Total Conversion: Ys III vs. Ys: The Oath in Felghana
By Kurt Kalata - 12/17/10
The Ys series has traditionally had a rough time in America. The first game was brought out for the PC and Sega Master System, neither of which were big with the gaming audience at the time. The compilation of Ys I & II were heavily celebrated on the Turbografx-16 CD-ROM...except almost nobody owned a Turbografx-16 CD-ROM. Ys III was ported to all three major 16-bit consoles, and each was lucky enough to be localized into English, all from different publishers. Finally, it seemed like the series was getting its time in the limelight and would get the opportunity to catch on with the wider gaming public.
Except Ys III kinda sucks.
Well, sort of. It's a terrible game that also happens to be a lot of fun. For a long time it was the black sheep of the series, since it changed the overhead perspective to a side-scrolling one a la Zelda II, but the animosity stretched beyond angered fans. The relatively intricate mazes of the previous titles were gone, and all of the dungeons are almost entirely linear. The action is clumsy (which, to be fair, was an Ys tradition for a long time) and there is little more to game than grinding. And while the plot was recent for an RPG from the late 80s, it's also incredibly short, with a play time roughly equal to the first installment - about 3 hours or so.
But what it lacked mechanically, it made up for in its sheer energy. Adol, the red-haired hero of the series, continuously swings his sword like a buzz saw, expediently carving up enemies and watching the experience count grow, accompanied by what is still one of the best video game soundtracks all of time. In that way, Ys III maintained the spirit of the previous games, even though it was still a drastically different game.
Anyway, about fifteen years after its initial release in 2005, Falcom release Ys: The Oath in Felghana for the PC, a ground-up remake of Ys III using the engine and gameplay from Ys VI: The Ark of Napisthim (which was lucky enough to be released in the US for the PS2 and PSP by Konami.) It keeps the very basic story, setting and music while completely overhauling the gameplay, while expanding on the writing and characterization as well. It's largely recognized by the fanbase as the best of the series, and has now relegated the awkward Super Famicom title Ys V as the outlier of the series. While The Oath in Felghana was playable in English due to the efforts of fan translators, it wasn't until 2010 when XSeed localized the PSP port that non-Japanese gamers could play it officially.
Beyond the basic mechanics, there are several other differences between the games. The original Ys III has "rings", equippable items that increase offense or defense, slow time, or regenerate health. Their use is limited by the "ring" counter on the status bar, which increase by one point with every enemy you kill, and maxes out at everyone's favorite unsigned 8-bit integer, 255. OiF has no such thing - instead, it has bracelets, which grant various attack skills. The fire bracelet allows you to shoot flames, similar to Ys II, the wind bracelet lets you twirl around like a tornado, and the earth bracelet is mostly use for defense purposes, allowing you to block attacks if timed right.
Story-wise, most of the events are the same, although the script has been entirely rewritten. The townspeople of Redmont all have unique personalities, and some give out subquests. The relationship between Elena and Chester has been fleshed out, and the characterizations of some of the characters, including King McGuire and Master Berhardt, have also been improved.
Furthermore, in previous Ys games, Adol was a silent protagonist, but in Ys III he talks quiet a bit. He doesn't have much of personality and tends to just talk out outloud and doubt his abilities. The successive Ys games took Adol back to the silent hero route, and Felghana retroactively removes his ability to talk as well. Instead, most of Adol's feelings are instead presented through either the omniscient narrator, who describes Adol's actions, or Dogi, who also has a much more active role this time around.
While The Oath in Felghana is almost unequivocably better than the original Ys III, there are still a handful of small things that went missing in the transition - details, mostly, but cool ones. Therefore, it still may be worth playing both. Ys III can be beaten is about 2-3 hours, including grinding, while The Oath in Felghana will take about 8-10 hours.
Here we will be comparing the Genesis release of Ys III with the PSP release of The Oath in Felghana (OiF). While the PC88 version is technically the original release, it's difficult to play, and most English gamers will probably have played the 16-bit versions anyway, which are all pretty similar. The Genesis is a good compromise between them all - the SNES graphics are a little too clean, while the TG-16 version has really choppy scrolling. There is also a PS2 remake of Ys III, published by Taito, which uses 2D high-res graphics and sticks much closer to the original game's template. It's not bad looking, but Falcom's own remake, which was released later in the same year, blows it out of the water. We picked the PSP version of OiF because it's the only version officially in English, but graphically it's practically identical to the PC version outside of the smaller resolution. You can read more about it in the Ys article.
Ys III opens up with a brief text prologue with these red pillars in the background. It tells the story of Adol and Dogi after their encounter with the land of Ys, and how they've decided to visit Dogi's homeland of Ferugana (Kenai in the Genesis version, and the official English name for the country later became Felghana.) There is technically no traditional title screen (although a logo does show during the prologue cinema), as it goes straight into the "New Game/Load Game" screen after that. The intro video in OiF opens up with these same red pillars, however briefly, before beginning the rest of the intro. There is some text, which is written from the point of view of Adol as an old man, describing his adventures.
