Ys: The Oath in Felghana
Game play - 8
Presentation - 8
Story / Creativity - 8
Lifespan - 0.4
The major flaw with Ys: The Oath in Felghana would be the lack of replay value, as the exhaustion from the boss battles and grinding does get annoying towards the end. I had a great time with the game, and if names like Terranigma or Secret of Mana get you excited then I highly recommend this game.
I’ll be the first to admit that JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) are something I tend to avoid. I’ve had my fun with them in my youth and there are a few made today that I found enjoyable. I don’t think every JRPG is a terrible mess of androgynous characters that are incredibly skilled killers for being so young yet filled with dumb depression, but it is hard to find a JRPG that avoids these tropes. One action JRPG I liked on the Playstation 2, Ys: The Ark of Napishtim, was one of the exceptions I enjoyed, and I found myself finding a lot of similar elements in the Steam version of Ys: The Oath in Felghana.
The best way to summarize one Ys game is to think of them as individual “episodes” from the other. They are kind of like a “Final Fantasy” game except they have recurring characters (minus androgynous teenagers that get depressed easily). You play as Adol Christin, the fiery red-haired swordsman from previous Ys games. Adol and his buddy Dogi arrived on the island of Felghana, homeland of Dogi. Before five minutes pass, Adol and Dogi learn that monsters reside on Felghana and are attacking the villagers on the island. Along the way you would encounter a variety of characters, though the main ones would be: Adol (your avatar; skilled swordsman), Dogi (your avatar’s friend), Elena (friend of Dogi), and Chester (older brother of Elena and also friend to Dogi; also a master swordsman).
The story for this Ys game might come off as a bit cliché for JRPGs: The peace is disturbed due to monsters, bad guy that messed with dark gods is the cause, and you must defeat bad guy along with anything he created. However, I think this Ys game really nails it with its characters. Dogi “The Boulder” could have been a stereotype of a brute that only serves as muscle, but there is a point with Chester which shows how intelligent Dogi is. The way how the story unfolds as well is a breath of fresh air compared to other JRPGs. Don’t expect long cutscenes or bizarre, androgynous characters to explain why they want to fight you before their boss battles. The game has a great pace of slowing down the action to explain key elements of the story, but sets that aside when you get into the meat of the game.
However, Ys: The Oath in Felghana isn’t shy from the typical clichés found in RPGs (and especially Anime). You got your innocent, imoto (younger sister) trope as one of the main leads who, to complete another trope, gets captured late in the game for evil purposes. You got another character that serves as a comedy relief by stating every line how hungry he is – because he’s fat, and fat people are always funny because they eat so much. Then you got your villain that, after his big reveal, is not really that original (though I don’t want to go into spoilers here as the way how they hide this trope is actually pretty well done). But these are really nitpicks as the only annoyance would be the younger sister (Elena) for her being the main lead. Yet as mentioned earlier, she only appears when the game is at its slow moments and the scenes with her are okay.
Unlike other JRPGs that go for complete 3D effects and over-the-top cutscenes, Ys: The Oath in Felghana goes for a combination of (mostly) 2D characters in a 3D environment. At first this might sound bad as this is something that was used in old PlayStation video games. However, the environments and character models look great. The major characters wear outfits and hair styles that would make sense in the time period they are in, instead of going for the spiked-hair look. The animations, especially all of them for Adol when he is fighting, are very smooth to watch. As you acquire more equipment, you can see the aesthetics of Adol’s equipment change when you complete a set (a sword, shield and chest-piece). It’s a subtle yet nice aesthetic showing how Adol grows powerful as you explore, and shows how much attention they put into his presentation.
Even though this Ys game only takes place on an island, there are a variety of areas to explore with their own themes. The first area you would explore is the mineshafts of the city Redmont (hometown to Dogi, Elena and Chester). However later on you will be exploring a new passage of these mines that drastically changes the mood from something that was easily explored, to something dark. The lights go out here and you will be dealing with grotesque, nocturnal monsters. Contrast this later when you are guiding Adol through the inside of a volcano and jumping over lava pits while fighting fire-spewing birds. There isn’t many breathtaking scenes in the game like, say the “Journey,” but there is enough variety to make each area distinct from the other.
What really gives each area their own look, and also serves well in enhancing the gameplay and boss battles, would be the excellent soundtrack. I’m not sure if the soundtrack in this game could be considered “J-pop” from other JRPGs, but I will say that each fits the theme of the moment in the game. The song for the volcanic region makes it sound hot, chaotic, and violent. Contrast this with the song in the hidden area of the mine and it sounds mysterious, ominous, yet threatening of something evil lurking in the shadows. My favorite moments in the game is when the game plays music for the boss battles. If you remember old arcade or JRPGs that play intense, upbeat music to escalate how important the boss battles are, then Ys: The Oath in Felghana’s songs for boss battles is like that. What really surprised me was hearing a remake of a boss song from the original Ys III: Wanderers from Ys from the Super Nintendo here. The developers did awesome work in keeping to the original theme of the song, yet adding enough to make it stand out well with the other awesome songs included in this game.
