Friday, April 28, 2017

Despite the Nora ~ Horizon Zero Dawn

So this is very, very late, but I'm working on a Persona 5 review and I wanted to make sure that my Horizon video made an appearance on my blog before that time. Truthfully, I'm pretty proud of this video despite the fact that it didn't get a ton of attention. Even if my channel never really "takes off" in the way I'd like, I still want to continue honing my craft in terms of writing and presentation. You never know where it might lead.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Oracle's Promise ~ Final Fantasy XV

I keep expecting there to be a period of time where I produce videos regularly, but so far that just has not happened. A combination of factors has influenced this. First of all, I'll freely admit that procrastination, laziness, and depression are principal factors involved in why I haven't been producing content, but there's more to it than that. My standards of quality have increased so I generally spend a lot more time on these videos than I have in the past-and it's easy to become disillusioned with the whole process because realistically these videos are not going to reach a wide audience, no matter how much I try to promote them. I think I have to temper my expectations, though. I spend a ton of time playing video games so I might as well get something out of that time--and it's a good exercise for the analytical side of my personality. And well, if I keep doing it, maybe I'll get better and something will come of it.

Okay, so I'm rambling. Anywhere, here we go. This is my video review of Final Fantasy XV, some four months after the game came out (and it didn't take me long to finish, either). Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The 2016 Video Game Retrospective

The 2014 Video Game Retrospective
The 2015 Video Game Retrospective

Oh man, I definitely beat my record for the past two years. This time we're coming in at a whopping 44 games, shattering the previous record of 35. What's also different about this year is the fact that I did a video on my retrospective, clocking in at a whopping 19 minutes! Enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Beginning ~ Ys Origin

I really haven't been keeping up with producing content at the rate I'd like to be. Setting a month aside to play Trails of Cold Steel II likely has something to do with this, but there's definitely something more there. I continue to grapple with bouts of depression and an overall refusal to accept that anything I do is worth anything. Even though I enjoy writing and making videos about games, these feelings definitely cut into my motivation--but I don't intend to give up. Last night, I finished a video on Ys Origin, which can be viewed below, followed by a text-only entry for those of us who don't really care for videos!

A few months back, I decided to start playing through the Ys series from the beginning. I'm not sure what motivated me to do so other than out of respect for Falcom as a developer. I really enjoy the Trails series and I'd always been planning on trying the series anyway, so why not play them all? I really enjoy studying how series evolve over time and I think tackling a series of action RPGs is not as monumental a task as I might have ahead of me with a series of traditional RPGs in mind. (Dragon Quest is a good example; I've still only played the first four of those.) I started with the first two games in the series as presented in Ys I + II Chronicles+ and then moved on to Ys III, playing both the Super Nintendo version Wanderers from Ys and also the far superior remake The Oath in Felghana, on PC. Ys Origin doesn’t fall as tidily into the chronology of the series since it’s technically a prequel to the first two games, taking place some 700 years beforehand and not featuring the traditional series protagonist, Adol. I could have played Origin right after the first two games, but after doing some research, I found out that it uses the same engine as The Oath in Felghana and was released after it--so I decided to play Felghana first. This of course still leaves Ark of Napishtim, which was technically released before even Felghana, but it’s chronologically the sixth in the series so I think I’ll leave that one for later.

Ys Origin is chronologically the earliest in the Ys series, at least as far as the story is concerned. It adds additional backstory to Ys I and II but as mentioned before, uses the same engine as Ys: The Oath in Felghana. Unlike that game, however, Ys Origin features three distinct playable characters who lived long before Adol took the first steps of his journey. Each of these characters belongs to one of the famed Houses alluded to in Ys I and II. Yunica Tovah essentially serves as a stand-in for Adol as her play style most closely resembles the gameplay from The Oath in Felghana. Since I played it shortly before this, I felt pretty comfortable jumping right in with her for my first experience with the game.The other two characters are actually quite different in terms of style.

