Johnathan "ABF" Sawyer
Owner of A Backdated Future
Johnathan! Thanks so much for joining us!
Can you please tell our readers a little about your experience with Ys?
I've technically been a fan of Ys since I was about 6, when I first found an Ys game at a local video store. My brother and I had pretty much only played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other various beat-em-ups at the time. The cover of a warrior fighting a dragon seemed kind of interesting to me, so we picked up Ys III: Wanderers from Ys for the Super Nintendo. We both enjoyed the game, even though it was INSANELY hard compared to what we were used to. We tried it over and over as we grew older and eventually beat it, but it always stuck with me - much moreso than other SNES classics that I had already come across.
If you're wondering, here's the order I played them in: 3, 0, 1, 2, 4, 6, 7
Sure, I played them in a massively backwards order, but I've enjoyed every minute of the ones I've played. Just need to finish Seven and I'll be ready for Lacrimosa of Dana.
When Ys: The Oath in Felghana came out, I was beyond excited that one of my favorites was remade. Couldn't contain myself! By then, I had already been writing FAQs/Walkthroughs for GameFAQs.com for the better part of 10 years, and since it had been a little while since I did anything new-ish, I decided to tackle it. I had so much fun playing through every bit of Felghana for the guide that when Origin rolled around soon after, I kept right on going and into it, writing for it as well. The two combined gave me close to 1000 hours of enjoyment, and by doing so, lured me in to the rest of the lore within the Ys universe... and writing guides for just about all of them (except Seven).
What got you interested in writing?
Chrono Cross, actually. I visited GameFAQs for years, always downloading and using whatever guides I needed. When it came time to play Chrono Cross, I enjoyed everything as normal, but something seemed off. None of the guides were written the way that I wanted to play the game - which is easy to throw people off because of the amount of choices and characters available to you. So I decided to write my own, and by the time it was finished and ready to show people 5 years later, I was surprised to see how many people it helped. So not only did I now have a guide to reference when I played the game again later, I helped thousands more - some of which who still ask me on a weekly basis if I am going to/can write for a certain game of theirs.
How do you define a well-constructed Strategy Guide?
A guide that either visually shows you how and where to find everything, or at least walks you through step-by-step to ensure that you are able to find and do everything the developer intended, but without spoiling the fun. It also helps to have easy-to-follow appendices for planning/research for all the various items/enemies/shops/minigames, etc., but it's not always necessary considering the data available in wikis or sometimes even in-game menus and bestiary.
How long did it take you to write each guide for Ys?
Man... Well... Ys I, II, and Napishtim would've been the shortest, followed by Celceta, then Felghana, then Origin. I usually wind up striving for perfection (which is impossible, but hey, I strive nonetheless), so I'd say between 100-120 hours for I, II, and Napishtim since they're fairly short games. IV didn't take as long as it could have because of help from my co-writer, so that was probably around 150 hours. Felghana took forever because it was my first attempt to write for an Ys game, but also because I covered both PSP and PC separately at first and wound up merging them together. It and Origin both have well over 400 hours dumped into them.
What are some of the challenges when writing a Strategy Guide?
The biggest challenge is always time; people aren't patient, and getting reliable/correct info out there as quickly as you can is always the most beneficial to everyone. Other than that, the only other major challenge is putting everything together - both in an organized way, but also in a clear and concise manner. You can have all the information in the world in your guide, but if people can't make out what to do with the information given, or be able to easily reference it when needed, it almost defeats the purpose.
Are there any plans to write a guide for Ys Seven or VIII?
Sadly, no. I co-wrote Celceta with a good friend (Bkstunt_31), who's also a huge fan of the series, and I've "handed the reins" to him, so-to-speak. I'll definitely be enjoying VIII when it comes out, but I'm leaving the writing for newer games to those that still have the capability and drive to do it quickly and efficiently. It's been a while since I've been able to "sit and enjoy" a game by actually enjoying it and not doing any work for it.
Of all your Ys guides, what has the most clicks and why do you think that is?
Ys: Memories of Celceta, because it's the newest, but also because it was only one of two that were written and posted right as the game released. Felghana was the other one, but keep in mind that the audience in the west for Ys in 2010 was nothing compared to now, or even Celceta in 2013/2014.
Other than the games themselves, what sources do you use when writing?
Pretty much any type of media that comes my way. From the time it's announced until the final character is typed, I'll check out every single rumor, YouTube video, piece of artwork, magazine, and message board available. Even translated sites and media for Japanese games are on the table. The two biggest helpers nowadays usually come from 1) YouTube, and 2) message boards/users themselves. The users seem to always happy to help with corrections, any tips they've come across, or even alternate ways for solving puzzles and defeating bosses. YouTube comes in handy to see what other people have been doing or tried, or even gives you a window into parts of the game you haven't completed yet or haven't been able to go back to, so you're able to plan/direct the guide more efficiently. Especially if there are missables. Ugh...
Have you ever considered writing for a publisher such as Prima?
In the past? Definitely. I've applied to both Prima and (formerly) Brady Games, but it never went anywhere though. Going forward? Not likely, due to a new career and my growing family. I still love doing it, but only as a hobby in my spare time.
Which Ys game do you consider to be the most difficult to 100% complete, and what makes it so challenging? We're talking all missions, all items, etc.
I'm going to say Ys Origin because of not only multiple playthroughs, but because of the massively unfair Time Attack achievements. I still have a ways to go before I hope to 100% it. In the game, it's easy enough to grind, grind, grind. In Time Attack, you're stuck at a set level with set equipment, so it's ALL SKILL. Precision is a must... as is patience.
What is your favourite Ys game and why?
Ys: The Oath in Felghana. I would say it's not even a close competition, but Ys Origin DID come close. Part of it would be the nostalgia from playing Ys III: Wanderers from Ys so many times over the years, but in all honesty, it has to be a combination of the music (which is perfect, by the way - couldn't be improved if they tried) and the story/relationship of Dogi and his friends. Something about it hits home a lot harder because of the family ties.
Who is your favourite Ys character and why?
Sort of cliché , but I'm going with Adol. I wanted to be him as a kid, and even now, each adventure in an Ys game with him feels like it truly is my adventure. He may be a silent protagonist, but I prefer that to having some heroes' personalities forced on you, like the tired "angst-filled teen" you see so much of. And just knowing the backstory of Adol's adventures - that he literally adventures until the day he dies - he's someone who doesn't give up and is always looking to do better.
What is your favourite music track from Ys?
Beat of Destruction from Ys: The Oath in Felghana. There are literally 10 tracks I could rattle off right now that are incredible and practically perfection, but I keep coming back to Beat of Destruction an innumerable amount of times. It's just that good... especially considering where it plays and how much it pumps you up to take on hordes of demons trying to send you to an early grave.
Thank you so much for your time. Any final words of advice for our readers?
Don't always follow everyone's lead and play nothing but "amazing AAA" games. There are literally THOUSANDS of games out there worth playing, with many of them having much, much more love put into them by their creators. They deserve our attention too.