Posted on August 13, 2020
Released on June 24th 1988, almost exactly a year after the original Ys, Ys II is the second game in the now long-running Ys series. The version i’ll be reviewing (the PC-Engine version), however, came bundled together with Ys I, which was released at the end of 1989.
Since Ys II is a direct sequel to Ys I, Ys II carries over pretty much everything from Ys I, while offering a much deeper story and adding a few new gameplay mechanics.
Considering the PC-Engine version uses the exact same engine as Ys I, playing both games feels extremely similar. Can Ys II live up to or surpass the legacy of Ys I, or is it just more of the same? Let’s find out!
Score – 36/40
Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Music – 10/10
Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Action)
Release Date: JP: December 21st, 1989
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Length: 5～15 Hours
Table of Contents
Ys II PCE Review
Ys II is the second game in the Ys series, which has a continuous story. Describing events from the second game might indirectly spoil stuff from the first game, so please be aware of that before reading through the “Story” section.
As far as I know this review will be a first of the site so far. Up until now, I haven’t reviewed a sequel in a series before! Thankfully, since Ys II is a direct sequel to Ys I and the PC-Engine version of the game uses the same game engine for both games, Ys II shares a lot in common with the first game, so this makes Ys II a great first “sequel review”!
If you played through Ys I then you’ll be right at home playing Ys II. To be honest, aside from a few extra game mechanics the two games play almost exactly alike. If you look at the two games objectively, you could almost say that Ys I & II are actually a single game split into halves. That was no problem at all for me though, since I enjoyed the hell out of the first game! The first game left me itching for more, so having the second game boot up right after the first game ended and continuing right where you left off was awesome!
While the two games do play similarly, Ys II greatly expands the story that was set up in Ys I and adds a few things to the combat and exploration which keeps things fresh enough to still feel unique. If you liked Ys I you’ll definitely love Ys II, maybe even more than the first game! Ys II retains the awesome graphics, silky smooth gameplay, killer OST and the simple but fun Bump Combat system, so you can expect to have just as much of a blast as you did the first time around!
Does this bite-sized Action RPG pack as big of a punch as its predecessor? First, let’s check out the story this time around and see what it has to offer!
I recommend checking out my review of Ys I/イースI first if you have the time. Since the two games share a lot in common, i’ll say stuff like “so and so is similar to how it was in the first game” sometimes, so checking out the Ys I review might help you get an idea of what i’m talking about.
! ! ! SPOILER ALERT ! ! !
Since Ys II’s story continues where Ys I left off, there will be some unavoidable Ys I spoilers in this section.
The beginning of Ys II takes places mere minutes after the end of Ys I. Adol gets transported to the land of Ys, where he regains consciousness and is immediately greeted by a young girl named Lilia who brings him back to the local Rance (!!!, technically work safe but if your colleagues recognize his face then they have some explaining to do anyway) Village. Upon arriving back at Lilia’s house, Adol finally learns that he’s been transported to Ys. While asking around town, Adol finds out that demons have been appearing in Ys recently, which have of course been causing trouble in the local area.
As Adol goes off to help fend off the invading demons, he stumbles upon various statues of the original 6 Priests of Ys. Each statue teaches Adol a little bit more about the backstory and history of Ys. Eventually, Adol learns that the existence of Magic itself in and around Ys is the reason why demons began to spawn in the first place. With the source of evil identified, Adol sets out on his next quest – to destroy an object known as the “Black Pearl” (黒真珠、くろしんじゅ、Kuro Shinju), which is the source of all Magic in Ys!
! ! ! END OF SPOILERS ! ! !
I feel that’s about as far as I should go with the story summary this time. Ys II is also a fairly short game, so even 3 or 4 paragraphs worth of story is going to cover almost half of the entire game. This basically covers the first hour or two of the game, which is probably only around 10-20% of the game. After that, you pretty much go through various different areas, sometimes solving a local quest or two, and then heading onto the next area.
There is definitely a lot more story in Ys II compared to Ys I, both in overall story beats as well as NPC interaction and voiced dialog bits. While Ys I was more about setting a premise and then just sending you off, Ys II adds more and more as you go along, allowing for a much deeper connection to certain characters as well as an overall deeper connection to the story, making you that much more determined to progress through the game.
