The Evils of Ys

Falcom’s enduring Ys series was quite busy this week. The Vita received Ys: Memories of Celceta, a pretty extensive and extensively pretty remake of the fourth game (or games, because Ys is strange like that) in this long-running line of action-RPGs. To commemorate this, XSEED discounted all of their PSP-based Ys games, including Ys Seven and fan-favorite Ys: The Oath in Felghana

It’s a darn good deal even if you’re not a huge fan of Ys. And I’m not. At least, not in the ways many people are. We’ll discuss that later.

In the thick of all this modern Ys news, the fan translation of Ys V: Kefin, the Lost City of Sand finally came to fruition. Ys V is a strange study. Though it’s not the most wayward entry in the series (that’d be the original Ys III: Wanderers from Ys), Ys V was controversial when it hit Japan late in 1995. The Ys series touched just about every major platform by the early 1990s, but it loomed largest on the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16. That was where Ys games used new-fangled CD technology for impressively animated cutscenes and some downright gorgeous music. The first four Ys games received this treatment, and PC Engine/Turbo fans lauded them for it. Then Falcom, possibly wooed by the profusion of RPGs on the Super Famicom, decided to make the fifth Ys game a cartridge-based deal on Nintendo’s console.

This did not sit well with the Ys faithful. In North America, much of the outrage was confined to pockets of fans, as Ys V was never localized and few magazines reviewed it. The exception was GameFan. Nick “Rox” Des Barres, Casey “Takuhi” Loe, and Dave “E. Storm” Halverson were ardent Ys followers, and they had much to say about Ys V’s direction.

GameFan’s review wasn’t my introduction to Ys, but it was my introduction to just what the series meant to people. Before this I’d known it only through the Super NES version of Ys III, and I had only a vague sense of how groundbreaking the early Ys games were in the way they looked and sounded. Nick's confession that Ys had changed his life and Takuhi's exclamations of “It’s EVIL! How could you sell out Ys?!” made more of an impact than pages of praise for classic Ys games.

The Five Greatest TurboGrafx-16 Games I Didn't Play

I never owned a TurboGrafx-16 during the system wars of the early 1990s. I doubt I was alone in this. The console was a constant third-placer in the market, and, to be honest, most of us didn’t want one that badly. Sega Genesis kids might’ve begged for a Super NES as their second system while Super NES kids begged just as doggedly for a Genesis, but the Turbo rarely entered the picture unless mom and dad spoiled you with three current game systems. Even when Toys R Us clearanced out the consoles for fifty bucks, I decided that a Super NES game was a better investment. I can't remember which game it was, possibly Alien 3 or Cybernator, but I preferred it to the poor ol' TurboGrafx.

No, I didn't have a TurboGrafx-16 back then. But I owned a TurboGrafx fold-out pamphlet, and for a little while that was almost as good. At some point in 1990, NEC reps showed off the console at the air-base commissary where my parents shopped, and I got to sample Bonk’s Adventure for a few minutes. My mother was adamant that I wouldn’t get a TurboGrafx, not when I’d just gotten an NES, but she couldn’t deny me some of the fine literature they were handing out.

A credible piece of marketing for adults and kids, the entire pamphlet is preserved at Chris Bieniek’s excellent Video Game Ephemera. The booklet does a good enough job of emphasizing the TurboGrafx’s capabilities while downplaying its negatives, such as the lone controller port or the asking price of the CD system. Yet the best part is the poster formed by the back of the entire booklet. It’s a huge panorama of TurboGrafx games presented like a slice of the Sears Wish Book and filled with adorably outdated taglines like “CD Challenge!” and “So-Real Sports!”

Some part of me must've known that I’d never get a TurboGrafx until nearly a decade later, when I paid an eBay charlatan twenty-five bucks for a stained system with a broken controller. The best I would get in 1990 was this free reading material, so I pored dreamily over the expanse of games. It didn’t take too long for me to pick out my favorites, the five ones I’d definitely try if ever I laid hands on a TurboGrafx of my own.

Now I can play them and measure them against my youthful expectations, and because I can’t leave well enough alone, I’m going to do just that.

Then: In the dim, distant days when arcades still mattered, R-Type was a blockbuster, a shooter touchstone for anyone capable of grasping the intricacies of holding down a button to make an energy bullet larger. The booklet’s careful to show things any R-Type player would recognize: we all knew the hideous scorpion eye fetus from the end of the first level, and we knew those huge mechanical claws, the ones that looked like futuristic gynecological stirrups and always seemed ready to close in and crush unwary ships. They never did.  

R-Type was a highlight of the TurboGrafx-16’s first years. It replicated the arcade version very well, and it would stay an exclusive throughout the system wars. The Genesis never had an R-Type, and the Super NES had the slower, uglier Super R-Type and the superior-but-different R-Type III. NEC positioned their star prominently, and R-Type very nearly became the pack-in for the system instead of Keith Courage. No one really liked Keith Courage.  

Now: R-Type is still an enjoyable shooter, but the TurboGrafx port’s fallen behind the times. You can get nice, arcade-perfect R-Type very easily on modern systems, and the TurboGrafx version suffers from terrible flicker as the system tries to process a game it was never built to handle. In fact, you can see this in that larger screenshot—a good chunk of the player’s R-9 starfighter is missing. That bothered us a lot less twenty-three years ago.