Thursday, November 22, 2012

Impressions: Ys IV: Mask of the Sun (SFC)

Received: September 10th, 2012 / Written: November 17th-22nd, 2012
Ys IV: Mask of the Sun
Year: 1993 | Developed and Published by: Tonkin House | Licensed by: Nihon Falcom | [ O ]

"Eleven against one??  That's not a fair advantage!"
The Ys series is a well-known series among gamers, and some argue that it's got some of the best storytelling on there.  The games have also made their mark in A-RPG history by incorporating anime cutscenes, a rockin' soundtrack all around, and they have very detailed plots.  The great thing about the plots are that bit by bit you uncover a bit of information and secrets which gradually connect the pieces to the plot, and the plots themselves are usually great.  My experience with the Ys series up to this point has been positive so far.

The first Ys, Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished, I thought was quite good, even though it's easy and can be beaten in a few hours.  The sequel Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished - The Final Chapter, which takes place straight after the events of the first game, was a huge improvement; it had more length, greater areas, amped up the difficulty (maybe more so than actually needed), and it had a great final boss encounter.  Also I liked how Jim Cummings provided the voice for one of the villainous characters.  The first two games I played back to back on Ys Book I & II on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console (I downloaded it the day it arrived on the service back in 2008), and in my opinion that's the best way to play the first two games because the first half ends on a cliffhanger and the second half takes place immediately after that event.  Fun games!  The following year I tried the third iteration in the series, the sidescrolling venture Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, which is a heavily polarized title, garnering mixed reactions from critics and gamers alike.  I played the SNES version, and I personally enjoyed it, plus I liked it more than its predecessors even though it was a tad shorter and easier than the previous game.  I loved it and thought was fun even though I had my share of personal qualms with it.  Fastforward three years later, after I got my Retro Duo.  It opened a big window for me, and now I could be able to play Super Famicom games from Japan.  I thought that since my first SFC cart was the Japan-exclusive RPG Alcahest that I would order an RPG every three other games (so far it's working out, but now I'm not so sure); the fourth SFC game I bought was the perfect Tenchi Sōzō (Terranigma to most all of you) and for the seventh game I bought the well-known Ys IV: Mask of the Sun.  And honestly, it's the best Ys game I played so far; I've yet to play games number 5 through 7.

Whoa, I can see my own reflection!  Cool!  =D
Interesting to note is that back when this game came out, it was made not by series creator Nihon Falcom, but by the developers behind the Nintendo 16-bit version of the third game, Tonkin House.  Actually, there are two games under the Ys IV moniker, this followed by the Hudson Soft version on the PC-Engine Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys (which I haven't played).  Even though Tonkin House's version is (or was) the official fourth entry in the series, Hudson Soft's non-canon entry is highly lauded by many gamers.  I looked up that while the PC-Engine version has the same plotline and gameplay, the structure is different and plot elements take place during different moments; so it's not a port so much as a new game.  There were supposed to three Ys IV titles, but for some reason Sega's version was halfway finished in development before it got canned.  I'm guessing the reason Nihon Falcom didn't work on it themselves back then was because they were working on Brandish 2: The Planet Buster, which came out at around the same time; but I don't know that for a fact.

And just as I decide that Mask of the Sun is going to be my newest Super Famicom experience, I find out that there's going to be another Ys IV experience, for the PlayStation Vita called Ys: Ocean Foliage in Celceta, and that it was worked on by Nihon themselves and will replace the SFC game as the official fourth game in the series.  I find it a little frustrating and a little sad too, because Tonkin House's game is really fun, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  Since 1993, Ys IV has stayed a Japan-exclusive title (including the PlayStation 2 remake), even after the sixth and seventh titles came out, and the only likelihood of the PS Vita game being released outside Japan is in 2013, the twentieth anniversary of the fourth title, but even then chances of it happening are very slim.  If it does come out in America, I'm not going to buy a Vita just for that one game; that would be wasteful.  But that's just me; anyway, I've gone on long enough, let's talk about how I feel about Ys IV: Mask of the Sun=)

A conversation between two individuals
After the sidescrolling adventure Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, Nihon decided (before delegating the responsibility to Tonkin House) to go back to their original roots, where the game once again is viewed from a bird's eye view.  Just like Wanderers from Ys was the Zelda II: The Adventure of Link of the Ys games, so too is Ys IV: Mask of the Sun the The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past to the series, in that it reverted back to the original style and successfully manages to outdo all the games that came out before it by incorporating more elements and create a much more fun experience in the process.  From what I researched Mask of the Sun takes place after the events of the second and before the third game; so really, this is both a sequel and a prequel all at once (a midquel, I suppose).

