Ys II: Another Video Game Review

First off, apropos of nothing, I’d like to vent a little bit about how friggin’ difficult it is to get a Wii U pro controller to sync up to a PC. I get it, I do. Nintendo sells their controllers to be used with their video game machines. But, it’s nice to play PC games with a high-quality controller too, you know?

Anyway! Ys II Chronicles+: Ancient Ys Vanished ~ The Final Chapter is another title that maybe in retrospect could have been simplified a little. Calling it “The Final Chapter” is overselling it just a bit when it’s part of a two-chapter series. Don’t even get me started on how it’s not actually the final chapter.

Title woes aside, however, Ys II is a very excellent video game! It’s just like the first one! Except it’s a whole lot bigger, and all of the issues I had with the first game have been addressed! Which is not really saying a lot, because I had like, two issues with the first game.

This title screen is somehow both less AND more generic than the last one.

The plot kicks off immediately where the first game’s story ended: Adol has gathered the six Books of Ys, and then is magically whizzed off to the floating land known as… wait for it… Ys. He’s woken up, in a bit of a daze, and it’s not hard to see why, since he’s lost all of his levels and equipment from the previous game. He’s got those tomes, but that’s it. A young lady named Lilia finds the confounded Adol and brings him home to help him recover from his flight up to the island in the sky.

It all begins with a search through yet another abandoned mine for a lost doctor and some medicine for poor, sickly Lilia. Then Adol remembers that he was kind of in the middle of a fight against an army of demon and goes back to doing that. So you adventure around Ys in search of relics and clues to help fight said demons, until you finally wind up in the fabled Solomon Shrine, going toe-to-toe with the fiercest monsters in the land.

The “bump combat” system from the first game is back, and it functions basically the same. Run headlong into enemies to attack them, but try to be slightly off-center to keep from taking any damage yourself. There’s a twist now, though! If you attack a monster while moving diagonally, you’re basically guaranteed to inflict damage on them at no risk. Monsters can absolutely still be scary, but it’s nice that you can feel a lot more confident about the weird combat system this time around.

Adol also gets a wide array of magic spells to use in this game, which go a long way as far as adding a little variety. From fireballs to stopping time to transforming into a demon, Adol now has a whole bunch of way to solve problems other than just stabbing them. It’s a lot like Zelda II in that way, now that I think about it.

For my money, Zava was the hardest boss. But even the losing fights were thrilling.

The fireballs are secretly the key to the best improvement from Ys: the boss fights. Remember how most of the bosses are terrible and frustrating and broken in the first game? Well, now they’re actually fun! A lot of them play more like bullet-hell shooters than Ys, and each kind of has its own gimmick to make it feel unique. It’s such a vast improvement that I simply cannot find the right words to convey how much this improves the game overall. The later bosses are still tricky, but at least they feel fair this time around. You’re never trying to collide with a one-pixel hitbox that only exists for a fraction of a second, or anything stupid like that.

The other thing that was massively improved was the size of the game. The land of Ys is huge, and is mostly made up of massive, maze-like dungeons that lead right from one to the next. Like, I absolutely needed maps to make it through most of them because they’re that big and labyrinthine. While it’s not quite the same as how Darm Tower is effectively half of Ys, Ys II’s Solomon Shrine is still probably one of the biggest, most complex final dungeons in all of video games. The really nice thing about it is that it’s made up of several different sections that you’ll travel back and forth between, so it never feels tedious, or like you’re slogging through the same place for hours. While it leans a little too hard on the “maze” angle for my personal tastes, I think it’s a very solid design for a final dungeon.

There are also towns here and there throughout the game. You know, to give you a break from navigating dungeons once in a while. Each one has its own little story and people to help, though mostly they’re there to add some extra plot flags. What’s really neat is that you eventually get a spell that transforms Adol into a demon, so in addition to the dozens of townspeople, you can also wander around talking to all of the other demons in the world, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.

There’s even a town populated by adorable mouse-like monsters called Roos.

To better fit the expanded game, Adol’s level curve has been improved a lot. No longer does he max out at level ten, and no longer can you reach max level within 20 minutes! I don’t actually know if Adol has a maximum level in this game, because I was level 50 going up against the final boss, with maxed out HP and MP bars, and I still gained two levels from that fight. The point is, though, you get to enjoy the feeling of growing in strength throughout the entire game, and not just the first half of it. There are also a few more weapon and armor upgrades to find this time around, and again, it’s nice to keep feeling that little rush of dopamine every time you gain a little more power. Number go up, and all.

While the story is a pretty by-the-numbers, Hero vs Villain deal, it’s enough to keep you going. More important is the attention to detail in the world and the people that live there. NPCs will often have new things to say after plot events happen, and Adol keeps a notebook with his thoughts on every person that he meets throughout his travels. There are strange little interactive things all over the world that most players probably wouldn’t notice, like a cloud of mosquitoes that will slowly and persistently follow Adol around if he gets too close. There are so many neat little touches that don’t really mean that much in the long run, but make Ys II all the more memorable if you take the time to look for them.

Zalem, like all women in Ys, is none to shy about hitting on Adol.

Given the fact that Ys I and II were remade as a set, the production values are pretty much exactly the same between the two games. While for the most part, the backgrounds have a very bland fantasy RPG look to them, I can’t help but really like the cutesy character sprites that kind of look like they could have come from that one Harvest Moon game on PS1. Here’s the real mind-boggler: every enemy type in the game has a unique sprite. There are somehow no palette-swaps, despite the fact that every monster behaves exactly the same. Weird!

And of course, I’ve saved the best for last: the music. Exactly like Ys, Ys II has a phenomenal soundtrack. Since there are more different places in this game, there are even more tracks, and with that, some extra variety. My favourite by a wide margin is the track that plays during the earlier visits to Solomon Shrine. It’s a track led by a Spanish guitar, which almost feels out of place in a soundtrack dominated by heavy electric guitar riffs and solos. But it’s an absolutely welcome change of pace and just gets right to my core and I could listen to it loop for hours on end (because I have). It’s almost too bad that the track gets replaced after a certain event.

I think that I’ve about said my piece, now. Ys II is a very, very good game that outshines its predecessor to a surprising degree. Because they’re sold as a set, I assumed that they would be very similar to each other, but Ys II builds a lot on the very solid foundation laid by the first game. And because they are a set, yes, I would recommend playing both. Even though Ys II is a superior game in every way, Ys is important to setting up the story, and it’s super short besides. You can burn through the first one in an afternoon, and then take a few days to really bask in the glory of the sequel. I had a lot of fun playing both games, and I’m definitely going to be singing the praises of the Ys series to anyone who will bother to listen from now on.

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