After reading my intro to the Ys series, you may find yourself wondering about which game in the franchise to play first. While any of the Ys games can serve as a decent starting point, some provide a better on-ramp than others. Considering that this series has ten entries with release dates that span from 1987 to 2021, the best starting point is going to depend on what kind of gamer you are. Here's a handy decision tree to help you decide where to start:
Why did you pick these 4 games?
Ys 1 & 2 Chronicles (PC, PSP, Mobile)
This is where I started the Ys series. Ys 1 & 2 tell the story of Adol's search for the mythical city of Ys. This ancient city once said to be guarded by the gods themselves, mysteriously vanished hundreds of years ago. As the first games released in the series, Ys 1 & 2 naturally set up the world in a way that flows well into the later games.
The “Chronicles” versions of these games are considered remakes, but they are still very much retro games at their core. Combat can be quite difficult and the game doesn't always make it clear where to go next. Also, the game does not have an auto-map, so you will need to either learn the dungeon layouts as you go (as I did) or draw maps while you play. Also worth noting, these games feature the unusual “bumper combat” system (LINK). It takes some getting used to, but it's a pretty fun system once you get the hang of it. If you're up for a truly retro experience, this is definitely the best place to start, especially if you're someone who likes to see how a series evolves.
Note: I'm lumping Ys 1 & 2 together because they are usually sold as a package; they are essentially the first and second half of one game. (It takes most players under 20 hours to finish both.)
Ys: Oath in Felghana (PC, PSP)
Until I played Ys 8, Felghana was my favorite Ys game and it's still my favorite among the more retro-style entries. In this game, Adol and his friend Dogi travel to Dogi's hometown, Felghana, to visit his family. Unfortunately, their trip is anything but relaxing as they find that Felghana is being plagued by attacks from monsters of unknown origin.
Felghana is a 2005 remake of Ys 3, which was originally released on the SNES and Sega Genesis. It's more approachable than the truly retro games in the series but still retains the old-school challenge of the original version. This game features classic hack-and-slash combat (rather than the bumper system of Ys 1 & 2) and a straightforward but still engaging story. With a campaign that runs about 15 hours, Felghana probably offers the best sampler platter of what makes Ys great.
Ys 8: Lacrimosa of Dana (PC, Switch, PS4, Vita)
In my opinion, Ys 8 is hands-down the best game in the series. In Ys 8, Adol finds himself shipwrecked on the mysterious island of Seiren. Throughout the game, he explores the island and rescues other castaways that come from various walks of life. Adol and his friends quickly find themselves pulled into a century-spanning supernatural mystery; a mystery they must solve before they can finally escape the island.
Ys 8 features the richest story and character development, a lush world to explore, and refined, yet very approachable, mechanics. The only possible downside for new players is that this is the longest game in the series by a considerable margin. It will probably take about 50 hours or so to complete, but it will be a very enjoyable 50 hours if you're willing to make the commitment. When I streamed this game on Twitch, I regularly had people come into chat to express their love for this game and tell me that it was the catalyst that turned them into Ys fans.
Note: I have heard that Ys 9, is a similarly good starting point and a comparable length to Ys 8. In fact, the president of Falcom made a statement on Twitter encouraging new players to start with 9. However, I haven't had a chance to play much of it myself yet, so I can't say from personal experience.
Update: After playing Ys 9 for myself, I've concluded that it's a great game, but Ys 8 is still a better starting point for new players. Check out my review for more info.
Ys: Memories of Celceta (PC, PS4, Vita)
If you want a game that feels fairly modern and features a strong story, while keeping it under 30 hours, Celceta is your game. This game begins with an amnesia-stricken Adol stumbling out of the dark forest of Celceta. With the help of his friends, he explores this previously uncharted forest in an effort to recover his lost memories. While amnesia is a well-worn JRPG trope, it provides a convenient plot device for introducing players to Adol and the world of Ys.
Similar to Felghana, Celceta is also a remake of a 16-bit Ys game (Ys 4). However, this one was released in 2012 rather than 2005, making it feel much more modern. Of the modern games, Celceta takes place earliest in Adol's adventures and does a lot of world-building that would enrich any Ys games one were to play afterward. In terms of difficulty, Celceta can still pose a challenge at times but is generally pretty forgiving. The campaign is under 30 hours, so it has enough time to develop its characters and systems but is still a shorter time commitment than most newer RPGs. It's definitely a great place to start.
But there's a game called Ys Origin! Shouldn't I start at the origin?
A lot of players are under the impression that they're supposed to start with Origin (understandable, given the title). While it could certainly still be enjoyable as a first Ys game, I don't recommend it. Here's why:
- Ys Origin was designed with the assumption that people playing it had already played Ys 1 & 2. It makes several references to these games that would be lost on new players. In fact, if you haven't played Ys 1 & 2, Origin will spoil some of their biggest plot points.
- The structure of Origin is not representative of the rest of the series. The other Ys games feature towns, NPCS, and an overworld to explore. Origin, however, takes place entirely within one giant dungeon. The gameplay is very good but it will give players tha false impression that Ys is a dungeon-crawler series.
- Origin is the only game in the series in which you don't play as Adol. Instead this game features three protagonists that each have distinct mechanics. The importance of these individuals to the greater narative wouldn't be clear to someone who hasn't played Ys 1 & 2.
A journy of a thousand miles starts with…
Wherever you decide to get into the Ys series, you have a lot of great adventures to look forward to! If you'd like even more in-depth Ys info, I recommend checking out one of the biggest Ys fan clubs, Digital Emelas. Their website was a great resource when I took my first steps into this long-running RPG series.