An Hour With Ys: The Oath In Felghana

By Alec Meer on March 20th, 2012 at 7:41 pm.

Sawdust & Diamonds, sort of

Currently doing rather well for itself on the Steam bestsellers chart, XSEED’s milk-eyed JRPG Ys: The Oath In Felghana has been recommended to me by various corners of the internet. If you can stand to hear me harp on for a moment, I can tell you a little about it. A little? Well, I only played about 60 minutes of it, but have one hour on me.

For the first fifteen minutes, I screamed. It’s all cutscene all the way, as boring cutsey pixel-people say boring things about something I couldn’t give the faintest hoot about. I clicked and I hammered and I slammed and the talking just would not stop. With the game lacking an imaginative setting or an obvious hook, I was mere moments away from writing a post which may well have quite literally read SCREW YOU YS YOU’RE EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH GAMING. Then, finally, it relented. I was in.

It turned out to be a surprisingly wild time, and at odds with the increasingly negative preconceptions I’d developed during the waffly crap in the intro. An action-RPG requiring high-velocity death-dealing with a combination of sword and spell, it was exciting, it had a wonderfully silly soundtrack (Andrew WK let loose with a MIDI system, essentially) and a whole lot of things died at my hands incredibly quickly. I felt like a tiny god with a ridiculous haircut, and lo it was good.

Well, until I hit an irksome boss that required precisely-timed jumps and mastery of a finicking spell-aiming system to defeat (checking the setting that interprets analogue commands as digital is a must if you’re using a gamepad, which is also a must). I was fourth time lucky in defeating it, but I knew didn’t have the will to press on with something that would so casually interrupt joyful, high-speed monster-bashing. But the monster bashing that led up to that is indeed joyful and high-speed, a sort of lunatic take on Zelda or stuff like Chantelise and Fortune Summoners. I can totally see why it’s garnering so much attention and it had a playfulness that’s lacking in most Western action-RPGs.

It’s fairly pretty too, a fusion of 3D environments and sprites and a large-ish hub city to wander around picking up new gear and, when scripting permits, quests, but while I dig the frenzy of it the tedious conversations and flow-wrecking boss fights mean it isn’t ultimately something I want to persevere with. Which isn’t a dismissal of the genre, just an honest admission that I get my happyfuntimes elsewhere. This certainly seems to sidestep many of JRPGs’ tropes in favour of something more agreeably frenzied, so I can see the appeal and if I didn’t have enough games to break a battleship’s back stretching ahead of me, I suspect I’d give it more time.

Here’s a trailer for you:

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95 Comments »

  1. DiTH says:

    I think i didnt understand something on the article or the trailer is a bit off?
    Is it my fault i dont know Joanna Newsom? Should i run naked on the street?

    • fookolt says:

      I was going to say…What’s with the Joanna Newsom video?

      Is this some meta-viral ARG that we’re just too lowly to get?

    • parm says:

      She did an album called “Ys”, and that.

      Edit: I see Spruce just said the same thing. Streams: crossed.

    • mazzratazz says:

      Also the first paragraph has two thinly concealed references to her two other album titles (and a delightful pun in the form of “harp on”).

    • Metonymy says:

      Holy Mother of GOD, nobody gives a flip whether an artist can sing anymore, do they? Why do people record abortions like that? Don’t they realize that it will be heard…by other people? That’s worse than the about-to-die band at the local senior center.

      Sinatra, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Julie Andrews, and 1000 others? Are we going to look for these kinds of artists again?

      • Jason Moyer says:

        Phht. None of those guys hold a candle to Senesino and Farinelli. Whatever happened to Anna Renzi, Faustina Bordoni or Francesca Cuzzoni. When I was your age, the castrati were nimble and the harpsichord was untempered. Kids.

        • Metonymy says:

          Id say theres a 50% chance I’m younger than you. By sarcastically bringing age into the discussion, you merely demonstrate your insecurity.

          • Kieron Gillen says:

            I dunno. I suspect you being over-defensive against a gag is the thing which really speaks of insecurity here.

            You sound like an old dude, dude. It doesn’t matter if you’re old or not. Relax.

