Title: Ys X -Nordics-
Platform: PS4, PS5, Switch
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Nihon Falcom (JP), Clouded Leopard Entertainment (Asia)
Release date: 28 Sep 2023 (JP/Asia)
Official website (JP): https://www.falcom.co.jp/ysx/
Ys X -Nordics- is the latest game in Nihon Falcom’s iconic Ys series, one of Falcom’s two longrunning flagship series alongside The Legend of Heroes, which follows the travels of the adventurer Adol Christin as he wanders the world.
Though it is the tenth game in the series, Ys X is chronologically one of the earliest games in the timeline, taking place immediately after the events of Ys I and II, starkly contrasting Ys IX which takes place at the opposite end of the timeline. As Adol has not yet experienced the majority of his adventures, the game thus does not reference any of them aside from occasional callbacks to the first two, which also contrasts Ys IX having many references to previous games.
Ys X begins with Adol and his companion Dogi, as well as the doctor Flair Rall (from Ys II) on a ship crossing Obelia Bay heading towards Celceta (the setting of Ys IV, remade in 2012 as Ys: Memories of Celceta). Their ship is suddenly boarded by a band of the viking-inspired Normans known as the Balta Navy which controls the sea in the region, however, and stopped for being unauthorized to operate in the area. They thus find themselves stuck in the port town of Carnac, and though they decide to find some work for the time being, Adol somehow stumbles across a seashell that gives him magic “mana” powers and also gets bound by this mana to the Norman princess Karja Balta, making the two of them physically unable to get more than a few meters away from each other.
Adol and Karja are attacked by an undying monsters called Griegers which they defeat, with Karja revealing that only people who are able to use mana (the only ones she know of being herself and her father) are able to defeat the Griegers for good as they simply regenerate from any attacks otherwise, and the town is that night attacked by a band of Griegers lead by an intelligent human-like one. Adol and Karja escape the town on a ship with the help of Grenn, and then seek the help of the Balta Navy.
The long and short of it is that Adol and Karja are entrusted with the ship that they escaped Carnac with and set out on an adventure across Obelia Bay, which comprises massive regions with numerous islands, fighting Griegers, rescuing kidnapped denizens of Carnac who board the ship and provide various services, and uncovering the secret history of the Normans and what really happened in the great calamity that fell upon the region a century ago.
Ys X’s world is split into a world map where the player sails around in their ship, and individual towns, fields and dungeons, which feels like a refreshing throwback to the RPGs of yesteryear. Having a world map does a lot to contribute to the sense of scale of Obelia Bay, and makes it feel like the player is traversing a huge distance, though this is limited to some degree by how the world map is divided into multiple regions, which are unlocked with story progress so that exploration is actually pretty linear. And while the ship does initially feel extremely cumbersome, things like speed, how fast it can turn, and recharges for a boost are amongst the things the player can upgrade, and it ceases to feel like a problem very quickly, becoming fun by the latter part of the game. Similarly, sea battles with the ship are rather tedious at the start when you only have the default weapons, but unlocking weapons and upgrades make them really fun as well. And while unlocking new weapons does happen fairly early, there being more weapons to try out unlocked over the course of the game means that the sea battles never really go stagnant.
Exploration in the individual fields and dungeons is generally the same as it is in Ys VIII and IX, but unfortunately does not feel as satisfying. Actual exploration mostly comes on the world map, with the fields and dungeons being mostly linear, and individual areas being pretty small compared to VIII and IX.
The range of movement options available to the player is also extremely limited compared to the last two games, especially IX. While Adol and Karja do get a few fun tools like magic hoverboards and grappling hooks, both of which can also be used in battle – the hoverboard deals damage to enemies it comes into contact with and the player can just run over lower level enemies when revisiting previous areas, and the grappling hook sends the player flying towards the enemy, basically functioning like IX’s Crimson Line – Nothing really comes close to, say, running up a massive cathedral and gliding across the city in Ys IX -Monstrum Nox-. That being said, the hoverboard can be really fun to use, and this reviewer hopes that it (or a similar gimmick) returns in future games.
