Much like the PS2 was last generation, the PSP is my go-to platform for Japanese RPGs. With Ys Seven, the folks at Falcom understand that they’re developing for a portable system, and it shows. You can save just about anywhere, almost all dialogue and cinematic sequences can be skipped (even on the first viewing), and combat flows quickly enough to feel at home on a device that might need to be shut off at any moment because the bus is about to arrive at my stop.
The narrative is standard JRPG fare, but it’s hard to mark a game down for sticking to the standards of the genre. Ys Seven’s hero, Adol, finds himself thrust into an adventure where he’ll come face-to-face with dragons, screen-filling bosses with obvious weak points, FedEx quests, and seals that must be broken. What’s truly impressive is that Ys Seven manages to feel fresh and modern despite the by-the-numbers story. All games, but JRPGs specifically, have needed save anywhere (or nearly anywhere) for a good, long time, and Ys Seven makes that need a feature. Yes, you can always put the PSP into standby mode, but it’s great to see a developer look at the target platform and realize that their game may in fact be played in 10 minute segments.
I don’t usually prefer action RPGs, but Ys Seven’s battle system is simple and elegant. Taking a cue from rock-paper-scissors, your three party members are all very strong against certain types of enemies while doing almost no damage at all to other types. Adol and his sword are great against squishy enemies, Dogi and his armored fists are suited to armored enemies, and Aisha deals with flyers wonderfully thanks to her bow. Push square for a standard attack or hold and release for a charge attack. When you’re controlling Adol and all the soft, unarmored enemies are dead, simply press circle to switch over to Dogi to dispatch the armored baddies. You can only directly control one party member at a time, but the AI does a fairly good job of keeping your compatriots out of trouble. They won’t be bringing the house down on their own, but you won’t be traipsing back to town for a revive because they insisted on fighting with the wrong foe either.
After the dust clears you’ll run around and pick up loot. These components will be used to craft various useful items. The crafting system is pretty deep and every item you run across is part of a recipe so you’ll find yourself running around and picking up every shiny trinket dropped by the enemy. You never know when the next item dropped will lead to a new piece of armor and the skill that comes with it. You’ll want to use that skill quite a bit, too, so that you can continue to use it after you’ve traded your cloth armor for leather. I love unlocking skills for use later, and every item in Ys Seven has a skill associated with it that can be yours forever if you use it often enough.
Ys Seven won’t win any awards for visuals, though it is far from ugly. The soundtrack is the real standout here. I’m a sucker for violin music, and the game delivers it in spades. Play with headphones on and let the violin set the tone for your adventure through various dungeons full of screen-filling bosses who all require specific and varied strategies to take down. It’s on the short side as JRPGs go, but that’s okay. By the time your 25-hour journey is over, you’ll see that all you’ve missed is extra fetch quests and grinding, and neither of those were really necessary anyhow.
Pros: Battles are quick but strategic, cinematics can be skipped, and the AI is capable of keeping your partners alive.
Cons: The story isn’t breaking any new ground, and the visuals aren’t up to par with other PSP titles.