Ys: The Vanished Omens was a game developed by Falcom in 1987 and saw a release on the Sega Master System in 1988. You play as Aron, a swordsman who has washed ashore in an unknown land following a hurricane. The townspeople fill him in on the local lore about the Goddesses that have saved their world from great evils in the past. They also tell of the six Books of Ys where the deeds of the Goddesses are recorded, and how the person who possesses all six will be granted immense power. Unfortunately, the books are hidden away, and there’s an evil sorcerer who has one of them and is trying to find the others. Obviously, it’s up to you to stop him!
This game is an absolute delight. The sprite work on overworld characters is adorable. When you enter a house or shop, the artwork goes up one billion notches to full-blown, realistically detailed pixel art. It’s amazing to see such beautiful artwork so early on in the life of the Sega Master System.
Another extremely high point for the game is the music. All facets of this game’s soundtrack are quest-y, which sets a marvelous tone and ambience for all the areas and fights you’ll encounter throughout. Thanks to a wonderful suggestion from The Deviot, I took a listen to the PC-88 version of the soundtrack and was completely blown away by how awesome it is. The SMS pipes are good, but the PC-88 version is a bit more well-rounded and well, gorgeous. Yuzo Koshiro and Mieko Ishikawa did an excellent job. I don’t know that this is a soundtrack that I’ll ever stop listening to.
Despite all its positives, the game does suffer from some of those old-school RPG tendencies that are not at all apparent to a first time player like myself. As usual, though I read the manual from front to back before beginning, here are a few things I wish I had known prior to beginning the game.
The bump attack mechanics. I had read a lot about the bump attack and had a decent idea of how to execute it so my character wouldn’t take any damage. Step 1: be slightly off-center. Step 2: try to attack from the side or the back. Easy enough, right? But despite all this, even when I followed the rules, I often ran into situations where I was taking damage. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason for why your bump attacks fail sometimes and connect others. This is especially true in boss fights where the sprites are so enormous and have “sweet spots” to attack.
Enemies too strong for you will cause you to instantaneously disintegrate. I’m not sure why I tend to love games where death ends in disintegration of your character (Faxanadu, anyone?) but my first few steps out of Minea had me face off with a dog-like enemy that, upon my attempt to destroy it, caused me to literally disintegrate into nothingness. There’s nothing quite like getting your ass handed to you by an angry, red monster, especially when you haven’t even thought to save yet.
You need to be at a certain level to fight bosses. This was a tricky thing in practice. I had found the first boss and had been trying to release my wrath upon him, but I was the only one taking damage. Someone pointed out to me that the little “clink” noise that I kept hearing when trying to attack was a very subtle indication that I wasn’t at a high enough level. Because you get locked in the room with the boss after entering regardless of whether or not you’re at a high enough level, you get to stand there and take in death’s sweet invitation. Needless to say, it took me getting killed a lot before realizing that my insufficient level and not my bump attack form was to blame.
You can reach a maximum level quite early in the game. When trying to fight Batman, I had been having a really hard time executing an effective strategy and had gone off to do some grinding to strengthen my character. What I didn’t realize was that you can only level up to level 10 before you reach a ceiling of sorts. After that, any increase to your defense and strength comes from finding better weapons and armour, but those upgrades don’t come until later. The best bet is obviously to work on your skills and strategy against that specific boss, but considering I’m not really used to action-based RPGs, this was the last thought on my mind as I was trying to go to the usual “over powered” route.
Once you enter the Tower, you can’t go back. They tell you this straight out in the game, but what they don’t tell you is that *spoilers ahead, highlight to see!* your primo weapons get taken away and that if you didn’t buy all the best upgrades, you’re essentially screwed. Though I wasn’t sure what would happen after entering the Tower, I had skeptically made a new save in a new slot just in case something terrible might happen. Thank goodness I did, or else I would’ve had a lot of starting over to do.
Everything in the Tower looks the same. The colours of the rooms, the enemies, everything. It’s incredibly disorienting, and there are very few landmarks to help you figure out where you are. A map would obviously be helpful, but since you are not supplied with one and making one is like Hell on Earth, you’ll likely just wander around aimlessly for a lot longer than you really need to. What makes things worse is the next point below.
You need to backtrack in the tower. It doesn’t seem intuitive at all, but you will need to backtrack to places you’ve previously been many floors below quite often to be able to progress at some points during your ascension. Good luck finding your way back to that random person in a random hallway in one of the many branching pathways. There are really no obvious cues for this either. You run into a dead end and can’t move forward, so you’re stuck scratching your head and scouring every single last corner for items or people you might have missed.
The Tower has some weird puzzles. You get some great items in the game, but there is little to no explanation about how they are used or what purpose they serve. Even the manual is vague about most of it. Don’t even get me started on the random pillar on the random Tower floor that you need to hit with a hammer to stop the room a few floors away with the doom music from depleting your health. Yeah. Try figuring that one out.
You can miss items and equipment in the Tower completely, and forever. There’s a point of no return in the Tower, and it lands you right before the second last boss battle of the game. If you’ve missed the “best” sword, armour and shield in the game, be prepared to spend a long, long while fighting this fight. You will take so much damage from the projectiles surrounding these enemies that after a few hits, you’re done for. This makes it absolutely necessary to learn patterns and be quick on your feet so you can survive long enough to win, and this task can seem insurmountable. I spent a solid 1.5 hours with this boss my first time through since I had unknowingly forgotten the armour, and I truly can’t describe it as anything other than nightmarish.
The game lore is often misleading. Some of the Books of Ys talk about “creria” being the material required to fell Dulk Dekt (aka Dark Dekt, etc.), but they don’t actually tell you what “creria” is. You might assume that your final and “best” weapon of the game is made of the stuff, but no. It isn’t. Your best weapons and armour for that fight are actually the ones you head into the Tower with. As much as it’s not intuitive, your Silver Sword does considerably more damage against Dulk Dekt than the final Flame Sword. It would’ve been nice had someone in the game mentioned that they were one and the same!
Despite all my whining here, Ys: The Vanished Omens is a tremendously great game. Most of my qualms are really just idiosyncrasies of the game’s release period when RPGs were vague, convoluted, and seriously unforgiving. I have a
masochistic love for these types of challenges, and I would highly recommend this game to anyone that loves action RPGs, and especially to anyone wanting to experience foundational releases in a game series. This game was the little seed from which the huge Ys franchise grew out of, and it is certainly worth enjoying at some point.
After streaming the game, I put together a set of Let’s Play videos showcasing my second experience with the game. If anyone is interested, you can check that out here.
As always, thank you very much for reading and being with me on this journey to play through the old games we collect.