The way the game ends seems to hint that the story of Ys I and Ys II has come to an end. I still don’t know for sure, but I PERSONALLY think that Ys I and Ys II were actually originally meant to be one entire game, and either got split into two for production costs (needing some sales from I to fund the rest of II), or more realistically it was a problem with filesizes and not being able to fit everything into a reasonable amount of disks.
That doesn’t mean the story for the whole series has ended, however. The schtick of “Adol randomly landing on some unknown land at the beginning of the game” seems to be a reoccurring meme in the series, so it looks like it’s quite easy for Nihon Falcom to start fresh story arcs whenever they please.
Overall, if you played Ys I, you’ll definitely want to see the story through til the end! Even if you haven’t played the first game, I think the story of Ys II would still be interesting enough to play through on its own – you’ll just be confused as to why you’re where you are and why you have certain items in your possession, things like that.
Next up, let’s take a look at the characters we’ll meet in Ys II. Since the instruction manual for the game includes both characters from Ys I and II, this section is mostly going to be the same as the Ys I review…
There are a lot more characters that you interact with this time around in Ys II compared to Ys I. There’s a lot more story going on in Ys II, so that means there are also a lot more “important” characters this time. You’ll run into these characters in-game, but sadly they’re not including in the game’s instruction manual.
As I originally mentioned in the “Characters” section of the Ys I/イースI review, I only list characters that are shown in the official instruction manuals of games in this section. There are only 4 characters in the Ys I & II instruction manual, so this section will be fairly brief. Just know that there will be more characters to meet in-game than you’ll see here!
アドル・クリスティン (Adoru Kurisutin, Adol Christin) – Our hero from the first game, Adol is the main character again in Ys II. This time, Adol sets off to rid all evil from the land once and for all!
リリア (Riria, Lilia) – Lilia is a young girl who finds Adol unconscious at the beginning of the game. After bringing him back to her local village, she explains the current situation in and around the village of Rance and tells Adol about the recent demon invasion.
レア (Rea, Leah/Reah) – Reah is the poet that you met in Minea Village back in Ys I. Word has it that she’s been sighted recently in the land of Ys.
フィーナ (Fiina, Feena) – Feena is the young girl with amnesia that Adol found trapped in a prison cell back in Ys I. For some reason, it seems like Feena has also been seen recently in Ys.
That covers all of the characters shown in the game’s instruction manual. Compared to Ys I, there are a lot more miscellaneous characters that you’ll meet along the way. While Ys I focused a lot more on a few specific characters, you’ll be running through a few different settlements in Ys II, which in my opinion makes the world and characters within it feel a lot more personal than they did back in Ys I!
That wraps of the fairly short “Characters” section of the review. Next up, let’s take a look at the graphics in Ys II!
Like I mentioned near the beginning of the review, Ys I & II for the PC-Engine were both created using the same engine, which means both games share the same graphical quality and capabilities. You won’t really see too many differences in level of detail or anything like that between the two games, but you will notice things like the vast differences in monsters and environments!
Ys II steps up the monster and environmental variety big time. If I had to guess i’d say that Ys II has the same amount of monster variety PER MAP (probably 3-5 enemy types per “zone”), but the big thing is that there are way more different areas you’ll get to explore than there was back in Ys I. Ys I had a total of I believe 5 unique areas (one area had a few different sub-sections within it), so even if you consider each area having 3-5 monster types, that’s still somewhere in the ball-park of 15-30 ish monsters in the entire game.
Ys II easily has double, maybe even triple the amount of different areas you’ll end up going to, which means there’s at least double the amount of unique monsters you’ll get to fight in Ys II! Since Ys II takes around the same amount of time to beat as Ys I, that means you’ll be constantly running into new and interesting monsters!
Next up are the environments. Ys II did an amazing job at keeping each area fresh and exciting to explore. While the first game was fairly basic in terms of area types (field, cave, basement, tower) Ys II expands into more interesting areas (back in 1989, anyways) – adding things like Volcanic areas, Snowy mountains, and what I can only describe as a super confusing beach boardwalk (???). Of course, each area has unique tilesets and appropriate monsters to match!
