Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Emasculation Quest Part 1 - Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Some time ago, I had the pleasure of finishing Ys:  The Oath in Felghana.  While the game itself is fairly short (you can probably complete the entire thing -- particularly if you've played previous incarnations -- in about 6-8 hours), I hit a few snags along the way which delayed its completion.

Namely, hubris.

Ys:  Oath in Felghana is an upgraded version of Ys III:  Wanderers from Ys.  The game originated on the PC Engine CD, and since then, has been ported to a number of consoles:  Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and PS2 to name a few.  Years later, Falcolm upgraded the engine, changed some gameplay mechanics, and pretty much remade the entire game for the PC, which was later ported to the incarnation I played -- the PSP version.  Ys III has been around the block more than a few times, in terms of ports.

Yes, even more than Lunar.

I played the game back in its Super Nintendo days quite a few times.  I knew the story, I knew the basics of which points I had to go to next, I remembered most of the bosses.  As for the upgraded and change in gameplay mechanics?  I was told that the game played closer to Ys VI:  The Ark of Naphistim.  No problem!  I finished that game (amazingly) in a weekend and had a blast.  What else could have changed?

Quite a bit, actually.

Namely the difficulty.

If you go in playing Ys:  The Oath in Felghana assuming that this a similar game to the Wanderers from Ys game you played in your youth, then you'll be sorely mistaken.  Even on some of the lower difficulties the game can be a humbling experience, but if you manage to tough it out you'll be rewarded with a game that has an amazing story, well-written dialogue, and, per norm with Falcom, one of the most amazing soundtracks ever.

Knowing One's Limits - Some Background

For the uninitiated, the Ys (pronounced "ease") follows the journeys of Adol Christin as he travels across the world in search of adventure.  Adol doesn't have any mystic powers, tragic past, or a radical agenda:  He's simply curious about the world and has a desire to explore every inch of it.  Along the way he makes plenty of friends (such as Dogi, his constant companion), even more enemies, and accumulates his fair share of weapons that he manages to never have by the start of the next entry in the series.

Suffice to say, Adol is a pretty straightforward character, but the nice part about it is that it opens the world of Ys up to an endless series of adventures.  Part of what Felghana does in its refinement is acknowledge this, as the narrator notes that the number of journals that Adol has written about his travels numbers in the thousands, giving leeway for countless sequels to the game that sort of make sense.  Certain series could take a hint from this:

Anyhow, when I first heard about Oath in Felghana, it was as the aforementioned PC release in Japan.  I quickly wrote it off as one of those things that I'd love to play, but that we'd likely never get over here.  My hopes were raised slightly when I heard it was ported to PSP, but again I didn't have much hope:  After all, cool RPGs or action RPGs being released in Japan, even ports, is the norm.

No pressure, Namco-Bandai.
So you can imagine my excitement when this iteration of the Ys series was released here.  It was a day 1 purchase for me (the limited edition, since it came with a soundtrack, which I'll get to later), but came with one problem:  XSeed had already released Ys Seven prior, which I was already in the middle of.  Since I didn't want to play the series out of order (even though I'd played Wanderers from Ys countless time), I put down Seven and picked up Felghana.  Yes, I know, it's a weird way of thinking for some, but such an event is not without precedent in my backlog:

It made sense to finish the first game before playing this one, you know.
I will admit that sometimes it leads to delayed gratification of truly awesome games:

..Utterings of an HD DMC collection for 1-3 isn't helping things here.
..And that other times it can be a little absurd:

I have this game coming to me soon.  I still haven't finished Disgaea 1, 2, or 3.  Don't judge me.
But there are other times where it saves me from, or at least delays painful experiences:

..I have to play this eventually, don't I?

..Any, I digress.  This wouldn't happen with Felghana.  No sweat, right?  I'd finished the game before.  I'd take a lovely romp down memory lane with enhanced graphics and be back to Seven in no time.  I started Oath around this time last year while I was paying a visit to the Enabler.  I didn't finish it until sometime this past July.  I still haven't touched Seven yet.  
"What happened, Ayn?" you might ask (or not, but just humor me this time, ok?).