            KG

        • Shiny says:

          I was just thinking that this comment thread needed a Bach reference, and lo, here it is.

      • therealPH says:

        When she screeches, it kinda makes me want to kill myself. But I haven’t finished ME3 yet, so I guess i’ll put it off.

      • elnalter says:

        singing badly is the hipster thing. sounds like a bjork ripoff

      • Raiyne says:

        I saw her live early last year, it was mesmerising. I bought her album after the show. I really like her singing, I think she sounds great! She has a really unique style, I think.

        But keep in mind, the video was taken in 2006. She developed vocal cord nodules in 2009, and the timbre of her voice has changed after recovering from them.

      • Synesthesia says:

        shoo! shoo! go gather dust somewhere else.

      • Premium User Badge

        Paraquat says:

        Yeesh. It’s a lovely song. Art isn’t always about virtuosity, y’know.

  2. Taedirk says:

    Good to know about the digital input option. I’m right at that annoying boss and had to quit to remap keys (couldn’t hold down Magic while jumping).

  3. Fastkarate says:

    The Ys games seem like a super strange choice for Steam, but whatever. I’m happy for companies like XSEED to have whatever revenue streams they can get their hands on. It keeps them bringing over weird stuff that other companies neglect.

    What I found most satisfying about Oath in Felghana was its lack of healing items. It’s a game that requires absolute technical proficiency instead of brute force, a commitment to skill that most jRPGs are lacking.

    Not that ALL jRPGs should be super tense, technical slogfests, but one or two more games like Oath in Felghana would be just great.

    • Ringwraith says:

      Well, the Ys games did come out on PC many moons ago…
      It’s more of a return to its old ways.

    • Premium User Badge

      RedViv says:

      I think that the future of some of XSEED’s already licensed games is partially responsible for this choice. In particular continuing with Trails in the Sky. The next game would be a PSP release, on two UMDs, which seems to create additional distribution and compatibility problems when purely digital, and all that while the Vita is already out.
      On the other hand, Japanese PC games are rarely translated and published as such, their ports released much more often than the originals, so this is a niche very worth sounding out. Especially with the success of small titles like Recettear.

      Well, all this in response to them releasing games on the PC, unless you were referring to Steam itself being the strange choice, to which I would only reply that the biggest sales driving platform on the current digital distribution market is hardly anywhere near strange to consider.

      • Fastkarate says:

        I’d completely forgotten that Ys were PC games back in the day!

        Keyboard, what an amazingly awful way to play a game like Ys.

        • Premium User Badge

          RedViv says:

          Well, that’s what people made PC gamepads for. Or joysticks. Or numerous other devices the world has largely forgotten about.
          Best of both worlds. Good tech AND nice controls?

  4. JackDandy says:

    I pirated it for the PSP some time ago.
    The game kicked a whole lot of ass, so I just might buy this on Steam to make up for my sin.

    Also, “Flow wrecking boss battles”? The boss fights are the best thing about the Ys series IMO.

    • Dominic White says:

      As far as I can recall, Alec has never liked bosses in any game. You could give him a copy of Gunstar Heroes, and he’d still probably grumble about it.

      Also, echoing that the bosses are the best part of the game. And they get all-new attack patterns and moves on the higher difficulty settings, adding quite a bit of replay value.

      • RizziSmoov says:

        Who can hate Curry and Rice?

      • Alec Meer says:

        That’s not strictly true – it’s that I don’t enjoy bosses which require memorising attack patterns and similar. Give me something that requires thought rather than repetition and you’ll have my attention. I can admire the visual imagination of a trad. boss in the Nintendian vein like this while not enjoying that all it’s really testing is my patience (which is in short supply at the best of times).

        The tentacle boss in Half-Life is an (admittedly old) example of the kind of boss I get more of a kick out of. The level’s built around it, it requires tactics and caution and observation and puzzle-solving, rather than being a matter of grinding away hit points.

        More recently and relevantly, the Binding of Isaac bosses were a good time. They’re explosive and inventive flashpoints that provide quickfire memorable moments in between the meat of the game. Whereas the one that pissed me off here was six or seven minutes of timing jumps as a pre-set, non-reacting routine endlessly looped.