In addition to the movement tools, Adol and Karja also get a magic monocle which has the ability to scan the area to reveal gimmicks and items, hidden or otherwise, and also slow down time. Unfortunately, this feels like it is very badly implemented. The game has hidden items that can only be collected while the scan is active which do contribute to the overall completion rate, meaning that completionist players will basically want the scan to always be active, and since it is not a toggle but rather a ping that lasts a few seconds, this means having to activate it over and over again ad infinitum. This can be negated to some degree by equipping the accessory which lets the player see all the items on a map (the hidden items are still only visible on the map while the ping is active, though) to get a general idea of where the items are, so that they can ping for them when in the general vicinity as opposed to constantly, but this is still not very fun to do, and also takes up a valuable accessory slot in a game where you start with only one and slowly unlock up to three more over the course of the game.
The monocle’s time slowing function initially sounds like it could be interesting, since it can also be used in battle like the other tools, but having it simply allow the player to get free hits in would break the balance of the game, and so the effect is immediately canceled as soon as the player or the AI partner gets a hit in. And in Ys X, the character that the player is not currently controlling is extremely aggressive and will run forwards to swing at enemies, typically the one that the player is not targeting, and so trying to use this monocle in battle will almost never work the way one wants it to: Even if the player wants to use it to avoid enemies, the other character will go ahead and swing anyway, canceling the effect. In the end, though it sounds like it could be great fun to use, the time slow effect has basically no use at all outside of the couple of puzzles it is designed for.
While the tools do seem like they could be used to go back to older areas to unlock more parts to explore in a Metroidvania-esque way, this is never really done at all: The only tool used in this way is the scan, and all it does is reveal the hidden items that the player could not previously see. Ultimately, while Ys X’s world map does make it feel like the player is exploring a huge area, the mechanics of exploration do not come anywhere close to how fun they were in the last two games.
While the developers had previously discussed how Ys X would have a different battle system greatly from the last few’s party system in multiple interviews leading up to its release, the combat in Ys X is actually not that different from that of Ys VIII and IX. The combat plays mostly the same, skills work the same, and the player is still encouraged to guard attacks with perfect timing. The biggest changes are the removal of the three element system, which has basically been replaced with a two element system, and the new features relating to the partner system.
While Ys X does not technically have elements, it does have enemies which get an additional bar of armor on top of their HP bar which resists regular attack damage (which Adol is good at dealing) and is weak to break type damage (which Karja is good at dealing), meaning that enemies with armor are better fought with Karja, and enemies without armor are better fought with Adol. This is functionally no different at all from the old element system and switching between party members to hit enemies with the right elements.
The partner system includes what is called “Combi Mode” in the Japanese version, which is by far the biggest change to the battle system. Holding R2 (on PlayStation) activates this mode, in which the player controls both characters at the same time: While movement slows down to a crawl, regular attacks have both characters at the same time, and the player can use special skills that likewise have both characters participating.
R2 also functions as the guard button, and while Combi Mode automatically guards enemy attacks while active, the player is encouraged to guard against enemy attacks right before they hit, similar to Flash Guard in previous games: Doing so restores large amounts of SP (needed to use skills), sometimes lets the player do powerful counter attacks, and also has bigger bonus increases for the the Revenge Gauge, a counter that goes up as the player guards attacks in Combi Mode. Starting with a cap of 2.0 and going up to 5.0 as the player finds upgrade items to raise it, the Revenge Gauge multiplies the next single Combi Mode skill’s damage by the amount currently displayed, resetting each time a skill is used.
It should be emphasized, however, that the player does not need perfect timing to guard attacks: Simply holding the button down will block almost all attacks. Guarding negates all damage, and though some enemy attacks might break the guard, pressing it again will reactivate it, though this might not always work in some cases where the attacks also stagger the player’s character. In addition to those, however, enemies can also perform special attacks where the startup has a blue glow, and these attacks cannot be blocked at all, only dodged. Perfect timing is not needed to dodge these attacks, however: Simply sprinting will make the player character automatically dodge these attacks, negating all damage.
