Ys III pc-engine case front cover

Ys III/イースIII

Ys III opening screen

Ys III, known as “Ys III: Wanderers from Ys” overseas, is the 3rd game in the Ys series and the 2nd game in the series released on the PC-Engine. Due to extreme changes in gameplay, so much so that the game ends up being a completely different genre than the first two games, Ys III is often referred to as the “Black Sheep” of the Ys series in the West.

 

Though the game plays entirely different than Ys I and II, the game retains everything that the Ys series in known for – a godlike OST (easily the best out of the first 3 games in my opinion), fun combat, challenging bosses, and of course Adol himself!

 

Does being the “Black Sheep” of a series automatically make a game bad? Let’s find out!

Score – 33/40

Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 8/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 10/10

Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Action)
Platform: PC-Engine
Release Date: JP: March 22nd, 1991/US: 1991 (exact date unknown)
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Length: 5~10 Hours

Ys III PCE Review

Ys III pc-engine case back cover

The back of the case of the Japanese PC-Engine version of Ys III

Ys III has a bit of an interesting history to it. If you read through the introduction at the beginning of the review, you’d notice that I talked about how Ys III has a lot of gameplay changes that classify the game as a different genre from the first two games. The reason for that is Ys III wasn’t originally meant to be an Ys game at all. It was originally designed to be its own game, but during development the higher-ups at Nihon Falcom decided that they should suddenly turn it into an Ys game! This change actually caused a decent amount of staff to up and quit working for Falcom altogether, but that’s another story…

Ys III disc

The Ys III disc

You might have noticed the length of the game is estimated at 5~10 hours. The early Ys games are already fairly short as is, but Ys III is definitely the shortest of the first 3 games – my blind clear was probably only around 6 or 7 hours, and that was with me getting “lost” for about half an hour. This means that if you put your mind to it, you can easily clear Ys III in a single afternoon, which is really nice!

Ys III pc-engine instruction manual front cover

The front cover of the Ys III instruction manual

As you can imagine, since Ys III is a side-scrolling RPG that’s only around 5 or 6 hours long, there’s not a whole lot of content stuffed into the game story-wise and gameplay-wise. Ys III is a quick, fun romp through some cool areas with some awesome music along the way – the perfect game for those who are looking for a quick adventure without having too much stuff to keep track of!

Ys III pc-engine instruction manual back cover

Again, that out-of-place trademark Hudson Soft mustard color back cover of the instruction manual

Even though I said there wasn’t much story in the game, there is still some stuff going on throughout the adventure, so let’s take a quick look at what’s going on in Ys III.

 

 

 

Story

Before we start, if you’re interested in the prologue backstory, here’s the cutscene that’s shown before the start menu.

Ys III opening ending cutscene with adol and dogi

Adol and Dogi setting out on their next adventure!

After the events of Ys I & II, Adol and his friend Dogi are in the middle of another adventure when Dogi hears some rumors about recent troubles in his hometown of Redmont, in the Felghana region. Adol and Dogi being the brave adventurers they are, the two decide go to check out the situation for themselves.

Upon arriving in Redmont, Adol and Dogi learn that the lord of the nearby Valestein Castle has been sending his men to threaten the people of Redmont, demanding that they hand over 4 sculptures that are known to exist within the region. Rumor has it that the lord wants to gather all 4 sculptures for himself, but nobody truly knows why…

Ys III pc-engine instruction manual world map

The “World Map” for the region of Felghana, where the entirety of the game takes place

Since Ys III is an extremely short game (less than 10 hours) and it’s a side-scrolling dungeon crawler with just a single town, there’s not a whole lot of story-related stuff to keep track of. Most story stuff consists of quick conversations with a character inside of some room in a dungeon, very similar to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲.

Your overall main goal of the game is to try to collect the 4 sculptures, and most interactions with characters don’t actually directly relate to that at all. There are a few exceptions where the entire point of a conversation is to learn where a sculpture is hidden, but most of them are just characters saying they saw somebody going in or out of a dungeon recently or “progress reports” with a certain reoccurring character.