Each of the 16-bit versions have different intro cinemas, although they're all basically the same, showing Dogi and Adol on their travels. (The TG-16 version also goes on a bit about the warrior of legend whose footsteps Adol follows in.) OiF has some similar stuff, plus random snippets of all the supporting characters. It's all very key, compared to the hyper kinetic intros to Ys VI, Ys Origin and Ys VII. OiF also quickly shows a scene with Adol and Dogi talking to a fortune teller, which was in the SNES intro.
After the intro video, OiF starts up different than the rest, with Adol and Dogi docking their boat and seeing how monsters have ravaged the countryside.
The action begins with a young girl is attacked by monsters, whom Adol needs to save, which acts as the tutorial. This young girl is Elena, a childhood friend of Dogi and potential love interest for Adol. She's also the little sister of Chester, the antagonist.
Here's where the original version begins, as Dogi and Adol walk into the town of Redmont. (The Genesis version calls it Sarina - the English localization changes a few of the names for some reason.) Here they introduce themselves to the town guard and walk through town automatically, as the brief title credits are displayed. In OiF version, it's pretty similar, except Elena is accompanying your group after having been saved. In the original version Redmont is also one big straight line, with the inn at the opposite end of town. In OiF, it's right near the entrance, and the whole credit roll is missing.
Elena's introduction in the original version is very brusque. She walks out in the inn, and basically goes "Get outta the way, oh hi Dogi, it's been awhile, oh I'm busy, gotta go!" and charges off without even introducing herself properly. In OiF version, there's none of this obviously, although Dogi still remarks that she's certainly gotten older (and also notes that she'll probably fall for Adol, because that's the way things go.)
This is the town of Redmont, outside of the mayor's house.
In Ys III, Redmont is sparsely populated. There's the inn, the mayor's house, the old woman's house, the two shops, the town square and the exit. OiF expands it by including a church - which is important for a few plot elements, and...
...Elena's house, which was never shown before (and was presumably one of the inaccessible houses in the background layer.)
This old woman doesn't want to talk to you because you remind her of her dead grandson Bob (Roy in the Genesis version). This is the only real subquest in Ys III and it's really simple. OiF adds a few more subquests in addition to this one, which is slightly more intricate.
Here's the shopkeeper. The item shop and the weapon shop were in separate buildings before, but in OiF they're in the same place. There's also a blacksmith here, who can improve your weapons using Raval ore. Through most of the game they're hidden in treasure chests, though near the end you'll find enemies that drop them. The stat gain is small, but not entirely inconsequential. The Genesis version of Ys III also misspells "herb" as "harb".
Once you've finished your duties, you'll find the injured miners in the town square, setting off your investigation to the Tigre/Tigray quarry.
This is the bridge out of town.
Ys III has a map screen to let you pick locations, while OiF has a very small overworld, less than half a dozen screens in size. You do get a map, however, right at the beginning, and not too far into the game you can teleport to any save spot you've previously visited, which is what this screen on the right is from. This had a separate music theme in Ys III, which is only used in OiF if you decide to venture out of town without talking to everyone (and thus triggering the event leading to the quarry.) Note that the sprite for Adol in Ys III is the same one from the PC88 version of the original Ys games.
And here's the overworld in OiF. The overworld theme is the "The Boy Who had Wings", which is the stage intro theme in Ys III.
Here's the opening to the Tigre Quarry. All of the dungeons in Ys III have these exterior scenes, which are largely empty and free of enemies, and also use a totally unique background tileset. They mostly exist as a resting point - health does not regenerate in dungeons but will quickly refill in these safe spots. OiF has no such mechanics, as health is completely refilled through save points. (You can also save any time you want in Ys III, a function which was actually removed from OiF.)
Here's the first screen of the quarry. Ys III is very difficult, and even the slightest prolonged run-in with a bee will kill you. OiF is a bit kinder.
This vertically oriented waterfall room always looked really cool in the original version. The construction is practicalaly identical in OiF. The main difference is the storeroom, which used to be in the upper right corner, is now in the lower left. You can't reach the upper parts of this room until you get the double jump.
One of my favorite parts in Ys III is when the boss theme begins playing in the room directly preceding the battle, letting you know that you'd better get your crap in gear and save your game before heading through the door for the confrontation. In OiF, it's usually just quiet, and the music doesn't kick in until the fight starts. Anyway, the first boss, Dularn, is an interesting character. In Ys III, he's just one of many boss characters, differentiated maybe because he has a line or two of dialogue. In OiF, he's actually a recurring antagonist. This is the first time you fight him, and he pops in and out throughout the game to taunt you and sick more foes on you.
Another vertically oriented cave. In Ys III there are no enemies, and the only challenge is climbing back up because the footing is slippery.
In Ys III, Bob's (er, Roy's) pendant is literally just lying out in a treasure chest in the middle of the mine, making it practically impossible to miss. In OiF, it's actually in a spot you can't get to, at least not initially. You need to backtrack once you've got the double jump and wind powers, which will let you cross a chasm and find it. In Ys III returning it gives you the Shield Ring. In OiF, the old lady will give you an item that lets you see in the dark, amongst other handy capabilities. It's not required to get, but it does make a few areas much easier.
Okay, here's the first REAL boss fight. This wing gargoyle thing in OiF looks much cooler than her Ys III incarnation.
The first meeting with Chester. What a classy guy.