A Look Back at the Ys Series on PlayStation Handhelds - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 24 November 2018 / 3,672 Views
Ys is something I discovered on a whim. After hearing positive things about the PSP entries I decided to try out Oath in Felghana one day. Over the months that followed I gorged on the franchise and it became one of my all-time favourites. The mixture of fast action-based combat, inventive boss battles, and a brilliant old-school exploration feel made the series a delight that has held up extremely well over time.
Thankfully, the PSP was blessed with multiple entries and this support continued onto the Vita, with remakes, ports, and a brand new title releasing over the course of the handheld’s life. It made the franchise a perfect choice for this series of articles, because although the series' future definitely isn’t on Sony’s handhelds at this point, it still had some brilliant representation over the past 12 years.
So in this article I’ll be looking back at a history of the franchise on Sony’s handhelds, from its origins on the PSP right through the latest release on Vita, with an emphasis on the quality of the ports to the handhelds as well as any sales figures that are available, alongside a conclusion of how well the franchise has done on the platforms.
A Somewhat False Start
The Ys franchise has a long history spanning back decades, although it took until 2006 for it to debut on Sony’s handhelds, with a port of the sixth entry Ark of Napishtim, which itself had been ported to the PS2 a year earlier. That PS2 release was actually the first appearance of Ys on a Sony console, due to Falcom’s earlier focus on the PC market.
It was an odd release by all accounts. The PSP version was handled by Konami (who also had a hand in the PS2 release) but featured none of the improved content that the move to home consoles had brought. It was also marred by a lack of voice acting, frequent load times, and general performance issues, making it by far the worst version of Napishtim, even if it was on a portable for the first time. A western release followed later in 2006, although sadly the game was never put up on PSN, meaning it’s not accessible on Vita.
It wasn’t uncommon for Falcom to licence out its titles to other publishers like this – in fact around this time the company also had a partnership in place with Taito to bring the earlier Ys games to PS2, as well as a further agreement with Bandai to remake the Legend of Heroes series for the PSP. However, Napishtim would be the only time such a partnership would impact the Ys franchise on Sony handhelds until a decade later, as Falcom soon went all hands on deck with the PSP directly, meaning there was no need to contract other companies in.
The PSP & XSEED Era
By 2009, Falcom found itself needing to adapt to new hardware, due to the dwindling PC userbase it was reaching with its titles. Taking a gamble with the 2006 release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky on PSP, the company was buoyed by its success and worked quickly to port a large amount of content to the handheld over the coming years.
For the Ys series, this began in July 2009, with Ys I & II Chronicles. Based on the PC remake of the TurboGrafx-CD original (yes, it has a convoluted history), Chronicles was a compilation of the first two titles, which followed Adol Christin’s earliest adventures. Known for their compelling stories and amusing bump-combat system, the package provided a great introduction to the series for newcomers and established Ys among the Sony handheld audience.
It wouldn’t be long until PSP gamers had more Ys to play. The company showed its commitment to Sony’s ecosystem with the first new entry in years, entitled Ys Seven, which designed specifically for the hardware and landed in September 2009. Featuring sweeping gameplay changes, including the introduction of a party system (previous entries had mainly focused on the solo adventures of Adol), and taking place in the desert kingdom of Altago, the new direction wasn’t beloved by everyone, but it became the highest selling Ys game in Japan, clearing 70k copies domestically.
It was a return to more traditional Ys gameplay with the next PSP entry, which was Oath in Felghana. It hit Japan in April of 2010 and was widely seen as the series’ best entry (it’s definitely my own personal favourite). The game mixed light platforming with dungeon exploration and some incredibly satisfying boss battles. Sadly, it didn’t resonate particularly well with Japanese consumers (30k sold), but it was part of a new lease of life for the franchise in the west.
You see, around this time the North American publisher XSEED had begun to take an interest in Ys, establishing a long-running partnership with Falcom to bring multiple games overseas. But XSEED wasn't going to follow release order and, unsurprisingly, made Ys Seven its first title in August 2010, likely due to its higher production values and more modern feel. Oath in Felghana followed (November), with Chronicles landing in February 2011.
European releases were messier due to XSEED not having a presence in the region, but digital versions were made available. It all helped to raise awareness of the brand, alongside the Steam port of Origin. Ys was receiving critical acclaim and gamers around the world were slowly discovering what a brilliant action-adventure franchise it was.
New Hardware and New Horizons
In Japan, Falcom had a fitting swansong for the PSP that would pay tribute to its two most successful franchises. This was Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga – a crossover with the popular Legend of Heroes titles, and it landed in Japan in July of 2010. Playing more like a fighting game than an RPG, although with a nice Ys twist, the title sold 45k in the region, which was a reasonably solid performance.
Given its recent history of localizing every PSP Ys title available, it seemed a safe bet that XSEED would pick it up for overseas release, but sadly that wasn’t to be – Alternative Saga remained Japan-only, likely due to a combination of the game’s status as a spin-off and the handheld’s declining hardware sales and rampant piracy. It was a shame, as the franchise would take a brief hiatus before the next entry landed, albeit thankfully on a much more relevant piece of hardware.