If you played Ys: The Ark of Napishtim on the PlayStation 2, then this Ys game would be very similar. For anyone not familiar: The best way I could describe it is thinking of old action JRPGs like Secret of Mana/Evermore, Soul Blazer, or Terranigma; but done in an arcade style game. The RPG mechanics are kept to a minimum with this one and, unfortunately, don’t give you much options in customizing Adol to your playstyle. Level ups just give you more attack, defense, and HP, so you won’t be able to learn new spells or customize how Adol grows with each level. There are still some elements of customization, though these become somewhat of a necessity with your gear. Each weapon and piece of armor (shield and chest-piece) you acquire in the game could be leveled up twice at the local blacksmith. However this just adds bonuses to defense or attack to the weapon and no other bonus effects. Plus, as mentioned earlier, it’s kind of necessary to upgrade your equipment as soon as you get it if you wish to survive in the game.
Where Ys: The Oath in Felghana shines is in its arcade-style, action core mechanics. The game has an overhead camera view similar to other Ys game and platforming elements. The platforming starts simple when you get into the mineshafts by presenting simple parkour moves to get around, yet it starts implementing classic platforming elements like moving platforms when you get into a later dungeon. The combat system is very fun as well, giving a variety of sword moves for Adol to pull off from combos to aerial attacks. Along your journey you can pick up magical bracelets which gives three unique spells to Adol: A long-distance fire spell; a whirlwind surround attack; and a charging bash attack. Certain monsters can only be defeated by implementing unique strategies to them, like attacking them from behind or bypassing their physical defense with fire spells.
The best part of the gameplay in Ys: The Oath in Felghana, and maybe also the most frustrating, would be the boss battles. Like other action JRPGs you will have to study the bosses carefully to learn their ‘tells’ and how to counter them. Each one has a unique pattern to them, and requires you to use a variety of attacks to deliver damage to them. But, this is also where the game gets very frustrating as you will die – a lot – when studying these bosses. I got through a few handful of the bosses in here on my first try through normal difficulty, but I swear the challenge skyrockets when you get into the castle. This game isn’t as frustrating as another action JRPG released last year that writes out in bold red text “YOU DIED” when face a tough boss and then takes away all of your souls, as there is always a checkpoint to restart from with each boss battle if you lose. But if you are the kind of person that might throw gamepads at your monitor – then consider buying some more if you choose to play this game.
The controls for Ys: The Oath in Felghana might work well if you have a gamepad, but I don’t know about keyboard/mouse controls. The game does give you an option to rebind the keys to your preference. However you have to close down the game and open up a separate “options” program to change these key bindings. I had no issue playing with an Xbox 360 gamepad here, though I did have to do some tests with control settings for awhile to find a right build for me. I imagine the game would be simple to play with a keyboard/mouse, though I think some people would prefer a gamepad when it comes to the platforming parts.
Ys: The Oath in Felghana might not last for long in terms of game length. In some ways it might also be padded. I played through one campaign of the game on normal difficulty in less than twenty hours, and for a game I got that is going for $15 that isn’t too bad. There are plenty of secrets to find when you get the double jump and new magical bracelets to help you move around. Two secret and hard bosses will be available to you when you beat the game, along with boss rush modes to see if you can defeat a boss in a short amount of time.
But I found myself grinding towards the end of the game on enemies to give myself a chance with the last bosses. The upgrading portion of the gear seems to encourage grinding more as that new gear you get might not be so good without two more levels applied to it. Even then the levels only add minimal bonuses like +2 defense at max level on a shield or +4 attack on a max level sword. You will get a lot of raval ore (the material you need to upgrade your gear, along with gold) from treasure chests in dungeons, but most of your raval ore and gold are found off monster drops. Finding good grinding spots is not so hard, but this does feel like padding.
There is some replay value in terms of difficulty setting. There are six difficulty settings you can pick at the beginning. Five are unlocked already and a last one only available after you beat the game. But I don’t think this would increase the lifespan entirely as it just makes monsters and bosses more difficult, and it might encourage you to grind more in the harder difficulties. Supposedly there was a “new game+” mode in the PSP version where you can transfer all your XP levels, and possible equipment levels over to a new game, but this is oddly missing in the Steam version I have. If you are a person that likes a game’s replay value coming from an escalating challenge per difficulty setting, Ys: The Oath in Felghana might last you for awhile. However, considering it is a bit short and feels padded with the grinding, it might only be good for one playthrough.
Ys: The Oath in Felghana is a great action JRPG for the PC. The boss battles are very classic arcade style fights that require pattern recognition and are played through some awesome music. Even though the 2D characters and 3D environments might not be appealing to some gamers, they are done well and give each environment their own distinct look and feel.