Ys Seven Review
You know what RPGs are missing? Skill. How many games have you played where victory was a matter of patience? Where besting the final boss needed nothing more than enough time a few more hours gaining levels? Ys Seven chucks that off a cliff. If you want to win the day here, it’s going to require reflex, strategy, and skill. Yes, there’s equipment to buy, abilities to level up and materials to harvest. But you’re going to get creamed at the first boss if you don’t get your dodgeroll game tightened up.
I’ll be up front: if you’ve played many Japanese RPGs in the last decade or so, this story isn’t going to surprise you much. There’s a silent protagonist shouldering an incredible destiny, powerful artifacts scattered throughout the land, betrayals, battles and sleeping gods. What will surprise you is the dialogue. XSeed did a bang-up job on the translation. Rather than mashing my way through every cutscene, I found myself engrossed in the predictable drama swallowing this delightful cast of characters. The broad turns of exasperation, shock, and outrage common to stories like this are all played with style and charm. The only time I got bored was when an especially tough boss had me watching cutscenes repeatedly. Thankfully you can fast-forward through them if you’re so inclined.
“I found myself engrossed in the predictable drama swallowing this delightful cast of characters.”
Fighting in this game is fun. It sounds like an understatement, but enjoyable combat is critical in a game this size. You’ve got regular attacks, special attacks, and super-special attacks. The specials are strong enough that working to recharge them feels like a valuable combat strategy. You can level up these specials, but I can’t figure out why. Like, getting a skill to level five doesn’t come with any tangible benefits that I can see. It feels pretty similar to level one. Thankfully the combat itself is fast and fun enough that you don’t really notice.
The pace of the boss battles is where Ys really shines. You have three party members in battle, with the ability to instantly swap between them. Additionally, the enemy AI can only focus on one target at a time, which tends to be whoever you’re controlling. This means that if you’re in a real bind, you can swap away from someone just before they get targeted for an attack, shorting out the AI’s targeting lead-up and dispersing the damage throughout the combat arena. The other critical strategies are dodgerolls and guards. The regular battles aren’t even that boring. It’s just that they feel so dull compared to the boss battles. There’s a fight about halfway through the game you’re forced to complete with a single character. It took me something like fifteen tries before I came out successful. When I finally beat that beast, I felt like a god. I didn’t win through level-grinding or gear optimization. I just got bloodied and beaten until I had an epiphany about his attack pattern. This mix of euphoria and exhaustion is what boss battles should feel like.
As much fun as I’ve had with the combat and the dialogue, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the graphics. Ys Seven was originally a PSP game, released back in 2009. This means that a lot of assets in the game were never meant to be seen in too much detail. When the dev team made the transition to full-size monitors, they made sure to clean up the character models. The same level of care was not given to the rest of the graphics. Personally, I could care less. I’ve been playing games since the NES days, I’m a lot more invested in ‘fun’ than ‘pretty.’ But man oh man, some of those assets need work. You’ll walk into someone’s house and a cutscene triggers. The camera zooms in for a more tone-appropriate view of the action. There’s a floating blob of pixels to the left like Pac-Man threw up his lunch. You blink for a second or two, finally ascertaining its identity as a collection of vases. This happens a lot. Another weird quirk involves sitting and standing. There’s just nothing in the engine for this set of actions. Instead, you’ll see two or three frames that fade into one another. They’re standing, they fade for a second, they’re sitting. It’s unsettling. Aside from these wacky little hiccups, the graphics are about what you’d expect from 2009.
“This mix of euphoria and exhaustion is what boss battles should feel like.”
Most modern JRPGs have a few side quest boss battles scattered about. They’re the sort of thing you accept as fact without needing to verify. Yet, their ubiquitous nature can preclude your seeking them out. Ys Seven fixes this problem by placing a few of them right in your path. Forcing your low-level party to sneak by an overpowered, god-tier monster in order to progress sets them up in your mind. You make a note to revisit this location later when you feel like you’ve gotten good enough to take them down. These side dishes also appear in your menu alongside a long list of blank entries. So right away you know there’s more of these behemoths out there if you’re feeling up to it. Seeing the first couple of them, as well as their awesome strength, is an organic incentive to explore more of the game than the main story.
Starting up this game, I had a lot of concerns. Would the story be a hot mess of cliches? Would the graphics be a distraction? Would the combat get boring? The answer to almost all of these is yes, but I still love this game. Ys Seven is just… puking up 2009 in corners all over the map. It’s unpleasant to stumble across. I could predict every major event in the game with such accuracy it was like I had developed psychic powers. It’s easy to slide into a haze of button-mashing when you fight. The regular battles can get a little dull. However, the boss fights are an absolute delight. The dialogue is a ton of fun to read, so much so that it bolsters the story and keeps you engaged throughout the whole affair. Whatever problems you might glimpse on the surface, Ys Seven is an easy recommendation for any and all JRPG fans.
***A Steam key was provided by the publisher***
- The boss fights are a blast
- Well-written dialogue keeps cutscenes interesting
- Seamless gameplay
- Background objects look mostly terrible
- Certain actions aren’t properly animated
- Story is pretty predictable