Nihon Falcom CEO and Ys series producer and writer Kondo Toshihiro discusses the past and future of the Ys series in an interview to commemorate the series’ 35th anniversary in the 7th July 2022 issue of Weekly Famitsu.
This article contains spoilers for Ys IX and Ys I & II
The interview begins with Kondo saying that while there are game series that may be bigger than Ys, few have continued for as long as Ys, and he is thankful for that. Unlike the Trails series, he was not involved with the Ys series from the start, with the first game he worked on being the remake of the first game, Ys I Eternal, and that as such he feels great respect for those that worked on the series before him, and that he will eventually pass it down to successors himself.
Kondo worked on Ys VI soon after. VI resulted in a revival of the series, which he says was difficult: There were more fans who felt attached to the original Ys games at the time, and they had trouble figuring out how to keep new games in line with their expectations while also making something that would be newer and more modern. That being said, most of the staff that worked on VI were veterans who had worked on I & II, V, and the remakes, which meant he had a lot of help from them.
Kondo also notes how the staff working on Ys games frequently change, and this is especially apparent in Ys Seven, which had an entirely different team from previous games, due to them wanting to focus on gamers who would be playing the game on the PSP. While the Trails series has a core set of development staff, the Ys series’ developers change with time, with only its values being passed down.
One thing that Falcom is careful about is to always make a new Ys game do something new, taking into consideration what players want, and what they think Adol should be like. Though he personally thinks they are different, an explanation that they give to new staff is that Ys is like Gundam. The staff can change and things can be wildly different, as long as they follow a few rules and have a Gundam, or in Ys’ case Adol, in it.
Kondo asks if the Ys series has things that do not change, and Kondo says that one thing that always has the staff divided is the subject of whether or not Adol should speak. They have went with not making him speak in the titles that Kondo has worked on, and he says that this is because he feels that Adol is supposed to represent the player, and having him speak like Rean or Van from the Trails series would make him his own character, and that this would make it no longer Ys: Ideally, the adventure should be completed with the player completely self-inserting into Adol. That being said, he does think that this is something that can change if the times demand it. As such, they put a lot of thought into the scene in Ys IX where the Crimson King speaks.
Kondo is asked what sort of character Adol is to him and Falcom, and he says that Adol is very unique because he is not made by a single person or group. Rather, Adol is a combination of ideas of not just Falcom’s staff, but also the players, as they also bring in elements from player feedback and fanworks. Additionally, while some people may think of him purely as an adventurer, some think he is a womanizer. As such, he is a character made by many people, and so he thinks that they cannot simply change him even if they wanted to. He compares this situation to the appearances of historical figures in fiction novels: For example, people in Japan tend to think of Okita Soji always speaking in a polite manner. He thinks that Adol is something like this.
Next, Kondo is asked what other characters are special to him, and he says that Feena from Ys I and II is especially significant, as she defines what a heroine is supposed to be for him. Furthermore, he thinks that the entire of format of Ys, which has Adol meeting but eventually parting with people, was defined by Feena and the ending of Ys II, and he always keeps Feena and the ending in mind when thinking of a new Ys story. For example, when coming up with Dana for Ys VIII, turning her into a playable character was a direct result of him thinking of ways to make a heroine who would leave a bigger impression than Feena. While some players say that Dana did manage to do so, however, Kondo says that as an archetype for the Ys heroine, Feena still remains unsurpassed.
When asked about his favorite BGM from the series, Kondo says it is TO MAKE THE END OF BATTLE from Ys II. Aside from it being a great track on its own, the opening of the game that it is used for also leaves a lasting impression, with him recalling how PC stores at the time always had it being shown. He also notes that it is so popular that it always makes it into Falcom jdk Band concerts. Kondo also says that he thinks that the music is a huge part of the action in the Ys games: When they develop the games, they see the action without sound, and he finds that it is a huge difference once they have music.