Believe it or not, she uses an axe in combat.
Long before the events of Ancient Ys Vanished, twin goddesses Reah and Feena rule the prosperous and magical land of Ys--which inevitably is besieged by demons. In an effort to rid themselves of the demonic menace, the goddesses and their people sought shelter in Solomon Shrine, atop the land’s highest mountain. In a last ditch effort to fend off the enemy, the goddesses called upon the aid of an artifact called the Black Pearl to uproot the mountain and ascend far into the heavens. Not to be outdone, the demons erected an unholy tower in an effort to reach the land of Ys and continue their devastation. Amidst the chaos, the twin goddesses suddenly disappear, leaving a small contingent of Ys knights and magicians to form a search party to find them. In the game’s opening moments, it becomes clear that the goddesses have entered Darm Tower and it’s up to the search party to get to the bottom (or in this case the top) of the mystery.

Players of Ys I and II will recognize several references to that game’s families as the playable and supporting characters sport some familiar names. Additionally, the entirety of the game takes place within Darm Tower, which served as the first game’s final dungeon. It’s a little more complex this time around, but the memorable theme that plays immediately upon entering (and every time you return to the first floor) is yanked straight from Ancient Ys Vanished, although it has been updated and rearranged. Honestly, the idea of spending the entire game in what is essentially one dungeon turned me off at first, since I was worried about repetition. Surprisingly, this wasn’t as much of an issue as I’d imagined, since the layout of the dungeon expands and evolves as you progress your way higher and higher. If repetition was a problem, it’s only because the game encourages you to play through the game once with each character. It would have been nice for the characters’ paths to boast a little more variety, but the distinction between the different characters’ play styles somewhat makes up for that.

Solomon Shrine rising into the sky.
As mentioned previously, Yunica Tovah most closely resembles series protagonist Adol Christin. Though she wields an axe as her primary weapon, her methods of attack are very familiar. At the game's very outset, she unlocks a whirlwind ability that very closely resembles the Wind Bracelet from the Oath in Felghana--but it's not magic, she insists. All of the magic is contained within the artifact itself, as it is an important (sort of) plot point that Yunica isn't capable of using magic at all, in stark contrast to the game's other primary playable character, Hugo Fact, a sorcerer through-and-through.

Hugo's playstyle is actually pretty awkward by comparison, at least initially. He's a magic-using character that fires projectiles simultaneously from his staff and the ghostly Eyes of Fact that accompany him at all times. The elemental spells he unlocks over the course of the game are a different story, however, as he has an earth-elemental proximity mine, a wind-elemental shield, and a splashy dual-laser fire attack. He's a lot slower than Yunica, though, which leads to some awkward situations against certain bosses. I appreciated the drastic difference in gameplay pattern but I have to admit I enjoyed him a lot less than Yunica, traditional as she was.

Pew pew.
The third playable character, Toal, is another melee, but he possesses no ranged abilities whatsoever--at least not until the very final area of the game. He fits into the berserker archetype and has the capability of transforming into a demon in Boost mode. He's the fastest of the three and maybe the most fun, although his inability to attack from range does makes things more difficult on occasion.

Ys Origin features a wide array of boss encounters, all of which must be tackled in slightly different ways depending on the playable character in question. There are a couple of bosses unique to each character, particularly for Toal, whose route is the most unique. The different ways in which the characters approach these encounters makes the prospect of playing through it three times a bit more palatable. None of these bosses seems to be as bone-crushingly difficult as some of the bosses in The Oath in Felghana, but most are well-designed and interesting.

With Velagunder, you have to deal a certain amount of damage to his mouth until he collapses, at which point you need to run up his arm and frantically attack his exposed brain until he recovers. Dealing the requisite amount of damage to his mouth is the bulk of the fight, where you'll have to dodge bubbles and lasers. Hugo's range gives him an edge up in the fight since he doesn't have to put himself in harm's way to damage the mouth, but his inferior speed means he has a harder time dodging the laser attack. Even so, his Force Shield ability allows him to essentially ignore the bubbles. It is a little awkward having to get that close to Velagunder's brain to damage it, though, so that part of the fight feels a bit more satisfying for Yunica and Toal. Like most bosses in Origin and in fact in The Oath in Felghana, Velagunder gets more tough when he gets low on health, gaining the ability to spawn annoying little worms that leave slime in their wake as well as sucking you in to chomp you for massive damage. Once again, Hugo has a leg up for this part of the fight since he doesn’t even have to worry about dodging the vortex attack since he can just put up his Force Shield to absorb it.