One of Ys IV's many fun maze-like areas
Young red-haired Adol Christin once again takes the role of the main protagonist, and since this game went back to the original roots, so did the original gameplay.  For those of you that are not aware, Adol's method of attacking is shoving the enemies until their health is down; that's it.  But you don't want to run straight through them, as chances are you'll be losing health this way, so I highly advise that you attack from one side of the enemy (to its left or to its right, it doesn't matter which).  There are some enemy areas and some safe areas where if you hold still long enough then your health will automatically heal itself, which is nice and convenient.  There are items which you'll find and need in order to advance the plot, and of course there are items which you'll need in order to make sure you prolong your survival, like herbs and potions for health or magic, among others.Throughout the adventure you'll find different variations of weapons and equipment, and usually the newest ones you find are the ones you'll wish to stick with.  What's pretty neat is that with this fourth installation there are some swords and blades which can conjure up some magic via the X button.  Some examples that come to mind are shooting fire, ice, and even lightning.  But the catch is that it uses up magic points, and how much it uses up varies with the blade you use, so it's really wise to use the magic sparingly.  During the boss battles you'll need to exert tons of physical damage towards them, and you'll have to be careful not to take too much damage plus make sure you follow their exact pattern to have them defeated.  Adol still moves in a boxed, four-way pattern, but he moves so swiftly that it's not really much of an issue throughout the game.  The item roster is bigger than it was before, and this time it's actually possible to get poisoned by a certain enemy type; the only way for it to lose effect is if you equip an antidote or if you hold still for a minute or two until it goes away.  Halfway in the adventure you'll be given a "wing" item which you can use any time you want and teleport yourself to any of the areas you've been in.  Sweet!  The gameplay is rock solid, though I still find the method of attacking through pushing a little silly.

Adol confronts enemies thrice his size
The Ys games aren't known for having the most impressive of visuals, but in their own right they do look good, particularly this fourth entry's visuals.  What I always enjoyed about the series is how the action is viewed inside a nice-looking frame, which is pretty neat.  The frame looks nice and stylized, but everything else in the game looks good as well.  The areas are rich with detail (, and I like how there is a big amount of variety.  A few examples that of these locations are the ice caves where it all looks so cool and nice, and it's largely covered in ice, not to mention there is an icy floor that ends up showing the upper walls', Adol's and the enemies' reflection below them.  That is awesome, and it reminded of a similar time it happened in the first Ys.  Another area I'd like to talk about a rock-style cavern where it's all brown with all the rocks around it with the holes that lead to different portions.  The brown coloring scheme that was used in this area is not bad, and it works, to be honest.  There is also another area that takes place in the middle of a big forest, and from the first seconds you enter there it gets darker and begins to rain.  As simple as the forest and rain effects look, it's still nice to look at.  There are even a few times when you might be walking behind a color-layering waterfall, and even a few instances during the penultimate area where you climb the tower in a neat visual fashion.  Sorry if I'm losing you, the point I'm getting at is the areas look good, despite their simplicity.  The safe town areas look wonderful and inviting, and each area has their own quality that makes them stand out.  The character and enemy models are really small, but they animate real well.  Adol looks cool, and I like the way he looks when he runs.  There are times during conversations when from time to time the characters would either lower their head or even spin around to express a feeling of surprise or importance, the latter of which I find really humorous.  What I find cool about Ys IV is how whenever you meet some notable villains and fight them as bosses, they start off about the same height as you, but then they grow roughly three times Adol's size.  That is incredibly awesome!  =D  It's not often that you see that happen in games of this ilk.  As is a custom for the Ys series, there are anime-like cutscenes, and boy they do not disappoint.  The intro sequence alone is spectacular!

I remember this bridge!  I have such good memories
of this bridge!
Another aspect the Ys series is best known for is having a rock-like soundtrack, and this installation delivers each song with flying colors.  The rock quality has always been one of the best parts of the entire series, in my opinion.  What I find very interesting about this soundtrack is how this time there are some symphonics in the mix of the rock music, and even songs that sound entirely symphonic.  It stands out to say the least, but the songs don't sound half bad.  A lot of the battlefield areas sound great, like the one that's played during the ice cavern and and the one that's played during the raining forest area.  The penultimate tower area has pretty rockin' music too, which sounds epic.  The town themes sound neat, too, and I like how fantastic the symphonic themes sound.  A few themes from the first two Ys games are even remixed, and the remixes sound nice in 16-bit format.  There are a couple sad-sounding themes, including this music box-like theme that plays any time this one key blonde female character makes an appearance.  The regular boss theme sounds good, but the final boss theme really steals the show, as it's an epic-sounding showdown with a real sense of urgency, not to mention it's a do or die moment.  The sound effects are nice, too, particularly the ones for when Adol damages enemies and bosses.  The found item sound still sounds similar to Metroid's item found sound, which always sounds cool, and the sound that plays for whenever the bosses have been taken down is great.

