The Ys series has gone from strength to strength in recent years, with numerous excellent hits earning rave reviews. As more heads are turned by the tales of Adol Christin, more people are wondering if they should start the series – and if so, which title is the best starting point.
Ys has actually been around a very long time. Its first release was in 1987, in the same era that birthed Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Shin Megami Tensei. It may not enjoy equivalent status as a JRPG household name, but it has amassed an increasing cult following that grows with every game.
It can be daunting to enter a series with so many main games, so here is everything you need to know about starting the Ys series for the first time.
Should you play the Ys series?
I find myself recommending Ys more than ever. Any JRPG fan should give Ys series consideration, particularly if you like action-based battle systems. The excellent combat and increasingly impressive plots ensure fun, mystery and lots to do.
The best thing about the Ys series is that it is most definitely on an upwards trajectory. The last couple of games have topped anything that came before, and with the series going in an exciting direction it is a fantastic time to give it a whirl.
It’s also great to see how accessible the series has become. Many of the best games have multi-platform releases, and several older titles have now been ported to modern consoles and Steam. In fact, Ys V is the only game with no Western release.
Ys is made by Nihon Falcom, the same company behind the Legend of Heroes and its ‘Trails’ subseries. If you enjoy these, you’ll find some familiar and welcome charm within the Ys series.
What is the gameplay of the Ys series like?
The hallmark of the Ys series is fast-paced, action combat. Frenetic battles involve dodging, blocking and unleashing skills at breakneck speed.
Older titles generally feature series hero Adol as the sole playable character, but the status quo has now been adapted to a full playable party, who can be switched over in the heat of battle. This allows for a variety of different abilities and playstyles to be tried out.
More recently, Ys employs semi-open world exploration with parallels to Zelda or Metroidvania, whereby Adol gains items or abilities that gradually unlock new areas of the map. Traversing each region in search of secrets is enjoyable and rewarding in itself.
What is the chronological timeline of the Ys series?
The games of the Ys series occur in a connected timeline, but do not occur in chronological order. By design, they all feature standalone plots that do not require any prior knowledge of the other titles. Saying that, some references, Easter eggs and cameos will generally enrich the experience for long-term fans.
The chronological timeline of the Ys series is as follows:
- Ys Origin
- Ys I
- Ys II
- Ys IV: Memories of Celceta
- Ys III: The Oath in Felghana
- Ys V (note: this has not been localised, and there are rumours it may be remade)
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
- Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim
- Ys Seven
- Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
The most recent release, Ys IX, is the furthest we’ve got in Adol’s story. It remains to be seen whether the next Ys game follows on directly from this or fits somewhere else in the timeline.
How do you pronounce Ys?
Ys is one of the stranger names out there, and its pronunciation has inspired debate for many years. The consensus is that it’s pronounced “Ees”, rhyming with “Peace” or “Geese”.
Within the lore, Ys is the name of an ancient kingdom.
Where should you start?
For first time players, there aren’t exactly any bad starting points. As previously stated, the games feature standalone plots with the intention of allowing anyone to jump in.
However, some games make better starting points than others, depending on what you’re looking for. Since the Ys games vary in terms of length, quality and setting, here are some of the best options to consider, with some pros and cons of each.
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Ys Origin makes a decent starting point for its length and accessibility. It is a prequel set 700 years before Adol’s adventures, and is the only Ys title that does not star him as the main character.
Instead, there is a choice between characters who have different playstyles. Whoever you choose must then climb and conquer Devil’s Tower to rescue the sacred Goddesses and save the land. The story fills in some Ys lore and sheds light on events of other games, but as ever prior knowledge isn’t necessary to grasp the plot.
The battling and puzzling are complimented by some truly excellent boss fights, and each campaign can be completed in around 5 hours or so. However, there are some differences between the campaigns and it is worth beating more than one of them.
Ys Origin is a great way to cut your teeth. It’s available on many platforms for a reasonable price, and will not demand much of your time.
Pros: Short; cheap; multi-platform
Cons: Doesn’t star Adol; lacks depth of other games
Ys: Memories of Celceta
Platforms: PS Vita, PC, PS4
The original version of Ys IV was released in 1993, but has been supplanted by a more modern retelling named Ys: Memories of Celcta. Originally on the PS Vita, the PS4 port opens up its availability for many new players.
Mermories of Celceta is a good game, and probably best represents Falcom finding their feet as they pushed their series to the next level. This time, Adol emerges from the forest of Celceta with no memories, and must explore the vast region to piece them together.