        • Premium User Badge

          LTK says:

          “The tentacle boss in Half-Life…”
          Took me a while to remember that one. I must have subconsciously repressed its memory. But now it’s all coming back. The laboured wailing of the three green monstrosities. The doomed security guard, reduced to gibs in a second. The bone-shaking, deafening barrage of three obsidian-like nose-blades hammering against reinforced steel after picking up the slightest noise.

          So I won’t be the only one not sleeping tonight.

      • Vagrant says:

        Shadow of the Colossus: Worst Game Ever! ~Alec Meer
        (note: may or may not be an actual quote)

        I really like the boss fights in most Ys games (except Book 1!), but they require way too much grinding.

        Also, this one had a few finicky bosses, like that one fire serpent.

        • Wizardry says:

          Just to throw this out there, I actually played Shadow of the Colossus and I do in fact think it’s one of the worst games I’ve ever played.

          • Vagrant says:

            You don’t like anything that doesn’t involve telling people what to do next, then watching the enemy take it’s turn, ad infinium!

          • Kieron Gillen says:

            To be fair to Wizardry, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most over-rated games of the last decade.

            KG

          • Pointless Puppies says:

            To be fair to the general population, it really isn’t.

          • Casimir Effect says:

            To Wizardry and Kieron: I love you for saying this.

          • Wizardry says:

            And to tie in to what Kieron said, the reason I even played the game was because of all the hype surrounding it. Overrated? Definitely.

          • Premium User Badge

            jrodman says:

            Thus demonstrating that buying into hype destroys enjoyment.

            The game was fantastic, but I went in expecting almost exactly what I got. I have a variety of gripes but it’s still amazing.

          • Demiath says:

            Absolute nonsense. I hate boss fights without qualifications but Shadow of the Colossus is still one of the best, most artistically refined games of all time. Three notes of SotC’s sublime soundtrack is all it takes for the game to exceed the supposed maturity of pretentious games like Planescape Torment and derivative garbage like Dreamfall with approximately 523,45%. I have done the math, and the laws of nature agree with me.

          • Wizardry says:

            “It’s a really good good because the soundtrack is so wonderful!”

            I don’t know why but I can’t take people seriously when the first positive thing they mention about a game is the music. Perhaps that has something to do with me playing computer games back before they even had music. I don’t know.

          • Vagrant says:

            It was TOTALLY overrated, because Ico was 10x better. I could make other arguments as well:

            Framerate sucked, colossi sucked unless you played on hard, ending shouldn’t give you near-infinite grip, and there was nothing interesting you could by exploring that you wouldn’t find by just following your glowing sword.

            Ys, on the other hand, is cheezy awesomeness.

          • Ragnar says:

            Which just goes to show that people have different tastes.

            I loved Shadow of the Colossus. My framerate was just fine. The colossi were awesome. I found the world itself very interesting to explore, to wonder what had happened that left all those ruins, and what had been there before. And I liked that the glowing sword lead me in the right direction after I was done exploring, rather than leaving me lost and aimless. Playing Shadow of the Colossus is one of my most memorable gaming experiences.

        • InternetBatman says:

          It wasn’t on PC, which means that yes, it could quite possibly be the worst game ever.

    • illuminerdi says:

      The boss fights are my favorite parts of the game!

      I suppose it really is a matter of opinion as some people love them and some hate them, so YMMV with this game.

      Me personally? I am SO FREAKING STOKED that this has finally gotten a western (non-PSP) release, and Ys Origin comes out soon.

      RPS should love Ys Origin more, since it’s WAY more combat heavy than Ys: OiF is. It’s basically just a climb up a giant tower with one of three characters. So if you love the combat, Ys: Origin is the better of the two.

  5. Premium User Badge

    LTK says:

    So… How do you pronounce Ys? “iss”? “eez”? “whys”?

    • mazzratazz says:

      eess!

    • Valvarexart says:

      イース, of course!

      • Bhazor says:

        So “crooked T – wonky dash- the frequency of any given wave”?