While “new monsters and areas” might not sound like that big of a deal, there really is enough new stuff to keep you interested. The increase in variety and the amount of areas alone helps make the game feel bigger (the time it takes to beat both games is fairly close) and Adol’s adventure feel much more grand in scope. Simple things like that actually have a big impact on older games, much more than newer games where size usually takes precedence.
New additions aside, everything else is mostly the same as Ys I. As far as I know, the color palette is the same, as well as stuff like building architecture. Maps seem to be more animated this time around – you’ll run across some maps with animated skies, animated walls, things like that. As far as I remember, everything, or at least mostly everything in Ys I was static, but the occasional animated map in Ys II really sticks out!
Overall, the graphics in Ys I were already amazing for 1989, and Ys II goes ahead and takes that a step further! I truly believe you’d be hard pressed to find a better looking game from 1989 (console game anyways, some PC-98 stuff looked amazing). Ys II is already full of strong points, but Graphics is definitely one of them!
Next, let’s take a look at the gameplay in Ys II!
As I mentioned above, Ys I & II play almost identically. Both games use the Bump Combat system (you damage enemies by walking/running into them rather than swinging a weapon), you have the same HP, STR and DEF stats in both games, and you accumulate EXP and GOLD from killing enemies the same way as before.
The gameplay loop is identical as well – you level up and get gold to buy the best gear you can and then head out on your adventure, searching every nook and cranny for a key item that will allow you progress into the next area. The boss doors from the first game are back, and the same rules follow as the first game (no healing inside boss rooms, and if you get stomped you just go level up once or twice and come back). At the core, the two games are the same, but Ys II has something new that you’ll notice the second Ys II boots up.
The addition of an MP counter! As you might imagine, this is used to cast Magic, which is the big addition in Ys II. Ys II has several different types of equippable Magic, ranging from attack magic, true sight (able to see things that are otherwise invisible), transformation magic, and teleport magic. Your MP gets depleted after a certain amount of casts, which can then only be replenished by using a consumable healing item or getting healed by someone.
Magic changes up the gameplay style in Ys II in a big way – back in Ys I you didn’t have any ranged attacks so all you could do was run into enemies to defeat them. Now in Ys II, you can shoot a ranged fireball in the direction your facing (a certain in-game item turns the fireball into a homing fireball, though…), which means that aside from certain boss fights, you can actually play most of the game without running into any enemies at all! This essentially causes an entire mindset shift – I originally got used to running into everything back when I went through Ys I but suddenly got into the habit of trying to DODGE monsters rather than running into them like you’re supposed to in an old Ys game! Check out how the new combat style plays below!
It might just be all in my head, but monsters felt like they hit you for much more of your HP and you hit them for way less of their HP with physical attacks than you did back in Ys I. Regardless of how much I grinded, normal monsters were still hitting me for about 10-20% of my HP per hit even at max level. I think the developers wanted the new magic feature to be used so badly that they balanced the entire game around the expectation that players will just kite monsters around while spamming magic.
One thing that backs up my assumption is that Magic doesn’t decrease by 1 each time your use magic. It seems to decrease by 1 every 8-10 times you use Magic, and with somewhere around 250 MP at the end of the game, that means you can spam Magic without a care in the world and just destroy everything in your path. There’s also a 1-time consumable item (infinitely-spawning though) that fully restores MP that can be used anywhere, so you can technically spam 500 MP worth of Magic if you really felt the need to…
Around the middle of the game you’ll find an equippable item (not gear, an actual item) that changes your fireball magic to a screen-wide homing fireball. Regardless of what direction your facing, if you shoot a fireball it’ll find its way to the nearest enemy. Later on in the game your fireball gets upgraded, at which point it will home onto an enemy, kill it, and home onto another enemy on the screen, repeating this until all enemies are dead. This makes fighting and leveling up during the later half of the game absolutely braindead, but it definitely keeps up that fast combat pace that players of the first game know and love.
