Ys Book I & II
Publisher: Nihon Falcom & Hudson Soft
System: TurboGrafx-16 CD, TurboDuo
USA Release: 1990
It can be a struggle in this day and age to remember just how primitive home gaming systems were in the late 1980s. It was very much still the world of Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong, of simple games with simple graphics, basic sound effects, and little if any story. Games of this age were certainly fun, and some of them were even brilliant. Zelda, Dragon Quest, Phantasy Star, and others were pushing the boundaries of just what games could do, and even of what they were expected to be. Yet, there is no denying that we've come a long way, and that the games of today have a complexity we could have scarcely dreamt of twenty-plus years ago, when the medium was still new and rudimentary.
So, I have to wonder if a modern gamer can really understand the utter astonishment that I felt when I first saw Ys Book I & II, the flagship product of the TurboGrafx-16 system's CD add-on. The TurboGrafx itself was a bit of an also-ran system in an age when Nintendo and Sega were king. It was the first 16-bit home gaming system, and for that it did gain some notoriety, yet it was still dwarfed by its juggernaut competitors, whose own 16-bit offerings were just over the horizon.
I was fortunate to receive the base TurboGrafx system for Christmas in 1989. It came as a total surprise. I had gotten my NES about 18 months earlier and was completely enthralled by it (as was the entire household). I'd barely discovered game magazines by that time and had no concept of what the future of gaming would entail. My dad somehow came across the TurboGrafx and decided to pick it up, to my delight, though in retrospect I think he did this for his own enjoyment as much as my own.
I was impressed right away by the graphics and sound of the TurboGrafx. The presentation was light years ahead of what the NES could do. I was also blessed with an awesome assortment of games with which to begin my exploration, including the likes of Dungeon Explorer and Neutopia. But the big shock would come a while later, when we saw the TurboGrafx-CD add-on at an electronics store. The proprieter had a demo reel going, showing some of the best of what this remarkable new device could do, and the game featured most prominently was Ys Book I & II. We'd never seen anything like it: voice acting, gorgeous anime-style graphics, incredible animation, and a mind-blowing Redbook CD soundtrack. All this in addition to a haunting opening story that set the stage for an exciting, mysterious, dramatic adventure unlike anything seen in a game up to that time. My dad and I were transfixed by it, and we wanted it, but it was simply out of our price range. CD technology was the latest thing then and it was anything but cheap.
This longing was fulfilled at last on Christmas Day 1992, when I got my TurboDuo, the next-gen model of TurboGrafx, in which the CD unit was built in. Best of all, the TurboDuo came with Ys as one of six pack-in games. It was, of course, the very first game that we popped in, and time had done nothing to dull its glitter.
Everything about the opening of Ys is perfect. It virtually screams, "This game is brilliant and you are going to love it." And indeed, especially for its era, the game is a masterwork. No adventure game or RPG could match its storytelling and complexity, and no other game, period, could hope to outperform it in terms of graphics or sound. Surprisingly, even the voice acting is top-notch, with a cast almost exlusively made up of first class voice acting talent, including several famous names.
Sadly, I really don't enjoy playing Ys anymore. I'm a little surprised by this myself, being the big retro-gaming fanboy that I am. The problem with Ys is that at least a third of the game is spent within Darm Tower and Solomon Shrine, the big final areas of Ys I and Ys II, respectively. These areas are repetetive and require tons of backtracking, and the thought of slogging through them dulls my desire to play through the game again. Yet, I find that this is one of the games that I most enjoy watching playthroughs of online, and it's the only game that I ever pop into my computer just for the sake of watching the beautiful opening sequence. This way, I can avoid the gameplay annoyances but still relive that giddy excitement from so long ago, when I first realized the untold promise of what games would eventually become.