        • Mattressi says:

          Maybe “shear stress minus the wavelength”? Doesn’t make sense, but it sure makes more sense than having “Ys” for a name.

          • Premium User Badge

            Harlander says:

            I think I saw an anime called Shear Stress: Minus The Wavelength.

          • Jae Armstrong says:

            it sure makes more sense than having “Ys” for a name.

            In case you’re unaware, “Ys” is the name of a fabled Breton city, which I believe on of the regions in the series is named after.

        • Jae Armstrong says:

          イ = i, pronounced “ih”
          ー = sound lengthening mark, so i -> ii, pronounced “ee”
          ス = su

          “ee-su”

          The “u” sound is often elided or swallowed in Japanese, so “ees” is possible.

          What Memph said, basically. :P

    • Chizu says:

      Personally I like yuhz

      But officially, eez/ees is correct.

    • Memph says:

      Ease

      edit: ohh, wrong. this from the xseed blokey on the steam forums:

      “‘Ease’ is acceptable, but the absolute most correct pronunciation is like saying the word “fleece” without the ‘fl.’”

  6. Crane says:

    “Iz” with a half-voiced ‘y’ on the front, personally.

    • yabonn says:

      What’s a correct pronounciation anyway?

      But the people in Brittany do it eess, as mazzratazz says.

  7. Freud says:

    I enjoy numbers over the heads of enemies more than I should.

    • Yuri says:

      ‘Tis a rather strange infliction indeed. But not insufferable, quite the contrary.

  8. gritz says:

    Can’t say I’m a huge JRPG fan but I hope this takes off so we can see Japan’s enormous catalog of excellent turn based tactical RPG’s on the PC.

    I’ve always been surprised that the likes of Shining Force, FF Tactics, Tactics Ogre, the Fire Emblem series and the Altus games haven’t had analogs on the PC. All the griddy turn-based stuff we get is Heroes/Kings Field stack-based games on comparatively tiny grids.

    • Zelius says:

      How about actually bringing those games to PC, rather than just analogs. I mean, Square Enix should be familiar enough with Steam by now, considering several of their published PC games use it. Surely they can see that bringing simple ports of those old games to PC could turn a profit. Especially since they’re already actively porting them to iOS.

    • Wizardry says:

      What are you on about? King’s Field is a Japanese first person action game. I’m guessing you mean King’s Bounty.

      And you’re also entirely wrong. The west have had a lot of turn-based tactical RPGs. It’s just everyone chooses to ignore their existence.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      FFT was refurbished into FFT: War of the Lions and re-released first on the PSP, then the Ipad. I’d rather like to see it come to PC’s, it was the best Final Fantasy (up until the middle-end where it went ballsout crazy with the fantasy half of it, frankly I was rather enjoying the greytoned civil war ala shakespeare with magic bolts of fire thing it had going on)

      • Ragnar says:

        There’s always emulators. I much prefer playing FFT on an emulator on my computer or phone than playing it on my PS2 / PS3. Being able to save mid-battle via save states was a huge benefit, but I assume they must have added some sort of mid-battle save to the portable version.

        That said, I’d be pretty happy if they ported it over to PC or released an enhanced version. The music in the original FFT is great, but the sound effects force me to turn the sound off, and I assume that’s been remedied in the portable version.

    • Zerbin says:

      Sega actually did port Shining Force 1 & 2 to Steam. Straight port, no frills, but still.

    • Rhin says:

      I know this be blasphemy, but I bought a Nintendo DS to play Fire Emblem games (And Advance Wars series! And Shin Megami Tensei! and TWEWY! and the list goes on…)

  9. engion3 says:

    The textures look bland in the trailer, hopefully someone releases high res.

  10. tossrStu says:

    This looks like a funny little thing. A funny, funny little thing.

  11. Dominic White says:

    Do keep in mind that the game is about 7 years old. Falcom are one of the few Japanese PC studios that have stayed true to the PC, but this is just about the first time they’ve got a localized official release. Hopefully the huge sales-spike they’re probably seeing from Steam will give them a little more incentive to keep bringing stuff to the PC.

