Though I’m a long time series fan of Ys, I’ve never played the more recent games designed for PSP and Vita. I just don’t play games portably. So it’s with fresh eyes I played this PC port of Ys Seven. It’s probably the worst Ys game Falcom has made in the 2000s. By regular RPG standards, this is above average. But it doesn’t live up to the standards I’ve come to expect from Ys. And it certainly isn’t a worthy follow-up to Ys Origin.
What makes the Ys series unique is its energetic music, and how it uses deceptively simple mechanics to maximum effect. I don't know of anything that quite captures the same sense of speed and control the way Ys does. Because of the camera perspective, the series has been able to throw an almost bullet hell level of chaos on screen without it feeling unfair. Third person games like Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising might have a sense of speed and spectacle, but their camera puts limits on how chaotic they can be before you lose control of what's happening. Ys never had that problem.
The traditional weakness of Ys has been the story, as it’s often bare bones and archetypal. But the series has been around since the 1980s, so it’s been largely on par with the genre as a whole over time. With Ys Origin, the developers aimed higher than usual, and delivered a truly great story for the first time. Unfortunately, in Ys Seven, they stumbled backward into the more archetypal, bland, and unexciting type of stories they were doing before. But in this case with the unpleasant addition of too much text. There are loads of characters in this story, and there's no point to half of them. Ys Origin was nothing like this. It had a vivid cast, with clear motivations, and a focus on what mattered. It made me care. For the majority of Ys Seven, I was bored by the story. Now and then it provided a blip of excitement, but it wasn't enough to make up for the bad parts.
As for how it plays, this feels like an Ys game operating at 75% intensity. For the first time in the series you control a whole party of characters, and this results in visual chaos. You don't get the same level of precision from this new combat system. And I guess to compensate for this new system being more chaotic, you're given more healing items than ever before. As the first game using this system, it isn't bad, but the unique qualities that made Ys good have been diluted and makes the game more ordinary. It has its moments, like the boss fights. Now and then everything clicked, and I got a huge smile on my face. It just didn't happen as regularly as I expect from Ys. For the most part combat in this feels more laid back, not as demanding of the player. It's too bad because it feels like it lost some of the purpose for why you'd even play a Ys game to begin with.
Ys Seven is disappointing in another critical aspect, and that's the music. There are loads of different tracks in the game, but almost none of them are notable. Falcom has a heritage of making the best game music in history, and delivering a soundtrack that's merely adequate is not good enough. Like with the story and combat, there are a couple times the music does its job well, but 90% of the time, it's just kind of there, not being memorable in the least. If this was a different franchise, the music would be more than good enough. But if you make a game with a history, you have things you need to live up to.
Adding on to my pile of complaints, this is an ugly game. It’s all because it came out on PSP. Ys Seven looks better than an N64 game, but not by much. On the original PSP screen, I’m sure this looked adequate. But I played this on a 65” TV in 4K, and the technical compromises were too obvious. It's unfortunate, because all the other Ys games made in the 2000s with PC as the primary platform, like Ys 6, have a timeless quality to them. Their use of 3D and 2D scales beautifully to any screen size. The problem is, that it’s an aesthetic not even the PS2 was able to handle. When Ys 6 was ported to PS2, they had to make the game look worse for it to run properly. And when it came to making Ys Seven I’m sure they did their best with what they had to work with, but I kinda wish they’d made this a 2D game instead. The PSP was simply too crappy to do this game justice.
For Ys series fans, I’d still recommend Ys Seven. Just temper your expectations a bit. Even though this is the worst Ys game I've played since Ys 5, it's still better than your average RPG. Combat still requires you learn enemy patterns and time dodges, as you can't brute force your way to victory by grinding levels or items. And it's relatively free from tedium. Probably the absolute worst sequence in the game is how it opens, as it took me 40 minutes of running around town before the game let me explore the first field and fight monsters. After that, it stuck closely to the template established by Ys 6. Even if I'm disappointed with how this game turned out, there's still enough of what I want from Ys in here that I went away reasonably happy. I just wanted a more potent and powerful Ys experience. Guess I'll have to put my hopes in the next game, whenever it comes out on PC.