In 2011, Sony launched the PSP’s successor - the PlayStation Vita - and Falcom immediately announced that it was on board, with the first title landing a little under 12 months after the console’s release. This was Ys: Memories of Celceta, a remake of the fourth entry in the series, which rewrote the canon of the two previous versions. Following the groundwork of Ys Seven in focusing on team-based combat and rock-paper-scissors based attacks, combined with a story about Adol waking up with no memories in the forest of Celceta, it went on to become the highest-selling Ys game in Japan to-date at 82k copies sold thanks to some solid reviews (I loved it).
Unlike Alternative Saga, it didn’t take long for XSEED to leap on this one, with the company announcing a localization that would go on to be completed by the end of 2013. XSEED splashed out too, providing a beautiful limited edition that included a full map and soundtrack CD, which helped make the title a success overseas, despite the Vita’s questionable hardware sales at the time.
What was most interesting to note about Memories of Celceta however was the way the European release was handled. XSEED would partner with NIS America, which took over distribution duties in the region, in a precursor to something that would happen to the Ys franchise in the future.
The Darkest Timeline
At Sony’s TGS press conference in 2014, Falcom announced that a new Ys game was in development. Ys VIII was to be a brand new entry expanding on the gameplay style of Seven and Celceta, and was due to debut on the Vita and - in a first for the franchise - would also come to Sony’s newest home console (the PS4) as well.
True to its world, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana released on the Vita in Japan in July 2016 to rave reviews, many of which praised the narrative-focused steps forward the title had taken over its predecessors. It also made a name for itself as one of the prettiest titles available on the handheld at the time. All of this led to it being the biggest-selling entry in the franchise yet, at 90k for the Vita version alone. It seemed Falcom’s love affair with the series on Sony handhelds was going from strength to strength.
Unfortunately this wasn’t to last long. When the PS4 port released a year later in May 2017, it featured a range of new features, including extra dungeons, new story content, and new difficulties, making the Vita version wholly inferior by comparison. The company had done a similar thing with Tokyo Xanadu, which received an expanded PS4 port not long after the Vita original (which, by the way, offers a nice alternative if you’re looking for a similar action-RPG to Ys).
While the version differences were annoying, the way its localization was handled was downright insulting. Rather than series staples XSEED, it was announced that Nippon Ichi Software America had won the contract to bring the game west. This was good news for Vita fans as the handheld port had been picked up too, despite it being inferior both technically and in terms of content.
Sadly this move came with a host of caveats, the main one being that the translation itself was a complete shambles, so much so that a fan campaign received significant media coverage highlighting just how bad it was, which led to an apology from the NISA president. Eventually this was fixed via a free patch, but the damage had been done, although oddly it didn’t seem to hurt the Falcom/NIS relationship too much as the two later collaborated to bring Lacrimosa of Dana to the Nintendo Switch.
Just as Ys VIII had been announced at a Sony conference, so too was the final Ys game ever to hit a Sony handheld. This was Ys Origin, which was revealed at Sony’s PlayStation Experience event in December 2016. This was interesting for two reasons – it was at a western conference and it marked a return to Falcom licencing out ports to third parties (in this case Dotemu).
Origin itself was another great addition to the spread of Ys games available on Vita. Designed around the earlier ‘solo adventure’ sensibilities, it’s widely regarded as the best the franchise has to offer, alongside Oath in Felghana. Interestingly it also received two English physical releases – one from Arc System Works in Asia and one from Limited Run Games in North America - showing how publishers were clamouring to get their hands on such a well loved title.
Future Ys Games on Vita?
It seems that Ys Origin will be the last game in the series to land on Sony handhelds, with Falcom now fully shifted to PS4 development with the recent Trails of Cold Steel sequels. Without a successor in sight for Vita, it’s unlikely Falcom will backtrack on this decision, with NIS America likely localizing whatever new titles land and adding a Nintendo Switch SKU while they're at it.
I suppose there’s the smallest possibility that Dotemu might pick up the Steam port of Ark of Napishtim and convert this to PS4 and Vita again, but this seems unlikely at this late stage (although it would be an amusing note for the franchise to go out on – an expanded port of the game that started it all back in 2006).
It’s interesting how the Ys series has effectively ran alongside the Sony handheld line throughout its life. Starting on the PSP and transitioning to the Vita, Falcom has blessed both consoles with a wide selection of brilliant action-RPGs which are regularly revered as among the best in their respective libraries. The games have also grown in popularity over the years, with Ys VIII arguably breaking through into the mainstream JRPG audience.
There have been some moments of disappointment along the way if you’re a fan – Alternative Saga not receiving a western release was a real shame, and the situation surrounding Ys VIII (both the missing content and completely botched initial localization) is something that should have been avoided altogether. Falcom’s renewed focus on PS4 is also disappointing, considering the series has had such a love affair with Sony’s handhelds, but that's to be expected with Sony itself discontinuing the portable line.
Thanks to years of both solid ports and enjoyable new titles which received incredible translations from XSEED, Ys‘ legacy in the west (and on Sony handhelds in general) is a strong one that I hope more and more fans will discover as time goes on. It's nice to see that modern PC audiences have adopted the series too, and with the latest entries hitting PS4 & Switch as well, it seems like the sky is the limit for the storied JRPG franchise.