Regarding the action, Kondo talks about how difficulty balance can be hard for developers. When he worked on Ys I Eternal as a debugger, there were times when he would come in at 9 AM, start fighting Dark Fact, and continue till 10 PM without beating the boss a single time. He says that what he learned from this is that when developers work on a game for a long time, the game starts to get more and more difficult as they get used to it. What is normal for them is not normal for the players who will be touching the game for the first time, and so they have to take care to not make it too difficult. Kondo recalls this episode to this day, when discussing difficulty, such as when developing Ys IX.
The interviewer points out how there are now players attracted to Ys’ story, who might not be good at action games, and Kondo acknowledges this, but also says that it seems that the majority of Ys fans are still action game fans. As the Trails series is enjoyed by fans for the story, they do not get much feedback about the difficulty, but they do get a lot of feedback for Ys saying that it should be more difficult. He adds that when making Nightmare difficulty, they always balance things in a way that sees if the best player amongst the developers can clear it at least once, but that the players always go above their expectations nevertheless.
Another piece of feedback Kondo says they constantly get from players is how the Ys series may be stable, but also feels old in some ways, with an example being how VIII lacked verticality. Such feedback often leads to ideas for the next game, with IX’s focus on verticality being such a case. Furthermore, doing that leads to questioning why Adol didn’t fly through the air all the time before, and so they had to come up with a setting and story to justify this, resulting in IX’s superpower action concept.
Kondo is also asked about plans to port older Ys games to current gen consoles, and says that this is something they want to do, and have actually started work on some.
Kondo next discusses the next Ys game. They already have the concept fleshed out to some degree, and the party, skill, and dodge/guard systems in use since Seven will likely not be returning as a result of them looking at both what they have accomplished in the games since then, and feedback from players.
While the action in the next game will continue to have the speedy Ys feel to it, Kondo says that they are reconsidering other things, such as perhaps having more of a focus 1-on-1 fights with the player sizing up the opponent. The interviewer inquires if this means it will have more “Souls-like” combat, but Kondo says that while it may have some similar elements, it will not go for the heavy and difficult style associated with the term. They are currently in a phase where they are considering whether they can incorporate some such elements while keeping the gameplay Ys-like, making an “Ys-style Souls-like”.
Kondo also talks about the recently-revealed piece of concept art for the next game. On the right of the piece is a woman who might be the new heroine, and on the left is Adol, in a costume he has never been seen in before. He looks younger because he is: Up till Ys IX, they had been going forwards in time, having Adol age, but they are going back to an earlier point in time with this game, having him around the age he was in the first two games, so that they can have an adventure that is only possible with a young Adol.
Kondo also confirms that the new game is an entirely new game and not a remake, pointing out how the effects in the concept art form an X. Many people were asking for a remake of an older game, but the staff had looked at how much the Trails series changed with Kuro no Kiseki, and wanted to try making a new Ys in a similar vein.
As for the location of the next game, Kondo points out how most of the world outside of the Romun empire in Ys is mostly unknown, and they want to do something in such a place, considering the area equivalent to northern Europe and the UK in real life. They also want to show how the Romun empire isn’t all there is to the Ys world.
Going back to the characters, Kondo points out how something is connecting the characters’ arms in the concept art, and says that there is meaning to this. The entire piece of concept art is comprised of elements that they want to implement in the game, which will be very different from the party system used from Seven to IX.
As for the platform, Kondo says that he cannot officially say it yet, but Ys is a series that they want a large range of players to try out. Lowering Adol’s age is part of this as well.
Kondo says that players who have never touched an Ys game before might be intimidated by the numbering on the games, but should not: The original Ys games were made to be playable by anyone back in an age where the majority of games were made to be difficult, and this spirit continues on. Anyone can start with any game in the series, and they have sought to make it so that each game has its own story and characters that will get people interested.
Recent Ys games have sought to not just do the same thing, but to try out new things, such as with Adol and Dana’s story in VIII, or the superpower action in IX. The next game will focus on delivering new gameplay, and also other new elements never seen before in the Ys series, in the story, action, and system. They aim to implement these new elements while keeping the strengths of Ys, and he asks for fans to look forward to more news in the future.