The Ys series has seen a little bit of a resurgence as of late thanks to the efforts of Falcom, who saw it fit to release a handful of entries for the PSP, and XSEED a publisher who decided they were worth localizing so they'd see release in the West. Oath in Felghana is a re-imagining of the much-maligned Ys 3 and is considered one of the finest games in the series. Wanna know what I think? Well you can either read the review text or skip ahead to the score.
The Ys series may be a part of the action-rpg genre but for the most part grinding isn't necessary (and oft-times won't do any good). A trademark of this series however is that there's a lot of good stuff held back by story-related nonsense I wish I could just skip through entirely. First off we have Adol. His only notable attribute is that his fiery red hair makes him easy to spot in a crowd. This is also helpful when the crowd happens to be of the enemy variety. He is one of those mute protagonists who can only explain the current situation but never offers anything in the way of insight or commentary. The general conversing duties are left to Adol's best bud Dogi. I hate Dogi, that's all I'm going to say about him. This unlikely duo travels the world seeking new adventures. Adol does all of the fighting while Dogi does his best to make every conversation as awkward as possible.
The Oath in Felghana likely has to do with some promise made between two people really close to each other but if you manage to care one iota about any of the going-ons in this game I don't really know what to say. The characters Adol meets in this journey are grating and forgettable, everything Dogi says makes me want to swallow bile, and otherwise it's the most generic tale of good, evil, and all of the people who get caught in the middle. This was more tolerable in the 80s because games didn't have access to fully-voiced cutscenes and hundreds of dialogue boxes to sit through but thanks to the wonders of technology it feels like a third of this game is spent listening to babbling, dribbling, and...look...I can't take it anymore...I'm moving on.
The real reason the Ys series has been so successful is that they are good action-RPGs. Adol is something akin to a buzz-saw that has been sent on fire. He does not walk up to an enemy and attack, he runs through them, his sword digging through the flesh of his foes with such ferocity they explode into bits and pieces. This makes for some excellent pacing as Adol is so quick and efficient that he can cut through entire dungeons in minutes and bosses can't stand his neigh-unrelenting assault for very long. It also helps that for at least this entry Adol has a handful of neat tools he can work with to make for a pretty swell action game.
Aside from basic maneuverability tools like a double-jump Adol can also equip one of three different bracelets. These bracelets offer some effective spells that serve multiple purposes. The fireballs light torches about as well as they light up distant enemies, the tornado allows Adol to hover as well as get multiple hits on airborne foes, and the charge breaks down weakened walls and serves a more important purpose as a "parry". This is worthy of special mention as Adol can't block so any ability that can allow him to avoid attacks is very important. Aside from upgrades to equipment and some other choice items this is all Adol is going to get for his adventure. Actually strike that his most important ability is his boost maneuver. When a special meter fills up Adol can really do some damage and take half damage in return. As a bonus if a second meter is unlocked and then filled Adol will even regain lost health for the duration of the effect.
Adversity in this game hits almost as hard as Adol. I went with the normal difficulty and it was a decent enough challenge. The bosses in particular tend to be very rough as they can destroy Adol in a few hits. Winning is all about learning patterns and striking when the opportunity presents itself, same as any other game really. It's rather endearing in that unlike more modern action games, Adol doesn't have some complicated move-set and several-dozen abilities to help him kill a boss. In fact even with all of the extra buttons that can be pressed Oath's battles aren't that far removed from the earliest Ys games, which didn't involve much more than making sure that Adol was in the right position to attack without taking damage.
Another thing to keep in mind is that every enemy flashes before they attack. This is very important because the graphic-design for this game isn't good. All of the objects in the game world are rather tiny while the dithering and framerate produce an effect that is nothing close to desirable. It gets to the point sometimes where I figure as long as it moves I can kill it. At least non-killable moving objects like platforms and traps are easily visible, with some of the non-boss monsters I can't tell what they're supposed to be. The dungeons fare much better in this regard and there's a nice bit of variety in all of them. They all tend to lean a bit heavy on the platformer-aspects however so be wary of that.
Despite the presence of optional quests and side-areas Oath in Felghana is a very short game. Less than ten hours to complete the entire game is expected although that isn't factoring time spent beating the game on every difficulty or mastering the time-attack. One handy feature that comes with beating the game is a New Game +. I gotta admit though it's rather questionable that I'm allowed to take my beefy Adol from the last game and have him wreck harder difficulties. Still there is always the Inferno setting, which probably accounts for higher-level Adols.
That's the extent of the game really. It's nothing exceptional, the characters and storyline are absolute drek, and while the rest of the game is good to great it still has its flaws. Give this game a look if you like but don't sweat it if you never get around to playing it.
Game Rating - 3.5 stars out of 5. I did not take off any star for the terrible story.
My Rating - 3 stars out of 5. Okay maybe I took one half-star away from this score due to the story. All of the characters being unlikeable didn't help matters.
EDIT: My gosh I got Aksys and XSEED mixed up. I'm such a dolt.