Ys Series - Digital Emelas: Spreading Awareness of Ys


Tom "Wyrdwad" Lipschultz
Localization Producer, XSEED Games
Tom, as always, it is a pleasure to chat. Thanks for joining us. Can you please tell our readers a little about your involvement with Ys?
Thanks for interviewing me! My title at XSEED is Localization Producer, and in that capacity, my primary task is translation and/or editing (I go where I'm needed, basically). In the case of Ys, I've been either lead editor (Felghana, Chronicles, Origin, Celceta) or co-editor (Seven) on every series entry XSEED has published to date except Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim on PC.

I've also done a lot of writing and layout work on extended materials for the Ys games, including the instruction manuals for all three PSP Ys titles and most of our Ys-related LE items such as Adol's Travel Journal and the Ys Music History CDs from Celceta, as well as the digital art book from Ys VI.
If I recall, you were an Ys fan prior to working with XSEED. What drew you in and what was your first Ys game?
Like most Ys fans, the music was a huge draw for me, but I think it's the fast-paced action and classic feel that really sold me. I've always been an 8- and 16-bit gamer at heart (even to this day, where most of what I play consists of retro indie titles and actual classic games on original hardware), and I love a good classic fantasy story, as well as a nice overworld to explore with lots of caves and dungeons and lots of monsters that I can defeat with reflexes and combat technique as opposed to selecting options from a menu.

My first Ys game was Ys III: Wanderers From Ys on the SNES, which I seem to be in the minority of ranking as my favorite version of Ys III (Felghana notwithstanding) due to Tonkinhouse's unique soundfont and original music arrangements (love that brass section in the SNES version of Seal of Time!), as well as their straight-up SNES-exclusive music tracks, like the stellar ending theme.

Before playing any other Ys game after that, too, I actually watched the Ys anime, which I really loved for its high energy and amazing music. That ending credits theme, Endless History, is still one of my favorite vocal themes Falcom has ever produced, which is part of why you hear it on disc one of the Ys Music History set -- I couldn't bear the thought of a classic Ys music compilation without it!
How large would you say is your personal Ys collection? You must have many Japanese items!
I do, but I could always use a few more! ;)

It's a bit of a lopsided collection, actually, as I used to eagerly buy up anything and everything Ys I could get my hands on, but haven't really been doing that as much lately due to most of my extra spending cash getting tied up in other collectibles (like MSX games) -- so I own very few Ys goods from after the PSP era.

I do have some pretty swanky items in my collection, though, with my favorites probably being the Ys I & II Eternal Story PS2 limited edition box (which comes with a really odd but eminently displayable bottlecap diorama set, complete with bottlecap figurines of Adol, Feena, Reah, and Lilia), the Ys: The Oath in Felghana PC limited edition box (which comes with a whopping 8 CDs of music), and the MSX2 versions of Ys 1 and 2, both complete in box (which aren't the best versions of either game, but each comes packaged with a really awesome hardcover book containing amazing full-color storybook-style art). I own the MSX2 version of Ys III in box as well, but it's not complete, sadly!

Finally, I'd say our own Ys: Memories of Celceta LE box is also one of my favorite series items I own, if only for the pride factor of having put so much time and effort into its contents. But it's hard to deny that that book really did turn out nice!
Can you tell us the story of how you started working with XSEED?
My Falcom fandom is actually what got me the job! Before working at XSEED, I worked for nearly 6 years on the other side of the country, at a now-defunct EA-owned game studio called Mythic Entertainment. It was during my time at Mythic that the PSP was released, and I'd preordered one from Japan because I just couldn't wait to check the thing out! And one of the very first games I got for it was a Japanese import RPG called Eiyuu Densetsu: Shiroki Majo, which was much later released in North America (in slightly altered form) as The Legend of Heroes: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch.

I absolutely fell in love with the game, and suddenly found myself obsessed with the company that developed it (or, rather, developed the original version of the game that this was a port of). That company was Falcom, which I'd previously only had something of a passing familiarity with thanks to a handful of Ys titles and some NES odds and ends. After Shiroki Majo, however, I eagerly sought out every Falcom game I could find, discovering new favorites all the time and becoming newly hooked on the Ys series.

It wasn't long after that that Falcom started porting some of their previously PC-exclusive titles to PSP, and each time they did so, I would send out long emails to the PR departments of various localization companies like XSEED, Atlus, Mastiff, etc., suggesting they contact Falcom to license these games, and giving a long list of reasons as to why I thought they might sell well in the Western market.

Of the companies I emailed, XSEED was easily the most responsive, with founding member Ken Berry (currently EVP) consistently responding to every single one of my emails within a day or two of me sending it. And these weren't form responses, but long, personal discussions, touching on the points I'd made, making counter-points, and sometimes asking me for further details about one thing or another.

