Jay Button: XSEED is the bravest publisher in America

August 4, 2011

If you follow me on Twitter (and if not, why don’t you? I’m hilarious), then you’ve probably seen some back-and-forth between game publisher XSEED and me. XSEED Games is without a doubt my favorite publisher working today. Every title they localize seems like a risk that no other company would take. From obscure RPGs like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky to Prope’s Ivy the Kiwi?, XSEED is one of the few companies putting out unique material that would otherwise never see the light of day in the States. This week, I’ll be talking a bit about one series they’ve been localizing over the past year that would be totally dead in the US without them: the Ys series.

Falcom’s Ys series had a few sporadic releases in America appearing on classic consoles like the Sega Master System and Super NES, but until last year, it hadn’t been taken very seriously. The DS remake of the first two garnered some attention, but was seen as a lackluster port. Then XSEED games made a deal with Falcom to give three of the Ys titles a full retail release in the states and the aforementioned Legend of Heroes. First up was the most recent title in the series, Ys Seven. It’s interesting that they decided to release the last game in the series first, but it makes sense once you play it. Seven is definitely the most modern and biggest departure from the series, yet totally captures what makes it great. The combat is fast and inventive, while the narrative is nearly nil. Ys is never really about the story, but rather the characters and having fun. Normally you’ll only play as the main character Adol in the series, but Seven actually allows you to build a party. Combat is real-time, and much of it is based on switching between characters on the fly to utilize the rock-paper-scissors system. Enemies can be defeated by one of three fighting styles: ranged, melee and sword. This keeps the action fun, even into the last hours.

If you can track down Seven‘s special edition I highly recommend it. XSEED included a soundtrack, artbook and a cloth map for a very old school special edition. After Seven was Ys: the Oath in Felghana. This is easily the most frustrating of the three titles. A remake of Ys III, Oath actually tries really hard to have a plot. There are endless dialogue sequences that don’t say anything important. I read every word, but just wanted to head back out on my adventure (which usually isn’t how I operate). The combat is a bit simpler than Seven, as you’re just playing as Adol. Rather than complicated dungeons and fetch quests, Oath is built around the boss battles. Each boss is harder than the last and some took me hours to defeat. This is a trademark of the Ys series. None of these games are particularly easy, but they at least mix up why it’s difficult in some of the entries. Like the last release in XSEED’s Ys localization experiment, Ys I & II Chronicles.

Ys I & II Chronicles is one of my favorite pieces of game localization. They really did a fantastic job with this. See, Ys I & II are old RPGs. The thing about old RPGs is they can be a bit obtuse. But I’ve never played a game more difficult to figure out that Ys I & II. At one point in a game I’d made it all the way to a dungeon boss who just wrecked my shit in. There was no way I could beat this guy. As it turns out, I had to go back to the first town and find a girl I’d never met before and give her a harmonica I’d found. Then she played a song to awaken an ancient tree (though I’m not told the song does this). I had to eat a fruit found in another part of the world before approaching this tree,who speaks to me and gives me the silver sword to defeat the boss. None of this was communicated to me through the narrative. This happens throughout the whole game. Why is this a perfect piece of localization? Because (1) they left it that way and (2) included in the back of the game’s instruction booklet is a complete guide for the first game. They even have a little apology for how obtuse the story is. Thank you, XSEED.

Usually the games I feature here on Jay Button are cheap and easy to find. These titles are more recent and not very cheap, but you should buy all of them. Vote with your dollars and tell companies like XSEED that we want to play unique games. The industry needs more brave publishers who will being over a game just because it’s cool and not just because of how well it’ll sell. After losing Mega Man Legends 3, we really need to pay attention to how we support the medium.

Matt Jay’s collection is constantly building, and he’s always up for suggestions. Shoot him an email if you have an idea for something you’d like him to cover.