Like many here in North America, the widely available Super Nintendo release of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys served as my introduction to the series back in the ’90s. I played it with a friend and mainly just remember how much we cracked up at the area where a never-ending stream of pissed-off birds keeps pouring out of the sky and all you need to do to rapidly level up protagonist Adol is make him stand there with his sword held up as this avalanche of angry avians kamikaze into it ad infinitum. Magnificent. For decades, that’s all Nihon Falcom’s venerable saga was to me: A forgettable SNES action RPG with the easiest, and funniest, level grinding ever. Having recently rediscovered Ys via the remarkable Book I & II for TurboGrafx-CD, I thought it might be fun to renew my acquaintance with Wanderers.
Ah, but why limit myself to one platform this time around? Originally released for Japanese home computers in 1989, Ys III became one of the few games to appear on all three major 16-bit consoles in 1991. I couldn’t decide which version to play, so I didn’t! Instead, I’m pulling out all the stops to bring you my first triple review! That’s right: I played through the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and TurboGrafx-CD editions of Ys III back-to-back. So you don’t have to, I guess. How do they compare? Which is the best overall? Read on!
First, I should probably break down how Ys III works and weigh in on whether any iteration of it is actually worth playing. It has a reputation among hardcore fans as a black sheep entry. So much so that many consider it to be completely superseded by its own official 2005 remake, Ys: The Oath in Felghana. Why? Some point to its status as the lone side-scroller in the franchise. The same could be said of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, though, and I adore it. No, above all, Ys III is simply too basic for its own good.
Wanderers from Ys begins with the title characters, red-haired swordsman Adol and his faithful companion Dogi, stopping in for a friendly visit to Dogi’s home town. They soon discover that the region’s power hungry ruler is hatching a plot to revive an ancient demon of tremendous power and it falls on Adol to sort everything out. He’ll accomplish this by charging down a fixed sequence of corridors, furiously dicing up everything in his path.
Ys III pares the action RPG down to its barest essentials. The player is afforded no freedom when it comes to where to go or what to do next. There’s one town, two shops, and a handful of dungeons that feature plenty of enemies, but zero exploration or puzzle solving. If it wasn’t for the experience system and periodic dialog scenes, you could easily mistake this for a typical pure action-platformer of the period. Such is its strict linearity and unwavering focus on hack-and-slash.
For all that, Ys III might have still been a-ok if the combat was top-notch. Unfortunately, it suffers from a general lack of feedback that leaves it feeling floaty and disjointed. Adol and his foes don’t tend to react to each other’s attacks, so you never get the impression that the characters on-screen are truly interacting. This tactile element is so fundamental to the success of any action game that we only tend to notice it in its absence. That absence makes the game tougher than it otherwise would be, too, as enemies that manage to touch Adol are prone to linger there, doling out constant damage. Be sure to rack up tons of experience early on, and make liberal use of your ability to save progress nearly anywhere.
The sole standout aspect of Ys III is the spectacular soundtrack by Mieko Ishikawa, who was somehow able to maintain the epic energy of the first two games without the aid of former co-composer Yuzo Koshiro. Apart from that, we’re left with a woefully shallow action RPG that’s unlikely to impress fans of either genre, let alone both. While not legitimately terrible, it’s well below the usual Ys standard. It is at least short, however, and I suppose there are countless worse ways to spend two or three hours of your life.
Now, on to the comparisons!
- Excellent music that closely resembles that of the computer originals.
- Well balanced combat, neither punishingly difficult nor a complete pushover.
- By far the worst translation job. Character and place names have been altered, syntax is consistently awkward, and misspellings abound. You know I giggled when the shopkeeper asked if I wanted to “buy harb.”
- Best in-game graphics thanks to larger, more detailed sprites.
- Most accurate translation. Character and place names maintain continuity with other installments and the dialog reads reasonably natural.
- Fastest experience grind due to the exploitable instant enemy respawns unique to this version. Think those crazy birds I mentioned.
- Worst music. Questionable sample choices mar some brilliant compositions, leaving them sounding weak and a little cheesy at times.
- Extra-durable enemies that constantly respawn disrupt the balance of combat. This is the most difficult playthrough of the three for all the wrong reasons.
- Utterly spectacular CD soundtrack that begs to be heard.
- Lovely opening and closing cutscenes.
- The choppy background scrolling might literally give you a headache if you stare at it too long. I can’t overemphasize what an almighty eyesore this jittering mess is throughout.
- There’s voice acting for the majority of the main cast. Wretched, low effort voice acting that isn’t even goofy enough to be amusing. They shouldn’t have bothered.
- Arguably too easy.
Winner: Genesis. It can’t quite match the Super Nintendo’s visuals or the TurboGrafx’s stunning CD music, and its script really would have benefited from some additional proofreading. Despite that, it suffers from the fewest major issues and is ultimately the most balanced, best playing option. If you seek out only one 16-bit port of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, make it Sega’s.