Nygtilger is another clever boss design that spends most of the encounter coiled around the outer wall of a staircase, effectively barring your way to the next level of the tower. This grotesque arthropod doesn’t do a lot of fighting back at first, but like Velagunder, it’s not possible to deal damage to him outright--at first. By destroying the armored plates on its back, you can whittle down its defenses until you can attack its head directly. Of course, the Pestilent Arthropod doesn’t take kindly to the abuse and soon starts tossing out purple orbs that explode after a few seconds. These orbs can be knocked out of the way with careful positioning, but it becomes more and more difficult to keep up with them as the fight progresses, meaning it’s important to do as much damage to the boss as possible in a timely fashion. If not, the fight becomes harder and harder, especially when you remove most of its plates and it curls up into a wheel of all things and begins violently cycling around the arena. Yunica’s Bolt Crash ability does wonders at removing the beast’s plates in the first segment of the fight, but Hugo’s Trap Mine is somewhat less effective. Toal actually can’t damage the plates at all until he can climb directly onto the beast’s back! In this case, Yunica is the best suited for taking the boss down.

This guy is pretty gross.
Pictimos is often cited as the most difficult boss in the game, despite it being three or four fights removed from the final encounter. This might be true, but it’s more frustrating than anything else. The Grim Mantid cycles through a set of different attacks that can be fairly easily dodged and it essentially boils down to a test of patience and whittling him down from range. Yunica is relegated to hurling fireballs from the Crimson Lotusblade while Hugo fires off deadly lasers from the Fire Wheel skill. Since it’s generally too dangerous to approach the fight from melee, where then does this leave the melee-only Toal? Although it seems like his version of the fight should be the most difficult of all, it’s actually quite the opposite. Although his fire skill is completely melee, it does provide him with a window of invulnerability, meaning he can generally hurl himself at Pictimos without fearing much in the way of retaliation. Even when the mantid starts summoning swarms of his babies, Toal has very little to fear, since the Inferno skill deals damage to everything around him.

The elemental skills give each character a unique edge in different encounters, but because these skills are used for platforming and exploration as well, they’re also thematically cohesive. For instance, the thunder skill for all three characters is more effective against armored opponents and is in fact required to take certain enemies down, particularly the armored foes in the underwater section of the tower. It can also be used to break down weak walls to find various important artifacts. What’s interesting about this is that even though the skill fulfills the same role for all three characters, the skills are functionally very different. Yunica’s Bolt Crash is effective at hitting enemies above her, for instance, while Hugo’s mines can be used as a way to punish foes that pursue him. And because Toal is strictly melee, his Thunder Claws heal him, providing him with some extra utility while sustaining damage in the fray.

Additionally, each of the three characters use their wind skill to get over large gaps. Yunica does so by whirling herself through the air, while Hugo simply dramatically slows his ascent. Toal dashes straight ahead--but his ability can’t be used to cross gaps as effectively. For this reason, his Inferno skill instead fills this role much later in his arc in a way not dissimilar to Yunica’s Whirlwind. All three characters can use their fire skills to light torches, which is also required to progress in a few different scenarios. For Yunica, the fire skill gives her one ranged option, whereas for Hugo it simply beefs up his existing ranged attacks. Toal of course simply gains the ability to attack slightly above him and absorb the occasional attack.