Let's go back to my previous point in the introduction to this post:  Hubris.

When I turned on Felghana, I made the mistake of choosing the Hard difficulty (which is two notches below "Nightmare"), since I had played through a previous incarnation of the game before and was accustomed to Naphistim, which the game plays closely to.  However, upping the difficulty in this game isn't a simple matter of monsters gaining more hit points, and Adol, your fiery haired protagonist, taking more damage.  Oh no my friends.  In addition to monsters becoming stronger, they gain entirely new attacks.  

Worse, it creeps up on you gradually.  The first few bosses were a bit harder, but still beatable.  By the time I got to the magma zone, the boss of that area was running circles around me.  Well flying, actually.  To give you an idea of what a prick Guilen, The Fire Eater, is, take a look at this video; this is an example of the Nightmare setting, which is a few notches harder than what I dealt with.

It's like if you were playing the original Super Mario Brothers, coming across Bowser on the third stage, and seeing that, instead of shooting out his dinky fireballs and hopping in an easily predictable fashion, he came at you with a tank:

Good luck reaching that axe, Mario.

If I am anything, however, I am determined.  After dozens of failed attempts, I managed to beat Guilen.  It was a proud moment for me:  There's a certain satisfaction to be taken from beating a boss -that- difficult.  It's the same sort of rush some people get from beating the excruciatingly difficult bonus bosses in any of Tri-Ace's games.  With renewed vigor, I proceeded to exit the circle of hell I'd been stuck in for the past month.

..Only to come across this fucking guy:

Words cannot begin to describe my intense loathing for Gyalva.
It'd been years since I played Wanderers, so I had almost forgotten about the boss you fought upon exiting the lava pit.  I remember him being somewhat difficult, but manageable.  Now?  Complete asshole.  Rather than describe the battle to you in excruciating detail, I have yet another video of someone who's much better at this game than me.

Since I was looking at this game through the lens of the past, I was more accustomed to fighting something more like this:

Back when I was busy fighting Guilen (over, and over, and over again), and even while I was at the Enabler's, I rationalized that it would probably make more sense for me to just swallow my pride and start the game over on normal difficulty if I wanted to finish it in a reasonable time frame.  Sheer bullheadedness prevented me from doing it while fighting Guilen.  After getting trounced by Gyalva time, and time, and time, and time again, however, I begrudgingly admitted to myself that I wasn't quite as good at the game as I thought I was.

However, it was for the best.  In the process of eating my humble pie, I was able to not only finish the game, but play through what is truly an awesome game.

Out with the old, in with the new

Going through Felghana on normal still wasn't what I'd call a walk in the park.  It was humbling to lose to the bosses repeatedly on this difficulty, but after a certain point I began to welcome the challenge.  The game, however, boasts plenty of other refinements that essentially makes it an entirely new experience even if you've played the original.  Focusing on each of those would be a post I could spend hours on.  Instead, I'm going to focus on the two biggest points (aside from the fun gameplay itself) that kept me playing even when I was getting my ass kicked repeatedly:  The characters and the music.


Surprisingly enough, when I mention characters, I'm not talking about Adol.  Sadly, much like another red-haired hero, Adol is a silent protagonist.  In the original Wanderers game, he actually had a personality and quite a few lines of spoken dialogue.  It's likely that Falcom decided to make this incarnation congruent with the other games in the series, however, where he doesn't talk.

However, much like Crono (and the main character of Persona 4, too), you get a sense of his personality from how other characters interact with him.  Since most Ys games are a solo journey (Dogi's a non-controllable character), the weight of this task falls primarily on the NPCs.  On top of this, Ys only has one town which serves as your main hub, pretty much limiting the number of people you interact with.

