The Ys Series (Plus DigitalEmelas.com Interview!)
Ys (pronounced “ease”) is a series that many of you have heard of, but aren’t very familiar with. It’s a series that has been around since 1987, but outside of Japan it hasn’t been as popular as it could be. I’m not sure exactly why this is. The first game in the series came out the same year as the original Final Fantasy and a year after the first Dragon Warrior, two games that have definitely had a larger footprint in the US than Ys. Somehow, this series, which is rich in lore and engaging gameplay, just hasn’t caught on like these other games. This isn’t to say that Ys doesn’t have a dedicated fanbase- it certainly does. I’m a member of the club, and I’m hoping to convince you to check these games out. The next game in the series is coming out next year, and so we’ve got an interview with Limfinite of DigitalEmelas.com, an amazingly in-depth Ys resource, coming up after I ramble about my love for the series.
Ys Then and Now -- Left : Ys I (Chronicles+ PC version) / Right : Ys VIII (PS4)
I’ve been into this series since the day I got my Turbografx-16 CD add-on. I had heard of Ys because it was released in the US on the Sega Master System, where it was likely known as “that other RPG that isn’t Phantasy Star”. At least, I know it was in my circle of friends. It didn’t help that the Master System was more of a rarity at the time. If there was 1 person who had a Master System, there were 20 of us with the NES, and of the people I knew with a Sega- only 1 had Ys. So, it’s a game I had seen in passing, but hadn’t really gotten a chance to dig into. Then came that Christmas where I got a TurboGrafx-16 CD add-on.
It was tough to be a TurboGrafx kid. I mean, not “truly” tough, but relatively speaking compared to Genesis kids or later Super Nintendo kids, we were in a tough spot. First off, there weren’t too many of us. I’d known 3 other people who owned a TG16, before the internet gave every niche market an easy way to find other like-minded fans. Second, the Genesis already had the Turbo on the ropes before the SNES showed up, and outside of specialty stores or the Toys “R” Us about 30 minutes away, it was nearly impossible to find games for the TG16 after the first few months it was out. The game selection wasn’t much to speak of anyway, and while I am still a diehard Turbo kid inside, I was admittedly jealous of the Genesis kids. They could go rent games at the video store -- no such luck for us Turbo kids. But the system did have probably still the most important console add-on-- the TurboGrafx CD. I wanted one so badly, and somehow my parents picked up on that and despite what I still consider a lot of money ($400?!), under the tree that year I got a TurboGrafx CD, a copy of Valis II, and most importantly I had my very own copy of Ys Book I & II.
From the moment I turned it on, I was in awe. Not only did it have a cool animated cinematic at the start of the game (a guaranteed sell for me, even today), but Ys had an amazing soundtrack, which was mind blowing to my 12 year old self who had up until then only had cartridge-based soundtracks to compare it to. This was full CD sound, which I would blare from the TV until my parents screamed to turn it down. The game was what I spent the next week or so playing non-stop until I finished it- and then I started over and played it again. I loved the mix of action and RPG elements that was offered by this game. Unlike other action RPGs like The Legend of Zelda, Ys had a larger emphasis on the RPG part, but wasn’t as slow and plodding as I felt most turn-based RPG systems were. This game was a wonderful blend of both genres.
This is Adol, the hero in the Ys series, as seen in Ys VIII.
The main character of the Ys games (aside from Origins, which is a prequel) is Adol Cristin. He is a red haired swordsman who in his travels manages to find himself unraveling great ancient mysteries of the lands he visits. I loved Adol as a character, and for the next 10 years or so, in most games where you could name your main character something, I always used Adol. You can probably check out some of my collection and find saves on Playstation memory cards where my original game save is still there and see ADOL as the save name. I was all-in on Adol and the Ys games after playing just the first two. Ys III : Wanderers from Ys came out in 1991 for the TGCD (as well as the SNES and Genesis) which changed the gameplay to a side-view action setup, and then… well, it was a long time until Ys showed up in my life again. Ys IV and V didn’t make it out of Japan (at least not until IV got a remake way later)
Ys VI : The Ark of Napashtim came out on the PS2 in the US in 2005. It had been 14 years since a new Ys game had been out in the US, and I could not wait to get back into the game again. This time, Adol’s adventure was in 3d, and the combat was different yet again, but still-- it was good to be reunited with Adol after so long. Thankfully, other people had felt the same, and the Ys series has continued to be released in the US since then. I just finished Ys VIII earlier this year, and it was a wonderful full 3d action RPG game, with multiple player characters and magic abilities (and a pretty fantastic fishing game), and I cannot recommend it enough to people who may or may not have been into the series before.
As I mentioned earlier, the next game in the series, Ys IX : Monstrum Nox is coming out in the US and Europe next year. It’s already out in Japan and has gotten some great reviews, and this is the chance for this series to get a bigger foothold around the world. We spoke with Limfinite, from DigitalEmelas.com (the name is in itself an Ys reference), a fansite dedicated to all things Ys about the series, and if my enthusiasm isn’t enough to get your interest, maybe Limfinite can explain why this is a series you need to try.
So, onto the interview!
Please check out http://www.digitalemelas.com to see what Ys is all about
Retrovania : Before we get started on Ys itself, what is DigitalEmelas.com, and is your site affiliated with Nihon Falcom or any other company publishing the Ys series?
