A Question for the Readers #14: What’s in a Name?

MINOR UPDATE: As you all know, I’ve been working on a retrospective of sorts for the Wonder Boy/Monster World series. Last December, I wrote a standalone review of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. I did not originally intend to review the entire series. Instead, I was just going to talk about The Dragon’s Trap and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom when I got around to finishing the latter, but I eventually decided to marathon the series so I could have the necessary context. Now that I have recently cleared Monster World IV, I learned a lot about the series I didn’t know when I originally wrote that piece. As such, I amended the introduction and parts of the review proper to better reflect the series’ progression. You can read the revised review by following this link.

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Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand

By the time Nihon Falcom was slated to make a fourth installment in their highly popular Ys series of action RPGs, a significant number of their staff members had quit. Though the team drafted a rough outline for Ys IV, they had no resources with which to develop it. They were then left with no choice but to outsource the project to other companies. Of the developers they approached, only Tonkin House and Alfa Systems saw their interpretations of Ys IV to completion. Both versions, Mask of the Sun and The Dawn of Ys, debuted in late 1993 for the Super Famicom and PC Engine respectively. They received fairly positive reviews, though The Dawn of Ys ended up being the more acclaimed game despite Mask of the Sun eventually being declared the canonical Ys IV.

Shortly after both games were released, Nihon Falcom, having hired new talent, now had the resources with which to continue the series on their own. In December of 1995, they released Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand for the Super Famicom. Although fans were initially ecstatic that the series’ original developers regained creative control, the game was ultimately met with a cold response. Was Ys V worthy of such a backlash or is it a game misunderstood due to differing opinions of what the series should entail?

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Ys IV: Mask of the Sun

After Nihon Falcom released the first three installments in their Ys series of action role-playing games, the installments proved popular enough to make appearances on nearly every active console from the Nintendo Famicom (NES) to the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis).  Even if it was virtually unknown in the West, the series’ domestic success ensured the inevitability of a fourth installment.  Unfortunately, the success this series enjoyed came at something of a cost. After the release of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, a substantial chunk of Nihon Falcom’s staff members quit, thereby depriving the company of the resources needed to produce a sequel. They were in such dire straits that they couldn’t even provide a full script for the game. Their contributions were limited to providing a vague outline and composing the music. They handed off what they could get done to Hudson, the company that published the highly praised compilation Ys Book I & II.

As Hudson collaborated with Alfa Systems on a game entitled Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys, Nihon Falcom pitched the idea to other studios so they could create versions for other prominent consoles. One such developer was Tonkin House, the company behind the SNES port of Ys III. Another was Sega, with whom Nihon Falcom had entered a partnership to port their output to the Mega Drive (Genesis). They even allowed the Korea-based developer Mantra to develop their own version of Ys IV. Mantra had released a highly successful version of the series’ second installment named Ys II Special, which greatly expanded upon the source material and included more secrets than any other version of the game. However, Sega’s version was canceled before it could get off the ground and although Mantra considered the offer, they ultimately declined.

Other than The Dawn of Ys, only the version developed by Tonkin House was making significant headway. Their take on the series’ fourth installment was named Ys IV: Mask of the Sun. Though both developers pushed for a release in late 1993, Tonkin House cut Husdon and Alfa System at the pass by releasing Mask of the Sun one month ahead of The Dawn of Ys. It was released to a fairly lukewarm reception with Famitsu, the most widely read gaming publication in Japan, awarding it twenty-five points out of a possible forty. Was Tonkin House able to do Nihon Falcom’s increasingly venerable series justice?

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Ys III: Wanderers from Ys

With Ancient Ys Vanished and its sequel, Nihon Falcom had a franchise that eclipsed Dragon Slayer in terms of popularity. Though Dragon Slayer helped codify the action RPG, the Ys duology was what helped it truly soar in popularity. Despite the second title being dubbed The Final Chapter, the team began work on a sequel in response to its immense popularity. This new installment, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, was released on the PC-8801 and MSX2 in 1989. Within the next few years, it would see additional ports on the prominent fourth generation consoles, including the TurboGrafx-CD, Super NES, and Sega Genesis. The TurboGrafx-CD port was particularly timely, being released in North America two years after the international debut of Ys Book I & II, a remake that combined the series’ first installments. Because of this, many versions of Ys III were translated into English despite the series’ obscurity abroad. Those who have played Ys III consider it an overlooked gem in the fourth-generation library. With a pair of impactful predecessors, how does Ys III hold up?

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Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter

Nihon Falcom’s Ancient Ys Vanished was a resounding success in Japan when it launched in 1987. Much like their earlier effort Dragon Slayer, Ancient Ys Vanished was an instrumental step in introducing action elements to the role-playing game genre.  However, this game differed from Dragon Slayer in one instrumental factor: it ended on a cliffhanger. As such, to an even greater degree than usual, fans clamored for a sequel. Fortunately, they were in luck. Believing the story of Ancient Ys Vanished could not be contained in a single game, Nihon Falcom were in the process of developing a resolution. It was released one year after its predecessor for the NEC PC-8801 and PC-9801 under the name Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter. Even for those who enjoyed the original Ancient Ys Vanished, Ys II was considered a vast improvement in every significant way. What did this highly anticipated sequel bring to the table?

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Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished – Omen

In 1981, a man named Masayuki Kato founded a video game developer. Calling it Nihon Falcom, his company released its first game in 1982: Galactic Wars. Over the next few years, they released a slew of other games for the PC-8801– part of a popular series of home computers manufactured by Nippon Electric Company (NEC). Their first true success came in the form of their 1984 release Dragon Slayer. It was groundbreaking at the time for providing a dungeon crawling role-playing experience that took place in real-time. As a result, it laid the foundation for what is now known as the action RPG. With a gigantic success on their hands, Nihon Falcom became one of the country’s big-name developers alongside Nintendo, Namco, and Taito.

In 1987, they released a different kind of action-RPG called Ancient Ys Vanished – Omen. Like Dragon Slayer before it, Ancient Ys Vanished proved to be very popular upon release, garnering significant critical acclaim from many publications. Despite its domestic success, this game didn’t fare as well internationally. It received ports on the Master System and TurboGrafx-16 CD – neither of which even came close to approaching the popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). When a port for the game appeared on the Famicom, the original Japanese version of the NES, not only was it a vast departure from the original, it never received an official localization. Because of these factors, Ancient Ys Vanished never had a strong following abroad despite having a reputation comparable with Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest in its native homeland. What kind of game was left to fall by the wayside?

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