Hey, you helped me on my second quest!
You're a good, helpful friend!  =)
So in the end I thought Ys IV: Mask of the Sun was a very fantastic RPG.  It's not the best one in the genre, but it definitely does earn a spot in the Top 10 Nintendo 16-bit RPGs category as far as I'm concerned.  Even though I personally enjoyed Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, I really liked how the licensers Nihon Falcom decided to revert back to their original formula, and especially decided to add new content to make for a more exciting adventure.  The areas all look good, and I love how they've got their own individual look and attention to detail in them.  Each area is designed nicely, and I enjoy their maze-like design.  The rock hard music is awesome, as usually is the case with this series, even if it was significantly different in certain parts, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Controls are great, and it was nice for Adol to once again shove enemies in order to damage them, silly though it may sound.  The inventory system is nice, and I thought it was cool that some of the swords or blades had magic qualities.  What's neat about this game is that you could obtain up to ten of each weapon, armor, and shield.  That is awesome, and it's quite an accomplishment considering the previous three games.  The idea to turn Ys IV: Mask of the Sun into a midquel was good one, and the boss fights are exciting.  It was nice to see some characters and revisit a few areas from the first two Ys games, and some of them made me smile; the 16-bit remixes of a few of the themes were really nice.  =)  If there's one qualm I have, it's just a nitpick of mine, but here goes: the experience points.  Unlike the last game, the level cap is 31, and any time you decimate enemies and bosses you'll earn experience points.  But here's what I noticed: the more you level up, the less experience points you'll earn by fighting older enemies, meaning that the newer enemies will consistently have the highest amount.  You'll earn the same amount of money, but you'll earn a different amount of experience points as you level up.  That's just distracting for me; no RPG does that, or at least no game in the RPG genre that I played does that!  But apparently this one does, so go figure.

Even though it was all in Japanese, I was involved in the story somewhat.  There were some rather harsh moments in this fourth Ys adventure, and a few of them were even mean-spirited.  There's this one moment where Adol eavesdrops on a conversation between a winged figure and the Terrible Trio, as I'd like to call them, but he gets exposed by the winged creature; so what happens next is he gets beaten to a pulp by the trio, and even when his health has gone to zero, he's still brutally attacked until they stop.  And I'm like "Did that seriously just happen??", and I've got to tell you, that scene made me so mad; hell, it makes me mad just thinking about it.  There is also this blonde female character who plays a key role in the game, but she consistently gets mistreated (and one time brutally injured) throughout most the of the game, and I cannot help but feel sorry for her; her theme is also so sad that it makes me feel as if something seriously tragic is going to happen.  There are dark moments in this game, too, but the mean-spiritedness that occurs in some of them really gets to me.  The first three games had a few dark moments in certain parts, but never to the extent that was done in this game.  There were a few scenes I felt were emotional, especially the scene that occurs straight after the final boss encounter was finished.  I thought it was one of those "it didn't have to be this way" moments, and I really thought the scene was especially sad.  It was nowhere near as heartwrenching as Tenchi Sōzō's ending scenario, but it was sad all the same.

Regardless, Ys IV: Mask of the Sun was a very fun game, and it took me around eleven non-consecutive hours to beat it (I beat it in more than two months after I received it), at the level cap 31.  It's not that the game is hard, though there are challenging moments, and the adventure is a lot shorter and it can be beaten in less time.  The reason it took me so long to beat the game was because I was a little busy, with college, work, life in general, and I was playing more games, too.  I admit I took some breaks during the middle of my playthrough, too.  I can see why it's positively received, and I'm glad I got to play it.  It's a 9 for me!  =)
Thank you for reading, please leave a comment!


Now that I played the fourth game, my next mission in the Ys series is to play the fifth iteration.  Fortunately that won't be much of an issue, since they've only made one version of it for the Sup--
Really?  =(  Man!  *sigh*  Well I didn't think it would come to this, but I see that I am left with no choice: I'll flip a coin over it.  Heads I play the original version, and tails I try the Expert version.  Here I go: *flips coin and waits for it to land on the ground*
TO BE CONTINUED...
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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  =)

2 comments:

  1. Nice review!

    I don't understand why you are so happy about being able to carry 10 of the same swords. Do your swords break or wear out? Please elaborate.

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    1. The swords don't break, and neither do they ever wear out. The reason I found it exciting was because in the first three games you were only able to carry between about four to six of each of them, and to see that you can carry ten, *this* much weaponry and armor in the fourth game is a real breakthrough for the series. I guess it's the quantity that makes me happy.
      I'm sorry I didn't clarify that in third to last paragraph, and I'm sorry if that wasn't the answer you were expecting. =(

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