With Ys IX finally out in English and for the masses willing to fork over a bit of extra money for a niche RPG game, it’s high time we made a quick feature about the long-running Falcom series a sliver of people know about.
So let’s break it down into a buttload of questions people would ask about this seemingly alien series. We won’t go into full detail about its lore (go to YouTube for that sort of deep-diving) but we can tell you what makes this series tick and which entry you should start with.
Let’s begin the FAQing!
How do you pronounce “Ys”?
It’s pronounced “is-su”. It sounds more like “ease” if you want to pronounce the title out loud. Not “Wai-ess” or “Waiss; just “eease”.
The series’ full title is Ancient Ys Vanished Omens, so shortening it to Ys is a wise move on the creator’s part.
OK, got it. What the hell is an “Is-su”?
Ys is a series of old PC-88 fantasy sword-and-sorcery RPGs that was created by developer/publisher Falcom. You may remember Falcom as the guys who made legacy JRPGs alongside Enix (the Dragon Quest folks) and Square (the Final Fantasy guys). Apart from Ys, they’re renowned for the Dragon Slayer series, and The Legend of Heroes titles.
The Ys series is the brainchild of director/programmer/designer Masaya Hashimoto and scenario writer Tomoyoshi Miyazaki. You may remember those guys as the founders of ’89 JRPG game-changing company Quintet, which deserves a separate & in-depth FAQ of its own.
Wait, why is it called Ys?
Because the first few games – Ys Book I & II– has a plot that revolves around a fantasy floating island called Ys that can seal ancient evils. The name stuck among 80s RPGs fans, which is why it just used the name Ys for future sequels and Falcom marketing purposes.
So the rest of the games do not take place on the island of Ys? If not, where?
Nope. The giant continent the Ys series takes place in is called Eresia. All Ys titles take place in countries and areas in Eresia.
Interesting enough, Eresia is Falcom’s fantasy version of ancient Europe and its neighbouring countries. For example, Ys Book I & II, and Ys III takes place in ancient France, while Ys IV/Ys: Memories of Celceta takes place in an alternate ancient area between Spain and France.
Ys V takes place in Afroca, which is clearly modelled after ancient Africa along with Alexandria. Ys VI takes place in the Great Vortex of Canaan, which is a hybrid of the Bermuda Triangle and Atlantis. Ys VIII takes place on a lost island similar to the ones in Greek mythology. The latest in the series, Ys IX, takes place in a prime city of Gllia, which is Falcom’s version of Gaul.
Wait, there are NINE of these?! Holy crap, is this going to be a slog to follow?
Actually, there are 15 if you count the remakes, the defunct online RPG, and Ys Origin. But to answer the other question: it isn’t.
Unlike a certain Legend(ary) Falcom series, an entry of Ys is usually self-contained and does not have an overarching plot. Yes, the game will include some easter eggs, callbacks, and quips that refer to old games in the Ys series, but it’s not required to enjoy the entry’s main storyline. You don’t need to play through Ys III to understand what’s going on in Ys VI or Ys VII.
Each entry in Ys has a key similarity: they feature the same hero – a red-haired adventurer named Adol Christin. He is usually accompanied by his blue-haired big lug of a pal called Dogi. Most of the time, they will be together on an adventure-slash-predicament.
Do note that because colours are incredibly limited on a PC-88 at the time, having your hero’s head stark-red is a sure-fire way to spot him amidst the bright-coloured pixel RPG world he’s thrust upon. Talk about thinking forward game design-wise!
Apart from the red-haired hero and make-believe Europe, what are the common tropes & recurring themes of a Ys game that tie them all together?
These are the major ones.
(i) Action-heavy and fast-paced real-time combat that’s different with each iteration. The earlier Ys titles require you to, and we’re not making this up, run into an enemy off-angle. Thankfully, Falcom reiterated their next few titles and give players an attack button to have more control in the fighting. This all comes full circle with the two most recent Ys titles.
(ii) Adol getting shipwrecked or tossed into prison. All Ys have our red-haired hero starting off in these typical methods, followed up with a grand adventure where Adol gets through adversity by fighting, causing inadverted trouble, and lockpicking.
