog, I save the land of Ys with even more bumping, fireballs and a little help from a couple of Goddesses.
Ys II is a much better game than it’s predecessor. It is longer, deeper, has more personality and has much more variation when it comes to enemies and locations. The game is, however, still firmly rooted in Ys’ design decisions which is both a blessing and a curse in many ways.
The game play and the graphics are very much the same, with one exception: magic. Adol gains the ability to cast magic thanks to the Goddesses of Ys and it pretty much breaks the game in a lot of ways. Fireball casts a stream of balls of fire at enemies as fast as you can press the ‘Cast Magic’ button or it can be held down to unleash a massive ball of flame. I think it levels up in damage every time you level up, but it always remains powerful. It gets to the point where there is no real need to even bump into enemies because you can just hang back and slaughter them with wanton abandon. There are a few other spells, a teleport, a light spell that uncovers secrets, time stop, teleport and (eventually) invincibility but they all pale in comparison to the God-like Fireball. Some enemies, and a couple of bosses later on, are immune to magic but by that point Adol is so powerful that it doesn’t even matter. Not that I am complaining, mind. There were still some seriously difficult moments in Ys II but it has a much more even difficulty curve when compared to Ys I. At no point did I want to find XSEED and burn down their offices. It is a far more balanced game in that regard.
They may have improved the difficulty and expanded the combat, but XSEED didn’t make the game world any less of a chore to explore. The dungeons are same-y mazes thanks, in part, to the tile sets used. Every single bit of floor, wall, nook and cranny looks almost exactly the same with the only exceptions being the size of the rooms you are in or the enemies you face. Yes, there is plenty of variation between each dungeon (and I am always a sucker for a snow level), but when I entered an new area I had to have a guide open at the same time so that I could flick between it and the game to not get lost or miss a key item that the game will only allude to later on. That is not a particularly fun way to play a game but it was how I felt when playing Ys II. Luckily, there aren’t any puzzles, so I generally didn’t spoil anything for me despite using a guide.
The other parts of the game only received iterative upgrades over Ys, but they are greatly appreciated regardless. As you can see from the screenshots, the graphics are pretty much exactly the same but there were some really nice touches to some areas that showed that there was some upgrades. In a subterranean level, for example, there were some nice reflections in some puddles that I don’t remember seeing in the previous game. The music, too, is hugely improved. There are still some ‘WICKED SICK GUITAR SOLOS BRO’ straight out of Dynasty Warriors but a lot of the music is way more atmospheric and far less grating. Hell near the end of the game, the solos start-up again and – dare I say it – they were actually contextually suitable. That’s not to say Ys II‘s story has improved much though. There is certainly more of it, and some of the characters have a great deal more personality (I especially liked Lillia), but I still wouldn’t call the story “good.” It does have some interesting moments and the ending was very poignant but most of it just went in one ear and out of the other.
I can see why XSEED and others said to play YS II straight after the first game; along with it following directly on from Ys I it is great to see how the game changed and improved in lots of small ways that would have been lost to me if I had played it six months down the line. It still has problems that I hope are eventually addressed in later releases (although I could see the argument that they are part of the franchise/charm) but I am glad that I played more Ys II. It still remains a very interesting and fun series that I recommend playing.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: Sniper Elite 2