A few months ago I finally got my hands on the Hong Kong PC edition of Ys: Memories of Celceta. Great, more HD Ys in an effortlessly screenshot-able format! The only problem was after a few hours I started to remember why I put it down so quickly when I played it on my Vita the first time around – the game feels pretty unfocussed, lacking the ‘oomph’ of earlier titles in the series. Celceta may be dripping with side quests, equipment customisation and material farming, but it’s not so hot on the GOING TO KICK EVIL BACKSIDE front (backside front?).
Ys games (and indeed, Falcom games in general) have been going down the most obvious route to modernisation for a while now - Ys games are RPGs, right? And RPG fans like depth, right? So logically Ys must be improved by adding more of this RPG-like depth. More lore. More character stats. More optional sidequests. And to be fair to Falcom it seems to be working out for them just fine, with this new-style Ys on the whole well received and certainly selling well enough for Falcom to continue making further entries in variations of this style.
But while they’re decent games in their own right, they’re not the Ys I fell in love with.
Ys used to be an action game dressed up with a few RPG-like trappings, and it was all about hitting things with a pointy stick while treating your ears to some of the finest music gaming has to offer. It was about bosses with bullet patterns (think back to Ys Origin) and a plot that wasn’t much more than Adol claiming ‘YOU ARE ALREADY DEAD’ to whichever evil being was in the vicinity, just because that’s what red-haired heroes are supposed to do.
This little train of thought then reminded me of another game I’ve been playing recently, one with exciting bosses set to heart-pumping music and a fun sword-and-magic melee/ranged combat system all wrapped up in a set of grandiose fantasy locations. And that game was…
Devil May Cry 4
(The Virgil-flecked ‘Special Edition’, if you want to be specific)
Devil May Cry is mostly remembered for being that series with the nutty pizza-loving guy riding a motorbike up the side of a tower full of demons and other crazy shenanigans but when you really look at how they play they’re actually pretty big on the puzzle and adventure elements too, even if it ultimately boils down to having the right weapon/item for the job (like Ys), some light platforming (like Ys), or working out the best way to defeat the current area boss (like Ys). Then there’s the item shop where you can purchase upgrades and items (like Ys), using currency dropped from enemies (like Ys).
Devil May Cry is actually about as much of an RPG as older Ys games (let’s say Origin and earlier), only with better fighting and more cutscenes.
Ys needs to get back to this self-assured action and move away from the Kiseki-like subquest collecting that’s starting to seep in to the setting. Having meaningful flashbacks and lore-giving villagers is fine for some games - and it does have a limited place in Ys-dom too - but the series should always be more about the thrill of the adventure than fine details. Sometimes washing ashore in the same land as a slumbering ancient evil is enough – we don’t always need to know exactly how ancient or why they were sealed away or what the hub area blacksmith likes to eat for breakfast.
Falcom’s strength has always been in their diversity: love dungeon crawlers? Play Dinosaur. Fancy something cute and light-hearted? You’ll want to look at Zwei!!. Got a serious Metrovania itch? Xanadu Next will sort that out. There’s no need for Ys to become Kiseki: The Action Game; Kiseki already has the Kiseki bit of Falcom games covered just fine. If they’re so keen on adding in more playable characters why not pull an Ys Origin and give them all their own stories? That’d give the extra lore and plot length gamers apparently love while still leaving Adol free to smack things silly. Too much work? There’s no reason for these alternative characters to be canon, sometimes just getting to play a good game in a new way is all the excuse players need for another run through (see: Devil May Cry 4 SE, or Resident Evil 0 HD’s daft ‘Wesker Mode’).
Ys was never special because it was just like other RPGs, it was special because it was pioneering and brave. Because everybody who’s ever heard the Valestein Castle tune loves it. Because the box art used to look like prog rock album covers. Gaming needs a real hero again, not another RPG-lite where nice anime people talk a lot and go out to gather crafting materials. Ys doesn’t need to go searching for nuance and greater meaning, it needs to wake up and get its intensity back – to be the Coke and Mentos of RPGs, not a refined glass of wine.