Toal using Inferno to jump a gap.
Just like The Oath in Felghana, each playable character also has the ability to enter Boost mode after charging the gauge by repeatedly defeating enemies and dealing damage. This mode dramatically increases attack speed for Yunica and Toal and increases the number of projectiles fired for Hugo. Perhaps more importantly, it reduces damage received by 50%, meaning it’s quite useful in a pinch. Much later in the game, each character unlocks a unique super move that is only usable in Boost mode, although you’re not given much time to play with it, unfortunately.

Ys Origin definitely has The Oath in Felghana beat in terms of gameplay variety, but it’s not nearly as difficult and the bosses aren’t quite as memorable. Additionally, playing through a lot of the same content three times in a row is a little tiring. I think I would have preferred if at least some of the game took place outside of the tower, although I really did enjoy callbacks to iconic areas from the first Ys title like Rado’s Annex and the Hall of Reflection. The soundtrack continues to be quite catchy and memorable, although again, I’ll have to give The Oath in Felghana the edge here. Even so, Ys Origin features a few excellent tracks, like the hard-hitting tune accompanying the Blighted Blood section of the tower and the otherworldly ambience in the Flooded Prison.

It’s been about a month since I finished Ys Origin, so as a result this video (and article) are rather late. However, I’ve not given up on making my way through the series, so expect more Ys in the future. However, I’m probably going to be taking a bit of a break from the series to spend time on the mountain of titles that are coming out soon. Expect some ramblings about Trails of Cold Steel II pretty soon. I wasn't able to record anything from it, but I spent so much time on it, I can't possible leave it alone without writing about it.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Armageddon Outta Here ~ Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Oh, boy. It's been a long time since I've released a video or blog entry and I feel really bad about that! I'm not without my reasons, though, principal among them the fact that I've spent just about every minute of my free time over the past three weeks feverishly playing The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II. I'm considering releasing some kind of video/blog entry combo for that sometime soon, but first I need to work on my backlog! Since my last article, I've completed Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, Ys Origin, and the aforementioned Cold Steel II. I released an informal video on Leifthrasir that I dubbed a "game chat" but lacked confidence in it and therefore didn't advertise it much. It can be viewed below.

At the time, however, I hadn't written an actual article which organized my thoughts in a coherent way. I have now remedied that. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir.


Odin Sphere was Vanillaware’s sophomore release as a company and their first entry in a line of 2D action RPGs that include the excellent Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon’s Crown. It was released in 2007, when the only other entry under the company’s belt was GrimGrimoire, a quirky real-time strategy game. Leifthrasir updates and expands Odin Sphere in a lot of important ways, chief among them the removal of the original’s dreaded slowdowns, which ruined a lot of the game’s boss encounters. Despite enjoying other games from Vanillaware, I'd put off playing Odin Sphere for years because of those slowdowns. When I heard about Leifthrasir, I was eager to finally give the game a try.

You're not the boss of me, Dad.
Odin Sphere is a side-scrolling action game with plenty of RPG elements. Characters learn an array of skills and level up by acquiring experience both from defeating foes and absorbing phozons from food. Exploration is done in the traditional Metroid style with a series of branching pathways with a variety of different treasures to find. As is typical for Vanillaware, the characters and backgrounds are depicted in a beautiful hand-drawn style with occasionally freakishly exaggerated proportions. The Queen of the Netherworld’s bizarrely inflated chest or Odin’s massive upper torso and tiny legs spring immediately to mind.

That looks really uncomfortable.
Even if the game had only featured one playable character, Odin Sphere would not have been terribly lacking in content. Sure, seven hours doesn't generally warrant paying $40 for a game, but there are plenty of games (in this genre, even) that are about that long or even shorter, many of which are excellent titles. The valkyrie Gwendolyn is the first playable character and her story alone would have made for an acceptable narrative, perhaps with a little more of the story fleshed out--but Vanillaware went the extra mile by including a whopping five playable characters, all of which have interesting and distinct play styles.