I don’t think anyone would claim that the story in Ys III is its main selling point, and i’m sure the developers wouldn’t claim that either. The story isn’t bad at all, and considering that games in the late 80’s and early 90’s still mostly consisted of “defeat the Evil Demon King” or “collect so-and-so to defeat the Evil Demon King”, Ys III’s story would have been fairly typical back in 1991. Not bad, but nothing exceptionally special either – just something to sort of guide you throughout the game!

Next up, let’s take a look at who we’ll meet along the way!

Characters

For all reviews on my site, I only introduce characters that are shown within the official instruction manuals for each game. For some games it’s fine because they list a good amount of characters in the manuals, but some games list very few characters, as is the case here with Ys III. It might look like i’m slacking in this section, but the official manual only includes 3 characters, and not only that the descriptions are only a sentence or two each. Therefore this is going to end up being a fairly short section…

Ys III adol christin

Adol Christin, the main hero in the Ys series and the character you’ll be controlling the entire game

アドル・クリスティン (Adoru Kurisutin, Adol Christin) – Adol is the main hero in the Ys series. After saving the Land of Ys, he set off on another adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

Ys III dogi

Dogi, Adol’s buddy since very first game

ドギ (Dogi) – An ex-thief who’s been traveling together with Adol since meeting him back in Ys I. Not cool enough to get a last name it seems…

 

 

 

 

Ys III elena

Elena, Dogi’s childhood friend who still lives in Dogi’s hometown of Redmont

エレナ (Erena, Elena) – Elena is a old childhood friend of Dogi’s. Now she’s grown up to be a beautiful young woman.

 

 

 

 

 

These are the three “main” characters you’ll be seeing throughout the game, with paraphrased descriptions based off of the  Japanese descriptions in the manual. Considering the type of game Ys III is, you’ll really only meet Dogi and Elena just a few times each, so you honestly can’t call them “main” characters, but they’re more prominent than everyone else except for a certain character who has quite a bit to do with the story but isn’t shown in the manual.

Coming up next, we’ll take a look at the game’s graphics!

Graphics

I’ll have to admit right up front, the only other side-scrolling games i’ve reviewed so far are Valkyrie Profile/ヴァルキリープロファイル and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲, both for the PS1. These games were much easier to score mostly due to the fast that once the PS1 era hit, almost everyone tried to make everything in 3D, so not only were there not a whole lot of side-scrolling games, there definitely weren’t many side-scrolling RPG games.

While there weren’t many side-scrolling “RPGs” back in the 16-bit era, there were definitely a ton of side-scrolling games in general. I never had any interest in side-scrolling shooters or platformers, so to be honest I don’t really have much to compare Ys III to, so i’ll just be fair and score it as is, rather than comparing it to other games that came out around the same time.

Now, onto the game itself! Ys III starts off with another beautifully animated cutscene, showing Adol and Dogi setting sail from Ys, with some shots of their new adventure together. Ys I & II also had some cool cutscenes, but I feel like Falcom took what they learned from Ys I & II and stepped it up a bit more. The cutscenes feel more “cinematic”, with a lot more shots of locations from far away showing Adol and Dogi traveling through forests and mountains.

Ys III opening cutscene with adol and dogi

A screenshot doesn’t do it justice, but here’s an example of the much more detailed cutscenes in Ys III

There’s also a lot more detail shown this time. The characters show emotions better through various different facial expressions – instead of still shots of characters, now you’ll be able to see their eyes glimmering and hair blowing in the wind. Environments have things like animated sunrays beaming through trees. While the cutscenes in Ys I & II were already incredible, Ys III manages to take them a step further! Just a shame that like Ys I & II, there are only a few cutscenes like this in the entire game…

Here’s the opening cutscene in its entirety. Definitely check it out!

During gameplay, Ys III looks pretty nice actually. While Ys III is a different type of game compared to Ys I & II (a side-scroller this time, rather than a top-down game), it still retains that “Ys” feeling in terms of the world, environments, and monsters.

Ys III inside the tigrey mines

Once again a screenshot can’t convey it properly, but the waterfall in the background continuously flows and sparkles

Similar to Ys II, there are various different environments you’ll get to trek through in Ys III, such as caves, mountain tops, castles, ruin, and volcanoes. Each area looks unique with detailed backgrounds, many of which are either animated or scrolling, which is really cool to see in real-time!

