Apparently, folks found my last article on Fire Emblem helpful so I’m back with more “Crosstix Makes Sense Of” for yet another series that confuses the living hell out of me every time I look at it. That series, my friends, is Ys. As happy as I was to leave this bizarre series to flounder in its American obscurity, Nihon Falcom is actually releasing 2 Ys games over the next 2 months so perhaps it’s finally time to untangle this franchise.
Before we jump into it fully, I wanted to point out one difference between this article and my last. With Fire Emblem, it was relatively easy to state where each game was released and the different ways you could play each title. At most, a Fire Emblem title was re-released 2 or 3 times on common Nintendo consoles. This is not the case with Ys. Ys I, by itself, has been ported to no less than 18 different platforms. Yeah, seriously. So, at the end, I’ll write out my preferred way to play through this series but I just can’t feasibly go through each port and the many, MANY differences between them for each Ys game.
Right from the start, this franchise manages to confuse. Well, for the record, that name is pronounced “eese” (rhymes with geese) and is the name of a real-world mythical city that was swallowed by the ocean. In the game, it refers to a civilization floating in the sky. So basically the same thing.
Anyway, some background information on the series, Ys is actually a series that has always maintained a very strong fanbase in both Europe and Japan primarily because Nihon Falcom, the developer of the series, focused on PCs or consoles that never quite made it here in the states. The best version of Ys I and II were on the Turbografx-16, a console that deserves its very own Crosstix Makes Sense Of article but alas, that will have to wait.
Anyway, Ys dates back all the way to 1987, the same year as the first Final Fantasy, when they released (get ready for it) “Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished – Omen”. Yeah, that’s seriously what they called it. Forgive me if I just say Ys I from now on.
As I’ve mentioned before, Ys I is a weird beast. It is definitely a JRPG but not like most JRPG’s you have played before. In fact, describing it to a newcomer, the best comparison I can make is that it plays like Hydlide from the NES. That said, it plays like the game Hydlide should have been, rather than what it ended up being.
The comparison is obvious when you first start the game. Combat is done without button inputs but rather by bumping into enemies. The idea is you want to bump into the enemies off-center. By hitting them off-center, you do damage without taking it yourself. If you bump an enemy straight on, you will take damage also, usually in a greater amount than the enemy. Despite only a few games in the franchise using this system, it seems to be a defining feature of the franchise and games that don’t use it are often called out for being different. More recognizable to RPG fans, fighting enemies gets you experience and you level up just like most RPGs. Your stats can also be improved with equipment ranging from new armor to swords and even jewelry.
The story is actually just part 1 and follows series frontman, Adol Christin and his first adventure after shipwrecking in the country of Esteria. All but a few Ys games star the ginger-haired Adol Christin and it becomes almost a running joke how he seems to get everywhere via shipwreck. Anyway, Adol quickly becomes sucked into a quest to find all 6 of the Books of Ys scattered around the small country of Esteria.
Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter picks up where Ys I leaves off with Adol in the land of Ys. While the whole Ys franchise uses recurring characters, this is the only game in the entire franchise that is a direct sequel to a previous game. Fortunately for newcomers, Ys I and II are packaged together these days for *smirk* simplicity.
Most long-running franchises have their black sheep and Ys is no exception. Fire Emblem had Fire Emblem Gaiden, Ys has Ys III: Wanderers from Ys. Ys III doesn’t have the top-down Zelda-style gameplay like it’s predecessors, instead opting for a side-scrolling perspective… Zelda II-style!
Ys III also is one of the few to not use the Bump System we talked about (yeah, it really is called that). Instead, you have to press an attack button in order to actually attack enemies. Apparently, this was regarded as too complicated for gamers though since later games reverted to the Bump System.
Now, Ys may be new to you but that was all pretty straight-forward, right? Ys I-III? What makes this series tough for newcomers? Hold onto your butts because this is where things get weird. There are two entirely different games called Ys IV.
