What’s that, Lassie? A fictional world is facing distressing political and economical problems?
Quick, put together a scrappy ensemble of clichéd, but lovable characters! Stick them in the typical fantasy-genre backdrop where they find a mysterious, god-like power that they will use for good! But be careful you don’t forget about Timmy in the well, Lassie. Despite having JRPG story elements that are as stale as this Lassie analogy, Ys Seven still ends up relatively enjoyable.
Ys Seven (pronounced Ees) offers a free-roaming battle system that doesn’t reinvent the genre, but combines past JRPG elements in a fun, fast-paced way. With the exception of major bosses, there are no transition screens for encounters, which probably gives you a grand total of 5 hours back to your life. Hooray! As you traverse the Ys Seven’s impressively wide world, you can switch among fighters in your three-character party with the tap of the O button and the next character in your line-up will be under your control, while the other two fall back into a surprisingly intelligent auto-pilot.
Although your in-battle moves are limited to a normal attack, special attacks and dodging, it never feels like just hack-and-slash. The fighting system is simple and damage is based off logical type-attack advantages rather than a matrix of element-based attacks. It’s a bit like rock-paper-scissors, except its sword, brute force/fists, bow vs. fleshy enemies, shelled enemies and flying enemies. (i.e. Using a sword against a fleshy rodent-like critter is much more effective than using a sword against a hard-shelled, turtle-like monster, which you should use brute force against). So to navigate through areas with multiple monster types, it’s very beneficial to switch your characters accordingly. On paper, it doesn’t sound very exciting or brilliant, but in practice, it makes for frenetic and fresh gameplay. The lack of transition screens (which, yes, I know I mentioned already) adds to the seamlessness of the adventure.
Characters develop their own special set of high-powered Skill attacks, which are powered by Skill Points (BIG SURPRISE). The way Skill Points work in Ys Seven is not quite as trite. Instead of using potions and items to fill your SP gauge, you build up your SP points by attacking enemies with normal attacks. For each successful hit, your SP gauge refills. In order to REALLY beat up stuff, you have to kind of beat up other stuff. Makes sense!
And gone are the days of sorting through seven layers of menus to dig up the one bauble in your inventory you need to get to. Ys Seven has a clean, uncluttered inventory that only holds a few healing items (the game puts strict caps on how much you can buy and carry), in addition to all the “key” items you accrue through the game. The fact that I can view my whole inventory on one screen and access it with just one button push is wonderful and something I’d love to see more of in RPGs.
Like many other modern JRPGs, Ys Seven has an uninspired “synthing” system that lets you cobble everything but the lint between the monsters’ toes into a slightly more useful item. The resource-gathering opportunities for synthesizing are great though, as monsters drop all kinds of knicks and overworlds and dungeons have many piles of renewable natural knacks, and will surely keep the obsessive compulsive (like me!) entertained.
What was strange, and also a little refreshing, about Ys Seven is that the world is not suffering from some impending, cataclysmic catastrophe. You’re simply investigating a world that both you and your main in-game character is unfamiliar with. There’s no overarching drama, just a continued thread of (hackneyed) mystery with bits of melodrama sprinkled in.
The game’s graphics look slick, but they also look like they’ve been recycled from every other anime-styled JRPG. Despite this, it was impressive to see such graphics displayed on the small PSP screen. The rolling and varied terrain in the overworld and dungeons had a good amount of depth to it (i.e. if you’re standing on a cliff, you can see the treasure chest you opened earlier on the ground below), and offers more than a few instances of 'whoa, that's some really beautiful scenery'. The soundtrack was solid as well (with rocking boss battle music), but it also sounded like a medley of all other JRPGs I’ve played through before. It’s not that Ys Seven’s graphics and sounds aren’t good—they’re just very, very generic.
Bottom line: Ys Seven differentiates itself from other JRPGs with fast-paced fighting and gameplay that doesn’t emphasize statistics and levelling your character in just the perfect way. It throws clunky mechanics to the side and opts for something more fluid, which is definitely worth the purchase if you don’t expect a revolutionary storyline or funky-fresh graphics.