Ys III Illburns Ruins

The Illburns Ruins, a map that looks good but runs bad…

Some of the maps in Ys III are stacked with up to 3 or 4 separate scrolling and animated layers in the background. For example, while you move, some hills in the near background might move at a separate pace compared to bigger mountains further away in the background, all while clouds in the sky are soaring across the screen. This looks fantastic most of the time, but there are a few instances where the developers (or artists?) went a bit overboard, causing the game’s performance to drop considerably on certain maps.

You can find an example of this in the outside areas of the Illburns Ruins section of the game, which has the typical scrolling foreground (what you move around on), 2 separate scrolling background layers, a static non-scrolling background layer, and a scrolling layer for the clouds in the sky, adding up to a total of 5 separate layers being used, 4 of which are moving at the exact same time. Add Adol moving around and several enemies moving around on screen at once and the difference in performance compared to the rooms just before going outside is extremely noticeable in-game. Check out a video of it happening below.

The game’s performance only drops in extreme cases like in the video above, so overall all the scrolling backgrounds are really cool and add a ton of depth and atmosphere to the areas. The overdone maps are few and far between, so even though they do kinda mess the game up temporarily, they aren’t prevalent enough to consider a real negative – the performance drops are just something I wanted to point out. I definitely do appreciate the effort, though!

Within each environment, you’ll find lots of different monsters roaming around. Monster design is similar to what you’d find back in Ys I & II. Monsters are fully animated, and while due to the type of games Ys I & II were all monsters were grounded, in Ys III you’ll see monsters flying and jumping around the screen this time. There is plenty of monster variation in the game, so each new area will bring a slew of new monster types and animations to check out.

Ys III does actually run at 60fps, but monsters aren’t animated in 60fps for some reason like they were back in the first two games. This time, monsters almost have this weird phasing effect that makes them look like they’re moving and animating at half the speed of everything else on the map. Since Ys I & II could have quite a few sprites on screen at once, I don’t know if it’s an issue with sprites slowing down on accident because of all the other scrolling stuff going on, or if it was just a design decision.

When you’re actually running through the levels and fighting stuff you don’t really notice the difference in player/monster speed, but if you sit on a ledge somewhere and just watch the monsters walk back and forth, there’s no way you can miss it. Since you won’t really notice it if you’re actually “playing” the game, this is also another thing that I don’t really consider a negative, it just kind of made me wonder why they were slowed down so much.

Sprites themselves in Ys III are for the most part rather simple, or so I’d like to think. The speed of the gameplay makes it kind of hard to get a real good look at the detail of most sprites, especially flying monsters that zoom all around the map. Bosses have fairly large sprites and a lot more detail than basic monsters, but since you’ll be spending most of your time trying to dodge all of their attacks, you won’t really be able to get a very good look at them. The only sprites you can actually get a good look at are the NPCs back in Redmont or Adol himself. Adol basically looks exactly like how you would imagine he would look like from the side back in Ys I & II.

Ys III balestine castle

Adol running through the Valestein Castle

Adol is always walking with his weapon drawn (weapons don’t change based on equipment, but even 10 years from the time Ys III came out that still wasn’t common), and his shield raised, just like he did in the first two games. Due to the viewing angle of the game, you can’t see any actual detail in his face, but he still has the trademark red hair to prove he’s the same Adol.

Adol also has just a few animations – his walking animation, his “prone” animation, his attack animation, and prone attack animation. Jumping just uses the “standing” animation, so it basically looks like Adol’s hovering in the air while jumping, no leg bending or anything happening. Since Adol doesn’t have that odd monster animation slowdown, everything he does looks a lot smoother.

Of course, since Ys I & II had the Bump Combat system, the game essentially only had walking animations for everything except bosses. That means that even though Ys III doesn’t have too many different animations, it still has more compared to the previous games, so technically Ys III is a step up from the previous two games!

Ys III heading to the tigrey mines

The outside area of the Tigray Quarry, which is only a 5 or so second long map, but it has the best music in the game AND looks great to boot!

