Ys Series - Digital Emelas: A Fansite Spreading Awareness of Ys

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Ys III Wanderers from Ys
Super Nintendo
Nihon Falcom
Advance Communication
Reflections of Ys
By Tom Lipschultz

I don't remember when or how I got my hands on Ys III: Wanderers From Ys for the SNES as a kid, nor what exactly enticed me to pick it up, but it was my very first introduction to the Ys series, and (despite its reputation) remains a very fond gaming memory from my childhood. I had no idea what Ys was at the time, and wasn't even entirely sure what the title of the game was -- the way the logo was written on the box, I totally read it as "Wanderers From Ys III" -- nor had I ever heard of the two previous games, but something about this one made me decide to give it a try anyway. Maybe it was the box art, which I still think looks very adventurous and enticing, and -- though it does misrepresent Adol -- is worlds better than the Wanderers From Ys box art on the Genesis/MegaDrive or TurboGrafx-16 CD.

Of course, back then, I didn't know those other versions existed. I didn't even know this was a Falcom game, as I had no idea who Falcom was. I always associated games with the very first company name that appeared when I powered on the system, so to my young mind, "Wanderers From Ys III" was a game developed and published by American Sammy.

And what were my first impressions of this game? Well, aside from initially being rather off-put by the terrible use of Mode 7 scaling in the very beginning of the intro cutscene (which still seems an odd choice on actual developer Tonkinhouse's part), I was immediately gripped by the art style of the characters in the opening. It's kind of hard to believe now, but back then, I very, very rarely saw traditional anime-style characters in video games. They existed, sure, but I'd somehow missed most of them. Even in the Final Fantasy titles, the only detailed character art you tended to see was from Yoshitaka Amano, whose illustrations are anything but "traditional anime-style."

What really gripped me, though, was the scene with the fortuneteller. She read Dogi's fortune, saw that he was from Redmont... and then suddenly, there was a sting of ominous music as her crystal ball shattered, and we got a brief close-up on her face -- her hair blown every which way by the force of the explosion -- as she yelled, "Something terrible will happen! Gal... Galbalan!" It was a really intense scene, and it wasn't even the end of the intro. Shortly afterward, Adol and Dogi set off for Redmont, when they were suddenly attacked by a wildcat. Thinking fast, Adol sliced it in two with his sword, then the two heroes mused that maybe the poor thing was just hungry, and talked about what a terrible thing it was to have killed it. And again, I wasn't really used to seeing heroes feeling remorse for having killed something, as that was a pretty foreign concept in most games I'd played up to that point. It definitely added to the game's mature feel.

The other thing that had been gripping me this whole time, too, was the music. A lot of people hate on the "Tonkinhouse sound" (known to Japanese game music aficionados as "Papepapuu," a non-flattering onomatopoeia representing the way Japanese Ys fans feel many of the tracks in this version of Ys III begin), but the fact is, I'd never heard anything like it before. Its instrumentation was unnatural, but interesting -- it had a very distinctive and utterly unique sound to it. And frankly, I really liked it! I was hooked on it from the cool Tonkinhouse-exclusive intro music, but when the Town of Redmont theme started playing, I was 100% on board with this soundtrack, and have continued loving it to this day.

And the gameplay? Well, initially, I died a WHOLE LOT, and everything felt really fast and chaotic. But I loved that I could just hold down the attack button and continue swinging my sword over and over, even while still running at full speed (a gameplay style I've since dubbed "lawnmower-style combat"). It felt wonky, but it was... a good kind of wonky, I guess you could say. The controls were tight and responsive, but the physics were completely unlike those of any other game I'd ever played. Adol didn't move like anyone else in gaming, but rather than frustrating me, this intrigued me -- I wanted to master this strange anime game, so I just kept practicing until I got good enough at it to progress through the story.

And progress I did, eventually beating it and watching the rather emotional ending. But that wasn't the end of my journey. Over time, I kept coming back to Ys III, trying to find shortcuts and -- essentially -- speedrun opportunities (though "speedrunning" wasn't really a thing at the time, so I didn't know to call them that). I distinctly remember finding a spot during my second or third playthrough, for example, where I could just hold down the attack button and repeatedly kill a respawning enemy over and over again without risk, so I set a coffee mug on the SNES controller's B button and left the console on overnight, waking up the next morning to find that Adol was now max level.

...I could go on and on about this game, but suffice it to say, it served as a lovely introduction to Ys for me, and made Oath in Felghana all the more special when I finally played it many years later. I don't think it would be a particularly good introduction to the series for most people nowadays (and obviously a lot of people didn't find it to be all that great back then either!), but it had such unique gameplay, such bright and vivid anime-inspired graphics, such odd yet catchy music, and such a quintessentially Japanese adventure story to it, I couldn't help but love it as a kid.

And even today, I still go back and play it every now and again. But only the SNES version! The others just don't quite feel right to me.


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