The Ys games make for a very weird video game series. Ys has existed for nearly 25 years, primarily on the Japanese PC. Despite having been around that long, there are only eight proper entries in the series. Hell, usually the only time you ever even hear about it is when someone writes an article about how despite having existed for nearly 25 years there are only…well, you get the idea. Thanks to the efforts of publishers like Atlus and XSeed, Ys has managed to maintain an existence as a niche product in America. Nihon Falcom, the developer of the Ys games, has managed to stay in business all these years by porting and remaking the handful of Ys games to every system known to man. After Ys I & II were released on Japanese PC, they were ported to the PC Engine (Turbo Duo here in America). The Duo port came to America and was well received thanks to its fast paced combat and stellar music. Unfortunately, due to the Duo’s limited audience, the series continued to languish in obscurity. So when Ys III: Wanderers from Ys was ported to the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, hardly any gamers knew how to even pronounce Ys (Protip: it’s “ease”), let alone what this series was all about. Different companies handled the publishing of each version in America, and luckily for us Genesis owners, the Genesis version turned out to be the superior console version of Ys III.
The Ys games have never really had much going for them in the story department, and Ys III is no exception. Ys III revolves around series protagonist Adol Christin and his friend (the unfortunately named) Dogi returning to Dogi’s hometown of Redmont. Evil is afoot, and Adol decides to help the local townfolk. Before you know it, you’re fighting an evil god and saving the day. As with the rest of the Ys games, Ys III draws heavily on anime and JRPG tropes and uses them as window dressing for what these games are really all about: The fantastic gameplay. The first two Ys games featured a top down view that had Adol run into his enemies rather than swing his sword. If it sounds weird that’s because it kind of was, and Falcom wisely sought to mix things up with Ys III. Ys III is played from a sidescrolling perscpective not unlike Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Enemies come fast and furious; it’s not unheard of to get killed in seconds. Boss fights are frantic encounters that occasionally resemble bullet hell shooters with the sheer number of projectiles on screen that require dodging. Unfortunately for SNES owners, the SNES version suffers from slowdown during some of the more frantic encounters, while the Genesis version does not. Ys III manages to expertly walk the line of “tough challenge” and “frustratingly hard” without ever dipping into the latter territory for too long. It’s definitely not for everyone, and it’s extremely likely that more than a few players were turned away by the difficulty. But if you’re looking for a tough but rewarding action RPG, Ys III is for you.
Another one of Ys III’s strengths (and most of the other Ys games share this) is its brevity. Ys III can be beaten in less than 15 hours on a first playthrough. It never overstays its welcome, and it never bogs you down with copious amounts of story. Ys III is fast and punchy, and it ends up being a hell of a ride as a result. You’re constantly facing new enemies, going to new places, and acquiring new skills and equipment. Ys III knows what it wants to do and it sets out to do with as few distractions as possible.
It’s hard, maybe even impossible, to talk about an Ys title without mentioning the music. Mieko Ishikawa and chiptune legend Yuzo Koshiro composed fantastic music (arguably some of the best ever made) for the first two titles in the Ys series. While Koshiro did contribute to Ys III, the bulk of the work on Ys III was done by Ishikawa. There continues to be debate amongst Ys fans which console version of the soundtrack is the best, however. Some are fans of the Turbo Duo version, since it featured real guitars and other touches due to the Duo’s CD drive. Others are fans of Sammy’s port of Ys III for the SNES, which has an incredibly unique sound. But the truth is that the Genesis version is the Secret Best™ version. No matter which version you listen to, Ys III has some of the best composed music ever in a game. Nearly every song in the game is full of thundering percussion, catchy melodies and counter-melodies, and complex and multi-layered compositions. But the Duo version makes some poor decisions regarding instrumentation and often dips into laughably cheesy territory. The SNES version that Sammy brought over suffers from having been ported by someone who clearly was not all that familiar with the SNES sound chip. While it is unique-sounding, it often severely tones down or outright erases passages from songs and the soundtrack as a whole is lacking as a result. Meanwhile, the Genesis version was ported by Riot, an in-house development company under Falcom’s control. As a result, the songs remain compositionally similar to the original PC versions, but they also take full advantage of the Genesis soundchip’s unique sound to create a truly wonderful soundtrack.
Ys III is arguably the best RPG on the Genesis. It’s an expertly designed action RPG that constantly tests your skills and has fantastic music. At the very least, the Genesis version of Ys III is the definitive console version. The Genesis port preserves the spirit of the original PC version with absolutely no compromises. If you can level any complaint at Ys III, it has to be that the game looks bland. Ys III is definitely not the prettiest Genesis game, but when so much else about the game is so great and so utterly satisfying, it’s not unreasonable to give Falcom a pass on that.
Article by Alex Reo
GameSpite Journal 12: Ys III