The three most elusive creatures on the planet are Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster and a truly great PSP game. While Sony's handheld has seen a few first-rate titles during its life span, the device has mostly been neglected while publishers focus their efforts on the machine's big brother. That's what makes it even more memorable when gems like Ys Seven come along; you appreciate the game all the more due to the relative lack of competition.
The Ys series has seen moderately big success in Asia but hasn't really taken off in America. That's mostly because the franchise rarely sees a release outside of Japan, so many gamers simply don't even know the series exists. If Ys Seven is any indication of quality, then the whole series needs to make an appearance and show American audiences just what an RPG (that's not named Final Fantasy) can truly be.
Ys Seven once again stars series protagonist Adol Christin and his faithful companion Dogi as they set off for adventure. This time, the two head to the land of Altago, a country that has had its borders closed until recently due to a long-running war with a neighboring nation. Now that hostilities have ceased, Adol and Dogi hit the shores looking for fame and treasure, but they're quickly wrapped up in a tale of destruction and deceit. The plot ultimately delves into the familiar "chosen hero must save the world," but the presentation is just different enough that it doesn't feel too familiar. Further enhancing the tale is a cast of genuinely interesting characters who go a long way toward pulling you into the world and making you care about this country being threatened by earthquakes, giant monsters and a deadly plague. This is one of those rare games that can take ancient RPG storytelling conventions and actually make them feel new again.
Contrasting the old-world story presentation is a truly modern take on combat. All battles are fought in real time, and all enemies are visible on-screen so that fights feel more like those from an action game rather than an RPG. Tapping the attack button strikes standard blows while also providing skill points that can be saved up to utilize more powerful attacks. Players who want to fill their skill gauge more quickly can charge up attacks, sacrificing a few moments of vulnerability for a big boost in both damage dealt and skill points earned. On top of all that, each character also has an Extra skill which, when fully charged, unleashes a massive attack big enough to destroy pretty much any regular monster and take a big chunk out of bosses' life bars. Again, the basic tenets of battle are nothing you haven't seen before, but they're refined to such a degree that it feels like perfection personified. It's hard to imagine a more enjoyable or approachable combat system.
On top of that, the game also throws in some little wrinkles to keep combat interesting even 20 hours into the game. Each skill is initially attached to a specific weapon, so the only way to use the skill is to equip its corresponding sword, bow, etc. Repeatedly using a skill allows a character to learn it, and eventually, he will develop the ability to utilize the skill without needing the weapon. Thus, each new weapon you find isn't just a boost to your attack but also a chance to add to your repertoire of attacks. It's a very fun system that encourages players to mix up their attacks and do more than repeatedly stab standard enemies with regular attacks while saving up all their big moves for the boss.
A final level of gameplay depth is added by the fact that each weapon has a specific attack type, and certain types are more effective against some enemies than others. For instance, Dogi's blunt attacks are most effective against tough, armored enemies, so players will want to control him when attacking monsters that have a shell. On the other hand, Aisha's pierce attacks are about the only thing that can hit flying, agile enemies, so she'll be your warrior of choice in those circumstances. The game allows you to have a party of three characters on-screen at any time, and you can switch between them with a simple button press, so it can be a lot of fun juggling characters as the situation arises. Even better, the AI-controlled partners are some of the smartest I've ever seen in any RPG, attacking wisely and incredibly capable of avoiding damage when you aren't in direct command. For once, you don't have to babysit your allies, and it goes a long way toward making the game truly fun.
The only real knocks against Ys Seven are that the visuals are a little low-res and the game resorts to a pretty cheap tactic toward the end to pad out the length. At one point, you are tasked with returning to every dungeon you've already cleared, but going in deeper this time in order to find the true secrets. Thankfully, you get to skip all the rooms you've already fought through once, and the dungeons within dungeons have a different layout and new enemies, but it's still a bit of a cheap ploy. What is annoying is that all the warp points you have activated up to this point are turned off due to an "energy fluctuation," so returning to each dungeon means a long slog through mostly familiar territory while blasting underpowered foes.
In a game that does practically everything else right, flaws like these are easily forgivable, and RPG fans shouldn't shy away from this title based on those decidedly tiny mistakes. The simple fact is that Ys Seven is one of the best RPGs on this or any other console, and it's a true hidden gem for PSP owners. If you have the remotest interest in the genre or are a fan of genuinely well-made games, then you absolutely must give this title a shot.
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