Monday, 23 April 2012

Ys: The Oath in Felghana

After nearly eight years since its initial release in Japan for the PC, Ys: The Oath in Felghana has finally received an official localization in the West thanks to Steam and publisher XSEED Games. This release isn't exactly the first Western iteration of the game - which appeared on the PSP a couple of years ago as well as having several fan translations over the years - but it is no less welcomed and despite the years in interim it remains an excellent example of an Action-RPG for the PC.

As with Oath in Felghana's release history, so the origin of the game's content demands a little explanation. This is in fact a remake of the third Ys game, Ys III: Wanders From Ys, which was released way back in 1989 for several home consoles including the MSX 2 and the Famicom in Japan. The game had a design similar to The Adventures of Link, which had been released a couple of years previously, and marked a distinct break (as Zelda II did) from the staples of the series. Where previous games in the Ys series were more focused on maze exploration and bashing into enemies from a top-down perspective, Ys III moved the action to a side-scrolling plane and introduced platforming elements and even an 'attack'  button (gasp!). The game was also a notable entry into the series for having a great magic system, memorable boss fights and outstanding music as well as being, as games generally were back in then, incredibly hard.

Oath in Felghana takes the story, environments and bosses from the original '89 game and transposes them into the 3D engine originally developed  for Ys VI. What was created was a modern, fast-paced Action-RPG which did a great deal of service to its source material. The game's narrative therefore remains very similar to the '89 original and, unfortunately, is possibly where the game appears to have aged the most. The player takes the role of Adol Christin, the recurring adventurer throughout the series, who must stop an impending Demon-induced apocalypse threatening the land of Falghana. Following in the footsteps of an ancient warrior Adol must collect four magic statues and destroy the demon. While the story will be important to die-hard fans of the series it's doubtful  that the narrative will be interesting to anyone unfamiliar with the Ys universe. Instead it's really the action and combat which hold this game together. 

As with Ys III, there is a temptation when playing Oath of Felghana to button mash. Thankfully however the game makes it quite clear that such a tactic is foolhardy. The variety of enemies and attack patterns means that, especially on the harder difficulty settings (the lower 'easy' settings are a godsend for any newcomers), beating levels becomes a frenetic mix of hacking, jumping and observing your foes. There are a few frustrating situations throughout the game, no doubt there'll be a few smashed laptops across the Western Continents, but overall the game's combat feels balanced and fair.

There is also loads of additional content here beyond the initial play through. Firstly there are six difficulty settings for the main quest. Unfortunately the game only starts with 'Very Easy' to 'Normal' difficulty, so if you're experienced with the game you'll have to play through on Normal before unlocking the hallowed higher difficulties - Inferno being the final, seemingly impossible gauntlet. There is also 'Boss Rush' and 'Time Attack' to unlock as well, giving more possibilities to climb the leaderboards. These boards work fantastically well on Steam, allowing you to really scope out the top players in the community. Getting the high score will also allow, for the most dedicated, endless hours of gameplay to hone your skills and complete for the top spot (at the time of writing Inferno difficulty still has no entries on the leaderboard - now's your chance!)

In terms of presentation Oath of Felghana's environments look good on the higher resolution of the PC. Unfortunately the character models haven't fared quite as well, looking a little better on the smaller screen of the PSP. The music is also worth mentioning as it manages to upgrade the original soundtrack perfectly with the game's updated visual and mechanical elements. The exceptionally good 8-bit tunes of the original, which delivered a wide variety of memorable melodies and moods, is here a far more hectic and fist-pumping affair. As with the combat the music is cranked up several notches and screeches out its catchy anthems as you hack and slash your way through waves of ghoulish baddies.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana's release on Steam, while being a little late to the party, presents a great opportunity for anyone interested in the series to jump straight in. For those who know the game it remains almost endlessly challenging, giving continuous opportunity for advancement. While visually it may seem a bit dated, and the story feels relatively primitive, the combat and action is exceptionally fun, well balanced and addictive. This is a great introduction to a fantastic series and with the coming release of Ys Origin later this year - a prequel to the numerical entries in the series - one can only hope that there are more Ys games on the Western horizon.

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