Ys Seven and the Case of the Belligerent Bird

Continuing my quest through the series of Ys video games, I am nearing the end of the road with Ys Seven. Considering that it has a very similar gameplay style to Ys: Memories of Celceta (my favourite so far), I was quite excited to start it. However! Since Ys Seven came first… it’s a little bit rougher around the edges.

The first problem is my own: I liked Memories of Celceta enough to play through it twice in a row and collect all the achievements. So I figured that I might as well check the achievements for Seven ahead of time and try to get them all in one run. Unfortunately, there’s an achievement for completing the game on Nightmare mode, and despite knowing that Ys games are actually pretty tough, I took the bait.

So it’s been a bit of a slog. Bosses are way overpowered and item carrying capacity on Nightmare is severely reduced. It’s definitely a “git gud” kind of difficulty. But I’m managing! It’s a nightmare, yes, but it’s not impossible.

Another part of the lop-sided difficulty here is a long-standing Ys tradition: you don’t get invincibility frames after taking damage. This is a huge problem and makes boss fights brutal. Like, BRUTAL. Lots of bosses have big AOE attacks that can hit multiple times and will absolutely tear through your HP. And there’s really no way to recover once you’re stuck inside a tornado or caught in a hail of projectile spam. It’s nuts!

Or, there’s almost no way to recover. There’s a “secret” technique in Ys Seven that the game literally never tells you about, and it’s called Flash Guard. This is executed by pushing two assigned buttons right before an attack hits you, so it’s unlikely you’d ever even pull it off by accident. I only knew it existed because of the button configuration menu. Flash Guard allows you to completely block any attack, and you can even keep mashing the button to block continuous attacks (like the aforementioned tornadoes). A successful Flash Guard also fills up your special move meters a bunch and guarantees that any attacks you do for the then second or two hit for critical damage. It’s a little busted! But Flash Guard also has another huge drawback: if your timing is off, you’ll take double damage from the attack you just failed to block.

Enter the ferocious bird: Kava Kelos. This is a boss that shows up maybe two-fifths of that way through the game, around the time where your skill has (likely) improved to the point where you don’t have to try each boss fight three or four times. In fact, I was able the three preceding bosses on my first try! I thought that Ys Seven was starting to scale back the difficulty a bit. And then this big stupid bird came out of nowhere and smacked me silly.

Kava Kelos is what TV Tropes refers to as a “wake-up call boss“; an enemy that shows up and effortlessly wipes the floor with you because you’ve gotten complacent. Although to be fair, it’s because Kava Kelos is a leeeeeeeettle bit cheap. It’s a bird, so it spends half the fight flying. It is also able to spam attacks with massive AOEs in rapid succession, and once you shave off a third of its HP, it goes into rage mode for the rest of the fight and gets even faster. Let’s not forget how it can use an attack that petrifies your entire party, and can poop out little bird buddies to add even more chaos to the fight. It’s tough! It’s maybe slightly unfair!

But being the stubborn fool that I am, I threw myself at Kava Kelos until I came out the victor. It took numerous attempts and every single one of my healing items (not that I was able to carry many), but I did it. The funny thing is, it seemed to be a very literal difficulty spike, as the next couple bosses were significantly less impossibly difficult. Or, not as cheap. Or, not as poorly designed. I don’t know, take your pick.

I think that this essay has two real mission statements. First: don’t play a Ys game on Nightmare difficulty. Not any of them. Second: Memories of Celceta really does improve on Ys Seven in every conceivable way. But that’s exactly what you expect of video game sequels, so I can’t really fault Ys Seven for that. I’m having a lot of fun playing it, and I’m looking forward to the rest of it (especially after the halfway-point plot twist), but it’s probably not going to end up being one of my favourite entries.

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