Is. . .is this Snake Way?
Gwendolyn is a spear-wielding valkyrie claiming dominion over the element of ice. She is as adept at gliding across the screen, unleashing a series of frenetic spear strikes as she is at summoning fearsome blizzards to pelt and freeze her foes. Her arc takes her from reconciling her role as a valkyrie to coming to terms with her father’s role in arranging a marriage between her and Oswald, the dark knight.
Ooh, silver!
Cornelius is a prince cursed to live as a pooka, an adorable, furry little guy. As far as curses go, there are worse fates, but he’d still much rather regain his human form so he can have a relationship with the beautiful and enigmatic sorceress (and homeless princess), Velvet. Despite his diminutive form, Cornelius is a heavy sword user that whirls around the battlefield acrobatically, although he can’t glide like Gwendolyn. He also possesses the power to summon whirlwinds and tornadoes, although his magic isn’t nearly as impactful.  

That sounds like something a liar would say.
Mercedes is the fairy queen of Ringford and is unique among the cast in that she’s entirely ranged, wielding a magic crossbow. Because she’s ranged, she stands out the most in terms of play style; she never really has to get close to deal damage. However, she also runs out of Power pretty quickly, forcing her to pause to “reload.” Other characters can attack with impunity, leaving Power and SP for their special skills. Mercedes does not have this benefit and therefore must play more tactically. She also has access to a variety of floating allies that fire off magical spells to assist her, allowing her to theoretically fill the screen with projectiles, provided she has the resources to allow it.

Oswald fulfills the game’s dark knight/berserker archetype and is pledged to be married to the vakyrie, Gwendolyn. His play style is probably the most straightforward of all the characters as it involves basically freaking out and hitting everything in front of him a lot. Fitting to his dark knight persona, he possesses dark-elemental magic--but his forte is morphing into a demon and unleashing hell upon his opponents.

Velvet's my favorite.
Velvet rounds out the roster with her mid-range playstyle, wielding a chain whip and an arsenal of fiery spells. She’s a tad slower than some of the other characters, but she really is a joy to play as she glides gracefully across the screen, her whip flitting around in every direction, pillars of fire toasting her assailants. She is of course involved with the cursed Cornelius, but she’s left in the dark about his furry condition for the majority of the game’s running time.

All of it. I want all of it.
Progression in Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is anything but traditional. Although there is a system in place where you acquire experience for defeating foes, the amount awarded to you pales in comparison to that which is provided by the food prepared by your characters and by vendors scattered throughout the world. Food also boosts your HP in differing amounts, so it’s important for that reason as well. Acquiring different recipes and ingredients is an integral part of the gameplay and part of what makes traveling through the same environments as other characters rewarding--since each character has unique recipes available to them and all previously acquired recipes are available to future characters. The cooking system in Leifthrasir is interesting--more interesting, in fact than in most RPGs with cooking systems--but I still think it could have been expanded in some way. I think it would have been interesting if recipes affected your progression beyond just health and experience. Say, for instance, that a recipe boosted strength at the expense of defense. This would be an interesting extra layer of customization.

Oh yeah, I think I learned how to make tornadoes in a bottle in school.
Like cooking, alchemy also provides players with the opportunity to devise concoctions, but not for the purpose of progression. New alchemy recipes can be discovered by uncovering scrolls scattered throughout the game but also just through pure experimentation with different components. Tossing any two ingredients into a flask will frequently yield a unique result, whether it be a potion that whips up a fearsome tornado or an antidote to ward off the effects of poison. Healing potions serve as instant healing in the middle of combat although don’t award experience like food does, which also takes a few seconds to consume.

While the diversity of playable characters available in Leifthrasir is refreshing, the lack of variety in environments is not.There are seven or eight distinctly different areas in Odin Sphere and they all are rendered in Vanillaware’s patented hand-painted art style. They’re pretty to look at, but I would have very much appreciated if they’d been spread out among the characters a little bit--because you’ll find yourself revisiting each of these areas four or five times throughout the course of the game. I'm uncomfortably reminded of the endless cycle of repetition in Bravely Default's later half--but at least the plot evolves and expands in Odin Sphere's case even when revisiting old areas. Suffice to say, it does become grating when you're treated with the same areas over and over.