(iii) A rotating cast of women. Much like Bond girls, every iteration of Ys has a new female cast member who is usually forgotten after that entry. To be fair, the later entries made them awesome playable characters to help Adol.
(iv) Amazing RPG music. Falcom really takes pride in the series’ music, and it really shows! RPG fans who keep check of Falcom from the 80s onward will swear fealty to pulse-pounding adventurer-worthy tunes like “The Boy’s Got Wings”, “Genesis Beyond The Beginning”, “Crossing Rage!”, “Iclucian Dance”, and “Sunshine Coast”.
There are a few more that ties together some of the earlier entries as a “package” of sorts, but this covers the gist of what makes a Ys title what it is.
Wow, then this series must be as popular as Final Fantasy. Why haven’t I heard of it?
The same reason why no one outside of Japan has heard of Legend of Heroes until the late 2000s onward; it’s a hard series to market outside of Japan.
While Ys has its followers in Japan, the rest of the world had to resort to paying import cartridges and disks through their noses. Some avid collectors even resort to piracy just to have a glimpse at a niche game like Ys.
Put it this way: if a Japanese national holiday-inciting series like Dragon Quest had trouble penetrating Western markets at least until late 2005, imagine how tough it must have been to market a game with an ambiguous pronunciation like Ys. Though it’s not for lack of trying; see the Sega Genesis box art below for proof of third-party publishers who did their best with a strangely-titled game.
Yikes…Thank god we’re in an age where we can buy these out-there JRPGs in English with no fuss.
That’s not a question, but true.
So I want to get into the Ys series. Where should I start? Which ones should I play?
Unless you have a PC-88 lying around, it’s going to be tough playing Ys I, II, and III in their original forms. So let’s be realistic since you should be playing a definitive game from the series that isn’t going to waste your time. You should just play the best game in the series right now that’s self-contained, and playable on consoles and platforms you own and can gain access to in this current gaming generation.
We’re talking about Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana.
If you want to see a Ys action RPG game in its final and evolved form, you cannot go wrong with Ys VIII. It features all the tropes we’ve mentioned, tells a compelling narrative with dual protagonists & timelines (which also breaks gender tradition for the series), has a gorgeous location for you to explore, and showcases the best kind of action that’s part and parcel of a Ys game: fast, challenging, and action-packed.
Plus, no other RPG starts off with an epic first-level banger of a tune like “Sunshine Coast”. Seriously, it’s that f***ing good.
Alternatively, you could also jump into Ys IX since it too is a self-contained game. But Ys VIII is most likely on discount right now, so if you rather not pay full price for a triple-A/import game , go for Ys VIII instead. The game is available now on PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. Believe us when we say it’s worth the 40+ hours of your time.
Just mind the English localization. It’s a tad spotty; we hope they fixed it.
You should also jump into the following Ys titles after you’re done with Ys VIII.
- Ys: Memories of Celceta – Out on PS4 and PC. It’s a remake of Ys IV since that particular entry was made by other developers back in the 90s (with multiple iterations to boot from Hudson/Alfa Systems to Tonkin House). This is basically Falcom making the definitive Ys IV game to set things right. It’s a ton of fun to play and is part of the backbone that helped Falcom perfect their craft with Ys VIII.
- Ys: The Oath In Felghana – Out on PC. If you want a Ys action RPG with lone wolf Adol, this is the best one available. It’s a retelling of Ys III but with a top-down exploration/combat system instead of the Legend of Zelda II 2D platforming gameplay. It’s also pretty challenging.
If you’re diligent enough and want to see what the old-school Ys games are about, you have a few options:
- Ys I & II Chronicles+ – Out for PC. A remake of Ys Book I & II with better pixel graphics and reworked gameplay. Yes, this version of the game still has the buttonless “bump” combat from the PC-88 classic.
- Ys Origin – Out for PC. If you want to find out more about the island of Ys and how it started, play this one. It doesn’t star Adol, but it does go into detail as to how this whole shindig started.
Bottom line, you’ll have a helluva time digging through & experiencing what could arguably be one of the JRPG genre’s most underrated series. Well, next to the Legend of Heroes games, but that’s a feature for another time.