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Ys Seven Q&A

"We speak to localization specialist Thomas Lipschultz about the latest entry in the venerable Ys franchise."

This long-running series has now made it to the PlayStation Portable so that role-playing game fans can take it with them on the go. Like previous games, the story revolves around the young red-haired lad Adol Christin, as he stumbles upon a new land and then somehow manages to save the world with his unique skills. Ys Seven introduces a new party system that allows players to rotate among different characters on the fly in battle and customize them. Localization specialist Thomas Lipschultz answers our questions about Falcom's latest, Ys Seven, which is set to hit stores this August.

Ys Seven introduces a new party system where you can swap characters on the fly.

Ys Seven introduces a new party system where you can swap characters on the fly.

GameSpot: What can you tell us about the story and the characters in Ys Seven? How is this installment related to the previous games in the series?

Thomas Lipschultz: Like all Ys games (except Ys II, which is why it's almost always included on the same disc as Ys I), Ys Seven is a stand-alone story. The series in general is about a red-haired adventurer named Adol Christin, and in every game, he always begins by arriving in some new land (usually with his BFF Dogi at his side), getting caught up in some sort of turmoil involving the reawakening of an ancient evil, learning he's the chosen one who's destined to stop it, stopping it, ignoring all the women who've fallen for him, then setting sail for some other new land (to be continued in the next game!). It's generally not a particularly deep story, but then, it isn't trying to be--it knows what it is, and it revels in that. Like the games of old, Ys titles are always about gameplay first and foremost, and I think that's a big part of their charm.

Ys Seven's story follows this same basic pattern, but because it's the first title in the series to include a party system, it puts a little more emphasis on telling an interesting and well-paced narrative. It's still very simplistic, but there are plenty of unexpected plot twists and heaping spoonfuls of character development to keep the player genuinely looking forward to what will happen next.

The best way to describe Ys Seven's plot is to focus on its setting, since the series has always been big on subtle world development. Ys Seven opens with Adol and Dogi arriving in the country of Altago (an analogue to Carthage), which has been at war with the Romun Empire for quite some time and only just reached a ceasefire agreement with them. As such, the Altaginian people are still extremely xenophobic, suspecting every stranger they meet of being a Romun spy. And since Adol and Dogi stick out like sore thumbs…well, it's not long before they get falsely imprisoned for treason, which sets in motion a course of events that--you guessed it--leads to Adol becoming the chosen one who must save all of Altago from an ancient evil.

Fortunately, like I said, there are some pretty shocking plot twists to be had and lots of political intrigue along the way. Oh, and fans of the previous Ys game, Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, will be glad to see the return of Geis, as well as the three fairies Xisa, Sera, and Jue.

GS: The production values of Book I and II were ahead of their time, and this is the first Ys game to be built specifically for the PSP. Why was the PSP chosen for this title? How has the series' presentation evolved over time?

TL: Well, as I'm sure some readers may know, Falcom's always developed primarily for the PC. In fact, there was an 11-year stretch from 1995 to 2006 where Falcom developed only PC titles in house, with all of their console titles ported and published entirely by third-party companies. In 2006, Falcom broke this streak by porting their 2004 PC hit Gurumin to the PSP in house. And ever since, there's been PSP game after PSP game from them. I believe they've released 10 titles on the PSP at this point (in Japan, of course), with an 11th (Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga) due out this month and a 12th (Legend of Heroes: Zero no Kiseki) due out in September.

I remember reading an interview with them back in 2006, which noted that they chose the PSP because developing games for it is structurally very similar to developing games for PC, and handheld titles are both more popular and more lucrative than computer games in today's market (especially in Japan, where computer gaming has always been significantly more niche than it is in the Western world).

As for how the series' presentation has evolved, I guess the best answer is: It's become more 3D! Up through Ys V, every game in the series was presented in 2D, featuring animated sprites moving around on hand-drawn tiles. Ys VI was the first title to feature fully 3D environments, but it still had 2D character sprites moving around within those environments (save for the PS2 version, where Konami replaced the 2D sprites with 3D models). Ys Seven is not only the first Ys title to be developed specifically for the PSP; it's also the first Ys title to be developed by Falcom 100 percent in 3D, with all characters and backgrounds represented through carefully assembled 3D polygons instead of 2D art.

What's nice, though, is that they did a really great job with it, taking advantage of their 3D environment and characters to depict story-advancing cutscenes with dynamic camera angles and subtle, well-conceived animations. In general, it's just a really great-looking game!

Aside from that, though, it still somehow really looks like a Ys game. I can't even explain how…I just know that it does. If you see this game in action, and you're familiar with the series, you know you're looking at a Ys title. Maybe it's the fixed camera perspective; maybe it's the colors…I don't know. I just know it's got that classic Ys feel all the way around. And as long as they never lose that, this series will never get old!

Fast-paced action keeps you on your toes.

Fast-paced action keeps you on your toes.

GS: The view and game mechanics have changed over time in the series. What decisions do you believe may have led to these changes in Ys Seven?

TL: I always tell people that Falcom doesn't try to reinvent the wheel; they just try to make it rounder. In other words, innovation isn't as important to them as fine tuning a genre until it's as fun as it can possibly be. But this is actually kind of a faulty way of looking at it, as Falcom really does innovate. They just do so bit by bit, over time, learning from their mistakes and further improving upon their successes. It's almost like they apply the scientific method to game design: Come up with a theory, test it out, figure out what works, figure out what doesn't, and apply what you've learned to the next phase of the experiment.

Ys Seven very much does the same thing, and if you look at some of Falcom's other titles from the last five years, you can fairly easily see the progression that led to the awesome game we have today. Two of their PC titles in particular, Xanadu Next and Zwei II, were clearly influential on Ys Seven's gameplay. Xanadu Next sports a very similar (but less robust) ability system, as well as similar dungeon design philosophies, and Zwei II sports a similar party system (which was, itself, built upon the party system used in the original Zwei and integrated with the basic gameplay of Gurumin!).

Falcom seems to have taken these best parts of Xanadu Next and Zwei II, mixed them with the best parts of the previous generation of Ys games, and pureed them together into an ambrosia of delicious action role-playing game goodness, which they're now further adapting to be used in Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki!

GS: Is the game more focused on the story, action, or other aspects?

TL: Absolutely 100 percent action. The story's not bad; don't get me wrong. But it's very simple and classic and clearly written for virtually no other reason than to facilitate awesome gameplay.

Posted on Jul 09, 2010