Basically, Nihon Falcom decided they wanted Ys to keep going but didn’t actually want to make the games themselves. It’s a bit unclear what happened here but it sounds like they wanted a version of the Ys IV on both the PC Engine CD (Turbografx CD) as well as the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo). A developer called Tonkin House got the Super Famicom version and Hudson Soft got the PC Engine CD version. I could be wrong here but records sound like Ys IV was supposed to originally be the same game on all consoles but Hudson Soft decided to do their own thing with their version and it turned into something wildly different than Tonkin House’s. Regardless, both games have the same setting but are otherwise entirely different.
The first game released was Ys IV: Mask of the Sun for the Super Famicom. This game returned to the old style of Ys I and II where everything is top-down and you bump into enemies to hurt them. Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys for the PC Engine CD came out a little over a month later and, while it used the same battle system as Mask of the Sun and had the same starting premise, the games looked nothing alike beyond that. Dungeons were entirely different, storylines were altered and enemies were changed. As far as game canon goes, the Super Famicom version, Mask of the Sun, was the one regarded as official canon at the time. More on that later, though.
Prior to Ys IV, all of the Ys games had been localized into English. We didn’t get every version of each game over here, but we at least got one or two. Ys IV was the first time an Ys game never left Japan. Neither version has ever officially released outside of Japan although English translation patches are available.
Moving on from that madness, Nihon Falcom decided to retake direct control over Ys and bring back the ridiculous names with Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand. Ys V was originally released in 1995 but apparently, people thought it was too easy or something so 3 months later, into 1996, they released Ys V Expert which is the same game but harder. I couldn’t make this stuff up.
While Ys V retains the top-down camera from I, II and IV, it brings back the active attacking from Ys III. Along with a new magic system and the ability to jump, the game took a more action-styled approach than earlier Ys games. Along with Ys III, V is regarded as an odd duck in the series’ history and is still the worst received game in the franchise. Ys V was never localized to English but, as with IV, English localization patches are available online.
After 1996, the series stayed dormant for a long time. Ports continued to release but no new games would come out until 2003 with Ys: The Ark of Naphishtim. This is another one of those moments that confuses newcomers because they, for whatever reason, decided that this game didn’t need a number, even though it is the sixth main series entry. Pro tip: DON’T DO THAT! Numbers are nice. Use them. The fans of the series do and often refer to this game as Ys VI. It’s even officially called that in some versions of the game.
Two years later, Ys: The Ark of Naphishtim was localized on the Playstation 2. This was the first English Ys game since Ys III in 1991! That was a 14 year gap for us Americans to forget about this franchise. Easy to see why it’s obscure here, right? Ys VI expanded on the battle system from Ys V, maintaining the action RPG style rather than going back to the Bump System.
Next up, we got Ys: The Oath in Felghana. This is actually an enhanced remake of Ys III made using the same battle system as Ys VI. It follows the same plot but expands on it, using many new scenes and events. While this released on Windows PCs in 2005 in Japan, we wouldn’t see it localized until 2010 on the PSP. The Windows version didn’t release here until 2012.
It’s worth noting that Ys tried its hand at tactics gameplay with Ys Strategy on the DS in 2006 but it was terrible, by all reports, so maybe just something that should remain trivia about the franchise. The next major release was Ys Origin.
Up to this point, every game had followed the adventures of Adol Christin crash-landing in various countries around the world. Ys Origin is the first game in the franchise to deviate from that and actually takes place 700 years before Ys I. Instead, Ys Origin actually has three different playable characters, each with their own storyline and fighting styles. It came out in Japan in 2006 but we didn’t see it in English until 2012 when it released on Steam.
Despite being primarily a Windows developer, Nihon Falcom decided to take a brief foray into the PSP for a while during the early 2010’s. Along with several re-releases and ports, Ys Seven was released exclusively on the PSP in 2010 although it would eventually be ported to the PC. While it’s notable for a few reasons, the most important thing about Ys Seven besides it’s aggravating change in numbering styles is that Ys Seven was one of the first games that seemed to actually really consider English audiences. While other games in the Ys series were localized, most took many years to make it over here, if they did at all. Ys Seven came out in English less than a year after its Japanese release which, for Nihon Falcom, must be a company record! Certainly a lot better than their Legend of Heroes series…
Ys Seven made a lot of changes to the Ys series. For the first time, Adol didn’t lone wolf his way through the whole journey. He actually brings friends along and you can swap which character you are playing as.