Little did I know, Ken was kind of "feeling me out" with these emails, as XSEED and Falcom were secretly forming a partnership behind the scenes at the time. And shortly after I got laid off from my job at Mythic in November 2009, the stars sort of aligned for me: one of the Localization Specialists at XSEED was quitting his job to pursue a career opportunity elsewhere, and needed replacement rather quickly... for work on the PSP version of Ys Seven, followed by additional work on Falcom's Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky.

Ken emailed me with an interview opportunity at this point (only maybe 3 months into my job search), and despite kind of bombing my phone interview, I still somehow made it to the in-person interview stage and, ultimately, to full employment status!
That's quite the story! Thank you for sharing that! Looking back, were there any plans for Ys games or merchandise that didn't make the cut, but you wish had gotten the green light?
I mean, there is the elephant in the room here, which is Ys 8 -- we would've loved to work on that game, but things just didn't quite work out in our favor there. Other than that, there really aren't any Ys games we've pursued that we didn't wind up working on in the end -- we've had a pretty excellent track record thus far working with Falcom to release the vast majority of the series' offerings in English.

Merchandise-wise, there have been some ambitious LE component ideas tossed around that we could never quite make the numbers work for (like figurines, which are always extraordinarily expensive to produce), but the one piece of merchandise I most regret us never seeing through to completion is the Ys: The Oath in Felghana t-shirt design featuring side character Bob, captioned with the text, "BOB LIVES!!"

If you've never played Felghana, this will mean nothing to you. If you have, and if you even remember who Bob is, you MIGHT be laughing right now. Maybe. I know I certainly was! But we could only produce three t-shirt designs for sale at AnimeExpo that year, and we had way more designs in mind than that, so we put them to a vote, and the Bob Lives shirt just barely got outvoted by the Dogi "Say No To Walls" shirt, the Ys Seven cast image shirt, and the Lunar: Silver Star Harmony "I Love Fish" shirt.

Sadly, in the end, Bob may have lived, but his shirt did not...
So you personally wrote the text for Adol's Travel Journal and compiled the 3-CD Soundtrack found in the Memories of Celceta Silvery Anniversary Edition, yes? They're some of my favourite collector's items! Can you tell us a bit about the production process you had to go through?
Given the tremendous success of the other Ys games we'd released up to that point, we knew Ys: Memories of Celceta was going to be a hit, which meant we had something to give it that we often run a bit short on: budget! We knew we wanted to make pretty much the nicest LE box set we'd ever made, and with me being the office's resident Ys fanboy, a lot of the planning for the LE components was left in my charge -- which was an incredible honor, but also an awful lot of pressure!

We knew we wanted the standards: a map, a book, and a CD, but we wanted each of them to be something a little special, to keep the LE from being too predictable -- and we also wanted there to be a fourth component.

For the map, cloth was the obvious choice, so that's what we went with. And the fourth component -- the compass -- was actually Ken's idea, which we weren't sure about at first, but fan reaction ultimately forced us to concede that MAYBE Ken was on to something. MAYBE. ;)

The book and the CD set, though, were projects I spearheaded, and I think I kind of broke the bank with both of them, going well above our projected budget but somehow managing to convince management to go forward with my ideas anyway.

For the book, I wanted more than just a simple art book -- I wanted to try to duplicate the in-game journal Adol had kept during the adventures he had in the Forest of Celceta immediately prior to the start of the game, and make it something of an art book + strategy guide in one. So what I did was, I scanned in literally the entirety of one of the Japanese strategy guides for Ys Celceta, printed out magnified copies of like 50+ pages from it, and wrote a gajillion notes all over the margins, accompanied by numerous Word documents containing in-character notes and descriptions written from Adol's perspective, as well as layout notes for our graphic design house to let them know how I wanted the annotated maps to fit in with all this rambly, first-person role-playing.

This all took me somewhere between 2 and 3 weeks to write up, and the end result was an absolute mess of scribbled papers, Word documents, and Excel spreadsheets for all the crafting charts and such. Once it was all done, I packed it all up in a big envelope and mailed it to the ever-amazing Studio QED, who somehow were able to decipher and interpret my chicken scratch into the Adol's Travel Journal you guys see today. I still don't know how they were able to manage that, but I am forever grateful to them for taking my ideas and, miraculously, making them into a reality!

