Note: I re-reviewed this title in 2020. Please disregard this review.
If I had to give a brief summary of how the Ys series works in regards to its final products, I would say that the first few titles were more experimental than anything, involving large changes to the gameplay and point of view with each installment before the series hit a sour note with part V, and went away for a generation, only to come back with this title, Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, and revitalized the franchise for a total of three games before changing up the gameplay once. I previously reviewed the spiritual follow-ups Oath in Felghana and Origin, both of which I liked quite a bit, but felt that many of the RPG elements of these games bogged it down, and its emphasis on story was a bit out of place in such a frantic high paced and cathartic action game. This being a prequel, not much has changed.
Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim Review
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS2, PSP
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
As is tradition to the series after Ys II, the story is largely unrelated to any kind of ongoing narrative, focusing on just another one of the many adventures of Adol “The Red” Christin, a selfless savior of the world several times over, going to a place and beating a big bad whosits or whatsum. In this iteration, however, I generally was not feeling the story very much. Yes, there are interesting elements with an ongoing racial tension between an indigenous people of an isolated island and the shipwrecked individuals who defiled their ancient temples, but the story quickly changes its tune near the 70% mark, and introduces a new antagonist, who is promptly disposed of, in favor of a big bad who wants to use the ancient powers of a people to help control the wind and weather, or something like that. I honestly did not beat the game to see its story’s conclusion, but I’ll get to why later.
There’s lip service to the prior title Ys V, which has never been released in English, but the inclusion of characters from that game only added to the sheer quantity of more or less worthless characters that litter the game’s world. I suppose this is true of most of the games in the series, but as I checked to read everybody’s dialog after most major events, I realized just how little purpose most of these characters held aside form side quests that you could obsess over and easily turn this 12 hour experience into a 10 hour one. They’re not badly done either, a bit close to certain tropes, but none of them are badly written or inconsistent, it’s just a bit odd that so much detail was placed in most of them when only about ten characters matter in the whole story.
That said, I always felt that the Ys titles could be enjoyed even if you throw away the stories, as they consistently have fun hack and slash gameplay pampered with a good amount of RPG elements. That is the case with part six as well, as it more or less laid the foundation for Oath In Felghana and Origin. Those who played those… technical sequels would notice an absence of a buff system that encourages fast and frantic movements throughout a dungeon, and a difference in how magic abilities work, relying more on a charge rather than a charging meter. There’s also a difference in the way Ys VI handles health is different from any other title I played, relying on healing items unless you play on Cataclysm mode.
Cataclysm mode is a newly added feature by XSEED, and it has Adol automatically use any healing items he picks up, much like how its successors handled the system. It doesn’t rebalance much, however, and as such you can go quite a while without health drops, and those you do find will be massive chunks rather than a series of replenishing drips. This made certain sections of the game more than a little difficult, as I kept forgetting that I could get out of any situation with incredible ease by using a warp item from my inventory, and as such lost about fifteen minutes of progress a few times. I mostly got stunlocked by enemies who shoved me in a corner and took advantage of the game’s lack of temporary invulnerability.
There’s also a gameplay trend that is only used occasionally in the game, but caused more than a smidget of irritation for me, and that’s a series of very precise jumps Adol must make to get a hidden item. You are ideally suppose to use some kind of dash jump to get them, but the game never teaches you or requests that you learn this move beyond these segments, and you can barely, just barely get to these goals by jumping at the last second. It’s a complete stop in the action as you desperately try to nail each jump, fall into a hole, and then crawl back up in order to try again. It’s just padding that gets in the way of the overall experience.
Another similar factor for me were a few of the dungeons and their often maze-like structure, with the Limewater cave in particular being obnoxious, as there are almost fifty screens to traverse based on landmarks alone in a dark and samey looking environment filled with one way secrets. Said level also features quite a few status inflicting enemies, which are annoying, but not much more than that if you are well equipped, have status nullifying items, and are sure to dig through the menu, equip them, exit the menu, and then unequip them for more valuable accessories.
It’s a confusing element of the game’s design, not unlike the healing items that players spammed during boss battles or the inability to pause during boss battles. Yet the most baffling element, meaning the worst in this case scenario, is the lead up the the end of the game, which I never reached. According to a walkthrough I used in order to avoid spending several hours searching for the game’s many obscure side quests, you should be level 55-60 for the end of the game, on the higher end if you want to fight an optional, harder boss. Normally, this would not be a problem, and I could just grind by going through an awesome final area, but no, instead the final area is pretty terrible for grinding, and the enemies quickly become worthless once you reach, say, level fifty. Meaning that the next five to ten levels are a test of the player’s patience. Even when I came up with a strategy where I would make use of a super move to kill four enemies every twenty seconds or so, it still felt like it would inflate this 11 hour game’s length by an extra four or five just to get my stats high enough for the final bosses.
Ys VI also has a bit of a problem when it comes to making a lot of things clear to the player, as there are plenty of secret items, in addition to optional bosses hidden throughout the game’s world, some of which have a finite period of time where the player can obtain them. The worst offender has to be an accessory hidden in the middle of an escort mission, where the enemies are designed specifically so they will hit the foolish lemmings behind you who lack the insight to stand back and let the man with the sword protect them. A close second is a series of bosses who get upgraded versions of themselves and obtain new items right before the endgame. I was honestly expecting the series to be a bit better about this kind of thing as it lacked an original for it to stay true to, but in the end, I can only imagine how much time I would waste and how irritated I would be playing this game without a guide.
Not that traveling through the game’s is in any way not fun, as I do truly enjoy the combat in these games in just about all of its forms, due pretty greatly to the production values. I already touched on this subseries’ lovely looking visual style that is a mix and match of unintensive 3D, quality sprite based textures, and a barrage of explosive and shiny graphical effects that manages to look fantastic, thanks in part to a couple layers of anti-aliasing. I truly do wish that these games had more of a fanbase, as I would love to see a style similar to this be adopted by developers.
It’s just a shame that, even after spending forty or so collective hours with this art style, I still cannot look at the pre rendered character sprite and think that it looks appropriate. Enemies look fine in the art style, but Adol and most of the other NPCs have odd proportions and come off as out of place in what is otherwise an otherwise gorgeous visual style. The soundtrack also warrants quite a good deal of praise, being energetic, atmospheric, and consistently enjoyable throughout the experience, often inspiring an onward march to adventure.
At its best, that’s exactly what Vs VI: Ark of Napishtim is, an onward energetic action filled adventure. Yet, being the first of its kind, I could not help but feel it was a less impressive versions of the titles that came after it, and had gripes that makes many aspects of the game unsavory and a bit difficult to recommend. I did enjoy my time with it despite not reaching the end, but I enjoyed my time more with Oath in Felghana and Origin more, which is always a big problem when playing games out of order.
Not the best of its class, but ultimately a good game that may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but proves to be enjoyable despite some difficult to ignore issues.