Holy crap.
Repeating old environments might have been more forgivable if each playable character was occasionally treated with a couple of unique new bosses, but once you're done with Gwendolyn's story, you've pretty much seen most of the bosses the game has to offer and you're going to be fighting them again with the other playable character. The only real difference in boss lineup comes from the occasional fight against another of the game's playable characters. There is a wide variety of bosses, but fighting them time and time again makes them feel less special. If we’re being honest, the only reason I can remember a lot of their characteristics is because I was forced to fight many of them five or more times with different characters. Their patterns may have stood out more if I’d played a higher difficulty, but in normal mode each boss can essentially be zerged with all of your most powerful skills and destroyed within a few minutes. The only real challenge comes from chewing through their unnecessarily large HP totals. Most bosses boil down to spamming the same set of 2-3 attacks for A Long Time until it is inevitably over. I'm regretting at this point not playing hard mode, but I feel the game would have taken so much more time than it was worth if I'd done so.

All told, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a huge success as a remake, but it retains a lot of the flaws present to the original version. Repetition is the game’s greatest flaw. I still hold that the game’s flow would have been improved if each character had 3-4 areas to traverse instead of repeating the same environments for each character, albeit in different orders. By the time I’d finished with Leifthrasir’s 30-some hour runtime, I was dealing with some pretty serious fatigue--in spite of the radically different play styles inherent to the game’s playable characters.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

An Aimless Journey ~ Ys: The Oath in Felghana

I'm trying something new today. I've shifted focus recently to video reviews and almost completely abandoned the blog/article format, but I still think it's possible to do both. I'd like to continue doing video presentations of these games, but I realize videos aren't everyone's cup of tea. Some would prefer to read an article, particularly if they're in an environment where sound is not available. Even then, some just don't want to invest the time into watching a video. Some of you are particularly fast readers, much like myself. I typically don't invest a lot of time watching videos either, so I get that. What I've decided to do to please both crowds is to present my reviews in both a text article format and as a YouTube video. I will link to the video here on my blog as usual, but I'll also present the review in text, accompanied of course by screenshots! The content of the article and the video will be very similar, so it's probably not necessary to experience them both, unless you're just that dedicated.

So, without further ado, here's my review of Ys: The Oath in Felghana and comparison to Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, which I also played for the purpose of this article.

I was attracted to the Ys series initially because it’s the flagship series from Japanese developer Nihon Falcom, who also produced the excellent series of turn-based Legend of Heroes RPGs. I’m interested in tracing the lineage of long-running video game series and before recently, I knew absolutely nothing about Ys. The Ys series is extremely difficult to really wrap your mind around because the games have so many different versions, releases, and remakes. I found the prospect of unraveling the series mysteries exciting. As a result, I’ve decided to play through the series more or less in order, without skipping some titles that have been subsequently remade. There are some version that are simply ports that I won't play, such as a lot of the PSP versions of these games.

I’m continuing my journey through the Ys series by picking up with its third entry--and two different versions of it, at that. I ended up playing both Ys III: Wanderers from Ys for SNES and its remake, Ys: The Oath in Felghana for PC. Wanderers from Ys is the earliest available North American localization of Ys III, although it was not the true original release. Wanderers from Ys was actually available on both the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis, with some minor differences in graphics and localization, but its original incarnation in Japan was on a line of personal computers, the PC-8801 series, much like the first two games of the series.

Wanderers from Ys takes place in Felghana, a few years after the events of Ys I & II. Adol has been adventuring with his buddy Dogi, who he met in the original Ys title in Darm Tower. They decide to visit Dogi’s home town of Redmont after he has his fortune told and the crystal ball explodes. According to Adol, their journey is “aimless,” and he’d like to visit Dogi’s hometown anyhow. Oath in Felghana skips a lot of this exposition and starts you on the journey in media res, although alludes to the crystal ball in the cinematic cutscene following your introduction to Dogi’s childhood friend, Elena.