As for the CDs, I have a tradition with one of my best friends from back east: every year, we make 80-minute themed mix CDs of (usually) video game music for one another, then get together and force each other to listen to and rate each track on our respective discs. This tradition had been going on for a good 7-8 years or so back when I was working on Celceta with XSEED, and still continues to this day -- and I guess you could say, it perfectly prepared me for creating the Ys Music History CD set. I basically approached it exactly the same way I approach making mix CDs with my friend every year: I set up a list of rules (represent each game in numerical order, start each game set with a version of that game's opening movie theme, etc.), tried to vary up my sources as much as possible, tried to find tracks that "flowed" well into the next track, and then, once I'd come up with a list that I felt represented the series well, I sent an email to management so we could request the licensing rights to use material from what amounted to over two dozen ridiculously old, obscure Falcom arrange CDs.

I was fully expecting to get shot down, honestly, since I figured some of the licenses to some of these songs couldn't POSSIBLY still be available... but to my utter shock, Falcom came back and gave us the OK to use literally every single track I'd selected. I didn't have to replace even one track anywhere, with the final track listing on the Ys Music History set reflecting every one of my initial suggestions.

It really is probably the single most astonishing approval we've ever received from a Japanese developer, and I think the results speak for themselves. Hopefully, if you've heard the Ys Music History set, you agree!
Again, I absolutely love the 3-disc set. In fact, I had it on repeat while working on this Digital Emelas website!

So, what are some of your fondest memories working on an Ys game?
Writing Adol's Travel Journal is an obvious answer here, of course, but... honestly, there are several other things I have even fonder memories of, and they all have to do with Ys I & II Chronicles.

First of all, there's Reah's Trusty Field Manual (RTFM!) in the back of the instruction booklet for the PSP physical edition of Ys I & II Chronicles. I convinced my coworkers to let me write a full strategy guide for Ys 1 to include in the manual because Ys 1 is such an obtuse game, being a product of 1987 and all -- and I was thrilled that they agreed to let me, because two of my fondest early RPG memories include playing Phantasy Star 2 on my brother's Sega Genesis and playing Ultima: Quest of the Avatar on my NES, both of which were games that included full strategy guides in their respective manuals. And I would spend HOURS just poring over those pages as a kid, looking at all the maps, reading all the tips, and planning my course through all the dungeons... and the ability to write something along similar lines (and then write something even more in-depth for Celceta many years later!) was just an incredibly rewarding experience for me. I'd like to think that maybe somewhere, in some little corner of the Americas (or elsewhere, if they imported!), there was once at least one kid eagerly reading over my little mini-guide the way I eagerly read over the guides for the above-listed titles -- and if I brought that kid even a fraction of the enjoyment I got out of those guides from my own memories, then it was absolutely all worth it.

Ys I & II are also notable for having a lot of very weird, non-canon dialogue in them, specifically for when you do things like shoot NPCs with fireballs (then give them gifts to make up for it!) in Ys 2 -- and I had a tremendous amount of fun pulling out every classic video game and movie reference I could think of for those fireball lines, with my personal favorite being the ever-lovable Goonies 2 line, "Ouch! What do you do?" (which the QA house we were working with at the time initially wrote up as a text bug, understandably).

Additionally, when it came time to submit ESRB for Ys I & II, we almost submitted ESRB with a hidden F-bomb in the game, straight from the original development team! At the time, none of us realized that all the runic dialogue spoken by Roos was actually English (or, in some cases, Engrish) text, which anyone with a working knowledge of runes and/or a bit of time to spare for letter substitution could potentially decode and read. Some of these lines were downright bizarre in Japanese, and one of the Roos had... a bit of a foul mouth, shall we say? We wound up rewriting a lot of the hidden runic dialogue to include several of our own Easter eggs, and changed the text from the foul-mouthed Roo to decode as, "Expletive deleted," as something of an in-joke for people in the know.

And finally, there was the time we had to test all the achievements for the Steam version of Ys I & II Chronicles+, and spent over half an hour carefully leading little boy character Tarf to a wildly out-of-the-way lava cave (despite his constant objections) just so we could push him into a corner and get his measurements for the "Police Are On Their Way" achievement.

We felt really dirty after that one, but had a good laugh at the sheer absurdity of it!

Ys I & II really was a never-ending fountain of great moments in localization. That was a fun, fun project, in both its PSP and PC incarnations!
What is your favourite Ys game and why?
Gotta be Ys: The Oath in Felghana -- specifically, the PSP version. Not only is Felghana hands-down my favorite Ys game due to its intense (yet fair) challenge level, inordinately well-designed areas that are fun to explore, AMAZING soundtrack (which is also really nostalgic for me, since Ys III was my first exposure to the series), and kickass wind ability that allows me to frisbee myself all over the damned place, but the PSP is also one of my favorite video game systems that I've ever owned, and Felghana PSP really shows off what the little guy is capable of, especially on UMD (it's amazing how devoid of load times the game is). Add to that some extra content not found in the PC version, as well as a ton of voice-acting, and it's hard to say I've ever had a more perfect Ys experience.

