For those who are familiar with the Ys series, you will know that it usually revolves around two adventurers: Adol the Red and his companion, Dogi. And for those of you who enjoy a good Action RPG but have never heard of the Ys series before, you should be ashamed of yourselves. But, if I just so happened to pique your interest in this title, and you own a PSP, then you can redeem yourself by picking up Ys Seven. I’m willing to let go and forgive.
Because our adventurers visit a new foreign land with each game you’re never lost in the progression of the story. What they learn, you learn. There is no hidden knowledge which our heroes refuse to share with us, so if you’re new to the series you can jump right in without feeling confused. It may not have the most interesting story, but its pacing is the best I’ve experienced in a handheld Action RPG. The game starts with the imprisonment of Adol and Dogi who have been accused of being foreign spies. However, their reputation as great adventurers precedes them, and the King of Altago orders their release. The King later requests that they investigate a series of earthquakes and the appearance of extremely powerful underground monsters known as Titanos.
I was a bit skeptical at first, noticing that there were no items to collect in towns. You get in the habit of searching every bookshelf and barrel that you almost always expect to find something. Not in Ys Seven. Towns are exclusively for talking with people and shopping. This actually grew on me and was quite a relief, especially if you're the type of player who searches every corner of a town for items. The only controls available in towns are the action button (X) for communicating, circle for changing the leading character, and square for dashing and rolling. Rolling is primarily an evade mechanism for battles, but it can work just like a sprint button in towns. If there was any comedy relief in this game then our rolling hero is certainly it.
The battle mechanics are integrated (dubbed the Party System), meaning you cannot rely on a single approach to proceed in battle. Switching between characters is a must throughout the game, even against small grunts. For example, only Dogi can smash through hard shelled creatures, while nimble and slime monsters are Adol’s specialty. Other than the regular attacks, the team also shares a skill meter. It’s located in the bottom right of the screen. It can hold a maximum of ten skill blocks which fill up as you attack. Now, ten skill blocks may seem like plenty, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Skills can level up for each individual character, but they can only level up as you use them. So if you’re in the habit of not mixing skill attacks with your limited skill meter, you’ll eventually find your characters with regular attacks that are more powerful than their skills, which can hurt you later on in the game. You gain access to new skills by experimenting with different weapons. Another meter is the Extra skill gauge that fills up gradually overtime. The attack differs with each character and deals a great amount of damage to foes, so it’s ideally saved for bosses. The only gauges the party doesn’t share are the health gauges. Enemies have both a health and stun gauge. When an enemy is stunned, they’re rendered motionless and their defense sharply decreases.
Adol and Dogi remain the two main protagonists throughout the game. The third team member changes as the story progresses though. Having a runaway princess or paranoid village elder as a third wheel does have its merits, like cleaning up scattered items left behind enemies. They also allow access to new lands because of their unique attacks that specialize in killing certain monsters that are immune to Adol and Dogi’s attacks. You’ll eventually come across shrines and temples that are Zelda-like, and you have to explore them until you find a key item that lets you access areas you previously couldn't. Terrains never get boring, and being alert of one’s surroundings is a must in this game. Shallow watered lands can become deep, quickly drowning the team one at a time. In addition, there are grounded spikes or lava pits blocking off areas, and if they’re not blocking paths then they’re randomly scattered about, giving you one more thing to take into consideration while trying to fend off fiends.
One thing that I feel needs mentioning about Ys Seven are the boss battles. They truly define this game and demand an extreme amount of focus and patience. Bosses mainly target the character you’re controlling and, because of that, their element-based attacks force you to switch characters and spread the damage across the whole team, instead of it being focused on one person. Titanos are notorious for poisoning, igniting, slowing down, stunning, paralyzing and grabbing hold of teammates. They increase in difficulty and switch or add new patterns of attack as the battle continues. As you can imagine, battles can become very hectic, and no matter how much you grind and upgrade your armory, Titanos always seem to be one step ahead of the flock. To make things more interesting, you cannot simply bum rush a boss; they usually have a weak spot which can only be exposed after dealing damaged to another area of its body. Because recovery items are limited in the game, these battles can eventually end with only one man standing. Boss battles are exhilarating to say the least, and if you’re the kind of person that enjoys a good challenge then you’re going to find this game very satisfying.
Like most handheld dungeon crawlers, Ys Seven suffers from poor character designs and environments. Sometimes the camera angle changes its focus to nice scenery though, like shrines or waterfalls, to give the player the illusion that they’re approaching a graphically rich new area. Even though there is a lot to interact with, the visuals never really shine in the game. Unless the characters have their weapons drawn or are in the heat of battle, they come off as bland and expressionless. Enemies, however, are impressive in variety and scale, especially Titanos.
The Ys series is known for its great music and Ys Seven is no exception. The boss soundtracks were so good that I didn’t actually mind losing and having to re-do a lengthy battle just so that I could listen to an amazing piece of music again. Even the overall themes for jungles, desserts and dungeons were delightful. Characters don’t have any voice dialog in the game except for a couple short lines during battle, but along with grunts, roars and sound effects, the characters finally show off some personality.
Items found and collected from monsters are mostly used to synthesize new weapons and armor along with accessories and recovery items. Synthesized weaponry is better than that available for purchase, so doing a little extra exploring is always beneficial. But be sure to steer away from any unusually large monsters you come across; they’re likely wild Titano, which are extremely difficult to defeat and don’t add to the story if defeated, but they do make for great side quests thanks to the potential rewards. It’s best to return to them later in the game. Other side quests include NPC requests of certain items. There are also a handful of areas to revisit as you collect key items. Ys Seven can take anywhere between 40 and 70 hours to complete.
Several localizations of the Ys series are expected to release in North America, and if the groundwork provided for in Ys Seven is anything to go by then I’ll be looking forward to them as well. Ys Seven delivers a fresh, unique world that is fun to explore and interact with, customizable weaponry and skills, and a well balanced battle system that makes other Action RPGs seem flawed. You owe it to yourself to buy and play this game. No longer will you have to mindlessly tap the action button in battle; Ys Seven gives us what many other Action RPG games fail to provide: an excellent battle system which gives you control over the whole team, not just one player.