YS: The Ark of Napishtim
Ys: The Ark of Napishtim is the sixth installment in the Ys series. This particular installment was released on the Sony Playstation 2 gaming console a little over a year ago. And not too long ago, it was ported to the PSP and comes with exclusive content--mini-games, a media player, and a character database.
The story is fairly generic and simple, but fits the game well. The only real strong disappoint surrounding the story was the lack of voiceovers during certain non-animated cut scenes to give it real personality (there are voiceovers during the animated cut scenes). Regardless, the story is about Adol Christin who finds himself fleeing the Romun army and tries to escape by sea, when the ship he is on gets sucked into the Great Vortex of Canaan. It is here in this remote archipelago that Adol is shipwrecked. Once ashore he finds himself under the care of the Rehdan, elf-like folks who don't really like humans, and soon after Adol embarks on a journey that will forever change history.
The game play of Ys: The Ark of Napishtim is nearly unbearable. While I can't say for a definitive fact that this same problem doesn't exist with the PS2 console version, I can only assume it cannot be nearly as bad if it exists at all. What really killed Ys: The Ark of Napishtim for me were the load times. When playing, whether on the world map, in a village/town, or a dungeon, you are constantly moving from one screen to another. When a new area loads the game takes, for what seems like forever!
To be more precise, my average load times between areas was ten seconds. Ten seconds! And when you are only spending a couple of seconds in one area or another (dashing through the world map to get back to town to upgrade your inventory or something), it can take a long time. The good news is there are a few parts when you can expect a load time of about five seconds, but at the same time there are also some areas where the load will cap at twelve seconds. While it may sound insignificant and manageable, those precious seconds add up quickly.
And for some games, having to sit through long arduous load times might be worth it, but in the case of Ys: The Ark of Napishtim, it is not. The general game play (beyond the awful load times) is fun enough, but it is not such an incredible experience you will forgot about those wasted seconds anytime soon.
Beyond load times, Ys: The Ark of Napishtim offers some decent game play. The game play is simple and straight forward. You have a sword, there is a button, you press it, and monsters die. Seriously, the game play is pretty straight forward and simple. It is very similar to games like Sword of Mana and Shining Soul, but with much better graphics. You basically control Adol, move him around the screen and hack'n'slash. In your arsenal you will eventually end up with three different swords--wind, flame, and thunder.
Each sword has different strengths and weaknesses (besides the obvious elemental). For instance, the flame sword is strong, but not nearly as fast as the thunder sword. The wind sword resides somewhere between the flame and thunder swords for strength, but offers much better range. It is a slashing weapon. The thunder sword also offers the most precise attacks. Additionally the swords come with magical properties, when allows Adol to unleash special magic attacks to destroy the bad guys. While playing, you'll find little blue crystals called emelas, which are used to upgrade your swords and make them stronger, as well as unlock special attributes.
Something else that draws this game away from a simple button masher is the ability to do special controlled attacks. For instance each of elemental swords feature different special attacks, i.e. the flame sword can shoot out a multi-hit flame. Other general non-weapon specific special attacks include an upward thrust, downward thrust, dash slash, and dash jump. In some cases you will really need to use these techniques, which is a slight shame because they can be somewhat difficult to execute with the PSP's controls.
As mentioned, the game play is pretty simply and straight forward, but still pretty fun. Running around the map, killing monsters, and upgrading your swords and character can be fun (of course, ignoring the long load times). The story is also nothing special, but a decent sit through.
Other big parts of Ys: The Ark of Napishtim are the exclusive PSP features. This PSP release comes with several mini-games, a media player, and a character database. How these are supposed to be entertaining is beyond me. The mini-games give you a chance to get extra emelas, level up, or get more gold when you finish a particular mini-game. Trust me, take the emelas. There is only so much you can buy in the game and soon you'll have more money than you need and not enough emelas. In general the mini-games are challenging and I found them to be more frustrating then fun. The media player and character database require you to be really interested in the game to enjoy. I could care less about hearing the game's music or looking at a character database.
Overall I thought Ys: The Ark of Napishtim was headed in the right direction. The story, while not great, was doable and the game play was generally fun. It was not a very complex game, but it didn't leave you feeling like you were playing a kiddy game either. Instead it seemed to be just about right. The game is also pretty short. You should be able to finish it pretty quickly. The good news is that there are multiple difficulty levels. The problem is, however, the load time. With load times averaging ten seconds between areas on a map, the game becomes pretty unbearable because it is not good enough that it is worth the wait time.
The best thing about Ys: Ark of Napishtim are the graphics. The game takes advantage of the PSP's 3D capabilities and offers some great looking graphics. The models are crisp and detailed, giving both characters and environments an attractive quality with a rich use of colors.
The audio is fairly simplistic and provides some generic background music. The sound effects are handled well and add to the gaming experience. The game includes voiceovers during the CG cut scenes, but they don't really add much to the story. Also there are lots of periods (non-animated cut scenes) where voiceovers would have really helped.
Clearly, Ys: The Ark of Napishtim has its faults as a game, and in the end doesn't make for a must own game. The load time between areas on the world map, towns/villages, and in dungeons is bad enough to kill any kind of fun you would get from this game. And while many other PSP games have unbearable load times, the game play is worth it. That's not the case with Ys: The Ark of Napishtim, as the game is fun, but far from great. In the end, Ys: The Ark of Napishtim should make for a decent rental.
* This game requires your PSP's firmware to be at least version 2.50. The UMD disc contains an installer for version 2.50.