    There’s another, more recent Ys game coming in a couple of months, also via XSeed.

    • Chizu says:

      That’d be true if they hadn’t stopped PC development in 2009 and started releasing games exclusively on the PSP.

      Maybe if this does well it might prompt some new pc ports, would quite like to see Seven and Trails in the Sky on PC

      • Premium User Badge

        RedViv says:

        Didn’t they just get some exclusive deal to get more Trails on the Sony handhelds? Mind you, my memories (and apparently those of the internet) are quite foggy, after three years.
        Anyway, there are PC ports of all the released Trails games and Ys Seven (made for China), and PSP games are barely selling as it is. It should not be too much of a problem to make a profit here.

        • Chizu says:

          Oh, I missed that Trails had had a PC release.
          Well then, hopefully XSEED will send that our way aswell.

    • Aemony says:

      The game have already cracked the Top Sellers list on Steam and currently resides on 8th place, above Kingdoms of Amalur. Remember that the list is based on generated revenue, not units sold, so it’s definitely doing rather good for itself.

  12. RegisteredUser says:

    Sorry, I don’t know where to put this kind of thing and I don’t know about email or tweet or whatever.

    Doublebear is thinking about crowdsourcing the Zombie Apocalypse game(DEAD STATE) via Kickstarter .

    Felt this was worthy of RPS coverage.

    Thread here:

    http://www.irontowerstudio.com/forum/index.php/topic,2482.0.html

    Btw, does my comment account double as a forum account?
    Should I’ve just posted over there or something?

  13. Vagrant says:

    Massive Ys fan here, take all with a grain of salt. This was my least favorite Ys game (I liked it better when it was side scrolling! Harumph!), so don’t let it scare you from any other of the series. Haven’t played Origin yet, though.

    The music in 3 is great though. But the levels were dull and the only truly great boss fight was Chester.

    I do hope they give a US release to Ys Eternal I & II, because that game(s) are absolutely sublime. I like 1′s compast world and story, and 2′s boss fights that almost play like a top-down shooter. Also, the simple joy of literally charging through weaker enemies makes me smile. If someone would translate Ys V, my life will be complete.

  14. Chizu says:

    I’d been meaning to play Ys for the longest time, and a friend was kind enough to gift this to me when it showed up on steam, so perfect opportunity.
    I like it, I even like the boss fights, but those are far more about memorising attack patterns than anything else, also they hit hard as hell, I got the “achievement” for dying to a single boss more than 10 times on the 3rd boss. Who kicked my arse relentlessly, till I quit, and then ran back to town to level up my gear. At which point I flattened him.

    As someone who’s dabbled about in jap doujin titles before, this kinda game is right up my alley.

    Also Ys: Origin is coming to steam soon, which has never had an English release, as it was PC only, and only the console/handheld ports had previously been localized.

    Now if I could just find the funds to get Fortune Summoners to complement Capitalism and Extreme Penguin Fishing (Recettear/Chantelise).

  15. Kleppy says:

    Oh god that woman with the harp is awful.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      Her harp playing is nice, but she should really close her mouth.

  16. Premium User Badge

    frame says:

    The game looks like the aspect ratio is broken. Kinda affects my mood to buy the game.

    • Dominic White says:

      You need to play it in 4:3 resolution for the time being – the game came out before widescreen was common for PCs. The next patch is adding semi-hacked 16:9 support, apparently.

      If your GPU won’t automatically letterbox it if you pick a 4:3 resolution, just use windowed mode.

      • Premium User Badge

        frame says:

        Thanks! Windowed works fine for me. (Strange that the publisher uses stretched fullscreen screenshots to promote the game)

        • RyuRanX says:

          @frame

          Aspect Ratio Fix

          To do this open up the ysf_win_dx9.exe in a hexeditor. Search for AB AA AA 3F and replace it with 39 8E E3 3F (16:9), or CD CC CC 3F which is (16:10).