Finally, the last major release in the Ys franchise was Ys: Memories of Celceta. This is actually another really weird one so buckle up. Remember all of the drama around Ys IV from way back 1000 words ago? Ys: Memories of Celceta is actually Nihon Falcom’s way of fixing that almost 20 years after the fact. See, up until this point, Mark of the Sun had been considered the canon version. I told you we’d come back to this. That was the case up until Memories of Celceta which retconned that canon and established the official version of the Ys IV storyline.
And that brings us to now! At the time of this article, it has been four years since Memories of Celceta and six since Ys Seven brought the latest new storyline. However, in the next two months, Nihon Falcom will be releasing a Windows version of Ys Seven for all of us who missed it on the PSP as well as Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana which will be releasing in English on the Playstation Vita, Playstation 4 and Windows simulataneously in September.
So how do you prepare for these new games? Well, I promised it before and now I shall deliver. Here is my recommended playlist for newcomers.
Thankfully, in the last 5 years it has become significantly easier to come into this franchise although if you want to play the whole thing in English, you’ll have to dive into the wide, wide world of emulation for at least one title. Fortunately, though, despite sharing characters and certain themes, every one of these games is designed to stand-alone except for Ys I & II which are always sold together anyway. So feel free to jump in anywhere in this list. If you are looking for a modern offering to test the waters, go with Ys Origin. As a prequel, it is the most lore-friendly to newcomers and while it isn’t the best Ys game out there, it’s pretty fun in its own right.
- Ys I & II Chronicles+ (Steam, GOG or Humble)
- Ys: The Oath in Felghana (Steam, GOG or Humble)
- Ys: Memories of Celceta (Vita) OR Ys: Mask of the Sun (not in English)
- Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand (not in English)
- Ys VI: The Ark of Naphishtim (Steam, GOG or Humble)
- Ys Origin (Steam, GOG or Humble)
- Ys Seven (PSP or wait a month and Steam, GOG or Humble)
Most titles are now available digitally which makes finding these rare titles much, MUCH easier. Also the numbering has been changed in most re-releases which some OCD part of me greatly appreciates. Ys I & II Chronicles+ is the only version available digitally and it is also by far the best one. It’s based on the PSP remakes Seriously, there is no need to play any other version of these games beyond historical curiosity.
If you really want to play the original Ys III, it was released in English for Turbografx CD, Genesis and SNES. Each port has their pros and cons but the Turbografx CD version is regarded as having the edge due to some added cutscenes and weaker enemies, resulting in less grinding. Frankly though, you’re better off playing The Oath of Felghana which has digital offerings at each of the major stores. It has the same storyline but is greatly expanded and uses the much better system from Ys VI.
Ys IV is going to be a tricky one for most. The definitive version is now Memories of Celceta but for some reason, the Windows version was never released outside of China so your only option is the Playstation Vita version. If you have a Vita, great! the game is 20 bucks on eBay. Have a blast. For the rest of us, Mask of the Sun is regarded as the previously canon version so I’d go with a fan translation of that game.
Your only option for Ys V is emulation if you don’t speak Japanese. Of the two versions, Ys V and Ys V Expert, only the original has received a fan translation so your choice has been made for you if you want to play it in English.
From there on, all the games have been or will shortly be released on the major digital stores so that would be my strong recommendation from there out. The PS2 version of Ys VI does have a few extra quests and may be worth getting for some but the Windows version is less than half the price and by all accounts, the added content doesn’t add much to it.
And that’s my look at Ys! Thanks to the fantastic primer from Hardcore Gaming 101 by Kurt Kalata for a lot of the information used here. If you want to do a full novel-sized deep dive into this franchise, here is a link to that page: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/ys/ys.htm
Also, let me know if there are franchises that have always mystified you. I’ve got a few more I’d like to do in the future but I know everyone sufficiently invested in retro gaming has looked at more than one franchise and turned away from confusion. No shame in it, games can be weird and there isn’t always a lot of great information online. Hell, when I bought Ys I & II a few years ago, it took me hours of research just to find out what version of the game I had! Anyway, let me know and I’ll consider writing up another Crosstix Makes Sense Of sometime down the line.
Until then though…