Know Your Role #1-Ys Book I & II

As a writer that’s all about channeling your inner child and sharing those common moments with others, it is always nice to return to some of your first loves. When I began creating series of columns I made a point to always include RPGs on my list of priorities. I would look forward to reviewing these games during my time with RTM because as a writer and creative person, like most of us who are, I am my own worst critic, but I always had confidence in my work on RPGs, if by no other proxy than my genuine love for them. This largely comes from my love of reading and writing, which began as a child. I would sit and write up these stories, creating these compelling characters, and taking them on these mystical and highly imaginative adventures. For me, playing an RPG of any kind was like watching stories similar to those I wrote come to life. Know Your Role was created as an outlet for my love of these titles, as well as expanding my horizons on those RPGs that I didn’t get a chance to play. I’m an RPG traditionalist, so this time around, I don’t plan to stick on just those RPGs everyone knows, or even those who follow that tried and true pattern we’ve come to know in RPGs over the years. This is why I chose to restart Know Your Role by covering a game I had only heard of in passing, but never got the opportunity to play until know, Ys Book I & II for the Turbo Grafx-CD, which a dear friend was loyal and faithful enough to allow me to borrow for this review. You are in my debt, dear sir. Now then, on with the adventure!

Obligatory Aaron Hickman box art.

Sound: 9
Credited as one of the first video games to use CD-ROM capabilities, this was a game with some stellar and rather breathtaking tunes to enjoy, despite suggesting that initially it didn’t have a spectacular soundtrack. In many ways, Ys I and II suggest the tried and true adage that great music and great moments in a video game are worth the wait, rewarding you with things as you progress. Good things come to those who wait, who endure and progress through this game, and that is just in the soundtrack alone, but it certainly applies to all aspects of this title. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the voice acting in this game, which was definitely in its infancy at the time, showcasing the power of this “mystical” thing in gaming for the late 80s-early 90s, CD-ROM.

Graphics: 8
While the graphics in the majority of the gameplay is your standard RPG style of the time, as your character makes his way through some fairly undetailed environments, it is the cut scenes and interactions with NPCs in houses, pubs, and shops that look great, once again making the Turbo Grafx CD stand out among the crowd at the time. It’s easy to take something like this for granted now, but at the time this was gaming larvae that had not hatched and become, dare I say, the most cliché and expected butterflies in the industry.

Gameplay: 10
Imagine if you will, a game where the most conventional of RPG staples, action or otherwise, is thrown completely out of the window in favor of one of the most oddball and yet unique takes on attacking your enemies I have ever encountered. If you’re looking for flashy weapon animations here, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. However, if you’re looking for a pasty redhead warrior version of “The Alpha Male” Monty Brown’s signature wrestling maneuver, The Pounce, then action RPG and wrestling fans rejoice in the most absurd looking (and yet awesome) body check in the history as your form of attack.

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THE POWWWWWWWWNCE!

Another important note is that while games like Final Fantasy Origins or Final Fantasy I and II: Dawn Of Souls allow you to choose which game you wish to play first, Ys Book I and II is an adventure in every sense of the word in that both books make up one quest. You finish the first quest, you go to the 2nd one, like you would reading a sci-fi fantasy series or even in video game terms, finishing the first quest in the original Legend Of Zelda and then moving onto the 2nd quest, but in this case there is no cheat name entry to get to the 2nd book. This is a core element missing in a lot of today’s games, even modern RPGs. When did we become so bored or preoccupied with the latest game fads to not just sit and enjoy the simplicity of an action RPG from this era that takes you on a legit gaming journey?

When all else fails, ALWAYS blame a smarmy looking Michael Bay for the decline of civilization and entertainment. Always.

Overall: 9
I will be honest, while I had heard of this series, I was usually uninterested in playing them, one of the many swept up in the Secret Of (fill in the blank), Chrono (again), and Earthbound series crazes to really take notice, and it’s a regret I plan to fix in the coming months. Ys I & II doesn’t get the fanfare of those other franchises and I find it bittersweet in that while I can understand how heavily promoting a game as unique as this has its risks and rewards but I find it a shame that games like this are often understated in the vast history of the RPG genre because like any good genre in gaming, its both nice to see where things began as well as making developers wonder “Why aren’t we making games as different and unconventional as this right now?” I view this game as not only a valuable piece of RPG lore, but also an example of how doing something different can pay off, even if it takes a little while for things to catch on.

I mean, did ANYONE think these two transforming into a Hoser Wing and a Hoser Chicken was going to catch on? Put your hand down, Colonel Sanders.
I mean, did ANYONE think these two transforming into a Hoser Wing and a Hoser Chicken was going to catch on? Put your hand down, Colonel Sanders.

Next time, your favorite Retro Obscura staff writer (admit it, Hickman!) takes a stab at a game he’s nearly embarrassed to admit he’s never played, Lunar: Eternal Blue. Will it be as epic as this first one? Will somebody get POUNCED? Does anybody know where I put my Nutribullet owner’s manual? Find out the answers to these exciting questions and more, but most of all be sure to ALWAYS KNOW YOUR ROLE!

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