Never mind, it's probably fine.
Felghana, once a peaceful area, is now besieged by, what else, monsters. It’s up to Adol to determine why this is happening, which inevitably leads him to exploring a quarry, some ancient ruins, a lava pit, snowy mountains, a massive castle, and of course, a clock tower. The environments, enemies, and bosses are reasonably diverse, especially for a game originally released in 1989. Unfortunately, many of these bosses are very unsatisfying or frustrating in some way. Most bosses can be defeated through the use of one cheesy strategy or another, and others are just incredibly frustrating, due in no small part to the SNES version’s greatest flaw--it’s hit detection.

Seriously, it’s bad. It seems your sword attacks only hit opponents about half the time. I noticed this as soon as I ventured into the game’s first dungeon, where I would clearly hit enemies two or three times before they reached me, but I’d still somehow take damage. This meant that the only way I could ensure I could progress through these dungeons was to level up enough that I could take out enemies in a single shot. And of course, the pacing of the game is terrible. Even just progressing to the second screen of the initial dungeon puts you face to face with enemies that can kill you in a couple of hits. Even the bats in that area require you to level up 4 or 5 times before you can even damage them. Much of the “strategy” involved in normal encounters in Wanderers from Ys simply consists of becoming durable enough to shrug off damage. It’s seldom possible to avoid it altogether.

Well, I'm screwed.
Oath in Felghana is an entirely different story, and rightfully so since Falcom had roughly 15 years to learn from their mistakes. Using the 3D engine from Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (which I haven’t played yet), The Oath in Felghana translates the encounters from Wanderers from Ys into an entirely different format. It is now possible to dodge, hop and run wildly around in circles, encountering opponents from different angles and vanquishing them without taking damage, if you’re skilled enough. Enemies frequently drop temporary attack and defense power-ups as well, encouraging you to zip from screen to screen, taking out enemies as quickly as possible. Defeating enemies builds up a gauge that allows you to enter Boost Mode when filled, increasing your attack power and defense dramatically for a short period of time. This adds another layer of strategy to regular encounters and bosses. The pacing is wonderful and the enemies aren’t often annoying or unfair--although that’s not to say they’re pushovers, either! Enemies can become quite challenging, especially in the last couple of dungeons.

Pew pew pew.
Like Ys I & II, Wanderers from Ys features different rings that can be equipped to boost attack or defense, to heal, or even to grant temporary invincibility. Unlike those games, however, usage of the rings consumes Ring Power every second they’re equipped, meaning their effects are always temporary. Oath in Felghana abandons the ring system entirely and instead incorporates elemental bracelets. The fire bracelet is more or less identical to the fire magic from Ys II but the wind and earth bracelets are completely distinct from it. I found myself using the wind bracelet a lot in combat with standard opponents, but the bracelets are required for use against many bosses and for platforming as well. You can light torches with fireballs, glide over gaps with wind magic, and break through walls with the earth bracelet. I absolutely love when games make acquiring new abilities important on multiple levels. Discovering the fire bracelet doesn’t just mean that you have a new spell in your arsenal--it means that you have the ability to uncover content that was previously unavailable to you because you had no access to a projectile or couldn’t light a torch. For this reason, none of the abilities or spells available to you in Oath in Felghana feel extraneous or unnecessary. Conversely, the Healing, Time, and Protection rings from Wanderers from Ys are close to useless. The strategic uses of the Power and Shield Rings are somewhat interesting, but I wasn’t at all sorry to see them go in the remake.
Fully loaded.
The Oath in Felghana removes the ability to save anywhere, which is probably the only negative thing I can say about it as a remake. There are often long stretches of dungeon without access to a save point and it’s not difficult to get overwhelmed and killed after you’ve been adventuring for some time. I think removing the ability to save anywhere is okay, but more frequent access to Travel Monuments would have been nice. I’m much more a fan of difficult boss encounters than I am of difficulty through attrition--that is to say, difficult only because you spend a long period of time potentially without access to healing, taking on wave after wave of monsters. This is not usually a huge problem in Oath of Felghana, but I can recall one specific instance where I died three different times right after acquiring the Terra Bracelet, only a few screens before finding a Travel Monument. I wasn’t given very much time to experiment with my new spell, which I assumed was required to defeat the foes just ahead of me, so I unwisely assaulted them head on and lost a lot of progress several times.
Fun fact: The revival item in Wanderers is bugged and doesn't work at all.
Make no mistake, though--Oath in Felghana is a very difficult game, much more difficult, in fact, than Wanderers from Ys, which derived most of its difficulty from its poor hit detection and unresponsive controls. The Oath in Felghana is difficult because it’s designed to be that way, and this is due in large part to the variety of boss encounters the game has to offer. The original game had a lot of bosses, but many of them were very forgettable since several of them could be successfully cheesed in a manner of seconds. Halvager and Jilderos spring to mind as bosses that require almost no strategy at all.
I literally stood here and attacked the whole time.
The Oath in Felghana overhauls all of these boss encounters and adds a couple of new ones as well, and most of them are very interesting and diverse challenges. One fight from Wanderers that I found to be insanely frustrating was the Ellefale fight, which requires insanely precise positioning and timing to overcome. Combine that with the fact that your attacks miss the boss entirely more often than not and colliding with the enemy chunks off about half your health bar and you have a recipe for disaster. Ellefale in The Oath in Felghana essentially uses the same formula but from a different perspective. The fight is still challenging, but much less frustrating since this time you have access to fireballs that always hit their target, assuming you’re aiming them correctly. It also introduces a mechanic in which bosses tend to acquire new attacks when they get low on health. Just about every boss in the game does this, meaning they all become substantially more difficult as the battle progresses.

