Monday, July 18, 2022

Obscusion B-Side: The Histor-Ys of Adol Christin's First Adventure on Consoles

On June 21, 1987, Nihon Falcom released an action RPG called Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished for NEC's PC-88 line of home computers, followed throughout the year by ports to the Sharp X1, NEC's PC-98, Fujitsu FM-7, & the MSX2. Designed, programmed, & directed by Masaya Hashimoto (who would later co-found Quintet in 1989 with writer Tomoyoshi Miyazaki), Ys was advertised with the motto of "Now, the RPG is Entering an Age of Kindness." This was in reference to how notoriously difficult these types of games were at the time (like T&E Soft's Hydlide, Bullet-Proof Software's The Black Onyx, & Falcom's own Dragon Slayer & Xanadu), with the game being much easier & simpler to just get straight into & play, possibly even taking some influence from Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda on Famicom one year prior. Combined with excellent music composed by the duo of Mieko Ishikawa (who today is the managing director of Falcom's entire sound division) & some 19-year old part-timer named Yuzo Koshiro (plus his 16-year old sister Ayano doing some designs), Ys (pronounced like the world "ease") would be a sales success for Falcom, and while it may not be the company's biggest franchise 35 years later, it is by far their longest-running one, as The Legend of Heroes discarded its initial Dragon Slayer connection way back in 1994.

It's no surprise, then, that when Falcom started getting its games ported to home consoles the same year, with Dragon Slayer Jr.: Romancia on the Famicom, that Ys would be a perfect title for that market.

In terms of the plot to the original Ys, it's understandably basic. A young man with red hair named Adol Christin hears of monsters roaming about on the island of Esteria, home of a silver metal called Cleria, and a mysterious "Stormwall" surrounding the island that makes actually entering it nigh-impossible. Being the adventurous type, Adol decides to test that claim by entering Esteria by boat, only to wind up shipwrecked... Luckily, though, he still managed to enter Esteria, & eventually finds his way to the town of Minea. From there Adol finds out about the six Books of Ys, which tell of an ancient land that once was a part of Esteria, and he'll head to the nearby village of Zepik, Solomon Shrine (or "Salmon", in some Japanese romanizations), the Rastin Mine, & finally Darm Tower to recover the Books of Ys & figure out what happened to both Esteria & Ys itself. In the 35 years since Ys' original release on the PC-88, there have been seven different ports to video game consoles & handhelds, so let's take a look at all of them in chronological order & see what each one brought to the table. Three of them were simply Ys released on its own, three of them were double-packs with its sequel, 1988's Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter (which finishes the story & sees Adol head to Ys itself), and one of them is both individually sold & as part of a double-pack, at least in Japan. In the case of these double-packs, I'll be focusing primarily on Ys I, as the appeal of this game is in how enjoyably short it is (no more than 3-7 hours, depending on how much you know in advance), which makes comparing these ports easier to handle.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Ragnarök: Into the Abyss: Everybody is After Chaos... It's Not a Hope or a Dream; It's Like a Hunger, a Thirst...

Born in April 12, 1974, Lee Myung-Jin got his start in South Korean manhwa in mid-1992 with the series It's Going to Be a Wonderful Night (a.k.a. Lights Out), which would run for nine volumes until early 1995, when Lee had to serve his mandatory two years as part of the South Korean military. After returning to civilian life in late 1997, Lee founded his own studio, Dive to Dream Sea, & debuted a new series in Daiwon C.I.'s bi-weekly Comic Champ magazine, Ragnarök: Into the Abyss (it's also sometimes written as "In To The Abyss", so yay for no consistency!), at the start of 1998. This manhwa would go on to become a notable hit in South Korea, though Lee never actually finished it, stopping after just 10 volumes in 2001. As admitted in an interview included in Volume 3, Lee had grand plans for the series, hoping to go 40-50 volumes in total & comprised of seven story arcs, with Into the Abyss technically being the second of three main arcs, while the other four were to be shorter side stories. The reason for the cancellation, however, is because Ragnarök would achieve much greater success outside of manhwa, as a Korean game developer named Gravity wanted to adapt the manhwa into an online RPG, but that's a subject for another time...

Meanwhile, at San Diego Comic Con 2001, manga publisher TokyoPop announced that it had licensed Ragnarök for English release, with it being only the second manhwa ever licensed by the company. However, alongside later license PriestRagnarök would go on to become a bit of a tentpole manhwa release for TokyoPop, as it would continue to sell for a number of years while that form of comic was still being pushed heavily by publishers throughout the 00s, despite the fact that TP would quickly release all 10 volumes over the course of just two years, from mid-2002 to mid-2004; TP would then fully release Lights Out to maintain some sort of momentum. Not just that, but TokyoPop also hired fantasy novelist Richard A. Knaak (who also wrote novels for Blizzard's Diablo & Warcraft franchises) to adapt Lauren Na's English translation of Ragnarök (who isn't even credited in Volumes 2-4; nice work, TokyoPop...) into something more like his own style, with Knaak even getting credited alongside Lee Myung-Jin on the spine of each volume, as though he was co-creator of the series; I'm all for localization staff being credited, but this felt a bit much. So, after all this time & even despite the manhwa not actually having a proper ending to it, does Ragnarök still hold up as (seemingly) one of the greatest Korean manhwa to ever see English release?

The realm of Midgard has been under the watch of Valhalla's Urd, Verdandi, & Skuld, the Goddess of the Past, Present, & Future, a.k.a. the Norns. However, a great change is about to happen to Midgard, one that will leave the Norns unable to keep watch, and it all began two years ago when a woman named Fenris Fenrir suddenly started remembering bits & pieces of her past life from 1,000 years ago. Specifically, Fenris has been looking for a man named Balder, the son of Odin & Frigg, who has also apparently been reincarnated, and just now Fenris managed to get a hold of Sentinel Breeze, Balder's old sword, in order to help her find her old ally, even if doing so puts in in direct conflict with the 12 Valkyries, like Zenobia Sabi Freile, Freya, & Sara Irine. After managing to escape a fight with Sara, Fenris eventually encounters a swordsman named Chaos & his partner, a magic user named Iris Irine, & a "treasure hunter" named Lidia who wants to abscond with Iris' legendary sword (one of three from her family), all of whom are heading over Fayon, where Chaos & Iris are from. However, Chaos can't seem to remember anything of note regarding his life prior to two years ago...

Ragnarök is coming to Midgard, and Chaos, Fenris, Iris, Lidia, & even master assassin Loki might be the only ones who can prevent it from happening.