Looking for a new JRPG? Ys doesn't exactly qualify. It's – take a deep breath – an updated English version of the 2005 remake of a Famicom game from 1989, and the third instalment in a series of seven. None of the previous games have made it to PC, but that's alright; you don't need to know anything about them to play this one. Unfortunately, that's largely because this one is astoundingly bland in terms of plot and character, with none of the cutesy weirdness of the Japanese games translated by Carpe Fulgur, or any of the epic storytelling of, say, Final Fantasy. What happens in it? Hero stuff happens. That's all that sank in.
The real focus of Ys – pronounced “Ys” – isn't really questing though, it's combat. The game feels closer to a hack-and-slash than an RPG, albeit one with levels and XP points, designed around precise control and perfect timing attacks. Most of the dungeons are just filler between tightly designed boss fights that cut you absolutely zero slack. Your first proper foe hurls giant plasma saws the size of the playfield right into your face. The ones after that get really serious.
To make it even tougher, while your magic recharges very quickly, you don't get to carry any health top-ups into battle. In other words, if you can't win through raw skill, you're not going to win at all.
Unfortunately, like a lot of JRPGs, Ys has a tendency to assume that you're psychic – something not helped by its snarky Achievements. After dying too many times to Lady McChuckingsaws due to simple attrition, (she hits damn hard, while I was doing almost no damage,) I got one called “Consult an FAQ Already”. After dinging it a point for grammar, I did. Only to discover that my mistake was not having collected a ruby to turn my useless fireball into a thermonuclear death cannon. A ruby I'd never seen mentioned or had any apparent reason to know existed. Hidden well off the beaten track. In an invisible box . RPGs of the world, this is not how to make me like you.
More pointedly, this kind of thing puts a real damper on the often excellent combat, especially when combined with hugely spaced out save points (despite the fact that it lets you retry boss battles immediately when you lose) and the need to grind up your character's XP and gold reserves to at least slightly level the playing field against the tougher enemies. By JRPG standards, Ys is incredibly short – there's even an Achievement for finishing it in under five hours – but that doesn't mean the padding can't annoy.
Not having played the other Ys games, I'm not sure how it compares with those. On its own merits, it's an okay hack-and-slash, but one that feels as old as it is – and nothing special when there's the likes of Recettear and Fortune Summoners offering other flavours of action- JRPG in more interesting ways.