Another good example to consider for comparison is Istersiva. In Wanderers, this boss is really nothing special. It’s one of the only times you ever need to use the Time Ring to slow down enemy projectiles--which is neat, I suppose, but it never shows its use beyond that. In Oath in Felghana, Istersiva is just another in a long line of insanely active boss fights, requiring you to move constantly and dodge a stream of projectiles covering your entire screen. It also has two or three different phases as you wear down its health. It begins as a grotesquely fanged sand worm until it merges with the crystalline structure adorning the boss chamber and begins hurling scores of energy blasts at you.
Dodging stuff is fun.
The harpy fight in Wanderers from Ys is another boss battle that received a pretty dramatic upgrade for the remake. In the original version, the harpy flies listlessly from side to side and throws out orbs that can be fairly easily dodged. In Oath in Felghana, the fight becomes a struggle against three harpies, all with different elemental affinities. One is weak to physical attacks, one wind, and the other fire. In fact, none of them will take damage at all from opposing elements, meaning Adol must switch between methods of attack to slowly wear them down. Conventional wisdom might suggest you take them on one at a time, but this is a dubious solution at best since the harpies enrage when one of their allies falls, dramatically increasing the difficulty of the fight. The best solution then becomes defeating them as close together as possible, which is a very fun challenge.

I think it’s safe to say at this point that I didn’t particularly care for Wanderers from Ys, but I did happen to quite enjoy the music. Even with its primitive sound, it’s easy to hear just how well composed and memorable those tunes are, even if the boss theme does eventually become grating. The Oath in Felghana preserves the spirit of these pieces but also greatly expands on them with energetic new arrangements featuring mostly live instrumentation. Music in this series is a real strong point, and The Oath in Felghana outdoes even Ys Chronicles on that front, if you ask me.

Y’know, I did enjoy Wanderers from Ys strictly because of its historical perspective. It was for a long time considered the black sheep of the Ys series and I think it’s interesting to get a feel for why that is. Breaking from convention is certainly not always a bad thing and the sidescrolling gameplay could have definitely worked in the game’s favor--but uninteresting boss encounters, poor pacing, and awful hit detection in the SNES version made it a miserable experience to actually play. Conversely, The Oath in Felghana rebuilds the game from the ground up and turns it into an exciting and incredibly crafted action RPG. I can only hope that the rest of the series has content of similar quality to offer.
Thanks for reading!