Luckily, the homing item doesn’t work during boss fights, so you’ll still have to line up your shots to hit their weakspots. Physical attacks actually don’t work against most bosses in the game, so if you dislike the fireball magic mechanic you might not enjoy the boss fights in Ys II too much. Just like they did in Ys I, the boss fights in Ys II usually have a lot of movement going on, so lining up your shots against some bosses is actually fairly difficult. Here’s a video of one of the more movement heavy boss fights in the game. I literally only had one more hit of HP left at the end…
Since we’re on the subject of Magic, I wanna talk about the Transformation Magic. This is a really interesting game mechanic – by equipping the Transformation Magic you’ll turn into a monster. While in monster form, you can actually talk to the monsters roaming around the field and get hints about what to do next or just read some funny banter. This of course makes the monster non-aggressive, so if you’re low on HP and afraid you might die before you get back to town you can just throw on the Transformation Magic and safely run back.
There are a few story sections and stuff where the monster transformation is necessary, so it is something you’ll eventually have to use. The game doesn’t tell you right away and once I figured what it’s used for it became one of my favorite types of Magic in the game. Definitely take the time to read the funny stuff the monsters say!
Teleport Magic is basically just your typical old-school town teleport spell, or nowadays “fast travel”. This alone should let you know that the game world is much bigger than the world in Ys I! There are a few times where you need to backtrack in Ys II, so this spell definitely has its uses.
That’s about it regarding Magic. Except for the occasional utility spell, most of your time in Ys II is going to be spent chucking homing fireballs across the screen. It is fun watching all the fireballs flying around, it almost gives the game a type of Shoot-em-up feel when stuff gets really hectic.
With Magic out of the way, the rest of the gameplay is the same as Ys I. Just like before, you get a lot of EXP when coming into a new area but after a few quick levels your EXP per kill gets throttled down to almost nothing. Each level has the same big effect as before – if a boss is giving you trouble a single level or two will be enough to go in and stomp them without much effort. The need to grind is reduced a lot in Ys II though – there are a lot more character interactions and quests that give you free exp, usually enough for a level or two. Most times, right before you get to a boss fight you’ll get one of those free levels and you can usually go right in and be at an appropriate level on the first try.
Before we finish the gameplay section I have to mention one of the negative points of the game in my opinion. The maps this time are overly maze-like for no apparent reason. The first game has maze-like areas too, but most of the time you could still see stuff on the edges of the screen to see how paths connect. This time around, everything is always out of view, and everything is much more vertical and layered this time around, so figuring out what staircase leads to what layer and so on is extremely annoying. The last few areas are absolutely terrible offenders.
Here’s a quick example of one of the more difficult to navigate areas in the game, for reference.
I understand that older games made the dungeons “difficult” by making them maze-like as a way to extend time spent in the dungeons, which then depletes your item supply and HP/MP reserves, but the mazes in Ys II didn’t make anything hard or dangerous, they were just pointlessly tedious and felt overdone just to confuse you. It would have been harder, but the game gives you teleport magic so even if you started getting low on stuff you can just teleport back to town. Definitely wasn’t a fan of the level design in some areas this time around.
There’s not too much more to mention about the gameplay in Ys II. The game itself takes around the same of time to beat as Ys I, anywhere from around 8-15 hours depending on how quickly you figure out the puzzles and how well you can remember the maps. Overall, running around fighting monsters and leveling up is just as fun as it was in Ys I, even if it is a lot easier in the last half of the game.
Next we get to go enjoy what the Ys series is known for even to this day, godlike music!
Just like all the awesome stuff you heard back in Ys I, Ys II is filled with the same mix of energetic 1980’s Jpop sounding stuff + metal influenced music! If you liked the first game’s OST then you’ll love Ys II’s OST just as much, if not more! Just a quick reminder, but this game came out in 1989, a whole year before the Super Famicom was released in Japan and 2 years before the Super Nintendo in North America!
Even though Ys II is fairly close to Ys I in terms of how long it takes to finish the game, there are a lot more areas to explore in Ys II which means there are more songs on the Ys II OST compared to the first game’s OST. Personally for me, I found myself enjoying the Ys II soundtrack just a bit more than the original Ys! Hopefully you’ll enjoy the songs i’ll introduce below!
First off i’ll start with the theme for the first combat area in the game. Just like back in Ys I, Falcom made sure to give you a song that’ll pump you up and get you ready for the upcoming adventure!
The next song is probably my favorite off the Ys II OST. You’ll run into it fairly early on in the game in a cool ice-capped mountainside. The only way I can really describe it is “1980’s Jpop + 1970’s porn music”. I know that sounds like some sort of disaster but definitely check it out, it just works.