I think that just about covers the Graphics section for Ys III. Even though there are some minor graphic-related issues in the game, overall the game looks pretty nice. The varied environments paired with the cool backgrounds adding depth and atmosphere to the maps works really well. Even though it’s a short game, there’s plenty to explore and see within the world of Ys III!

Next up we’ll cover the gameplay, which is the biggest change in Ys III and the main thing that causes the game to often be considered the Black Sheep of the entire series!

Gameplay

As i’ve mentioned many times already and shown above, Ys III is a side-scrolling RPG. The change from top-down to side-scrolling aside, the gameplay elements of Ys III are almost exactly the same as the first two games. Just like before, your main goal in Ys III is to kill enemies to get Gold to buy new gear and level up to get better stats and higher HP, in order to defeat bosses and obtain quest items to be able to progress further on your journey. One quick look at the menu screen, stats, and main HUD and you’ll know this is a PC-Engine Ys game.

Ys III world map

Selecting Redmont on the Area Select screen

As you might expect from an early 1990’s side-scroller, there isn’t a whole lot of room for complexity. Ys III plays just like you might imagine – you select zones to explore from the overworld (new zones unlock as you progress, but you can backtrack to any zones you’ve been to before) and then head inside a dungeon/castle/ruin to either defeat a boss or retrieve an item. The actual “gameplay” itself is extremely simple – you essentially just keep walking to the right while either attacking stuff or jumping over/dodging stuff (you’ll have to dodge some environmental stuff towards the end of the game). While you could say “all you do in Ys I & II is walk into things” (and you’d be right), maybe it’s just me but the change to side-scrolling just made everything SEEM a lot simpler.

Just like in the first two games, Gold you get from monsters is used to buy gear and eventually some single-use items. Another similarity to the first two games is that you can really only buy the first tier or two of gear from shops, after that you’ll have to find the higher tiers of gear in dungeons. This means that in order to have a smooth experience in the beginning, you’ll probably have to grind for 15 or 20 minutes near the start to get some gear upgrades. Here’s a quick video of me doing exactly that at the beginning of the game (didn’t even really feel like grinding since combat in Ys III is a bit more “active”).

Thankfully, Gold is actually pretty plentiful in Ys III compared to the first two games. Not only is Gold plentiful, but EXP is too! You level insanely fast in Ys III, to the point where you won’t have to grind for EXP at all – you’ll most likely be max level before you even get to the last dungeon. Stat bonuses on level-up are a lot bigger than the first two games. A single level can sometimes boost individual stats by 10 or 15, which is almost as much as a Tier upgrade in gear! A general rule in Ys games is that if a boss is giving you trouble you should go grind a single level and try again. In Ys III, grinding this single level will make you absolutely stomp the boss.

Just like the first two games, you’re still gonna be level capped by the time you get to the last boss. In the early Ys games it’s not possible to “overlevel” to make the final boss fight a bit more manageable. The last boss fights in Ys games are known to be extremely hard, so even though you can grind a bit to stomp the random bosses throughout the game, you’ll still have to test yourself in order to beat the final boss!

The other way to get stronger in Ys III is through the use of Rings you’ll find throughout the game. Rings existed back in Ys I as equippable passive effects (STR/DEF increases, healing over time, and a screen-wide monster speed reduction), but this time they work similar to the Shield Magic in Ys II. Equipping Rings in Ys III can once again increase your stats or heal you over time, but equipping a Ring decreases your MP every second. MP can only be restored properly through single-use items, leveling up, or resting back in Redmont (you do regen 1MP every time you kill an enemy, though).

Aside from the final dungeon, Rings don’t NEED to be used in order to beat regular monsters or for exploring dungeons like they did back in Ys I or like magic did in Ys II. You will need to use them during boss fights, however. This means that you don’t really have to worry about managing your MP at all like you had to back in Ys II. Every single boss fight except for the last one is a zerg-fest (is “zerg” too old-school nowadays? guess nowadays it’s probably “burst”-fest? a “dps”-race?), so even though you’ll be equipping Rings you’ll probably only spend like 10% of your MP per boss.

Here’s a quick example showing what happens when you play terribly and have to use your Rings so much that you actually run out of MP!