However, like most Falcom games, it's about quality and not quantity.  In redoing this game, Falcom made it so that pretty much every single character in the game has something noteworthy to say.  The game makes it so that you want to converse with each character after coming back from a major plot point, because such a good job is done of showing how the most recent events have affected them.  To put how much they've fleshed characters out in perspective, let's talk about Berhardt:  In the original, he was a moderately important character simply because he had an actual name and was Dogi's old master.  In the remake, he goes from some random guy that lives on the mountain, to having a backstory involving training Dogi, as well as one of the game's primary antagonists, in addition to being an ex-mercenary.  He also shows up near the end of the game to help save the village from being overrun by monsters.

Like a boss.

But it's not just moderately important characters like Berhardt.  Everyone, even the item shop mistress and the blacksmith, have multiple lines of dialogue that change throughout the game.

Service with more than a "Welcome to Corneria!"
Even Chester, one of the main antagonists of the game receives considerably more screen time than he did in the previous, and made into much more of a badass.  Rather than be the guy who shows up a few times throughout the game and says a few condescending words to Adol (and at one point, throws him into the magma zone), much more of his background and motivations are revealed, and you know deal with him in a boss fight.

You have to deal with more of his condescending attitude as well, though.
These are just a few examples of what Felghana does with its characters.  Admittedly, I shouldn't have been surprised considering that Ark of Naphistim did the same thing with its characters (though you had two towns instead of 1), but it's nice to see nevertheless.

But you know what's even nicer?  The tunes.

Musical Genius

I'm not going to lie:  A big part of why I bought this game was to experience the soundtrack, and it doesn't disappoint.  I won't spend a great deal of time elaborating, but instead I'll share with you the first tune linked David to while I was playing the game.  Listen to it before you read further:
Did you listen to it?  Seriously?  Good.  That my friends, is the basic overworld theme.  In the original, it's the theme that played right before you went into a dungeon.  In Oath, it's theme that plays as you travel the main road between locations.  The music just gets progressively better.

If for whatever reason, you're not a fan of the remixed themes, the game gives you the option to change between the MSX or PC Engine versions of the song.  The problem here?  ALL of them sound excellent.  Music plays a huge part in setting the mood for a game, and even a rather mediocre game can be made tolerable with an excellent soundtrack.  Oath in Felghana takes a great game and an equally great soundtrack to create what you just heard.

Do yourself a favor and go look up a playlist from the game.  Seriously.

Closing Thoughts

It's funny, really.  When I bought this game, I never imagined that it would become something that would be part of the backlog.  Something so familiar to me in many ways should have been something I breezed through, especially considering how enjoyable it was.  As I mentioned before, Oath in  Felghana isn't a particularly long game.  There are a few incentives to replay it, such as carrying over elements from your previous playthrough (think something similar to the grade shop in the newer Tales games), but the main reason to do so would be because you simply enjoy the gameplay, or the awesome music.

Who knows?  This might be one of those games I actually revisit when I whittle down the backlog a bit more.  If nothing else, however, it was a valuable lesson that I continue to struggle with:  That sometimes, it's about enjoying the journey through the game rather than being obsessed with completing it in a certain way.

Now I just have to keep telling myself that as I play through the other oh. . .well, you know, I'm not even going to count how much I have left.

Until next time, keep playing.  I know I certainly will.

..Just at a lower difficulty on my initial plays.


Kaishi Axon said...

I just received the Steam build of this game, and I'm very excited to play it. I added it to my wishlist based on this review, and a friend bought it for me for my birthday. So, indirectly, thanks to you as well!

I haven't played any of the Ys games, but I'm interested in them. I'm also looking forward to future titles from XSEED that they'll be releasing on Steam, so I hear.

Ayn said...

Hey, glad the post could influence someone to pick up this game (and by extension, this series). Felghana is a good entry point into it, for sure.

Be sure to pick up Origin when that hits Steam, too.. which can't be soon enough for me.