Up next we have another cool dungeon theme for the underground sewer that you’ll head to later on in the game. While the dungeon itself doesn’t have much going on per screen (usually one monster max), the song definitely helps keep things fun!
Last but not least, we’ll end with an extremely cheerful sounding song. This is one of the last songs you’ll hear, but it definitely makes everything feel great and makes you think back on everything you just experienced during your journey!
Like I said, Ys II’s OST sounds just as awesome as Ys I’s! Filled with way too many cool sounding songs mixed with that cutesy old-school Jpop/Anime OST stuff, the music in the first two Ys games is pretty hard to top – ESPECIALLY if you’re going to compare it to anything that was out when this game was first released. Do yourself a favor and listen to the entire OST! Even if you listen to the OSTs of both Ys I & II at the same time, it shouldn’t be longer than an hour, hour and a half! I have a feeling you’ll thank me later!
East vs. West
Like I mentioned in my Ys I review, the Japanese and English versions of Ys I & II for the PC-Engine don’t really have significant differences. People seem to praise the English translation (that of course doesn’t guarantee it’s an accurate translation, it just means the game was understandable), so you don’t need to feel like you’re missing out on too much by playing the English version, unlike virtually every other pre-ps2-era game from Japan.
The one main thing I also mentioned in the Ys I review was that a lot of people seem to think that the English voice-acting in Ys I & II isn’t very good. While you didn’t have to worry much about the voice-acting back in Ys I due to there only being probably 3 or 4 occurrences of it in the entire game, Ys II has a lot more voiced cutscenes this time around. I personally have no problem listening to garbage-tier voice-acting from 20-30 years ago, but this could be a factor for some players.
Should you play it?
If you played and enjoyed Ys I, then you’ll definitely like Ys II. I’ve said it a few times already in the review, but Ys II is basically just Ys I that’s been expanded on in terms of story, world-building, and gameplay. The switch from focusing more on shooting stuff with magic rather than running into (I felt it focused on this, anyways) is a bit of a change, but everything else feels like Ys I, so you’ll feel right at home playing Ys II.
If you haven’t played an Ys game before, i’d be willing to say Ys II is still a great starting point. Of course you’ll be a little lost when it comes to the story (only a single 5-10 hour game’s worth of story, though), but gameplay-wise Ys II still captures that early Ys spirit along with still having the original Bump Combat in place. Clocking in at around ~10 hours again, Ys II won’t take you any time at all to finish!
Which version should you play?
I also mentioned this in back in the Ys I review (since both games are on the same disc…), but if you’re looking for the original top-down 2d version of Ys II, you absolutely can’t go wrong with the PC-Engine version of the game. If you’re wanting to play the game in English, this is actually the only way to play an official English version of the game from back in the day. If you’re wanting to play the game in Japanese, there are a ton of different versions for various types of old-school Japan-only PCs, but finding the hardware to run those will be way more trouble than it’s worth (that’s coming from a guy like me…).
While you could probably brute-force your way through Ys I without being able to read Japanese, I don’t think you’d be able to do it as easily in Ys II. There is a lot of backtracking in Ys II, and a lot of it involves talking to certain NPCs in areas that are sometimes pretty far away from where you currently are. If you can’t read town names, NPC names, or key item names, chances are you’ll get stuck way too often. I definitely do recommend picking up the English version this time around if you don’t know much Japanese.
If you prefer more “modern” feeling games, Ys I & II Chronicles was released for PC around the early to mid 2000s, which uses a more isometric 3d style. I personally haven’t played it so I don’t know how true it is to the originals, but it’s definitely the cheapest alternative since you won’t have to go out and pick up a PC-Engine or one of those obscure Japanese Sharp computers or PC-88s.
That’s it for Ys II! Now, onto the final score!
Final Score – 36/40
Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Music – 10/10
If you’re interested, here’s a video of the game’s ending. It’s not super spoiler-y, but it does show the general outcome of the game. It includes two of the best tracks on the entire OST, so if you don’t care about spoilers or don’t plan to play the game yourself, definitely check it out!
If you have some spare time and haven’t already, please take a look at my Ys I/イースI review for the PC-Engine here!