Honorable mention goes to Ys Seven, which is a ludicrously underrated game these days. Ever since Celceta came out, people have been dismissing Ys Seven left and right, but personally, I like Ys Seven even better than Celceta -- I find its story and characters more engaging, its world more fun to explore, its skill system more well-balanced, and its music way more face-melty. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that Ys Seven has one of the best soundtracks in the entire series, topped only by III/Felghana and... maybe I & II? Maybe.
Who is your favourite Ys character and why?
I mean, Dogi is a perennial favorite, because... come on! He's Dogi! And I do legitimately like Adol as well, despite his (mostly) silent protagonist status. I really appreciate the framing device used for the series, which suggests that each game is a historian's interpretation of one of the stories written by Adol himself in one of his many journals, read something like 1,000 years later -- and for some reason, I find this framing device helps me relate to him as a character. Can't explain why, but it just... does!

The entire set of protagonists from Ys Origin are also personal favorites, as each one is extraordinarily well-developed and likeable in his/her own way, with The Claw definitely being my favorite of the three (though Yunica is a very close second!).

As far as the "Ys girls" go, my favorite is probably Aisha from Ys Seven, though I have a soft spot for pretty much all of the Ys Seven girls. Aisha is just a real firecracker of a character and has a great repoire with Dogi in particular, while Mishera projects an air of mystery and absolute wisdom, Cruxie is really sweet but is also forced overcome a lot and is much stronger for having done so, and Sigroon has a bit of the "frazzled mom" vibe with Aisha. Tia and Maya are also really likeable and interesting in their own ways, despite not being playable characters like the others -- Tia has a really fascinating backstory that I won't spoil here, and Maya is just really cute (especially when she's yanking Aisha's pigtails), with her sickness adding a real emotional weight to the game.

I'll also admit, I really like Chester and Elena from Ys III and -- especially -- Oath in Felghana, as I find their family dynamic and their backstory to be quite well-written. It's amazing how simple yet effective the story is in III/Felghana, which is also all the more reason I really love the PSP version -- the voice-acting adds a lot, with the English VAs we got for Chester and Elena being particularly strong roles in an already very strong dub.
What is your favourite music track from Ys?
That would probably be Silent Desert from Ys Origin. Not only does it have an amazing driving beat to it, but it does this really cool thing where the main melody shifts up one full octave for a couple notes, then back down again, then back up again (I think?), all in the space of like, 2 seconds. It's hard to describe, because it's something I don't know that I've ever heard in any other piece of video game music before, and I'm not even really sure if it's shifting octaves or... what it's doing, exactly? I just know that, for reasons I can't explain (having a rather amateurish grasp on music theory, clearly), this track gets me incredibly pumped every single time I hear it. It's just an instant standout for me.

I'll also have to give a shout-out to The Depth Napishtim, the final battle theme from Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. I absolutely adore this track, and easily rank it as one of my top five favorite final battle themes of all time, Falcom or otherwise -- and without a doubt my #1 favorite Ys final battle theme. I've gotten into pretty heated discussions with people about this, as there are many who just don't see its appeal -- but you know what? They can keep their favorites! I'll just be over here, dancing stupidly to The Depth Napishtim.

And I feel inclined to give an honorable mention to the SNES version of Ys III's Seal of Time, again for that super-awesome brass section Tonkinhouse added. To this day, I can't hear any version of that track without mentally inserting those trumpets!
We have to ask, are there any future plans for XSEED to localize any other Ys-related games, be it new or port?
Erm... Yes? We'll go with yes. ;)

I'm actually pretty excited about one thing on the horizon, as it's potentially a second chance for me in something that I've always felt I could've done better. But that's really all I'm able to say on that matter right now!
Nice! Well, thanks again for so much for your time. Any final words of advice for our readers?
If you're new to the Ys series and can't decide where to start, I recommend either Seven or Felghana.
Editor's Note: Check out our WHAT IS YS page for more information.
Seven is a perfect starting point for people looking to experience the "modern Ys feel," as it was the first Ys game to use a party system. It has a great balance of story and action, and really does a lot to modernize the Ys franchise while still remaining true to its roots.

Felghana, then, is a perfect starting point for old-school or retro gamers looking for a good challenge. It's probably the most accessible game that still feels completely "classic," and really does a great job of showing off what Ys is all about, from the insanely fast pacing to the amazing soundtrack to the punishing (yet ultimately fair) difficulty.

You really can't go wrong with any Ys game, in the end -- but I personally feel Ys Seven and Ys: The Oath in Felghana represent the two distinct sides of this long-running series better than any other entries, and either one would be a perfect jumping-off point.

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