I’m sure my lack of experience with the genre might mean that there will be a ton of people who disagree with me on this, but I kind of feel like Ys III is a primitive “Metroidvania” type game. While not entirely the same, Ys III did give off some Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲 vibes.

Ys III doesn’t take place within a single progressive map like Symphony of the Night does, but the side-scrolling combat mixed with leveling up/gear progression and areas being locked behind story progression or needing certain items and backtracking between maps just gave me a similar feeling. Again, it is definitely way more primitive than Symphony of the Night, and maybe i’m not grasping the entire meaning of the “Metroidvania” genre, but I think if you like one of these games you’d probably like the other. Completely unnecessary plug, but DEFINITELY go play Castlevania: Symphony of the Night/悪魔城ドラキュラX 月下の夜想曲 because that game is an absolute masterpiece in almost every way.

That sums up the gameplay in Ys III. The first two games were already rather simple – innovative and fun, sure, but bumping into enemies while leveling up and collecting money for gear is still simplistic. Ys III basically just takes Ys I & II, looks at it from the side, and forces you to swing at things instead of just letting you walk into them.

Of course, if you didn’t know that Ys III was originally meant to be a non-Ys game, having a single side-scrolling game and then having the next game go back to the original formula of I & II would be extremely mind-boggling, but if you liked Ys I & II, there’s no real reason to not give Ys III a try. Take it from me, before playing Symphony of the Night I thought side-scrollers were all low-effort boring games for toddlers and people who don’t actually play games (I played them when I was a toddler, so not even using that as an insult). So if someone like me who despised side-scrollers can enjoy Ys III a lot, i’m sure everyone else will enjoy it too!

Up next, we’ll take a look at Ys III’s music, bar none the best part of the game – by a mile!

Music

Nihon Falcom strikes again! If you’ve checked out my Ys I & II review or my Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes review, you’d know that these early PC-Engine Nihon Falcom games hit that sweet spot for me and basically get automatic 10’s for the Music score. Well, Ys III is no different!

Even though Ys III is a really short game, Nihon Falcom didn’t skimp on the soundtrack at all! To be completely honest, I personally think the Ys III OST blows the Ys I & II OST out of the water. If I could, i’d probably give this game an 11 for the Music score, but 10 is as high as I can go, rules are rules…

Now, you’re probably thinking “there’s no way the Black Sheep of the Ys series can get something like an 11 for music…”, so let me change your mind real quick.

First up, we have the Ys III opening theme. Ys games always have a killer opening theme, so this is definitely one area where Ys III is just like all the other games in the series! I always say it, but the PC-Engine Ys games have that 1980’s Jpop/City Pop on lockdown!

The game wastes no time throwing 11/10 level tracks at you. The second you leave town and head for the first dungeon, this masterpiece starts playing. Easily one of the best songs i’ve ever heard in my entire 26 years of gaming. The only crime in Ys III is that you can run through every map that plays this song in less than 15 seconds each, which means you’ll never hear the song in its entirety unless you purposely set out to…

Once you’re done listening to the awesome “map transition” theme above and set foot into the first dungeon in the game, then you’ll get to hear this awesome song. Definitely aren’t any other games from this era with this good of a double-hitter right out of the gates, I guarantee it!

Basically every dungeon theme in Ys III is masterclass, but one stands triumphantly above the rest – the theme for the final “dungeon” in the game, Valestein Castle. Talk about saving the best for last – check this one out!

As i’m sure you can see (hear?), the Ys III soundtrack is more than deserving of breaking a perfect 10. I will admit that I wasn’t a fan of the generic boss theme, but considering how much of a zergfest the boss fights are in Ys III, chances are you’ll never really hear more than 10 or 15 seconds of it anyways, so I didn’t find it that much of a negative. Aside from that, this OST is filled to the brim with awesome music – way more than a game this size needs! Do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing in its entirety below!