As such, while perfect timing for blocking attacks does have some bonuses, the emphasis on timing that previous games had with Flash Guard and Flash Move have almost been completely removed, with players being able to negate damage by holding the right button down upon seeing an attack start up. That being said, certain fights may pit the player against enemies that use different types of attacks at the same time, resulting in the need for split second decisions on whether to guard or dodge, especially on the higher difficulty levels.
While there are sequences in the game where the player controls the characters individually without access to Combi Mode, these are few and far between as well as very short.
The “raid” type battles seen in Ys VIII and IX again make a return in X, but are made more interesting this time. Framed as taking out Grieger bases on islands across the bay, the player first launches an assault on the island with the ship, which is presented as multi-phase sea battles where the goal is to take out shield generators protecting the base. Once all the shield generators are taken out, Adol and Karja are sent into the base itself which is presented as a mini-dungeon with 3-5 rooms, each of which has an assortment of enemies to take out, and some of which might have gimmicks like hidden switches or platforming sequences. The entire sequence (sea battle and dungeon combined) is timed and scored, with bonus points for certain things like not using items or not taking damage, and the player is assigned a rank based on their score and rewarded accordingly. While the mode itself is pretty fun, however, the scoring is incredibly flawed, with far too much weight put on the points gained from dealing damage using the Revenge Gauge: This reviewer did a raid extremely fast without using Combi Mode only to get scored an A in one instance, and bungled slowly through another but got an S in another by just guarding attacks and using Combi skills in the final room to get an exorbitant bonus.
In addition to equipping weapons and armor, Adol and Karja also have access to what is basically the Orbment system from the Trails series. The player unlocks slots in a grid (with more grids being unlocked as the characters level up), obtains or crafts “Mana Seed” gems, and inserts them into the slots. The individual Mana Seeds each have their own effects such as raising attack or defense, and also have additional bonus effects based on how many Seeds of a certain type (color) are on the current grid, basically a simplified version of the Shard Skill system in Kuro no Kiseki/Trails Through Daybreak.
Story-wise, Ys X continues the narrative focus seen in recent Ys games, but goes back to being about the story rather than having chapters focusing on individual characters like Ys IX and Tokyo Xanadu. But while the game does a better job of defining its antagonists than IX, they are still somewhat weak due to the way they are handled in the story, and the fights with them are somewhat unsatisfying as well. And the story itself also has several issues: A hundred years seems like far too short a time for so many people to have just forgotten so many important things, and from a meta point of view having gods clearly inspired by Odin and Loki again right after Ys IX but with different names could be confusing for series fans – Though this is something that has been touched on in interviews, the game itself offers no explanations.
Finally, one cannot help but mention how the graphics in Ys X are of especially dubious quality, even when compared to previous games. While characters look great, and the game does make more use of motion capture to make character animations feel more natural, a lot of environments do not look as good as those in previous games: Textures are of pretty low quality, the draw distances being very low is extremely noticeable, and certain objects have white outlines which just looks strange (especially in one particular late game dungeon). Additionally, when one looks at an island on the world map and sees that its general geometry corresponds to the field it contains, yet it is inexplicably missing important structures, that just feels like not much care was put into crafting the environments.
Overall, while Ys X does seem to attempt to be different from recent Ys games, it does not really succeed at this, with combat still mostly feeling the same. This is not entirely a bad thing, however, as the combat does still feel great, while also managing to shift the emphasis off of the rock-paper-scissors element system and onto the actual action. Unfortunately, the story and characters do come off as somewhat weak.
The Good: Having a world map is a great way of portraying the sense of scale of the adventure, and using the ship was surprisingly fun. The hoverboard is a fantastic addition. Combat having less emphasis on the element system of previous games means more emphasis is put on the player’s moment-to-moment decisions and thus the action itself.
The Bad: The antagonists are pretty weak and underused, and the story is simply just not as interesting as VIII’s or even IX’s. The graphics can be very noticeably bad in some ways.
Conclusion: Despite its flaws, Ys X is still a really fun game and one of the better Ys games. But new players would be better off starting with VIII.