Limfinite of DigitalEmelas.com : Thanks for having us. www.DigitalEmelas.com is the ultimate Ys online resource, created to spread awareness of this incredibly niche JRPG series outside of Japan, while preserving its culture in our comprehensive and exhaustive galleries. We literally host a 100% complete catalogue of every single Ys game and merchandise released in North America since its debut 30 years ago. Our website guides new players by introducing the chronology of the games with a spoiler-free look at its lore and history here in the West.
While we are not officially affiliated with Nihon Falcom or publishers, our core team consists of members who worked with and for said publishers, including official translators and marketing staff. NIS America, XSEED Games, and Dotemu are very familiar with our work and we have a healthy relationship supporting each other to spread awareness of Ys. In fact, I’m looking at a box filled with Ys merchandise sponsored by all three companies, waiting to go out as giveaways (@DigitalEmelas on Twitter). A few years ago we also had the pleasure of interviewing Toshihiro Kondo, President of Nihon Falcom, who really liked our website and shared it with his team in Japan. Great guy. I respect him a lot.
RV : When did you discover the Ys series, and how did Digital Emelas begin?
Limfinite: Oh gosh... Years ago, I don’t even remember when I started playing. As an advocate for the series, I found myself on Reddit and various online forums answering questions people had about the series. “What is Ys? How does it play? In what order should I play Ys?” Eventually people started seeking me out and I became “that Ys guy”. The questions kept repeating over and over, until one day I decided to gather my friends and build Digital Emelas to be the one-stop-answer to introduce new players. Think of it as a convenient tool. I now see people commenting online using our website as a quick, instant response. “What’s Ys?” “Go here”
RV : I often describe the Ys games as action RPGs, like Zelda, but with way more RPG elements - I'm also terrible at comparing things. How would you summarize Ys gameplay for someone totally new to the series?
Limfinite : Like any other game series, they evolve over time. For the Ys series, there are 3 styles of play depending on the game. Ys I & II are quite unique in that you literally run/bump into your enemies, leaving a trail of pixel guts behind you. It’s quite exhilarating and has a learning curve of about 3 minutes or so. Bump to the amazing soundtrack (Yuzo Koshiro, anyone?) and you’ll have a blast. The other two styles of play are either solo platforming (Ys Origin, Felghana, Napishtim), or team-swap systems (Ys Seven, Celceta, Lacrimosa, Monstrum Nox) where you play as multiple characters in a party. Both these styles of play have similar Zelda-like progression, in that you have a semi-open world riddled with barricades. As you progress through the story you find an item or magic that’s encouraged for that stage and boss, and lets you pass beyond these barricades to new areas. It’s all about discovery, huge boss battles, and amazing music. If you enjoy Zelda and an XP level system, give Ys a shot. For a more in-depth look at the different gameplay styles, click on “What Is Ys” at the top of our website.
RV : While I usually like to play games sequentially, I don't think Ys requires that at all. If you were going to recommend someone an Ys game as an introduction, which would you pick and on what platform?
http://www.digitalemelas.com also has some free PSP and Vita themes, as both consoles are great Ys machines.
Limfinite : We cover this on our website as well, including the different platform releases. There are three commonly recommended routes within the Ys community. The Story path, which has my utmost recommendation, is played in the order of Adol (the main protagonist) growing up. Ys is based on his journals, so it makes sense to go in this order. Plus, the first six games form the complete Emelas Arc, ending with Ys VI: The Arc of Napishtim which has an incredibly lore-heavy plot and touches on every game before it. Kondo-san even clarified to us that when they made Ys VI, they created a timeline and developed every other game/remake after it to build up to its lore. The other two paths we cover are the Action path and Release path, which are also highly recommended depending on what your play style is. The most important rule of gaming is to enjoy your experience, so there aren’t really any wrong ways to play.
RV : As we noted before, Ys IX is finally coming out next year in the US and Europe. Have you gotten a chance to play the Japanese release, and if so what do we have to look forward to? (no spoilers, obviously)
Limfinite : A few members of our team have played the game and absolutely love it. It’s an exciting time to be a Ys fan and we hope gamers unfamiliar with the series give it a shot.
RV : I've played most of the Ys games released in the US, but Ys V was never released here. Do you know why there hasn't been a release for V, or is there one in the works that I'm unaware of?
Limfinite : Nihon Falcom is very aware of the demand for a Ys V remake. It’s the only “gap” in the canon that hasn’t been officially told outside of Japan. We don’t want to spoil anything, so what I can say is that from what my team has told me... Ys IX actually touches on Ys V lore. And remember, we’re lore addicts. Nihon Falcom is likely waiting for the right time. When will Ys V be made? I think it’s a matter of when, not if.
RV : Thank you for your time, is there anything else that you want to say about Ys or DigitalEmelas.com?
Limfinite: Ys has been around for decades. It predates Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest but doesn’t have the luxury of being backed by a marketing powerhouse like Square-Enix or PlayStation Studios (previously Worldwide Studios). We produced a 3 minute audio drama on the home page of our website, written by one of the official Ys translators who worked on the majority of Ys games (Chronicles, Origin, Felghana, and others), and voiced by the ever talented Anthony Sardinha. It’ll give you a sense of what to expect. Keep an eye on @DigitalEmelas, @NISAmerica, and @XSEEDGames for news. Ys deserves your attention. We hope you check it out.
Bookmark www.DigitalEmelas.com and help spread awareness of the series.
- Jeremy P.