Just like Ys I & II, Ys III has voiced cutscenes within the game. The English version of the game has a reputation of having horrendous voice acting, but as usual the Japanese version’s voice acting is up to snuff. Compared to Ys I & II, the sound quality of the voice acting is actually worse – while they did lower the BGM volume during cutscenes, the volume for voices is lowered too, and the voices are far back in the mix so it almost sounds like everyone’s talking from the back of a cave. I know that having voice acting alone was a technical marvel back in the early 90s so I don’t see “bad voice audio quality” as a negative at all, but some of the voiced parts were a tad bit difficult to catch.

Here’s a quick video to give you a general idea of the audio quality i’m talking about. It actually sounds a lot better through my headset here after listening to it again, but playing it through my TV was a lot worse…

Up next we’ll take a look at some of the differences between the Japanese and English versions of the game.

East vs. West

Along with Ys I & II, Ys III is one of the few PC-Engine RPGs to actually get a Western release. Ys III being a game from 1991 – a time when apparently not a single person could speak both English and Japanese, the opening cutscene received the typical adlib script butchering. Here are the two main differences.

  • The evil demon is called Demonicus in English, but in Japanese it’s called Galbaran.
  • In the same cutscene, “Demonicus” is slain and sealed by an unnamed hero in the Japanese version, but in the English version they randomly insist that the hero is Adol (that would make him hundreds of years old…come on guys…). This is hitting Fan “Translation”-levels of “making shit up”!

I actually checked out the English versions script and besides the opening cutscene, everything else seems to check-out which is kind of surprising. I guess the person who did the opening cutscene could read Japanese but their listening just sucked…(eye-sight was bad too…)

Should you play it?

I kinda went ahead and talked about this at the end of the “Gameplay” section, but I really do think you should give Ys III a shot. Sure it’s different from the first two games, but when you think about it Ys III is still extremely early in the series, so it’s not like Falcom suddenly changed things after 10 or 15 years of fan expectations. Even if you’re a Bump Combat Ys purist, if you just imagine that the main character is another red-head and not Adol, you’ll probably be able to enjoy the game a lot.

Not only is the game just kinda fun to play with an awesome soundtrack playing at all times, it’s super short – I beat it in probably 7 or 8 hours on my first try (I don’t think total gametime is shown on save files). I hear people saying they beat it in 4 or 5 hours all the time, so you can honestly bang Ys III out in a single afternoon without really even trying. That alone should be enough of a reason to give it a shot at the very least!

Which version should you play?

Ys III outside of the insert

The outside of a cool Falcom Catalog Insert included with the game

To be honest, outside of the PC versions of the game that were released only in Japan, the West got the Genesis version, the Super Nintendo version, AND the Turbografx version of the game. That means most people won’t have to go out of their way to find a Japanese version of the game, which is usually what you have to do for pre-PS2 era games.

Aside from the made-up opening cutscene in the English PC-Engine (Turbografx) version of the game, there doesn’t seem to be any specific reason to not play the English version. Just remember that the demon is Galbaran and the hero that killed him wasn’t Adol…

In regards to actual versions, i’m of course gonna recommend the PC-Engine version of the game. An absolutely KILLER 11/10 OST, voice acting, the beautifully animated cutscenes throughout the game, and the MOSTLY smooth performance is just stuff that the SNES and Genesis can’t compete with. I haven’t played the SNES and Genesis versions personally, but from gameplay videos i’ve seen and from what i’ve heard of the OSTs, they aren’t even in the same league as the PC-Engine version. Definitely grab it for the PC-Engine!

Ys III inside of the insert

The inside of the Falcom Catalog Insert, definitely one reason to grab the Japanese version of the game!

Region-wise, the only reason I could really think of for purposefully playing the Japanese version is the voice acting. Not only have I heard that the voice acting in the English version is awful, I actually went and checked it out myself. If you want to get immersed in the game and enjoy the voice acted cutscenes, you’ll absolutely want to play the Japanese version of the game.

Considering the game is basically just a (side-scrolling) dungeon crawler with very little “questing” involved, i’m sure you could finish the game with next to no problems even without being able to understand Japanese. The story isn’t particularly special, so even if you don’t know what’s going on you’ll still be able to have fun playing the game.

Now, here’s the final score for Ys III!

Final Score – 33/40

Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 8/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 10/10

Ys III end screen

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.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Ys III
Author Rating
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Product Name
Ys III

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