The combat is a fun as ever, featuring in-battle switching between characters. Meanwhile, the exploration of Celceta involves finding new artifacts to open up new areas by breathing underwater or shrinking into small tunnels. As Adol recovers more fragments of his memories, the mysteries start to unravel and the plot starts ramping up.
The gameplay is not as polished as later titles, and the plot twists didn’t land quite as well for me, but this is still a perfectly solid entry point as something in between – not as good, but not as long, featuring the semi-open world setting.
Pros: Solid combat and exploration; reasonable play-time of around 25 hours
Cons: Plot and gameplay don’t hit the heights of later titles
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
Platforms: PS Vita, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, Stadia
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana set a new standard for the Ys series, which stood up to be counted among the elite. It successfully combined everything great about the series into a superb final package.
This adventure finds Adol shipwrecked on the mysterious island of Seiren. Most passengers on the ship miraculously survived, and as Adol fills out the map he rescues more castaways that build a pleasant village on the island together. Meanwhile, his dreams of a blue-haired maiden called Dana suggest there is more to the island than meets the eye.
Ys VIII is simply fantastic. The trademark frantic combat allows for party switching along with the usual blocking, dodging and skill-use. Seiren itself is packed with varied content. On Adol’s travels, he must find landmarks, increase the map percentage, build up bonding levels with other castaways and regularly defend the village in monster raids.
Dana herself has playable sections that I came to love, and the many interesting plot reveals had me on the edge of my seat until the end – especially in the final couple of chapters.
Pros: Great battle system; characters, and story; lots of things to do
Cons: Clocks in at around 40 hours – which isn’t really a con but takes up more time than the other titles
- RELATED: Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana Review
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Stadia
The most recent Ys game largely took the excellent formula of Ys VIII and replicated it in a different setting. It’s definitely a case of Falcom playing it safe, but I can’t say I was disappointed. Once again, Adol must fill out the map, search for landmarks, bond with his companions and complete sidequests.
The battle system is also near-identical, but there are some improvements in other departments. Adol and his companions are cursed as Monstrums, which prevents them from leaving the city but bestows them with special abilities. Their secret identities and powers are inspired by superheroes, and it’s ridiculously fun to jump, glide and warp around the rooftops of Balduq in search of treasure and collectibles. This is one area I enjoyed more than Ys VIII, despite the city itself lacking a bit of variety.
The Prison City of Balduq springs plenty of surprises itself, in a plot with many tantalising mysteries. It’s probably fair to say there are more references to past games than ever before, but this absolutely shouldn’t put you off. Nothing significant will go over your head and the plot will make complete sense as a self-contained story.
Pros: The best overall gameplay and combat experience within the Ys series; another strong plot
Cons: Setting and plot arguably edged by Ys VIII
Ys I & II Chronicles
Platforms: PC, PSP
The final title to mention is a bit of a wild card, but I’ve thrown it in on the off-chance there are retro lovers or gamers in search of an insane challenge. It may also appeal to completionists looking to access every bit of content in the series.
Ys I & II Chronicles understandably features a considerably less polished battle system, which involves running into enemies to do damage. The difficulty level, especially when it comes to boss fights, is absolutely insane. Some of these battles will take umpteen retries, making even Dark Souls look pretty forgiving in comparison.
There have been numerous remakes of these games, and the Steam and PSP versions actually have some decent, charming old-school visuals that haven’t aged too badly. Moreover, the soundtrack has been upscaled and reimagined into a far more pleasant version.
This is the option for retro gamers, or masochists in search of a monumental challenge. It really isn’t for everyone, and I think most players would be better served with the more recent games mentioned above.
Pros: Two games in one; Adol’s first appearances; retro charm
Cons: Incredibly difficult; combat has aged very poorly
There’s a lot to consider here, but hopefully you’re convinced to give the Ys series a go. To sum up in a nutshell:
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana are the best games in the Ys series – and I think it really comes down to which setting you prefer – Adol being shipwrecked on a mysterious island (VIII), or as a fugitive with superhero abilities (IX).
Ys Origins is the shortest game in the series, allowing a fun taste of the action without demanding much time or money.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is somewhere in between – not as good as Ys VIII or Ys IX, but not as long.
Ys I & II Chronicles is for retro lovers, or those simply wishing to beat the series from start to finish who don’t mind a hefty challenge. Whatever floats your boat.
My personal suggestion is to jump in with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. I’m sure you’ll be eager for more of Adol Christin and his thrilling adventures.