  17. Alextended says:

    I hope this “it’s too hard to be fun” sentiment won’t be very prelevant here, whether it’s an action game or something more strategic in question. The bosses are definitely a big part of the fun in these games, they’re tough but they’re absolutely fair and it’s only your skill that stops you from defeating them (there’s a Very Easy mode to try too for newcomers). Even after a death you also tend to have gained enough knowledge to perform far better on the next try (with no delays, you can just click retry and restart the fight instead of go back to an old save or check point) if not outright win.

    The game might be likened to a sort of Mana series (as a hack and slash dungeon centric JRPG with nifty combat systems as well as gear and skill upgrades that enable you to visit previously unreachable areas you caught glimpses of) meets Mega Man (with the sort of timing required and the various attack patterns the bosses use, and then mix up once they go below a certain amount of health) blend.

    I agree that you should play with digital inputs (it’s a shame the 360 controller’s d-pad doesn’t actually function by default, though the PC gamers here probably have all sorts of tools to enable its use in this and other games) but that’s not a flaw or anything, that sort of control works best for various genres.

    Anyway, Ys seems like a pretty cool series and this game appears to be of the better entries so far (my first was Ys Seven which wasn’t as fun, though it was also easier). It also looks quite pretty outside technical issues due to its age (such as the lack of widescreen, which is easy to overlook with the driver level options we have these days), it goes to show that you don’t need a huge budget for something that ends up quite pleasing to the eye while still having a larger scope than your average low budget game out there. I’d only really like the ability to zoom out a little and rotate the camera in the outdoor areas. It makes me wish for new Grandia, Xenogears, and other such great games in the same way I want Wasteland 2.

    I’m sure lots of people here will like the game, if I’m not mistaken Recettear got a decent following. Ys might lack the inventive hook of having you run an item shop or similar but it’s definitely a far more accomplished game in every other way that matters, especially gameplay.

  18. Hatsworth says:

    I was fourth time lucky in defeating it, but I knew didn’t have the will to press on with something that would so casually interrupt joyful, high-speed monster-bashing.

    But that’s the best part! If it was all mindless monster mashing it would be a bad game. The non-interactive parts I could do without though.

    I’m really liking that there are more Japanese games coming out for PC slash getting localized. Binary Domain was just announced, and Dark Souls is — dare I say it — seeming likely at this point. Now if only Cave would stop mucking about on phones, and Platinum would let their games truly shine on a powerful system… Edit: Apparently Catherine is rumoured to get a PC port too, less enthused about that, but Atlus supporting PC would be good. In my dreams they’d make a Trauma Center for PC.

  19. cyphercolt says:

    Glad to see this game finally made it to steam! I played the japanese version with the english translation patch. Great game!

    Finally some achievements :D

  20. olpolpolpolp says:

    http://lnk.co/ILTHN
    this stuff is very cool

  21. Jae Armstrong says:

    Anisotropic filter: 128-tap (16 samples)

    I, i, is that a thing? Will it melt my gfx card?

    EDIT: Clarification: I know what AF is, I’ve just never seen anything offering that high a degree of it.

    Actually, been a while since I’ve seen an AF option at all.

    • DPB says:

      The part in the brackets is the relevant bit, it’s just an elaborate way of saying 16x AF.

  22. vaendryl says:

    OMG how dare RPG’s have actual story and dialogue at the start of a game!
    you, dear author, are what’s wrong with rpg’s players these days. go back to reviewing the slews of FPS’s that come out just for you.

  23. Urthman says:

    There’s just something really appealing about SNES-style graphics with a modern, high-resolution interface.

  24. kylehlogan says:

    I did about nine laughs when I saw the Joanna Newsom video.

  25. Casimir's Blake says:

    MY GOD

    Ys games in ENGLISH released OFFICIALLY on PC. One of the finest JRPG (that aren’t “JRPG”) series in existence with some of the best game soundtracks ever. Released on Steam. For PC. And they’re probably going to follow up with Ys Origins soon, apparently.

    Between this and From Software considering a PC release of Dark Souls and – MORE IMPORTANTLY – reconsidering a return to King’s Field…

    Single player RPG gaming on PC isn’t quite such an MMO/over-head-dungeon-slasher wasteland any more. Excellent!